How To Save For A Vacation: Travel Tips on a Shoestring Budget

“Travel is the only thing you buy that makes you richer.” – Anonymous

It’s a great quote, but for those of us working on a tight budget, it can feel a little cold. Travel might make you richer emotionally and mentally, but it certainly doesn’t do any favors to your wallet.

The opposite is true, actually. You might find yourself coming back from a vacation with debt from a credit card or personal loan. And in that case, the rich experience of travel leaves you struggling financially. 

Trying to find advice on how to save for a vacation leaves you even more frustrated. The plans you see fall into one of two categories: too rigid and too vague. 

The rigid advice tells you to plan years in advance, give up all your non-essential spending, and start a side hustle. We’ve even seen some that suggested moving to a smaller house! Meanwhile, the vague advice on how to save up for a trip includes such helpful tips as “try to cut back on spending”, “pick somewhere cheap for your vacation”, and even “open a credit card”. 

No thanks! So what’s the best way to save for a vacation? Well, we believe that your vacation and your savings should be as unique as you. Today, we’ll be exploring some of the ways you can save for your dream trip, no matter what that looks like.

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How much should you save up for a vacation?

Before we dive into tips on how to save for a vacation, you’ll need to know how much to save. This way you have a goal in mind, and you’ll get more practice with creating and sticking to a budget. 

So how much should you save up for a vacation? That depends on a few factors, and the great news is that you have some control over this. Your savings goal will depend on 4 main factors:

  1. Where you’re going
  2. How long you’ll be there
  3. How many people you’re taking with you
  4. How much spending money you’d like

These are all pretty self-explanatory, but keep an extra close eye on that spending money. If you don’t plan to have some spending money, you’ll end up overspending and impacting your day-to-day budget back home. 

Once you have those things settled, make sure you shop around! Usually, things like plane tickets and hotel rooms have different rates depending on where you buy. A bonus tip? Make sure you clear cookies or use an incognito browser when checking prices. 

There’s quite a bit of debate on whether airlines charge different prices depending on how often you search. Some say that cheap flights simply sell out faster, others are certain that airlines hike prices when you search multiple times. Our advice? Better safe than sorry. Clearing cookies is quick and easy, and if it saves you a couple hundred bucks, all the better.

Clearing cookies isn’t the only way you can set yourself up for success. Timing can play a huge role, too. The majority of people plan to vacation at the end of June. What does that mean for your travel plans? It means that you can expect to see much higher prices for airfare, hotels, and maybe even gas. 

Planning your vacay for a time that’s less busy can save you literally hundreds of dollars (and make it easier to schedule time off work). The same goes for picking your destination. Our advice? Choose a destination that’s close to a tourist favorite without being right next to it. Want to visit Paris? Check out one of the smaller towns nearby instead. You can still get your pic of the Eiffel Tower, save money, and make your experience that much more unique.

By now, you should be ready to make a travel plan. The last piece of the puzzle is when you want to leave. The good news is that we have savings tips for everyone, whether your vacation is years away or just a couple of months.

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Best ways to save for a vacation you want to take soon

It’s already April, so if you want to vacation this summer, you only have a couple of months to save! That doesn’t mean you need to give up on your vacation goals, only that you’ll have to work hard and fast to meet your savings goal. 

Tip 1: Cut out all your non-essentials.

This one is perfect for saving “sprints”, where you need to save a lot of money in a short amount of time. Long term, cutting out all non-essentials can lead to frustration, burnout, and quitting on your savings plan. On the other hand, it’s easy to cancel subscriptions, stop eating out, and turn down invites for a night out when you know it’s only for a couple of months. The bonus? You might find that you don’t need to go back to old habits after your vacation!

Tip 2: Go cheap, cheap, cheap on essentials.

Once you’re only spending on your essentials, start looking for ways to save on those, too. Again, it’s much easier to switch your favorite brand of shampoo for something cheaper when you know the cost-cutting is temporary. Even your food and gas budget can be lowered with a little work. 

Tip 3: Make some extra money.

Ok, so this isn’t quite a savings tip, but it can certainly help. You might try picking up a part-time job, asking for more hours (if you’re paid hourly), or selling some stuff you aren’t using. Making extra money can be a lot of work, so it’s another tip that works best when you know that it’ll be a temporary gig.

Savings habits you build during a savings sprint

When you work at saving a lot of money in a short amount of time, you’re still building long-term savings habits. First, if you’re new to saving (or bad at sticking with it), saving for a vacation that’s coming up soon gives you some positive reinforcement. You’re teaching your brain that saving money makes good things happen!

You’re also learning how to save money without moving it into your checking account. Saving for a vacation you want to take soon lets you practice keeping money in savings… even when there’s something you want at the moment.

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Best ways to save for a vacation you want to take later

Instead of going on a trip this summer, let’s say you want to go on a trip next summer. That means you have a little over a year to save. Not quite a sprint, but you do need to make a plan and stick to it. If you’re planning a trip in the next 1-3 years, our tips look just a little different.

Tip 1: Cut out one or two non-essentials.

Rather than making yourself miserable by only spending on essentials for more than a year, pick one or two. What do you enjoy but think you could live without for a while? You don’t have to cut out everything, but switching from eating out to cooking at home can make a big difference!

Tip 2: Find ways to save that snowball.

There are lots of ways to save a couple of bucks a month that’ll add up over the course of a year. A great example of this is the app Upside. Upside gives you cash back every time you fill up your car’s gas tank.  On average, you’ll get between $0.05 – $0.25 per gallon back. As you can see, this won’t make you rich! However, it will add a nice boost to your vacation savings (especially if you fill up more than once a week). 

You can also try cutting your electricity or heating usage down, using coupons, and meal planning. These are all ways for you to save a couple dollars here and there, and snowball them over time.

Tip 3: Find low-effort ways to make money on the side.

While picking up a second job or taking more hours consistently won’t work long-term, there are still options for increasing the amount of money you bring in. You can try reselling some of your old stuff or doing some odd jobs with a company like TaskRabbit

Looking for a way to make money that doesn’t need you to do anything at all? Use Acorns to start investing, and put all the profits towards your vacation fund. 

Savings habits you build while saving for next year’s vacation

When you’re working on saving for a vacation that’s still a ways off, you’re building habits that help you save in the long run. You’re getting more comfortable with the idea of leaving money in that savings account, for example. 

You’re also going to get better at being flexible with your budget. In the space of a year, you’re more likely to encounter an emergency that requires you to dip into your travel savings. Then, you’ll need to get back on track. And you’ll want to get back on track because you have an attainable, planned-for goal in mind.

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Best ways to save for a vacation you want to take someday

We all have a “someday” trip. You know the one – it’s a little too expensive, a little too far away, your kids are a little too small, your life is a little too… something. You want to go someday, for sure. You just aren’t sure when. No problem! You can start saving for that someday trip, even if it’s five or ten years away.

Tip 1: Rotate your non-essentials.

This is one of the best ways to stick to a savings goal without dealing with too much FOMO. Rather than cutting any one thing out forever, switch out what you spend money on.

Maybe this month you stop at Starbucks for coffee but skip the fast food. Next month, you can get fast food a couple of times and have coffee at home to save money. The same goes for your subscriptions. You can put the money you’ve saved into your savings, and you’ll barely notice a difference day-to-day.

Tip 2: Keep snowballing those savings.

This tip matches the tip for the “later” vacation almost exactly. Find those ways that you can save a little bit here and there. Over time, this can really add up! When you’re saving over a period of multiple years, you can add even more to this. 

Try keeping a coin jar and putting ALL the physical money you get into it. Once a year, empty that jar right into your savings account and start fresh. It’s a great way to give your account a boost when it feels like you’ll never reach your goal.

Tip 3: Find a low-effort side gig.

Again, working multiple jobs or upping your hours won’t be sustainable over a long period of time. You’ll end up burned out before you even get close to that goal. Instead, find some low-effort side gigs. Our favorite? CashKarma. This app lets you make money by taking surveys, watching videos, playing games, and even just having location services on!

Bonus tip: Consider a job change or title change.

This one isn’t for everyone, but it can make quite the difference! Taking online courses to get a degree or certification can help you land higher-paying jobs. Whether you go to a new company or ask about a title change at your current gig, a higher income will make saving for that someday trip all the easier. 

Savings habits you build while saving for a “someday” trip

Saving for a trip without a date is, well, just saving! You get more and more comfortable with leaving money in a savings account. You teach your brain that not all savings goals have or need immediate gratification. 

And, of course, there’s the eventual payoff. Visiting a place you never thought you’d get to see is an amazing feeling. The only feeling better than that? Knowing that you worked hard to get there and built a better financial future for yourself and your family while you did it.

Photo by Emil Kalibradov on Unsplash

How to save for a vacation, even when you’re bad at saving

Saving for a vacation is great for people who are bad at saving. Not only do you have a clear amount you’d like to save in mind, but you’re saving for something you’re looking forward to. Saving for a vacation can break you out of your routine in more ways than one.

You start looking a little harder at your spending habits, being a little choosier about when you move money out of savings, and learning what’s really important to you. In the end, your savings pay off. You make your life richer by travel, without hurting your bank account or credit score in the process. 

Most important of all, you start building healthy financial habits. No matter where you’re at in your financial journey, there are always better and better ways to manage your money. For more tips on those good habits and tricks for greater financial security, subscribe to our newsletter. You’ll get articles like this one delivered right to your inbox so you can keep learning how to manage your finances without wrecking your life. Happy travels and we’ll see you back here real soon!