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9 Painless Ways to Save for Your Next Big Trip

A passport, magnifying glass, toy plane, toy car, camera, film, watch, compass, and jar full of change sitting on pile of maps.
I am Kulz/Shutterstock

Travel is expensive. If you want to do more than head upstate for a weekend every so often, you’ll probably need to save. And there are a few simple ways you can do it.

A lot of information about saving travel money focuses on getting together thousands of dollars so you can quit your job and travel the world for a few months, or even years. That’s a pretty big plan!

However, in this article, we’re not looking at lifestyle-changing solutions that will help you save tens of thousands of dollars in a short time. Most people just need to squirrel away a bit of cash for nice weekend breaks, a beach holiday in the summer, or a ski holiday in the winter.

These trips can still be quite expensive, but let’s dig in!

A Proper Budget

Flight listings on the Kayak website.

Before you start saving, it’s best to work out how much money you need to save. It might surprise you how reasonable and affordable some big trips are.

By the same token, what looks affordable on paper (how much can two nights in New York really cost?) can end up being way more expensive than you think. If you’re not careful, it can actually end up costing several thousand dollars more.

The best way to work out how much you need to save is to prepare a proper budget for every trip you plan. Make sure you include things like going home for the holidays, too—that’s also travel.

For each trip, you need to take into account the cost of transport, accommodation, daily food and drink, any activities you plan to do, and extras, like an emergency buffer and insurance.

Once you work out how much you need, you also need to figure out when you’ll need it. You have to book flights in advance, but you normally pay for accommodations after your stay. You need money for daily food and drink before you go, but you can normally buy travel insurance annually.

It’s also helpful to have an emergency fund you can tap into (more on this later). Also, keep in mind saving for a trip isn’t necessarily a steady goal with identical monthly milestones.

Create a Travel Savings Fund

Do you know what happens to the money in your checking account? You spend it. After all, that’s what it’s there for. That’s also why the money you save for trips should never be in there for you to accidentally spend.

Set up a separate account just for travel savings. If you’re not sure what your options are, talk to your bank. If you’re saving with someone, make sure you can both easily make deposits and check the balance.

This money should only be accessible with a bit of effort so you’ll be less likely to spend it. However, don’t tie it up in any sort of account that would hit you with a penalty when you withdraw it.

Cut Back on Frivolous Spending

Most people focus on cutting back their spending when they’re trying to save money. The idea is to cut discretionary expenses by doing things like making coffee at home, canceling your Netflix subscription, or never, ever eating avocado toast. And this is a good way to save money, with a few caveats.

The problem with the cutting back approach is, unless you have a significant amount of disposable income (say, $200 or more), you probably won’t save huge amounts of cash. How many Starbucks and unnecessary subscription services do you have to cut out?

That’s not to say that auditing your spending every so often isn’t a good idea. If you’re wasting money on subscription services you don’t use, or overpaying for your phone, cable, or internet, definitely cut back and put that money toward your travel plans. Just don’t expect to magically find a few extra grand. Saving $10 a month on Netflix won’t get you to Barbados.

Also, unless you plan to be away for a few months, don’t sacrifice your creature comforts too much. It’s far better to enjoy your life now and only go on vacation for a week or two, rather than making yourself miserable to spend a month in the sun.

Pick Up Extra Shifts or Overtime

It’s almost always easier to save extra money of you earn a bit more and don’t spend it. If you’re paid hourly, take on a few extra shifts. If extra pay is offered for working on Sundays or holidays, take those, too. Anytime you can squeeze in a few hours of overtime, do it.

Even if you only manage to make an extra $70 a week, that’s still $280 a month—well over $3,000 a year to spend exclusively on travel.

Freelance or Do Odd Jobs

The Etsy website.

If you’re paid on salary, things are a bit trickier. However, if you have skills people are willing to pay for, do a bit of freelance work on the side or look for odd jobs. A friend of mine does odd jobs in the evenings after his day job and puts the extra cash into his travel savings.

Similarly, if you’re crafty, you can sell what you make on websites like Etsy. Many people pull in some extra cash each month by monetizing their hobbies.

Sell Anything You’re Not Using

Have an old iPhone, TV, or games console gathering dust? An easy way to make money is to sell anything around the house you’re not using. Clutter just gathers and, while you’ll never make back what you paid, the double benefit of a bit of cash and getting rid of something is worth the effort. Old technology, in particular, can still be worth quite a lot.

Set a Savings Deadline

People walking on the beach at sunset.
Harry Guinness

It’s much easier to save $1,200 over 12 months than two. If you have a trip planned, look at your budget. Then, set savings deadlines or milestones based on how much you need and when. The first firm deadline would be a few months out when you need to have enough to cover your flights. After that, you need to save enough to pay for the rest of your trip by the time you leave.

But you don’t just have to use those big deadlines; make some smaller ones. For example, if you need $400 in four months for your flights, make sure you’ve saved $200 in two.

Automate Your Savings

Saving is also simpler when you don’t have to think about it. Of course, you should throw any extra cash into your travel savings account whenever you get the chance. However, it’s much easier if you allot a certain amount of money to go to your travel fund automatically.

Let’s say you cut back on a few things and pick up an extra shift at work each week. That should allow you to save at least $50 per week toward your travel plans. Sometimes, it might be a bit more, or a bit less.

So, why not set up a direct deposit into your travel fund of $50 each week? If you earn a bit more, you can always throw in some extra or keep it in your checking account for the weeks you earn a bit less.

Just Start

Seriously, saving lots of money is easier long-term, but a major pain short-term. If you plan to travel at all in the next year or two, start saving for it now.

Put away a little bit each month and, by the time your trip rolls around, you won’t have to sweat it. If you don’t, you’re likely to have a few lean months or be tempted to pay for a big trip entirely on credit, which is never wise.

Always try to save a significant portion in advance.

Harry Guinness Harry Guinness
Harry Guinness is a photography expert and writer with nearly a decade of experience. His work has been published in newspapers like the New York Times and on a variety of other websites, including Lifehacker. Read Full Bio »

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