As a young working professional, I can certainly empathize with other young professionals or students who are dying to explore the world, but are living on limited funds. Travel isn’t always the cheapest hobby, but that doesn’t mean that travel is available exclusively for those living on trust funds. It’s absolutely possible for people living on average wages to get out of their homes and see the world without breaking the bank. After years of attempting to travel as much as possible while studying or working, I’ve finally nailed down a system that allows me to travel as much as I do while maintaining a somewhat normal lifestyle. This time of year, we’re all working on setting our goals for the new year, and what better resolution than to work on saving some money while planning for life-changing travel?
Casually wanting to travel more and genuinely wanting to make travel a part of your life are two different things. If you truly want to make somewhat regular travel a part of your life, you need to make a concerted effort to prioritize it. By prioritizing travel, I don’t mean not paying bills or putting food in the fridge; I mean taking an inventory of any surplus funds that you have week to week, and not spending that money on frivolous things (Frappucino, anyone?).
This brings me to my first secret:
Budgeting like a travel CHAMP.
Every dollar/euro/pound/korun/etc. counts, and knowing exactly where you spend yours each day, week, or month will likely be an eye-opening experience for you. I’ve created a budget spreadsheet in Excel which I always keep open, and I input every single expense that I incur from a small cup of coffee to the slow cooker that I just purchased.
Because I live in the Czech Republic, but I still maintain a US bank account, I calculate everything in both currencies. If you’re living on only one currency, I’m jealous, and also, this will be much more simple for you! This spreadsheet contains formulas which automatically add each row and column so that I know how much I’ve spent each week, in addition to how much I’ve spent in individual categories (like toys for my cat). I keep a fixed expense breakdown sheet so that I don’t need to account for those automatic expenses (like rent and internet) each month- they’re already figured into the monthly budget. I also keep 5% for savings out of my monthly budget as a bit of a buffer. I hope that this will go to savings each month, but if I’ve overspent a tiny bit I don’t need to stress too much! If you’d like to start a budget spreadsheet, feel free to download and customize your own here:
Mason Jar Saving
My second secret is “Mason Jar Saving”– and yes, I really do use a mason jar (actually, two).
This sort of goes along the lines of the recent “52-week Saving Plan” that tends to circle the internet just after the New Year. In fact, I’m trying the Czech version of that plan to save for a trip this year. If you’re unfamiliar, the plan goes something like this:
- Week 1- Put $52 into a jar
- Week 2- Put $51 into a jar
- Week 3- Put $50 into a jar
and so on. Because it isn’t practical for me to be stuffing USD into a mason jar each week, I’ve just multiplied each amount by 20 (the approximate currency exchange rate), so if you’re on a different currency it’s easy to do the same! Some versions of this plan have you starting at $1, and incrementally increasing the amount each week, but I like the decreasing version better so that I’ll have more spare cash at the notoriously expensive end of the year. If you’re anything like me, this regulation of saving is nice, and it yields a really nice result- this should give you $1,378 (or rough equivalent) by the end of the year. I do like this 52-week plan because (as you might have guessed from the aforementioned budgeting spreadsheet) I’m a rule-follower; if I make a short-term rule for myself, I’m much more likely to follow through than if I make an overarching goal. Even before this challenge came along, I already had a mason jar set up, complete with a “travel fund” label. So how did I fill it? I decided that I would both penalize and reward myself each time I worked past 5 pm Monday-Friday, or on weekends. I was taking 100 CZK away from my “spare” weekly spending money, and putting it towards future adventures (or relaxation for working so much). If you have a work schedule like mine, this will add up quickly! The money that you’ll save from either option (or both!) will go a long way, particularly if you’re traveling in a budget-friendly way.
Stretching your Budget
This all brings me to my third secret- make your money last as long as possible! There are two main techniques that I typically try to utilize: booking with budget and discount companies for my air travel and accommodation, and exploiting travel rewards as frequently as possible.
Most of the budget companies I use are listed on my Tips and Tricks page, but the highlights include RyanAir, EasyJet, HostelWorld, Booking.com, and Airbnb. It’s great to know about these budget companies, but the real trick is making their deals work for you. To find good flights, including those on RyanAir and EasyJet, I typically search Skyscanner– I always have the best luck on this site finding the lowest-priced combo of flights. When I’m looking to travel by land, I check out Rome2Rio to find all of the options I have getting from point A to point B, and then to find the least expensive option. I also try to be flexible with my travel destinations; I’ve been known to go to RyanAir’s website, look for flights from Prague (or where ever I am), and then pick the least expensive, interesting destination- hopefully somewhere I haven’t been yet. I ended up spending a wonderful weekend in Milan this way, and it worked perfectly! I knew that I wanted to go somewhere, so I let RyanAir choose for me. There is also the website Secret Flying, which combs websites and search engines finding “mistake” or super cheap airfares, and helps you book them before they’re gone. If you’re fairly open about where and when you travel, this website will be a GREAT resource. Booking.com is a great resource if you use it frequently, as you eventually earn a perpetual 10% “genius” discount that I’ve found to make hotel costs less expensive. As I get older and do less hostel travel, I find that I prefer to book hotels on Booking.com due to the convenience and prices they offer.
My favorite, and probably most lucrative, money-saving techniques are travel rewards. For accommodation, I always share my Airbnb discount code, which gives my friends and family $34 off their first trips, and in return, I get money off my next trip after they travel. It’s even better if your friends or family decide to host after signing up with your code- you’ll get even more off your next trip. If you’d like to sign up with Airbnb and get $34 off your first trip, use this link! I also take advantage of travel rewards credit cards- I’m currently using the Chase Sapphire Reserve. I like this card for several reasons: first, their 50,000 bonus points for spending $4,000 in the first three months is an excellent bonus. $4,000 may sound like a lot, but if you put absolutely everything you buy (from coffee to groceries to travel) on the card for three months, you’ll probably be pretty close. Afterwards, you get triple rewards for any travel (including Uber, taxis, trains, etc.) and food, plus 1 to 1 points on all purchases. I’ve been able to rack up a pretty healthy point balance with just regular usage of the card, which, bonus, doesn’t have any foreign transaction fees! I use these points when I’m flying to a destination that isn’t serviced by discount airlines, and I’ve been able to pay for (essentially) entire trips this way. I’ll be going to Italy later this year, and I didn’t pay a penny for it!
In my opinion, traveling will almost always be worth the cost of airline tickets and hotels, but I also certainly appreciate that not everyone (including myself) has enough expendable cash to spend a year traveling the world carefree. I like to think that I’ve found the happy medium between working a fairly normal, 9-5 (ish) job, and traveling often enough to attempt to keep my wanderlust at bay. Utilizing the methods I’ve listed above should help you on your way towards “world traveler” status in no time! And in case you don’t know where to start planning your budget trip, I’m here to help! I offer travel consulting packages starting at $25 to help you plan and budget your travels to help you maximize your budget for ultimate travel impact- taking the hard work out of traveling smart!
Please note that some links in this post are affiliate links. This means that if you book using the link on my website, I’ll be paid a percentage of your booking fee at absolutely no extra cost to you. As always, all opinions are my own, and all recommendations are based on my own personal experience.