Traveling is on the wishlist of many families, but wanting to travel just isn’t the same as actually taking a trip. Many families are stuck at home because either they simply don’t know how to save for a family vacation, or they haven’t thought of other, perhaps smaller, ways to set money aside for a trip. But families can travel! To come up with the best ways to save money for vacations, we went straight to the source — families who travel frequently — to find out their best tips for setting extra money aside for that next dream vacation.
Buy Only What’s Necessary.
Of course, this tip could mean different things to different people. Most of the family travelers we talked to said it’s not often they shop for new clothing, furniture, or other “fun” stuff. Instead of refilling their wardrobe at the start of each season, they limit themselves to staple pieces and wear their clothes longer. Dinners are planned, prepared for, and eaten at home, while trips to a restaurant are limited to once a week or special occasions. For the best success at saving money for traveling, families should decide what’s necessary for themselves and think of ways to cut down on the unnecessary.
Skip Birthdays and Anniversaries
A lot of traveling families told us they limit birthdays, anniversaries, and other special occasions to dinner out. They skip presents and big parties, instead setting the money aside to use towards their next adventure. Some families even purposely plan their travels around special occasions, so that the trip and celebration act as one. As one frequent traveler put it, “We gift experiences, not material items.”
Avoid car payments.
Instead of purchasing a new car every few years, avoid expensive car payments by continuing to drive your car after it’s paid off. Better yet, purchase an older car and enjoy the benefits of both not having a car payment and a lower insurance rate.
Use Cash Back Apps.
There are lots of apps out there that can will give you money back after you make purchases from certain vendors. Ebates is a popular one for purchases of all kinds, while Ibotta, Paribus, and Checkout 51 will all give back to you a percentage you spend on groceries and other necessities.
Speaking of Apps, They Can Also be Great Savings Tools.
If money tends to burn a hole in your pocket, consider joining an app like Acorns or Qapital. Both can help you save by rounding up any purchase you make with your debit or credit card, and saving that extra little bit for you in an account. You can even choose to make a direct deposit into your account on a weekly or monthly basis in order to save more.
Pay Off Debt.
Perhaps it seems counterintuitive to spend money to save money, but many families who travel frequently have made the effort to become debt free (except for their mortgage). Make a plan for yourself to pay off any open accounts, or follow a recommended plan like the one offered by finance guru Dave Ramsay. Once your monthly bills are limited to your mortgage, utilities, and insurance, you’ll be surprised just how much money you could be putting towards your travel goals.
Come Up With a Side Hustle.
For those with the time, working an extra job or side hustle is a great way to save money for traveling. One person we asked said she got a part-time job at her gym; not only does she make a little money on the side, but she gets to work out for free (another monthly payment gone!)! Other travelers mentioned working for Postmates, DoorDash, or Uber, so that they could work any hours they choose and bring in a little extra money to set aside for the next vacation.
Cable is expensive! Cut it out, subscribe to your favorite streaming service instead, and put the difference each month into your travel account.
Live Below Your Means.
Admittedly, nearly everything on this list could fit under the umbrella of “live below your means.” Save money by purposely spending less than what you can afford. Get your hair cut half as often. Choose to live in a smaller and/or less expensive home than what you can comfortably afford. Don’t buy the new car. Buy children’s clothing from online buy/sell/trade groups. Budget your month carefully, and choose an amount to automatically stash away into a vacation fund.
Grow a Garden.
If you live in an area where you’re able to, why not cut down on grocery costs by growing your own fruits and vegetables. Many food staples are easy and inexpensive to grow, and don’t typically need a lot of room. Continue budgeting the same amount for groceries each month, but get whatever items you can from your own backyard. Then add the difference to your travel fund.
Research, Research, Research!
We live in a free market society, with lots of price competition for just about everything. Shop around for better prices for everything from groceries to car insurance. If you can lower your monthly costs, you can put more aside for traveling.
There are families who “travel hack” their way to first-class airline tickets and luxurious vacations paid for entirely with points. Learning the rules of the game can be a little challenging at first, but boil down to purchasing everything with credit cards, paying off each card in full at the end of the month, and racking up the points to spend on airfare, hotels, tours, and even lounge access during a layover.
Pay Yourself First.
People who prioritize travel are the ones who get to travel. If you would like to prioritize travel, one way to do it is to pay yourself first. Decide how much of each paycheck you’d be willing to automatically set aside. As soon as you get paid, move your desired amount (10% is a common number) straight to your travel fund, be that a separate bank account or an envelope stuffed into your underwear drawer. And most importantly, don’t touch your travel account until you’re ready to book a trip.
Rent Out Your House While You’re Traveling
Interestingly, a lot of traveling families told us they rent out their house via websites like AirBnb and VRBO while they are traveling. The families then put any money they make on the rental straight into the fund for their next vacation, giving them a head start on the financial part of traveling.
Make Your Own Coffee.
Cut the habit of driving through Starbucks each morning, and make your own coffee at home, either with a Keurig-type machine or a good old fashioned coffee pot. Saving $4-5 per day can go a long way in saving for travel. Heartbroken by the thought of going without you favorite drink? Limit yourself to once a week, and use it as a reward for finally getting to Friday.
And a Few Tips for Saving on the Travel Essentials….
Book Flight Deals
It’s totally fine if you know you want to go to Paris in June. But know also that you’re going to pay top dollar for even a Basic Economy seat. Instead of sticking to one destination, have an open mind and wait for a flight deal to determine where you go. Flight deals to Europe actually do happen for those who are patient. For the best flight deals, check out deal sites like Scott’s Cheap Flights and The Flight Deal, or search Skyscanner with “Anywhere” as your destination.
Choose Your Destinations Wisely
Whether you book a flight deal or choose to travel to somewhere on which you’ve already decided, being smart about either option can save tons of cash. For example, Europe during the months of June, July, and August are much more expensive than they are during the winter months (or even the shoulder season months of April, May, and September). The countries of Southeast Asia, on the other hand, are much less expensive at just about any time of year. A family can see a lot more, stay longer, and/or book nicer hotels and excursions by traveling to a region like Asia.
Book Your Hotel and Flight Together
Oftentimes, booking a hotel and flight together can save you hundreds. Third party websites like Expedia and Travelocity offer all kinds of flight/hotel packages, as do airline websites if you prefer to book your flight directly from the source.
Travel in the Off-Season
If you’re not hindered by school schedules (or if you don’t mind taking your kids out for a week or two), try to travel during your destination’s off season. For example, Europe is lovely during the summer, but extremely crowded. Instead, try traveling in the fall, when there are fewer crowds, or even winter, when Christmas markets add a whole new element of fun. Perhaps most appealing about traveling during the off season is the fact that flights and hotels are significantly less expensive. The only exception to this rule is if you’re destination consists mainly of resorts, like Greece. In this case, be sure that hotels, restaurants, and even beaches remain open to the public during the time you intend to visit.
Hit a Grocery Store First Thing
Eating at restaurants while traveling can sometimes take the biggest gouge out of your travel budget. A lot of the traveling families we spoke with limit themselves to a restaurant for dinner, a quick pastry for breakfast, and a packed sandwich or other simple meal for lunch and snacks. Hitting up a local market or grocery store before life gets too busy is an excellent way to ensure you always have some food items on hand, and to save money on constant restaurant stops.