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How To Save Money to Travel

How to save up money to travel long termOne of the first things people ask me when I tell them we traveled through Europe for six months is, “How?”  Quickly followed by…
“How did you save money to travel?”
“Are you trust fund babies?”
“How do you put your life on hold for that long?”

Well, we aren’t trust-fund babies.

In fact, when we decided to plan our first long term trip (six months before we left) we had nothing saved. Zero. Zilch. Nada.

What we had, though, was discipline and desire, something I am very passionate about and is one reason I believe in raising dirtbags.

Related blog: Why I’m Raising My Kids to be Dirtbags

When your focus and persistence is fueled by your goals, you learn to count on values such as hard work, accountability, and perseverance.  Quality that will help you regardless if it’s for saving money to travel, climb to the top of a rock wall, or to write your first novel.  So how specifically did we employ these values?

We had already spent the last few years making decisions to eliminate a lot of the non-essentials of our life and downsized many areas of our lives to make us time rich.

It really is quite amazing what you can do without, and how much enjoyment I get out of my life when I feel in control of where my money goes and how much joy I get out of it.

For me, it came down to the time value of money and the quality of life that money was providing. I remember constantly thinking how it didn’t make sense for me to work as many hours as I was, just to pay for a house that I was hardly using or wasn’t providing me with enough adventure and spontaneity that made me excited to start each day.  Therefore, we started cutting costs . . . big time.

Here are the 10 key things we did to be able to save money to travel:

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Money Saving Tip for Travel #1:  Eliminate non-essentials such as Netflix, cable, and wifi (yes, even wifi)

There were alternatives, though.  We started renting movies at our public library and used free public wifi (this was good practice for becoming a digital nomad).

We even looked around our house at ways we could eliminate these non-essentials by reducing our footprint (another tool that helped tremendously when we started traveling).

  • We stopped using the dishwasher and hand washed dishes using very little water.
  • We cut back on laundry by only washing things when they were really dirty.
  • We turned lights off when we didn’t need them.

Our water and electricity bills went down a ton and this really helped us save up enough money to travel.

How to save up money to travel long term

Money Saving Tip for Travel #2: Downsize

This was probably this biggest way we saved money.  We downsized our housing expense and cut all utilities when we moved into our RV.

What we pay for campgrounds is about a third of what we were paying for our mortgage so this in itself allowed for a huge amount of money to be saved.

Related blog: Why Living in an RV with 5 kids is Awesome

Now living in an RV might not be for everyone, and there are days when it is a little tough, but overall, living in an RV is amazing.  However, if your goal is just to save up enough money to travel for a while, consider downsizing to a van, rv, or even car camping for just a few months.

We also downsized our extracurricular activities.  Club soccer, competitive gymnastics, art classes, these things add up and don’t always provide as much happiness as we hope they will.

We simplified our commitments and made time for a lot of fun together as a family.  We are always out playing together and the trade off has been completely worthwhile for us.

Money Saving Tip for Travel #3: Pay off any debt

Luckily when we decided to move into our RV we had no debt.  However, on a subconscious level, I had been planning on doing something adventurous as the kids got older and had really been working towards getting us in a good financial position years before we actually made a conscious decision to travel.  

Besides paying off cars, stop using credit cards altogether.

I hated how it would feel at the end of the month when I’d get the credit card bill and be in shock at how much everything added up.

In addition, turn off automated expenses.  We had already cut down on how many bills we had to pay, but for things like iTunes, I removed our credit card.

Instead, purchase gift cards in the place of regular credit card expenses to make sure you stay within budget.

This is one of the easiest way to save money to travel.

How to save up money to travel long term

Money Saving Tip for Travel #4: Cash is king

In order to save money to travel, I’d put myself on a fixed cash budget for the week.

One of the best things I did was stop shopping at Costco. Sure, the wholesale warehouse is more affordable when you look at it per ounce, but it goes completely against my next rule because you will always walk out of Costco with things you don’t really need.

Groceries are our biggest expense, but I set up a specific budget for it and stick with it.  We don’t skimp on our food, though.  I keep our food budget pretty high so that the kids feel happy about how great we eat.

We also use up everything we have in our fridge and pantry before I go shopping again so that nothing is wasted.  The fewer times you go to the grocery store, the less you will spend.

Money Saving Tip for Travel #5: Don’t eat out

We didn’t eat out that much to begin with, but my husband and I had a habit of going out for a beer and burger every Thursday night at a popular brewery in Coronado.  By just cutting that out we saved over two hundred dollars each month.

I’m a strong believer in quality of life, so now we buy beer at Trader Joes at the beginning of the week and just go sit on the beach with a picnic.

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Money Saving Tip for Travel #6: Needs versus wants

We try to only buy what we need and only fix things if they are truly broken.  I remember walking through Pier One Imports and buying pillows and candles just because they were cute or smelled good.  Now, we don’t.

It helps when you avoid places that create unnecessary wants.

After how much my kids enjoyed traveling through Europe, they became good about understanding that their sacrifices allow us to what we do and I think they enjoy the sense of empowerment that gives them.

Related blog: Lessons Learned Living Small

How to save up money to travel long term

Money Saving Tip for Travel #7: Prioritize savings

We’ve never been paid by a paycheck, so instead, I’ve always had to be disciplined about how much money I would set aside from our business.

If you get regular paychecks, I’d recommend deciding on a dollar amount to automatically put into your savings.  

If you don’t see it, you won’t be tempted to spend it, therefore you will save money to travel.

Money Saving Tip for Travel #8: Use spreadsheets

I love budgeting and record keeping so this was an easy, and very important element, to save money to travel.   Use spreadsheets to project and record your expenses as detailed as possible.  Then, make sure you make adjustments in your spending habits to try and keep yourself on track.

How to save up money to travel long term

Money Saving Tip for Travel #9: Sell what you can

We had an extra vehicle that we didn’t necessarily need and didn’t want to see it just sit for six months, so we sold it, along with our trailer that was storing our belongings that we realized we really didn’t need anymore.  I loved the book The Art of Tidying Up where the author says, “Hold your belongings and ask yourself, ‘Does this spark joy?'”  This trick helped me get rid of A LOT of our stuff.

Money Saving Tip for Travel #10: Side jobs

Use your talents to create products or offer services that make extra money.  For us, this meant offering more gymnastics clinics and camps that we don’t normally count on for our regular expenses.

Final Tip: Save money for the gear you will actually need

As minimalistic as we’ve learned to be on our travels, we’ve learned that there are some material things that you will need when traveling long term.  Here are some of the most important things to pack when traveling:

While traveling long term, we applied a lot of these same tricks to make it so that we didn’t run out of money half-way through.  It’s also how we slowly became dirtbags.

It’s important that you are disciplined enough to get close to your goal without making so many sacrifices that you aren’t enjoying your life on the way.

The best advice I can give is to think outside the box.  A lot of things in life can be redefined and you can create the same result by choosing various paths.

Make sure your path is intentional and that you are creating the life you’ve always dreamed of.

If you do, skipping the latest gadget or newest restaurant won’t be that hard because the memories you’ll create and the excitement you feel will be worth the pennies saved because when you save money to travel, you are saving that money for something greater than instant gratification.

As far as putting your life on hold for six months, I’ll save that for another post 🙂

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