How Do I Afford to Travel So Much?
“Where are you going this time?”
“Didn’t you just get back from somewhere amazing?”
“How do you afford all of these trips?”
I get these questions all the time. The answer to the first usually surprises people – when you pick vacation destinations because they’re less mainstream (hello, Budapest) or fun to say (good old Copenhagen), you raise a few eyebrows. Because people know I travel a lot, they often think I’m just making a pit stop at home or the office to check in and swap luggage. Frequently, they’re right.
While many people are intrigued by the destinations I choose and the experiences I have, almost as many are interested in how I’m able to travel so often. Sure, people want to know about my annual trip to San Francisco/Napa or why I’m boarding a 6 a.m. flight to D.C. No one’s surprised when I go to New York on a Friday night. But the trips that always attract the most attention are the European vacations I take – often twice per year. My answer varies. When I explain why I’ve chosen a certain destination or what I plan to do there but when someone asks how I can afford to travel again, the answer is always the same.
I have a travel savings account.
For the past 10 years I have been able to travel where and when I want to. I did it without worrying about finding the money or coming home with debt because I maintain a dedicated travel fund. The money is there when I’m ready to use it and is never considered when I’m revising my budget or fulfilling my financial obligations. In the year after I bought my home, I went to Europe twice, in addition to my regular domestic trips.
This was possible and, honestly, easy, because at no time was my travel account factored into the financial planning related to buying my home. My travel money was always kept separate as I saved for my down payment, and I added to both accounts regularly so that I know I can always afford to travel. As anyone who has bought a home knows, after the stress and craziness of the process, you really do just want to go on vacation. So I did.
I’ve always been responsible with my money, so despite the fact that I was repaying school loans and earning a pitiful salary from my first post-college job, I knew I could make saving for travel a reality. Everyone’s budget and financial obligations are different, but here are a few tips that have helped me maintain a healthy travel account for a decade.
Here’s How I Afford to Travel So Much
- Make it hard to withdraw money from your travel fund. Don’t link it to a checking or debit account.
- Put “windfall money” in your travel account. The $20 that made it through the wash in your pants pocket or the small bills you (okay, I) find when switching purses are perfect for the travel account. If you can, also put cash gifts or money you’ve been repaid into it.
- Physically put aside your windfall money. I keep two jars on my shelf–one for coins, one for bills and checks. If you have a place to put the $20 from the wash, you won’t be as tempted to put it in your wallet or spend it. Every few months, empty your jars and make a deposit.
- If you have a source of income that does not figure into your household budget, put part or all of that into your travel fund. I babysat well into my twenties; every single check went toward travel.
- When you travel, don’t spend money frivolously just because you have it. Enjoy sights and experiences, eat good food, drink great wine, and do some shopping. But if you can walk, don’t take a taxi, and if two hotels are equally attractive, book the cheaper one. Use the travel fund for its intended purpose, but don’t over-use it.
- If you return from a trip with money, put it right back into your account. You won’t spend it if you deposit it, plus it will earn a little interest.
- Don’t stop contributing to your account just because you think you have enough money to cover your trip–keep going so you’re already ahead of the game when your next travel opportunity comes along!
Though this approach may not work for everyone, it’s allowed me to see and do some incredible things and afford to travel on my own terms. In April, I spent 10 days in Paris and Normandy. Because I had my travel account, I didn’t have to compromise or cut things. After, I booked a hostel, spent five days touring the City of Light, and went on five day trips. I made new friends outside of Notre Dame, ran into a childhood friend in Rouen, and practically ate my weight in macarons.
Most importantly, I didn’t have to wonder if I could afford to travel; I knew I could, because of my travel savings account.
I’m currently stamping my way through my third passport and am looking ahead to my next trip. I tell people that having a passport is one of the best things I’ve ever done for myself, and it’s true. But maintaining a travel account is a close second. I’ve had unforgettable moments traveling, and I plan to have many more. Hopefully, if anything I’ve written here has been helpful, you’ll have some great travel moments too.