Bank itBegin with your bank account. If you don't have a savings account, get one. And then open another one just for travel. Most banks will even let you name your accounts so when you log in online you can clearly see what is what. Then, once you have the account (named "vacation" or "travel" or "Alaska" or whatever), use it. Add to it religiously, even if you can only afford small sums at a time. The easiest way to do so is to set up automatic transfers from your checking account each week or month. We don't get paid on a regular basis, so every time we do we just log on and schedule a transfer. We save a percentage of our income every month just for travel (5-10%), but you might prefer round sums like $25 or $250 a month. Once the money starts to accumulate, make sure you don't use it for anything other than travel! And once you have saved enough for that dream trip, spend it without guilt or hesitation. This is what you worked so hard for!
Analyze your spendingMaybe you don't think you can swing an extra $40 every month for that savings account. I bet you can. But if automatic withdraws seem like too much just yet, it's time to take a look at what else you spend your money on and if it's as important as that trip you've always wanted to take to Bejing. How often do you eat out per week? How many times do you stop at the coffee shop for an expensive latte? How many shoes do you buy each month? I would never tell you to deprive yourself of everyday things that bring you joy, but every time you go out to dinner when you could just cook at home, consider what's more important to you: Visiting the Louvre or chowing down on a steak and potato (or in our case a cashew cream alfredo). Every time you talk yourself out of a night on the town or a cute pair of heels, take the money you would have spent and put it in that vacation account! To help you visualize how much you could save, if you go out for a dinner for two three times a week and cut out one, you could save $30 a week. That's $1,560 in a year! We've toured entire countries for less than that! Do you order a $4 Frappuccino four times a week? Cut it down to two and you just saved $416 in a year for your next trip!
Find cheap alternativesIf there is something you do actually need at home, shop around and look for the best deal on everything, especially big ticket items like appliances or car repair. Buying used or refurbished saves money and the planet. Even shopping at discount stores can save a lot of dough. At the grocery store, buy the off-brand if it's cheaper. It usually tastes/works the same and if you do so continuously you could save plenty on your grocery bill in a year. If you need a new jacket, shop thrift stores or online to see if you can get it cheaper. Want a few new books to read? Buy them used. Holidays or birthdays coming up? Not even kids need all the crap they get. Try making gifts instead or spending a fraction of your usual amount on each recipient. They probably won't even notice. Go out with the girls (or guys) often? Propose free or cheap activities instead of pricey dinners or cocktails or movies or the shooting range or whatever you're into. Little savings add up over time and free up more cash for that travel fund.
Ask the hard questionsIt helps that we live in a tiny house with limited storage space, but our favorite question when we are considering a purchase large or small is, "Do we really need this?" It's the question my mom hates when we go shopping. (Me: Oh, that's cute. Mom: You should get it, it's only $8. Me: Naw, I don't really need it.) Drives her crazy. 'Cause it doesn't matter if those shorts are only $8 if I have a pair almost just like them and they're not going to fit in my tiny wardrobe anyway. This goes for large and small items from smoothies that you could make at home for 1/4 the price to that shiny new Cannondale you've had your eye on. Here's your follow up question: "Would I rather have X or a trip to [enter dream destination here]?"
Get somebody else to payDon't think you can save quite enough but might be close? Ask family and friends to get you airline or hotel vouchers for birthdays, holidays, anniversaries, you name it. A handful of people pitching in can really help put a dent in the cost of a trip.
Make some extra cashI'm not saying go out and get another part time job (unless you want to), but sometimes finding little ways to make money here and there can make a big difference in your savings account. If you have a garage sale, commit all that money to your travel fund. Sell big ticket items on Ebay or Craigslist. Go old school and shovel some driveways. Check Craigslist for people looking for someone to weed their garden one weekend or want to pay someone with a truck to help them move. Sign up to be a local co-host on AirBnB. It all adds up!
Save that loose changeNo joke. We used to save up all of our pocket change throughout the year and then use it toward Christmas presents. Instead, do it for travel. It probably won't add up to much unless you pay for everything with cash, but it will at least be enough to purchase a meal or two once you get to where you're going, and that's something!
Cut it outHave a lot of regular monthly fees coming out of your account? Get rid of them. Cable, for example, is expensive. Opt for a Netflix or Hulu account instead and pocket the difference. Do you actually use that gym membership? If not, cancel it. If you subscribe to any magazines that you never actually get to reading, do not renew. It's also not a bad idea to analyze your phone usage to see if you could downgrade to a cheaper plan. Same goes for internet. Have a regular mani-pedi appointment on the books? Unless you're a hand or foot model, that's unnecessary luxury if you're trying to save up.
With just a few adjustments to your lifestyle at home, those dreams of lying on a beach in Belize or photographing the Seine in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower are totally within reach. And you may even find that you love the frugal lifestyle! Have more ideas on how to save up for travel? Share them!