Google it and you’ll find numerous articles on “how to afford travel” - but there’s a problem with most of them. Many are written by nomads or travel bloggers who have sold everything to live out of a single suitcase. And while that sounds intriguing, it’s not realistic for the average bill-paying, middle-class person who just wants to go on a nice vacation. This blog post is a little more realistic. These tips aren’t going to turn you into a millionaire with an unlimited travel budget (but if you know how to make that happen, let me know). And this list might not be for everyone. But these are my secrets for traveling well and traveling often. I’m going to break down how my husband and I afford to travel on a middle-class income without going crazy, or worse - into debt.
- Prioritize travel: By far, this is our top secret weapon for affording frequent trips. We consider our travel expenses a necessity. It gets lumped right in with dog food and health insurance, because it’s that important to us. When travel is treated as a necessity, it changes the way we treat our vacation budget.
- Saving spare change + changing habits: I know, I know - your daily coffee on the way to work only costs $4.29, but what if you skipped it? And do you really need another pair of shoes? Again, no judgement - humans spend money on what they value - and if that daily coffee brings you joy, have at it. However, we found that by skipping expenses that we didn’t find value in, our vacation budget stretched further.
- Minimalist lifestyle: Again, this list is how we do it, so I don’t expect you to go out and sell everything you own. We have a small home, which means smaller heating/cooling bills, fewer things to repair, and less stuff in general. We sell things we don’t need and over analyze every purchase before it’s made. We even have one car! It works for us, and it saves a ton of money.
- Strategize your travel: Being flexible with travel dates is one of the best ways to knock down the price of a vacation. Consider traveling during off-season times, when accommodations, flights, and cars tend to be more affordable. Another trick? Traveling midweek - Wednesdays and Saturdays tend to be cheaper days to fly (according to the latest studies).
- Use your time wisely: Trying to knock a bunch of cities off your bucket list? Use long layovers to see more of where you’re at. During a 16 hour layover in Los Angeles, we rented a cheap car and drove around for the day, visiting Santa Monica Pier, trying various restaurants, and enjoying the city instead of being stuck in an airport all day.
- Don’t pay for flights: We haven’t paid full price for a flight in years, ever since upgrading to the Platinum Delta Amex credit card. With a huge sign on bonus and great travel perks, you can’t go wrong. One of us flew for FREE to Tahiti - a savings of nearly $2,000. We put every expense on our credit card, which is money that would be spent anyway, and we turn it into points. Another perk? A free yearly companion flight that more than makes up for the $195 annual fee. Do your research and see which travel credit card suits your needs.
- Put discounts to work: When I’m not planning travel, I’m a nurse. My employer has deals with a few car rental and hotel companies, and I take advantage of those whenever I can. Renting a Jeep Wrangler in Hawaii is an amazing way to get around, but it can hurt the wallet, with some rentals exceeding $1,000 for the week! With my work discount, I was able to snag us a Jeep rental for under $400. Know what kind of discounts are available to you and use them!
- Use a travel agent: Of course I’m going to include this! The first time we used a travel agent, I was skeptical. But had we planned that trip on our own, I’m positive we would have spent way more just by not having the perks of an agent on our side. Not to mention, the payment plans made it slightly less painful to pay for the vacation over the course of a year instead of in one big chunk.
A nice vacation doesn’t mean breaking the bank! Good planning and knowing your budget are key to affording comfortable and frequent travel. It also doesn’t mean sacrificing your daily life just to travel - find a balance that works for you and your lifestyle. If travel is important enough to you, you’ll find a way to make it work!