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Making Travel a Reality - How We Build Our Travel Fund

Making Travel a Reality - How We Build Our Travel Fund

My husband and I try to go on 3-4 trips a year. Eventually we want to travel fulltime, but we both have jobs and 4 animals at home, so it is not an option right now. Instead, we make the most of the time we do have, traveling over holidays and using paid vacation time. We also try to take advantage of three day weekends. We live in Texas,  and there are a ton of awesome places just a short drive away.  Hence the name, Near & Far Adventure..  ;)

I have many friends, family, and coworkers who have asked us how we afford to travel. Or when sharing photos and stories of our recent adventures, we often hear "must be nice" or "I wish I could travel, but..." somewhere in the conversation. So in the following post, I am going to share with you the honest truth of how we build our travel fund, along with some other ideas for how you can build yours as well. I hope this list inspires you to make travel a part of your life; whether it's to take that big trip you've always wanted to go on, or just spend more weekends away with the family.

Side note: I absolutely recommend paying off current revolving debt and creating an emergency savings before starting a travel fund. Chad and I have had to learn financial responsibility the hard way, and believe me it is not fun. Over time we have worked to pay down our revolving debt, build up our credit, and prioritize our finances. If I could recommend one thing above all else, don't book vacations you can't pay for and do not drain your savings to travel. Living for the moment is awesome, but do so with a safety net. Once you have an emergency savings set up, then start building your travel fund.

Before I get into the details of how we actually save for travel, I'd like to be completely transparent about a few things: We both have full time jobs, and we do not have kids. I know what you're thinking - If I had two incomes and no kids, I could travel all the time, too - and I totally get it.  But I can assure you, we have bills like everybody else; a ridiculously expensive mortgage (which we plan to get out of within the next year), student loan payments,  4 animals, utilities, cars, insurance, and all the other standard expenses. It adds up fast. We still have to keep a strict budget, we just make our travel goals an important part of that budget.

Prioritize Your Goals

If you want to get a promotion at work, you make it a priority and you go above and beyond in your job. If you want to finish school, you make it a priority and you study everyday. If you want to lose 10 pounds, you make it a priority and you go to the gym.  If you want to travel more, you have to make it a priority in your life. I am a firm believer that we make room in our lives for what is truly important. I want to travel as much as possible throughout the year, so I do whatever I can to make that happen. All of our disposable income goes in the travel fund. Even if you just want to go on one trip a year, you have to put the money in the travel fund. And that means the money has to come from something or somewhere else. It is very simple. You either have to increase your income or decrease your spending. This post deals mainly with the latter, but I'll quickly touch on a few ways to increase your extra income.

Increase Your Extra Income

  • If you get a raise at work, no matter how small, the difference goes in the travel fund. The way I see it, we were surviving just fine on our previous salary. So instead of increasing our spending to match our new income, we try to save the difference instead.  
  • If you get a tax refund, put that entire check in the travel fund. Chad has to pay taxes at the end of every year, but I have a teacher's salary and I get a small refund most of the time. That refund goes in savings. Or I go ahead and book a trip with it, so that I am not tempted to spend it on other fun things.
  • If you get cash for birthdays or holidays, even if it is just $25, put it in the travel fund.
  • If you are crafty or creative, find a way to make money doing it. I have friends who make wooden signs, knit hats, pour candles, cook or bake, do freelance photography, freelance writing, the list goes on and on. Anything that you already enjoy doing as a hobby, can probably be done for extra spending money. Put that spending money in the travel fund.
  • Get your side hustle on. If you have a free afternoon a week or extra time at night, use that time to earn extra cash. It can literally be anything; grow a garden and sell what you don't eat at your local farmers' market, raise chickens and sell the extra eggs, chop wood, mow lawns, substitute teach or tutor, clean houses, offer freelance IT work, offer to do odd jobs around the house for family or friends. Then put that extra money in the travel fund.
  • Sell the stuff you don't use anymore. Gently used clothing, old video games or electronics, old furniture, books, gym equipment, anything. Yes, I am going to say it again, put that extra money in the travel fund.

Decrease Your Extra Spending

Okay, this is the biggest way we build our travel fund.  I don't expect you to use each and every method listed below. Like I said above, our goal is to travel as much as we can throughout the year. So when we are saving for a trip, we cut everything. Your travel goals may not be as extensive, so you might just want to pick a few areas where you can cut spending. And then, yep, you guessed it. Put that money in the travel fund. 

  • Take your lunch to work. I work from home, but it is so tempting to go pick up lunch. When saving for a trip, I eat whatever is in the kitchen (and sometimes that means getting creative with a box of rice and some old tomatoes). Chad will make sandwiches at the office. Those $10 trips to Chick-fil-A add up real fast, so brownbag it and save the difference.
  • Stop dining out at restaurants. This is where most of our money goes. We love to go out to eat. So if we are tempted to go out and we decide to stay home and cook, we put that money in the travel fund. Why? Because it's $50 we were going to spend on sushi, and now it's $50 we can spend on travel.
  • Stop giving Starbucks all your money. I am going to be real honest about this one. I love Starbucks. In every other aspect of my life I am a stickler for supporting local businesses. But Starbucks makes my latte exactly the way I want it.  Yes, it costs $5.00. That's why I only get it once a week instead of everyday. The other days I make my coffee at home. It is my weekly splurge, and I savor it. I would rather eat leftovers everyday than give up my latte. But if you need a place to save money, breaking up with your barista is a good place to start.
  • Go on cheap dates. Like I mentioned above, we love going out to eat. A fun date for us would be drinks and sushi on a Saturday night, followed by a movie with popcorn and candy. That's at least $100. When we're being frugal, we'll go on a day-date instead, for coffee and a trip to the bookstore. Our cinema also has an early bird discount for the first showing of the day. Or cook dinner and rent a movie. Redbox is $1.00 (or $1.50 for Blu-Ray if you're fancy).
  • Cancel your "extras." Make a list of all your monthly expenses and cut the fat. This could mean your cable package, gym membership, anything that you pay for every month and don't use or need. Every few months, make the list again and reevaluate what is actually used and what is wasting money. 
  • This is a huge one: we went down to one car instead of two. Now depending on your situation, this may not be practical, or even logistically possible. We went back and forth for months on whether or not we could make this work. It requires mapping out our weeks in advance. Sometimes it causes problems and headaches (and arguments). But we also put that extra money in our travel fund, and for now, that is worth it to us. This may change in the future.
  • Minimalize your beauty regimen. You're probably not going to like this one, but the truth is, us girls spend a ton of money on beauty products.  So if you are looking for ways to save money, the answer might be in your bathroom (or your closet). Even a temporary budget cut can help you reach your travel goals faster. I know you are going to think I live like a cave person, but here is a list of all the beauty expenses I have cut in the past few years, both temporary and permanent:
    • I stopped getting my hair colored, and instead I just get trims. In reality I was tired of the upkeep, but now I just can't bring myself to spend my hotel budget on my roots. I went from $150 every six weeks to $50 every few months.
    • I don't wear a lot of makeup to begin with, most of the time just tinted moisturizer and mascara. But all of my makeup fits in one makeup bag, including my one makeup brush. I get a new bottle when I run out of the other one. If you love to get new makeup every week for fun, here's an easy way to save $50-100 a month.
    • I don't get my nails done. If you go to the nail salon once or twice a month, those mani/pedis can cost you $100 a month or more. I also don't spend a lot on nail polish. I have a lot of girlfriends who easily have over 50 bottles of nail polish at home, which cost $5-15 each. I probably have 1 or 2 bottles of nail polish at any given time.  
    • I stopped clothes/shoe shopping, unless it's something I need for a trip. And then I try to get whatever I need on sale. Chad will literally wear his boots until they have holes in them, and then he'll go get them resoled instead of buying new ones. The last time I cleaned out my closet, I found so many things I had only worn once, or never worn, or items that still had the tags on them. I have started building a capsule wardrobe instead, and I definitely recommend it to clear the clutter out of your life and save a lot of money in the process.
    • I don't buy jewelry. I usually just wear my wedding ring and a pair of stud earrings.
    • I stopped buying designer bags, watches, and shoes. Don't get me wrong, I believe you get what you pay for, and it is always worth it to pay for an expensive, well-made pair of shoes (or jeans). But we used to buy a lot of Michael Kors, Coach, Kate Spade, purses, watches, heels, you get the idea... Now instead of buying a $200 handbag, I buy a plane ticket. 
    • Do I cut out everything? Of course not. If there's something I really want and love, I buy it. But I weigh the options first, and I decide whether or not that shiny thing in the mall or that manicure is worth dipping into my travel fund. For example, I have a travel bottle of Chanel perfume, that I bought for my trip to Paris. I love it, and I have no regrets. That little bottle of Chanel and my weekly Starbucks are my two guilty pleasures. I am a caveperson who smells good and drinks lattes.

Actually Put the Money in Your Travel Fund

I mean physically move it. We often cut back on spending to save money but we don't actually move the saved money over to our savings. Eventually that money will just be spent somewhere else (for us, that's going out to eat). So when you make an extra $20 or save $10 in any way, open your checking app and transfer that money over. Or keep a running list in your notes and do it once a week/month.  Or download one of those snazzy apps that will do it for you. If you don't have the money in your checking account, then you can't be tempted to spend it.  This is seriously the easiest way to save for a vacation. I'll even move over "shoulda, coulda, woulda" money. If we talk about going out to eat, and then we decide to be frugal instead and cook at home, I'll move over what we would've spent on dinner to the travel fund.

Make Credit Cards Work for You

We have several credit cards that offer miles or points per dollar, and we put everything we possible can on them. HOWEVER, this only works if you limit your monthly charges to what you can actually afford, and if you pay off the statement balance in full each month. If not, you end up paying interest charges and fees. Find a card that has the best rewards for your goals (free hotel nights, miles, transferable points, etc.), put all of your monthly expenses on that card, and then pay it off every month.  Also look at the sign-on bonuses. The Chase Sapphire card offered 100,000 points for signing up, 2 points per dollar for travel expenses, 1 point for everything else, and 1.25% bonus when booking travel on their site. 100,000 points is worth $1000 in travel.  The Capital One Venture card is double the miles for all purchases, plus a 50,000 mile sign-on bonus. I don't recommend opening a ton of cards, but if one has a great sign-on offer and great perks, it can really help pay for travel expenses. But ONLY if you can control your spending and pay your card off every month. As an example, last year we paid for our flights to St. John, our flights to Europe, and our hotel in Amsterdam with miles. This year we have two big trips planned, and we will probably book all of our flights with miles. If you don't think you travel enough to warrant a card with travel bonuses, then get a card with great cash back perks, and use some of that cash back to pay for gas on road trips or hotel stays.

Stick to your Goals

It's one thing to say you are going to start a travel fund. It is quite another to stick with it three months down the road when all of your friends are going out, or you see a cute pair of shoes at a store, or you don't feel like cooking AGAIN. I completely understand. We have those weeks where we get fast food three nights in a row. Or I'll go into Target for deodorant and spend $100 on who knows what.  When that happens, I remind myself that I would rather have experiences than things. I want to make memories. I want to see the world. I want to embrace the wanderlust. That might mean eating leftovers everyday, and wearing last year's boots, and saying no to drinks on Friday night. But I promise you, it is so worth it.

** EDIT! **  <-- How Could I Forget?

I somehow left out one of the MOST important changes we've made to our budget: I quit smoking cigarettes. Six years ago, I quit cold turkey. It was by far one of the hardest things I have ever done (As I right this, Carrie Bradshaw is currently smoking a cigarette on TV, and I want one. For some people, that feeling goes away. I am not one of those people). However, quitting smoking came with more than just health benefits. For a pack a day, at $5.00 a pack, over 6 years, I have saved $10,950.00. That's right. Quitting smoking could singlehandedly stock your travel fund every year. Think of all the amazing places you could go for $1,825.00, then throw out the cigarettes and buy yourself a plane ticket.  <3


How do you build your travel fund? Share in the comments below!


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