Confessions of a Reformed Spender

Saving Money for Travel

If I had to give a name to my financial nemesis, that name would be Duane Reade–-that chain of easily accessible convenient stores located on every other corner of New York City. Each time I step into a Duane Reade, currency takes on a different meaning, since $5 spent on an impulsive purchase isn’t nearly as impractical as buying that $50 shirt I was coveting.

Get more tips on<br />
how to budget for your trip
Get more tips on
how to budget for your trip

I have the same flawed way of thinking when it comes to the New York City metro card, which costs us New Yorkers a whopping $112 a month! Dropping money on a flimsy, plastic card is hard to swallow but refilling that card in $5, $10, or $20 increments makes the whole transaction easier to digest. Someone much more savvy in finances would stand up and state the obvious, which is I spend more refilling my card and save more by buying the monthly pass, but this is how I am, a child with monopoly money when it comes to saving…until now.

Having been bitten by the travel bug and struck with an insatiable wanderlust, I have made it my goal to turn my life upside down, break routine, and travel the world in 2016. My dream, appropriately dubbed The Pin the Map Project, will eventually take me from the less than glamorous stage of trip planning to the spiritual backdrop of Nepal, savory streets of Vietnam, and exotic culture of South East Asia. After days spent researching visas, pouring over maps, and estimating flight prices, I calculated how much this global adventure would cost me, attaching a price tag to the fantasy and begging the question of how exactly I would save for this trip?

 Traveling is as expensive as we make it and everything–from plane tickets to accommodations–can be affordable if you’re savvy to the deals and know how to save for travel.

I realized that planning a trip does not start when you pack your bags but rather goes back months—sometimes years— to the inception of an idea and goal to see the world. Whether planning for a week trip to Colombia or a six month tour of Asia, people can be deterred by travel because the process of planning is unclear and travel expenses seem insurmountable. Traveling is as expensive as we make it and everything–from plane tickets to accommodations–can be affordable if you’re savvy to the deals and know how to save for travel.

Consider this your guide.

Follow the money

Money

People who save for long-term travel tend to run the gamut from drastic savers (moving back in with their parents to save on rent) to casual savers (cutting expenses on take out and Starbucks). When I began saving for my global jaunt, I knew that I wanted to strike a balance between enjoying the present and planning for the future. I didn’t want to miss out on enjoying my friendships, relationship, and New York City by staying home to pinch pennies, but likewise I refused to relegate my travel dreams to the pages of a journal, never to be fulfilled. The answer was to figure out how I was spending my money and cut back reasonably.

When I began saving for my global jaunt, I knew that I wanted to strike a balance between enjoying the present and planning for the future.

The Mint application came in handy in both showing me how I spend my dollars and leaving me utterly flabbergasted about it. Let’s just say that my “harmless” afternoon work treats of a beverage here or snack there had banded together to form an army of work treats with a dollar amount much higher than $5. I consider myself a foodie as much as the next person, but I was throwing money towards snacks that in the end proved more expensive than a meal at a four star restaurant!

Like getting in shape, saving money is something you ease into if you truly want the habit to stick. As much as I wanted to cut my budgets in half, I knew it would prove disheartening when I inevitably exceeded them. The Mint application evaluates your spending habits and recommends budgets that you can then scale back slowly each month.

$14 cocktails or a night’s accommodation in Vietnam?

drinks

When I was growing up, my dad once told me that the mark of an adult vs. a child is the ability to discern between what is wanted and what is needed. As kids we want that toy, but as adults we learn that wanting and needing something is not the same thing. When saving money for travel, the push-pull relationship between “want” and “need” is constantly in motion.

“Yes, I want that amazing mojito to accompany my Cuban meal, but do I need it?”

“Yes, I really want that $22 lipstick from Sephora, but with other lipsticks at home, do I need it?”

Chances are the answer is no, and when you start to separate your financial needs from your wants, the money saved speaks for itself.

When saving money for travel, the push-pull relationship between “want” and “need” is constantly in motion.

Of course, life is about balance, and although I may not need something, it doesn’t mean I shouldn’t enjoy it. This, I believe, is where perspective comes into play, when we ask ourselves if what we’re about to hand over our credit card for is worth it. A $14 cocktail could pay for a night’s accommodation in Vietnam, but that $100 concert ticket could be an unforgettable experience with friends – perspective is a matter of opinion, and how we spend our money rests squarely on the carrier of the wallet.

Like taking candy from a baby

candy from a baby

Simply put, it is easier to save money when you are not actively doing so.  I used to save money by manually taking out dollars, walking myself over to HSBC, and depositing this money only to end up using it a week later. My failed saving attempts were salvaged when someone recommended setting up auto deposits to my savings account—a relatively simple solution that changed everything.

Saving money for travel is similar in that you have to choose to save money and put your purchases into perspective.

Like taking candy from a baby, my savings account pulls an amount from each paycheck, allowing me to forget about my savings and be pleasantly surprised when I check the balance from time to time.

I once read that saving money is a lot like getting in shape–it’s not enough to swap a salad for a pizza slice here and there, you really have to commit and just choose to eat healthy and visit the gym. Saving money for travel is similar in that you have to choose to save money and put your purchases into perspective. Although I am a reformed spender (who occasionally relapses with the impulse purchase at Duane Reade) these tricks have come a long way in helping me save for my adventure.

Author bio: Nikki Vargas is a freelance travel writer and photographer based in New York City with a career in advertising; her work has been published on FOOD & WINE and The Hostel Life. Nikki is planning for a long-term trip around South East Asia and regularly shares travel stories, planning tips, and destination inspiration on her site, The Pin The Map Project. Her next stop? Panama.

To read more about saving money, check out the following articles:

Photo credits: Jerome

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