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 $116.50 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 would 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 made it my goal to turn my life upside down, break routine, and travel the world. My dream, appropriately dubbed The Pin the Map Project, would 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, among others. 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?
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 a week-long 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.
So consider this your guide to saving money for that big trip you’ve been dreaming of.
1. Track Your Expenses
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.
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 expenses 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 could’ve bought me 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 by fifty-percent or more, I knew it would prove disheartening when I inevitably exceeded them. Mint evaluates your spending habits and recommends different budgets so that you can then scale back your expenditures slowly each month and save for travel gradually and virtually painlessly.
2. Reevaluate Wants Vs. Needs
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.
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 is a responsibility and decision that rests squarely on the carrier of the wallet.
3. Commit to Saving with Auto-Deposits
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.
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’s 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 healthily 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’m a reformed spender (who occasionally relapses with the impulse purchases) these tricks helped me save for my adventure.
About the author: Nikki Vargas is an NYC-based travel writer and photographer; her work has been published in VICE, FOOD & WINE magazine, Matador Network, Roads & Kingdoms, and more. Nikki regularly shares travel stories, planning tips, and destination inspiration on her site, The Pin The Map Project.
To read more about saving money prior to and during your trip, check out the following articles: