How to Save Money for Travel

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Having an extremely frugal (see: tacaña) family helped prepare me to manage my money. They made sure to save by meticulously conserving electricity or water in the house, or by refusing to buy what my Mami deems as unnecessary or wasteful household items (i.e. bottled water). Saving money was instilled in me ever since my Dad gave us our weekly allowance (from the ages of 5 to 18), followed by my Mami guiding us to automatically save at least 50% of that money at the bank. By the time I was in middle school, Mami opened my first bank account at the local credit union. Considering the fact that financial literacy is not taught enough in school, it’s an important life skill that we all need to learn to be mindful about.

International Money. Image Credit:
International Money. Image Credit:

Ever since I saw several articles that stated that millennials prefer to spend their money on experiences rather than things, I identified strongly with this. I realized that I’m really good at saving money for traveling and experiences because that is what my parents primarily spent money on, not material things. I had the privilege of having college-educated parents that were diligent about teaching me financial literacy, frugality, and saving. I also had the type of parents who never bought us any toys, technology, or clothes we wanted. We were taught from a young age to be happy with what we had, and that money was better spent on experiences as a family. If I did want something, I would try to save up for it from my allowance or I would make it. It’s never too late to teach yourself and your family to think of new ways to save money. Following is the list of what I have done in the past to consciously save money for traveling, but also to stay out of debt (excluding student loans):

Make gifts for people rather than an expensive or wasteful gift
This is one of the funnest and most creative ways to give people gifts. Think of planning a fun outing, day trip, and/or homemade surprise to give someone a gift they will never forget. This also eliminates the fear that you will be spending a lot of money on a gift that the receiver won’t like.

Track your flights and do research on timing
I like to use Kayak’s Yapta Flights or Google Flights to track flight prices. I do my research by googling when the best time is to buy affordable tickets to and from a certain location. Usually, peak times are around the holidays, for instance, between spring break to summer break, or between Christmas to New Years break. Great off-peak times are the 2nd week of January to end of February, or September to November. Ultimately, peak times depend on each location you are departing from and arriving to, so do your research with at least 3 months of anticipation.

Choose hostels or home-stays over hotels
I find that hotels can be sterile, stuffy, disingenuous, and expensive. They also make it easier to prop up a barrier between you and the local community. The best way to meet locals is to stay in their home, whether it be AirBnB or other local home-stay websites. Most places have their own version of AirBnB that might be cheaper and have better customer service. Don’t be afraid of hostels. Many of them have the option to book a full room to yourself if you prefer not to share a space with 10 others. Ultimately, it is usually the most inexpensive way to book lodging, and it’s a great way to meet fellow international travelers. Then of course there is Couchsurfing, where you can meet locals and stay with them for free on their couch or an extra bed if available.

Be environmentally friendly
By not buying material things, you are not contributing to the massive waste our consumer culture creates, and you are not spending money. Pass on the bottled water and use your own glass or metal water bottle. Reuse plastic bags instead of buying sandwich bags. Carpool with co-workers or use public transportation. Refuse to buy something brand new if you know you aren’t going to use it more than 10 times. Think about the positive impact you are making if you don’t buy something, even if you REALLY want it.

Save your tax return for a trip
Just as the title implies: automatically transfer your tax return to your savings account. Think of it as a lump sum of money that will not be touched until you are ready to plan a trip.

Thrift stores and consignment stores are LIFE
It’s baffling the amount of quality used items one can find at a thrift shop or second hand store. The best part is that you can find unique clothing that no one else has. I once found a used but perfect Prada blazer at a consignment store that was part of the Catholic Service’s Hispanic Outreach I volunteered at. I made a purse out of bright turquoise lycra pants I found at the Goodwill that must have been from the 80’s. I bought my senior prom dress for just under $9 at Salvation Army, and low-key I was awarded a certain “crown” if you catch my drift (humblebrag). There is no end to what you can do with someone’s old clothing that simply needs a wash or two to become your new stylish outfit. *Bonus: teach yourself to sew. This will give you the ability to alter some great finds from the thrift shop, or the ability to create a unique outfit tailored to you from scratch. I made my high school homecoming dresses with the help of my Mami’s friend, saved hundred of dollars, while teaching myself very basic sewing that also saved me money.

LOHS Prom 2006. From left to right: My sister Michele, my prima Caro, and me in my 80s vintage black and dark green dress from Salvation Army. I made my choker out of an old stretchy headband I had from the 6th grade.
LOHS Prom 2006. From left to right: My sister Michele, my prima Caro, and me in my 80s vintage dress. I made my choker out of an old stretchy headband I had from the 6th grade.


Cook for yourself
Depending on what kind of food you buy to cook with, not only can this be healthier for you, but you will save aaaaall the money.

Don’t drink (at least until the trip)
I know this one is really difficult to do, but if you add up how much you spend on drinking per week, prepare to be floored. One can spend upwards of $100 a week on booze. If you add that all up, that’s $400 a month that could have paid for a round-trip plane ticket. On the bright side, if you give up drinking for a while, your body and mind will thank you for it.

Take on a side job
I only recommend a short term side job to go along with your regular full time work and/or study schedule. This is a great way to enforce discipline with yourself by sending the entire extra income straight to a savings account. It’s also a great way to keep yourself from having the time to go shopping or to go out drinking with friends, both expensive activities that can make you spend upwards of $100 each time. The reason this should only be for the short term is because this can be harmful to your mental or physical health if you don’t keep a balance and make time for yourself and your loved ones. This requires diligent time management so you don’t go crazy or drive yourself to spend money eating out rather than cooking for yourself.

Keep track of every dollar spent
Become mindful and aware of how money is being spent by recording every single dollar spent. This forces you to create a budget, keep track of it, analyze it every day, and push you to make savings. This could dissuade you from blindly buying something without referring to your budget first. Microsoft Excel or Google Sheets provide some great templates to create a personal financial budget. Some other online budgeting resources are: Latinas Think Big – Budgeting Basics: Put Your Money In Its Place!,  The Latina Homemaker – Financial Resources for the New Year, and Forbes – 7 Budgeting Tools To Better Manage Your Money.

Do you have any strategies to save money? Please share in the comments below!


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