I know that many people read these lists with the hope that there'll be some sure-fire secret to getting on a plane tomorrow and leaving the worries of the world behind. Believe me, if there was, I'd be bottling it and would probably never have to think about money again.
But even though you may not be taking that dream trip right away, what I will say is this: travel is less expensive than you probably think and there is a systematic method to saving money for it (or anything that you want to save for).
When I talk about travel on this blog, I don't just write about it for frequent or long-term travellers, I'm writing about it for anyone who wants to lead a more fulfilling lifestyle that focuses more on experiences rather than material things. While I can wholeheartedly recommend grabbing any opportunity to grow through travel, you don't have to be a full-time nomad to have this experiential mindset. What I'm talking about here is fundamentally changing our thinking on consumerism and creating a more balanced lifestyle that prioritises getting out and experiencing life instead of simply watching it on TV or trying to channel our happiness through continual accumulation of physical goods.
So whether your reason for reading this post is to save for a big trip, or to start taking regular weekends away or simply to be more active in your local area by say doing something you've never tried before once a month, you can start making a change with our ten tried and true money saving tips.
Ready? Let's make it happen!
1. Open a travel savings account
When you want to save for anything big and/or long-term, a great strategy is to open a separate savings account specifically for that goal.
This is especially useful if you generally find it difficult to save. Additionally, it's a great feeling to see that number continually going up knowing that this money is 100% going towards this new experienced-based lifestyle you want to create for yourself.
Most banks have account options that encourage saving. For example, ones that will automatically transfer a set amount from your regular bank account to your travel savings account each month or that you can earn higher interest on. Look into the options and see what will work best for your situation. You may also find that working on these next few steps first will give you a better indication of how much you can safely put aside each month, and in turn how to organise your travel finances.
So let's start making moves towards getting some cash in that account, shall we?
2. Track your spending
Do you actually know what you currently spend your money on? It may sound like a strange question but if you really think about it, I'm sure many of us couldn't answer this question accurately. I don't know how many times I've met people who've said that they ‘don't know where all their money goes' and they're counting the hours until pay day.
Whether you feel like you're living paycheck to paycheck or not, start keeping track of what you're spending your money on. I mean every cent of it. Nowadays there are plenty of free apps you can get on your phone to track expenses, or you can simply keep a little old-school notebook in your bag. Whatever works best for you.
This activity in and of itself can shift your whole perspective on spending. Those small purchases you make daily or a few times a week, one's that you rarely give a moment's thought to, suddenly have much more significance when you calculate the cost of that habit over months or a year.
To look at your annual salary and then see where the pieces of that pie actually go can be quite alarming. Hundreds, even thousands, going towards things that don't really mean that much to you. But reaching this point in the process is a great thing, because we now start to see the value in our spending and we can start shifting that spending from things that don't contribute much to our life experiences to ones that do.
3. Differentiate your essential vs. non essential spending
Now that we have a bigger picture of our spending, it's time to look at where we could be making some changes. At the end of the month (or over a few months to see more patterns over time), review your list and put those expenses into two categories: essential and non-essential.
Essential spending is the kind of spending that cannot be avoided and covers basic needs. Things like rent, electricity and water bills, health insurance, loans and groceries.
Non-essential is anything you can live without. Be strict on yourself with this one. Being on point with every new fashion trend unfortunately doesn't fall under essential. I'd really love to back you up on this one, but remember we are on the road to collecting experiences, not things. Have someone else look at your list objectively if you're finding this process difficult, and it will be at first. But trust me, as somewhat of a reformed shopaholic myself, I can say it gets a lot easier over time. Plus, there's no reason why you can't still enjoy the things you like while limiting spending. We'll talk about that some more later.
4. Get the best deal on essential spending
Now really look at those essential spending items. While we can't eliminate spending on these items completely (nor should we), we can make sure we aren't spending more than we have to. Spend a weekend getting quotes from different service providers. Often what may have been the best deal two years ago, isn't the best deal today.
Are there things you are paying for that you don't actually use? Or do you constantly go over your allocated limit? Would you be better off on a different plan? Would you be getting a better deal with a different provider? Could you save some cash by bundling some of these services together with the same company, such as your home and car insurance? Not gonna lie, it's boring as hell, but spending a weekend getting our lives in order and potentially saving cash every month towards the lifestyle we want is well worth this small time investment.
In fact, try to do this semi-regularly as part of your holistic financial management strategy. For example, you could make checking the latest deals part of your routine come tax time every year.
5. Significantly cut down on non-essential spending
This is the area that we can usually save the most on. Now I'm not going to say just stop spending money on things you don't need. We all know that it's not always as simple as that and I always say that the key to maintaining anything for the long-term is to make whatever you do sustainable. Stay with me here; you don't have to go cold turkey or cut all the fun out of your life.
Start by simply cutting down on non-essential expenses. If you usually buy lunch out every day, try only doing that every second day. If you usually grab a latte on your way to work, get a nice coffee flask and bring your brew from home or make it at the office.
Also, sometimes it's worth considering spending more in the short-term for longer-term savings. For example, if you're a real coffee lover, you may find that investing in a coffee machine to make better quality ones at home will prevent the temptation of store-bought coffees and save you in the long run. The bottom line is, you don't have to drastically cut out things you love or even at all, you just need to consider what's more important to you and whether there are more cost-effective ways to enjoy your favourite things.
Often once we start breaking a habit in a sustainable way like this, we can see the huge difference these changes can make both to our travel fund and to our overall happiness as we start to feel more in control of our lives and closer to our goals. Then we may even get to a point where we just let go of some non-essential spending entirely because we no longer feel the urge to spend on it and are finding greater happiness in putting this money towards other things.
When it comes to clothes and other physical items, starting from 6-12 months out from a trip, Hai and I have the basic philosophy of, if it's not coming on the trip with us, then we don't get it. This works well for longer trips, when these items would either just sit in your house or in a box somewhere doing nothing for elongated periods (and potentially just forgotten about or never used), or you'd have to go to the trouble of getting rid of them before you leave anyway.
However, you can also employ elements of this thinking to control spending even if you're planning shorter escapes. For example, rather than just buying any clothes you like, buy with intent and future trips in mind. Limit your spending to things that fulfill a hole in your current wardrobe, that make your heart skip a beat and would be a definite inclusion in your suitcase on your next trip. This kind of thinking makes us go through a healthy questioning process before spending and also keeps that next exciting adventure at the top of our minds, fueling our motivation to stay on target.
6. Realise what you have already
Have you ever done a closet clean-out or moved house and found a bunch of stuff you didn't even realise you had or had totally forgotten about? Perhaps some things still with the tags on them? We've all been there, let me tell you.
The thing is, we're often closer to a fuller travel account than we realise, and analysing what we already have can mean either a bunch of stuff to sell and make money from and/or finding things we can actually make use of and thereby avoiding unnecessary future purchases. Either way, that's more money in our travel savings.
Basically, go through everything you own. This is a big undertaking so start with one project at a time. Your closet, the spare room, your garage. Consider what you really use/need and mark the other items to sell, re-purpose or give away.
Tip: Be ruthless and try to be honest with yourself. Will you ever really wear that dress that you bought on sale two years ago and have never worn? If you bought it and then totally forgot about it at the back of your wardrobe, the likely answer is no. But if I'm truly undecided, I give it a temporary reprieve. I've now been reminded that I have the item and have the opportunity to make use of it. However, if I still haven't touched it by the time I do the next closet clean-out, it goes without question.
Doing a regular stocktake of what you already have actually works to alleviate some of those tendencies to buy new stuff. For example, when you put out all the clothes you own, you can re-imagine your wardrobe in new ways. Like if we actually pair this dress with that belt or that jacket, we can suddenly have a whole new outfit and still feel appropriate and on trend for the season.
7. Know market value
Before you get too giddy on the feeling of ridding yourself of all these items that have been weighing you down, don't be too quick to just give stuff away.
That old desk in the garage may look dusty and pretty worthless right now, but what if you sanded it down and gave it a few coats of varnish? Sometimes a small investment in supplies and a little elbow grease is all that is needed to transform something from trash into a statement piece.
Take a look at Ebay and similar sites and research the current market value. You may be surprised to learn what people are willing to pay for some items, especially with the trend towards vintage.
Spend a few hours each weekend putting up a couple of items you no longer need on Ebay or Craigslist. Invest time in making a good listing, including all the relevant information and good photos. Be honest and respond to customers promptly, and you can quickly create a good reputation for yourself, which will in turn help you to sell things and make more profit in the future.
For lots of smaller items, you may also consider having a garage sale or paying for a stall at a market. Before moving to Japan, I paid $50 for a spot at a second-hand market in Australia. I made $700 profit on things like old jewellery, clothes and CDs, things that were just collecting dust and I never use or wear anymore. Fifty cents here, $2 there, it all adds up.
Tip: Invest time beforehand to make your stall worth stopping at. That includes making sure everything is clean, ironed and presentable. I made nice little price tags for everything, laid out some pretty scarves to display small items like jewellery on, and had portable racks to hang the clothes. All of these details make your stall stand out and worth a look, and because I wasn't greedy in what I was asking for, many people bought multiple items without a second thought.
8. Don't feel the need to buy “travel stuff”
Before you go on a big trip, it's easy to feel the need to go buy a heap of “travel” clothes and accessories, and think that things you already have won't do. While you'll find a lot of great stuff in travels stores, and I'm not saying you shouldn't visit or buy from them, there's a whole lot of fandangle (and often expensive) stuff that honestly isn't necessary for most people on most trips.
We end up packing more or less the same things on our travels, and I guess we've found what works for us over more than a decade travelling the world. When we first started travelling, I used to get really hung up on packing lists. I would feel I needed to follow them to the letter and have all bases covered. What resulted was either spending too much on items that were completely unnecessary, or when more generic items would have done the job, and/or spending less on discount-bin sale items that fit the bill of being light-weight or “temple appropriate” but were such a mish mash of colours and designs that I honestly cringe at some of our earlier travel photos. I didn't like them at all.
I would have been better off just bringing a combination of clothes I already had and felt comfortable in along with a few select “travel” items. Unfortunately what makes the contents of the perfect travel bag is going to be different for everyone and the particular trip. We don't always get it 100% right, but it is something that you get better at predicting the more you travel and get to know your own habits on the road.
All I'm suggesting here is to think carefully about the type of trip you're taking before buying a lot of items just for your trip. Nowadays we find other peoples' blogs to be a great resource in researching what conditions are like on the ground at the time of year we're planning to visit a certain place and for the types of activities we will likely do there. That way we can make a more informed decision about whether a particular trip calls for a specific type of clothing or accessory or not.
9. Invest in the important things
Saying all of that, I want to stress the importance of not skimping out on the real staples of travel, like solid footwear and a great backpack. This will not only save you money in the long run, but will also make your travel more comfortable and enjoyable.
There is really no pleasure in giving yourself a million blisters or back pain for the sake of saving a few bucks. Plus the whole reason we travel is to enjoy new experiences and we're not really going to be living in the moment if we're wincing at every step.
10. Prioritise and live with intent
Honestly, I think this is the most important point and is the reason why we've saved so much to travel. We've made travel a priority in our lives. We've chosen to sacrifice some things for the sake of travel, because travel is more important to us than other things that we used to or could spend our money on.
Even if you've read all of these points and are ready to implement them to get more travel into your life, I can say that your lifestyle is unlikely to change significantly if you don't really want it to. You have to decide what is most important to you. What do you want your life to look like? With a strong intent to live a certain way comes motivation, and motivation is what keeps us on track to fulfilling our goals.
A great way to remind yourself daily of your travel goal and why you are sacrificing some things for it is to post notes around the house, like in the toilet or by your desk, that illustrate what your savings mean in a real travel context. For example, walking a few blocks instead of taking the tram saves you 2 bucks. Doesn't sound like a whole lot. But when you compare that to a delicious meal in Thailand, you can tangibly see how every little bit counts towards a greater travel experience. So make a sign that says $2 = the best green curry of my life with a scrumptious looking picture. That t-shirt you almost bought only because it was on sale. That's now a sign that says $5 = one night in a private room in India. That time you spend each night making your lunch for the next day, that's $20 saved each week. $20 = seeing a world-renowned ballet at the Kremlin in Moscow.
Choose whatever relates to your own interests. If it's food, equate it to cooking classes and dishes you want to try. If it's seeing World Heritage sites, then equate your savings to the entry ticket prices for the ones top of your bucket list. If this doesn't excite you about getting out and seeing the world, I don't know what will!
So much of saving your money for travel (or anything important to you) is freeing yourself of the thinking that there are no choices in life. Sure, society tries to take us on a certain path, but I doubt you'd be reading this post if you truly believed that working tirelessly for a house, a car, the biggest TV in the universe, whatever, was the ultimate source of happiness. You can step outside of the mould and make conscious choices that contribute to the life you want to lead, no matter the size of those steps you want to take.