How We Afford to Travel: Real Talk From a Real Couple

We love to travel. So there is one phrase that is like nails on a chalkboard to me.  It is, “Must be nice.”  This phrase is shot to Ed and I often when we discuss recent or upcoming travels.  Since 2007, we have traveled to over 10 countries together and survived 5 international flights together. We like long road trips and last minute trips if it is possible. When someone says, “Must be nice.” They don’t realize that we have made a decision to not eat out for 2 months to save for a plane ticket and to this day still do not have rug in our living room. 

Saving money for travel is as much about priorities as it is income or resources.  It is a mindset we have practiced since the early days of our relationship.  Here are a few secrets we have gathered over the past twelve years of travel that allow us to make travel a priority.

How We Afford to Travel
Castle on the hill in Sentra, Portugal

After Basic Needs, Make Traveling a Priority

Firstly, we ensure bills, mortgage, and food is covered.  (You know, the basic needs.)  Then we decide what can be saved for future trips.  Ed and I then decide what needs to be sacrificed in order for the trip to happen.  It may be eating out or going to the movies.  Also, we take into account money we may save away.  Example: Turning the AC up and having a lower power bill while we are away.

Other things we have put to the side to travel:  decorating the living room, replacing our Hudson’s plates, and having an iPhone three generations behind the current model. 

Create a Realistic Time Frame

Once we have a written budget for a trip, we will create a time frame.  We take the following into consideration when creating a timeline.

  1. How long we want to travel versus how much time we can take off of work. 
  2. When is the best time to visit that country based on cultural events and weather.  (Knowing it will be more expensive during popular times.)
  3. The amount of money we can save for our trip.
How We Afford to Travel
Prayers in the Temple. Suzhou, China

Buy the Most Expensive Tickets First and Pay It Off

Our first purchase is always the international plane ticket.  I usually book the plane tickets 3 to 6 months in advance.  I will pay off the plane tickets right away, and then move on to lodging.  By the time we depart, all major attractions, transportation, and experiences are paid off.  The main goal is to depart with no credit card debt. 

That way, if there is an emergency or something unexpected, we can still afford the rest of our trip with an emergency credit card that is not maxed out.

Research the Entire Trip from Transportation to Attractions

We know what to purchase by researching all aspects of the trips.  One can easily be surprised by the cost of public transportation or travel to the airport.  I was shocked to learn there is no jetty bus service from Hilton Head to the Savannah Airport. This caused me to fork out 50 dollars for an Uber. 

Take time to list all big attractions you would like to visit.  Some of the heavy hitters in Europe can be outrageously expensive.  A morning visit to a castle can easily cost 100 dollars for 2 people 

How We Afford to Travel
The beautiful lanterns of Suzhou, China.

Balance Time Versus Cost

When we first began traveling on a EuroRail pass in 2008, we would take 4-6 hour trains to avoid additional fees.  We have loaded crowded metros, and buses going up mountain sides in order to save money.  Now, we consider how much time we will save taking a pricier option.

A good example of this is our second Europe trip to Spain.  We would pay 10 Euros extra to save seats on fast trains saving us hours of transit time.  In China, we chose the metro to avoid city traffic in Shanghai and Beijing. 

Pack Light

Checked luggage prices are on the rise with the price of jet fuel.  Bringing big bags can easily double the cost of your transit on a budget airline.  Not to mention, how difficult it makes navigating public transportation, cobble stone streets, and lodging with no elevators. 

**This tip may just save your relationship.  Nothing is more awkward then trying to navigate a foreign city with a suitcase that can fit two people inside it while your partner has only a backpack.

Master the Picnic and Have Limited Meals Out

Going to Asia was a pleasant surprise.  Street food and food courts are outrageously cheap when considering the exchange rates.  However, when traveling pricier locations, we often will raid a supermarket or convenience store.  There we will find parks to snack throughout the day.  We make a goal to eat out somewhere nice each location we visit.

However, some of my best meals are unique foods that we have found in supermarkets like smelly cheese and local fruits.

Take Experience Over Things

I feel like authentic local souvenirs are far and few between.  Therefore, we do not stress about doing a lot of souvenir shopping.   Instead, we spend time visiting outside art installations, finding the best Sangria in Madrid, or watching Chinese folk dance in a park.

A memory, great pictures, and unique videos are the best souvenirs you can bring home anyway. 

Take a Jaunt Off of the Expensive Path

We have found the price tag for coffee raises considerably the closer you get to a main tourist attraction.  This goes for food, t-shirts, and even bottled water.  Take some time to explore a local neighborhood with character. 

In Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam, I would get my nails done away from the tourist district.  I could get a gel manicure and pedicure for eleven dollars.  However, the salons in District 1 were charging American prices.   

How We Afford to Travel
Enjoying the view in Shanghai.


We would like you to take away that from this article is that although traveling is a big commitment on money and time it is not unattainable.  It may not be possible now, but if you are mindful of your budget you can easily work towards the trip of your dream.  Make it fun with your partner.  As you are saving, enjoy documentaries and food shows set where you want to travel.  Turn saving money into a game by having a curse jar or no spend months like I did earlier this year. 

But most importantly, enjoy the journey.  By this, I mean the actual journey and the journey to saving the money to get there as well.

How we afford to travel.
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What is your best tip for saving money for travel?

2 thoughts on “How We Afford to Travel: Real Talk From a Real Couple

  1. Leah says:

    We do lots of research on where to stay by looking at the cost and location (time saver) and comparing Airbnb, hotels, and even hostels!

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