One question that we get asked quite frequently (half-jokingly, half not) is: How do you afford to travel so much? The other one is around how we travel so much with full-time jobs, but we’ll get to that in a later post.
The truth is, we’d probably spend all of our money (and free time) on travel if we could. But there’s this thing called real life that comes with responsibilities — and both of those dictate that we probably shouldn’t do that. So we rely on some budgeting techniques and a few hacks that we’ve developed over the years.
We Keep a Monthly Budget
Maybe this seems really simple, and you already have a monthly budget — if so, feel free to skip ahead. But we’ve talked to too many people to ignore the fact that a lot of people actually don’t do this. Which sounds a little crazy to us — because if you don’t know what you spend on bills every month, how do you know what you have left over to spend on travel?
We built our own spreadsheet that we use to keep travel of income and expenses, and savings for larger projects and trips. But there are hundreds upon thousands of templates out there to use if that seems overwhelming — and not to mention the automated tools that keep track of your expenses by linking with your checking account. The important thing is to find a system that works for you, so that you’re more likely to stick to it.
We Live Within (or Below) Our Means
Like we said before, we’d spend all of our money on travel if we could. Which means that we usually end up prioritizing travel and trips above other things in our life. That translates to things like:
- Cooking dinner at home instead of eating out. We eat out plenty when we travel, so doing this when we’re home is a rarity. This goes for morning coffees and lunches as well.
- Cutting the cable cord. We gave up cable about 5 years ago and never once looked back. We save a ton each month by just picking a streaming service and paying for internet.
- Sharing one car. I (Tara) take the train to work a few days a week, and Daniel works 100% from home — so there really isn’t a need for us to have two cars. There might come a time for that in the future, but for now we’re saving a lot on insurance, gas and maintenance by just sharing the one car.
- Keeping memberships to a minimum. We try not to sign up for monthly or annual memberships unless it’s something we really think is important. The number one area where we refuse to spend money is on fitness — instead of throwing money at a gym we’re not likely to visit all that often, we run or walk and utilize free online fitness videos in our basement when it’s too cold to go outside.
But the biggest area where we decided to prioritize travel over other expenses is our home. When we started looking at houses just over three years ago, our biggest priority was finding something that we could afford without having to give up our freedom to travel as much as we wanted. Because it doesn’t matter how much we love our house, we knew we were never going to be happy if owning it meant traveling less. So we ended up with a house that we love, but that doesn’t eat up the majority of our paychecks. And as we’ve been fortunate enough to earn more as time has gone on, we’ve invested money in renovations or improvements, instead of looking for a different or bigger house that would come with a more substantial mortgage.
We Maximize Points and Rewards
If you’re going to travel a lot, then it pays to pick a couple of loyalty programs (one hotel, one airline) and stick to them as much as you can. For us, that’s the Marriott Bonvoy and the American Airlines AAdvantage program. Depending on your home airport and the places you like to travel, there might be other programs that make more sense for you. We like these programs for a number of reasons, but generally it comes down to availability and accessibility: Marriott is the largest hotel chain in the world, so it’s hard to find a city where they don’t have hotels. And American Airlines’ participation in the OneWorld program means there are a ton of partner airlines we can fly and still earn or use miles when traveling internationally.
If the idea of sticking to one particular hotel chain doesn’t appeal to you, then we recommend using a site like Hotels.com where you can earn free nights after booking a certain number of trips through them.
Along these same lines, it’s also to be smart about how you’re paying for things to earn points and miles towards your travels. There are a ton of credit cards on the market that offer travel rewards — CapitalOne Venture is definitely one of the most flexible and affordable options — and almost every airline and major hotel chain has at least one credit card as well. Personally, we use the following travel credit cards:
- Marriott Bonvoy Boundless: 6X points on money spent at Marriott properties and 2X points on everything else, free night award on your card anniversary, 15 status nights every year
- Chase Sapphire Reserve: $300 annual travel credit, 3X points on any travel or dining expenses, free Priority Pass Select membership, Global Entry or TSA Pre application credit
- AAdvantage Executive: Admirals Club membership, free checked bag on domestic flights, Priority boarding, 25% discount on inflight food and beverage purchases, Global Entry or TSA Pre application credit
We Use Cashback Sites
As much as we try not to spend money wherever we can, there’s just some things we have to spend money on. So whenever we purchase something online, we check to see if there’s a site that offers some cash back on our purchases — that way we can funnel those savings back into our travel budget. The sites and apps that we use most often are:
- Topcashback: Offers some of the highest cashback rates
- Ebates: One of the original cashback sites, most online retailers are on here
- Drop: Phone app. Connect your most-used credit cards to earn points every time you shop at specified retailers
We Plan Ahead
Everything else aside, one of the biggest things that helps with budgeting for travel is planning ahead. We start planning trips well in advance — a year or more for big international trips and at least 6 months for domestic trips. This allows us to understand what a reasonable budget for the trip will be, look into flight options and watch for deals, and save accordingly. That’s not to say that we don’t take the occasional “last minute” trip, (which for us means anything less than 2 months worth of planning) but that isn’t the norm. Planning like this is great for your budget, but maybe more importantly, it’s also great to have something to look forward to when you get back from vacation and have to face heading back to work. 🙂
What are your best travel budgeting trips? Let us know!