How I Saved $500 a Month for Travel

Wondering how to save money for travel? Even when making less than $25,000 a year, I saved over $500 a month and racked up enough funding to quit my job and travel for an entire year! (And I even did it without sacrificing all my fun spending.)

A Few Disclaimers Before We Get Going

Let me just say here: Travel is a privilege and no amount of advice I can give you in a blog post is going to magically take somebody from struggling to put food on the table to never worrying about money again.

However! There are a lot of people who assume travel is an impossible luxury but actually do have more savings power than they give themselves credit for. I was one of those in-between people. This is where I issue the disclaimer that I did not have to pay off a student loan. I got exceptionally, wildly, fairy-godmother-level lucky and there’s not a single day I’m not grateful for that. I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge the role this played in my ability to save so much money at such a young age. But the good news is I know for a fact that many people who do have student loans use very similar tactics and strategies to what I’m sharing with you here, and they do successfully quit their jobs to travel.

The following 8 ways I saved $500 a month for travel isn’t a blueprint for you to follow. We’re all in unique situations. It’s just what happened to work for me personally. If you glean some ideas from it, that’s great! If you aren’t interested in this part (or it’s going to frustrate you to see things that worked fine for me but don’t suit you), and you just want to skip to figuring out what will work for you…click here.

8 Things I Did to Save Money for Travel

Cutting back on coffee

Wait, come back! I’m not here to say that skipping Starbucks is the end-all, be-all of savings plans. In fact, I’m getting this out of the way early because out of everything I tried, it had one of the smallest impacts on my budget. I saved about $75 a month by brewing tea at home… most of the time. 

I’m a big believer in savings plans that don’t make you feel deprived. Sometimes that vanilla sweet cream cold brew is what gets you through the day! Instead of breaking up with Starbucks cold turkey overnight, consider these methods of saving for travel: scaling back to a less expensive go-to order, treating yourself once a week instead of every day, or leveraging Starbucks hacks like adding your fave flavors and extra shots to a Caffe Misto for just 50 Stars!

Packing my lunch

When I was saving money for travel, I didn’t have just one crappy job… I had all of them! I was juggling multiple part-time jobs to make ends meet. Because I was flying from one gig to another, I had very little time for lunch and frequently just shoved an overpriced wrap into my mouth on the go. I like to joke sometimes that my path to travel was paved in peanut butter sandwiches. Packing my lunch and cooking more regularly at home saved me about $200 a month.

Drinking less

One of my part-time jobs was at a winery and I made frequent use of my employee discount. Between cutting back on my home bar stock and sticking to just one glass when I went out, I saved about $50 a month without having to completely stop socializing.

Streamlining my subscriptions

I had a lot of entertainment options and decided to just stick to Netflix. Canceling my other subscriptions saved me $40 a month.

Selling my car

This is it: the whopper of travel savings tactics. I sold my car! Not only did this get my travel savings fund started with the little bit of cash I got off the sale, it continued to save me over $250 a month! I no longer had to pay for gas, insurance, parking, or maintenance. Out of everything I tried to save money for travel, this is what had the biggest impact.

Turning off my AC

This was the craziest thing I tried to save money for travel, but I’m here to tell you it works! I gave this tactic a shot thinking it might shave a few dollars off my electric bill, but it wound up cutting my bill in HALF. This isn’t a year-round tactic. But as long as it wasn’t painfully hot outside, I turned my AC off and relied on open windows and box fans. I saved about $20 a month doing this, which I know isn’t a huge amount, but I reached a point where every penny was worth it to me.

Renegotiating my internet bill

At the time I was saving, I had Comcast internet and they had hit me with rate increase after rate increase. I called and asked to cancel my service and held out until they brought down my bill. 

Buying more budget-friendly groceries

For a long time, I stuck tightly to a commitment to buy locally produced foods. Eventually, I decided that my savings were a higher priority. So I changed grocery stores and started focusing on the least expensive ingredients I could buy. Even just alternating weeks between my preferred grocery store and a less expensive one saved me an extra $50 a month.

Some Other Ways I Filled My Travel Savings Fund

Taking care of my apartment

Being able to count on my security deposit coming back to me significantly brought my savings goal down. That was $700 that went straight into my travel savings.

Taking a chance on my photography

Unfortunately, the company I used for this tactic no longer exists, so take this simply as inspiration to keep an eye out for what opportunities might come your way. I entered a few photography contests with cash prizes and my West Virginia road trip won me $1000. If you ever get lucky and have a little windfall of cash, put ALL of it into your travel savings fund!

Selling used books, clothes, and home goods

I waited way too long to start selling things I was no longer going to use. Between clothing consignment stores, used bookstores, and a few sales of home goods to acquaintances, I made about $400 extra for my travel savings. It takes time to sell things, so if this is something you’d like to pursue, start early! Poshmark wasn’t popular yet when I was saving for travel, but today it holds a lot of power. I know of a budget blogger who buys brand name denim at thrift shops and resells on Poshmark for $900 a haul!

Accepting help when offered

I want to be clear that I was fully prepared to handle my travel savings on my own and I was incredibly fortunate to have supportive friends and family in my life. I know not everyone has that. Several friends and relatives chipped in and added about $500 to my travel savings. Naturally nobody should rely on receiving outside help, but if loved ones choose to be generous because they want to support your goals, it’s okay to gratefully accept.

Two Ways I Reduced My Savings Goal to Save Money for Travel

Cutting expenses and bringing in extra money are just two ways to approach your travel savings goal. Another factor in my round-the-world trip finances relied on reducing the amount of money I needed in the bank before leaving. Bringing my savings goal down helped me quit my job to travel sooner.

I did this by leveraging travel credit cards and using those reward points to pay for several of my flights and even some of my accommodations. By using those frequent flier miles, I needed far less money to pay for my trip.

I also worked while traveling to bring in money that could offset my expenses. I made about $7,000 as a freelance copywriter, but there are SO many more resources for remote work out there today than there were for me several years ago. I really undersold myself and in retrospect, I could have made much more as a digital nomad.

Both of these topics (travel credit cards and remote work) should be long blog posts of their own – there’s just too much to cover to go in depth on them here. But I wanted to acknowledge them and the role they played in my travel savings.

How Can YOU Save Money for Travel?

I always have mixed feelings about saving my travel savings journey. Because I’m keenly aware that it was just MY journey. There are many people for whom the tactics I used to save money simply wouldn’t be possible or wouldn’t have as much impact.

Maybe you’re over 26 and paying a lot of money out of pocket for health insurance. Maybe you have a student loan payment that’s just impossible to see past right now. Maybe you live in a very rural area and couldn’t dream of selling your car. Maybe you just really love your morning Starbucks and don’t want to sacrifice the slim joy you squeeze out of your day when pumpkin spice latte season hits.

Everybody’s situation is a little different. This is what worked for me, but your mileage may vary!

That’s why instead of urging you to copy my savings plan, I created a system that can help you make your own.

See, all of these things… brewing your own coffee, changing grocery stores, selling your car… those are all just tactics to save money for travel. What you really need (and what’s far more important) is a method to discover the tactics that work for you.

My SAVE for Travel method breaks things down into bare bone basics so you can Set a Goal, Act Like You’re Broke, Visualize Your Progress, and Earn Rewards. It all adds up into a system that helps you save money for travel without feeling deprived or letting other people decide what’s okay for you to spend money on.

Step One: Set a Goal

You have to get super crystal clear about what you want and how much money it will take. If you need more help with this step, download my free Ultimate Bucket List Planner. It will give you a rough outline for your round-the-world trip and help you set a realistic savings goal.

Step Two: Act Like You’re Broke

…but just for one week. I want you to see what’s actually possible by cutting every expense you can, but I know saving that aggressively isn’t sustainable for most people. Give it a go for just one week so you understand what you can do, and more importantly, what you’re willing to do. You can make a tried-and-tested budget plan from here.

Step Three: Visualize Your Progress

One of the problems I encountered while trying to save money for travel was keeping up my motivation. All those influencers telling you “It’s not that complicated! There’s no perfect time. You just have to decide to go and then go!” Have they completely forgotten how frickin’ hard it feels in the early days? I haven’t. I remember crying on a daily basis because it was my 17th peanut butter sandwich in a row and I felt like I was barely making a dent in my goal.

What helped me was visualization tools, like a Travel Savings Thermometer.

Step Four: Earn Rewards

Feeling deprived is where savings goals go to die. Find opportunities to reward yourself in small ways for making progress on your goal. Whether you schedule it once a month or only when you’ve hit certain savings milestones, get your Parks & Rec on and enjoy a treat yo’self day from time to time.

Those four steps put together help you get realistic about what you can do savings wise and then sustain your savings plan without feeling deprived or completely ineffectual.

I also have a huge variety of resources for this available in the Travel Savings Toolkit. You can learn more about that here.

Happy savings and, more importantly, happy travels!

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