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Can we be honest for a moment? Travel is expensive. Even more so when you include your kids. While I am absolutely a fan of traveling with your children, figuring out how to afford travel can sometimes be so daunting that it makes it feel impossible. Amiright?
But travel truly is possible on any budget. It simply fluctuates the scale of your travel (a short jaunt to the next town or fund a family vacation around the world for a year) and the time it takes you to reach your goal.
So, in the spirit of Internet sharing, we are detailing how to afford travel – on any budget, with and without your kids.
Please keep in mind there is no “one size fits all” answer to the question of how to afford travel but the goal is to provide some tips on what we do for our family that you can apply to your own.
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How to Afford Travel [That Fits Your Budget]
Phil and I both work full-time at salaried positions where we earn a decent living. This, of course, isn’t necessary to travel [in fact, I used to travel with our youngest on one income when I was a single parent] but it definitely helps to have two full-time incomes.
Skip the luxuries. Some of them anyway.
I know some people basically live in a shack without running water and display that as the secret to how to afford travel. We don’t quite go that far but we do skip some of life’s luxuries. We don’t have cable. We clip coupons. We don’t use a cleaning service. We try not to have extra things so that we aren’t spending unnecessarily. We do family dates so that we save on babysitting costs. We have T-Mobile so that we can get Netflix [and international data] for free. You get the picture.
We believe in investing in life conveniences to save our sanity but we cut costs where we can. The more costs we cut, the more we save. And saving more is how to afford travel.
Side hustle – big time.
I garner some income from this website and write freelance. Phil does investments and sells on Amazon. The entire family sells extra items for income on Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace, clothing resale stores, and the like. If any extra income earners come up, we delve into those too. All the money we earn goes into our travel account.
Let your budget choose the destination.
This is the main caveat of how to afford travel. Let your budget pick your destination. We don’t buy airfare unless we find a good deal. If we don’t find a good deal, then we opt for a road trip or do a staycation here in town. If you’re unsure how to find inexpensive airfare, we’ve got quite a few pointers on how to plan cheap flights here on the website.
[Related: The Best Discount Airfare Sites by State]
Just say no and don’t go.
If you’re heavy into the travel life, you have set up all kinds of fare alerts to let you know when a great deal comes up. It’s all well and good but sometimes it causes what I call travel saturation. All of a sudden I want to travel to a city I’ve never heard of because Scott’s Cheap Flights told me I could get there for a bargain-basement price. But saying no to those deals is important when figuring out how to afford travel. Skipping some trips [especially the ones I’m only pursuing because it seems like such a good deal] means that I can put my money towards the trips I really want.
Be honest about your budget in its current and future state.
We keep it as real as possible when it comes to how to afford to travel. Even if all the stars align — I’ve found a great deal, I can take off from work, and the destination sounds interesting — sometimes it isn’t financially smart to book that trip. Simply put, some months we just can’t afford it. And that’s fine! Not being honest about our finances leads to debt which ultimately will lead to us not being able to afford travel. So it is important to be practical with our budget at all times.
Scale down the trip to meet your finances.
Sometimes the travel bug hits us and our money doesn’t match our desires. So we find local adventures [like these free things to do in Houston with kids] or stick to inexpensive activities like free walking tours. Making the trip fit our budget [instead of making our finances fit our trip] is how to afford travel.
How To Afford Travel [With Our Budget]
We don’t travel frequently enough nor do we have enough expenses to utilize miles or credit card point sorcery [although we do practice travel hacking without credit cards]. As a result, almost all of our expenses are financed with cash. We categorize all our trip expenses and then finance each one differently. You can read a detailed breakdown of those categories
To fully follow along, be sure to read how we categorize our trip expenses. There are essentially four categories of expenses: basics, necessary expenditures, trip luxuries, and cushion.
[Related: Budgeting for Family Vacations]
To cover these items, we source the income in a few different ways.
Catch-All Savings Account
Throughout the year, we automatically deduct a percentage of every paycheck and ship it off to a savings account. Any percentage will do! We allocate 10%. It is a general, catch-all, emergency fund type account that we use for various life surprises but it is also where we stash money for travel basics.
Both airfare and lodging come from this account. Airfare is taken out of the account immediately after purchasing tickets. However, for hotels, we typically select a hotel that does not require payment until check-in — even if the rate is slightly higher. This gives us time to accumulate funds to pay the balance. Plus, because we book so far in advance, the money is better purposed in our account generating interest than with a hotel holding our spot.
If we happen to book an Airbnb or find a hotel that is ridiculously inexpensive if we pay upfront, we pull it out of the savings account immediately.
Depending on your travel goals, it might take some time to accumulate enough to cover your basics. That’s okay! We did this process for years before we felt comfortable extending the catch-all account to include travel. Work at your own pace and follow the process!
Dependent Care FSA
Before I explain this one, let me just say upfront there is absolutely no funny business going on here. None.
Now that that’s out of the way, a Dependent Care FSA is a Federal Savings Account used to pay for eligible child care services. The primary benefit of any FSA is the money contributed to them is not subject to payroll taxes. The end result? More money coming to you from your check every payday.
Usually, you file for reimbursement for your childcare expenses as soon as they are due. Instead, we pay out of pocket and leave the funds to accumulate in the FSA. There’s no rhyme or reason to this except it is a surefire way to make sure we don’t touch the money. We file for reimbursement about a month before the trip and use it for the majority of our necessary expenditures.
If you rely on those funds to cover the cost of childcare, try reserving just a portion for travel — anything helps!
Just for the sake of clarity, I’ll repeat: we incur eligible childcare expenses and follow all the legal guidelines around having a dependent care FSA. The only thing we do a little differently is delay filing for reimbursement until right before our trip.
Cash on Hand
This refers to the money we have leftover from our paychecks after our regular bills are paid. Maintaining some regularity in this area is a constant work in progress for us. Momma loves making it rain at Target which can put a serious dent in our cash on hand. However, we try our best to keep tight control in this area once we have a trip in the works.
Skipping dinner out, shutting my eyes when I pass Target, watching Netflix instead of going to the theater — all necessary and willing sacrifices to make a trip happen.
Let’s overview, shall we?
- Transportation – Catch-All Savings Account
- Lodging – Catch-All Savings Account
- Feeding the Crew – Dependent Care FSA
- Getting to/from the Airport – Cash on Hand
- Getting Around Town – Dependent Care FSA
- Cell Phone Plan – Cash on Hand
- Required luxuries – Cash on Hand
- Desired luxuries – Varies between Cash on Hand and Dependent Care FSA
Pretty simple system, right? And it works!
[Want even more detailed financial information from our trips? Check out our Trip Toll Reports!]
Do you have any special tips for how to afford travel?