Tips on how to save for travel (or anything else!)

Whether you’ve decided to spend three months in South-East Asia, or head off on a language-learning venture in Latin America for half the year, taking time out to travel is going to cost some cash.

Saving money for travel comes down to two things – spending less, and earning more. Whether you want to focus on one or both is up to you.

how to save for travel - Mekong River

Is sailing down the Mekong River in South-East Asia one of your travel dreams?

Spending less – how to save for travel by cutting out some costs

First up, work out what you’re prepared to compromise on, and for how long, to make your travel dreams a reality. And what’s a step too far.

If you’re prepared to take those compromises to the extreme then savings can rack up pretty quickly – ditching all alcohol, cutting out the daily triple mochas, banishing eating out and takeaways completely, limiting your social life to pretty much zero. This lifestyle might be sustainable for a month, but for months on end? A year or more?

Whilst going completely cold turkey on all disposable income spending might be a too drastic, prioritising spending on only the things you’re passionate about could be a happy compromise.

What do you want, vs what do you need?

Before rushing ahead and buying, take a moment to think about if you need something (eg the laptop you use for your business has blown up), or just want it. If you need it, could you purchase second-hand, or borrow from a friend for the short-term?

If you’re planning six months of travel where you won’t be at work, do you really need three new suits? On how many nights trekking in the Andes are you going to wish you were wearing the killer heels you’ve been lusting after?

how to save for travel - The Andes

In Andean landscapes like these, the only shoes you’ll be wanting is walking shoes

The latest 58 inch HD 3DTV with in-built Mission Impossible controls may give you one-upmanship on Steve, but could your 40 inch version do the trick for now? Is that iPhone upgrade at absolute essential, or could you hang on a few months?

Could you do what you love for less?

how to save for travel

could you cut back on pricey away games?

If you’ve been a season ticket holder at the footie for ten years and never miss an Everton home game, going cold turkey could be tricky. However, resisting the temptation of away games, match programmes and that third post-match pint could be more acceptable compromises.

If you love your music and usually go to a handful of festivals every summer, could you save yourself some pennies by volunteering at one or two of them?

Could you get by without a car, or – for two-car households – with one instead of two? Could you hire a car, join a car club, or borrow one for a friend (buying short-term insurance as you need) for the times when you need wheels? You’ll save money on insurance, tax, fuel, parking; plus you could pocket a wad of cash with what you make from a sale.

Do you make good use of your gym membership? If not, this is one direct debit that could be banished from your bank account. I know I can only follow the free “go for a run outside” option when the weather is gloriously sunny – and I live in England so that’s not too often! I have saved myself £30 a month by joining a cheaper gym though J

Could you cut back on socialising spends by having friends round for dinner instead of eating out, digging out those two-for-one-main-course early bird midweek specials, drinking something cheaper than champagne, having picnics, joining a walking group? All still enable you to have a social life, but with less expenditure.

how to save for travel - picnic

Gotta love a good picnic with friends – and it’s cheaper than a meal out too!

How to save for travel by earning more – some tips

Could you sell your unwanted/unused stuff? Collectables, designer-esque clothes that no longer fit, household items, the contents of your cupboard under the stairs/loft. I’ve used ebay for smaller items and Gumtree for larger ones. Car boot sales are another avenue.

Do you have any cash stashed away that you’ve forgotten about? Were you bought UK Premium Bonds when you were born? How much is in that jar of change on the kitchen shelf that you’ve religiously contributed to for two years?

Could you earn more money through work? A promotion, freelance consultancy, casual work such as in pubs/restaurants, or hosting parties for everything from Tupperware to lovely lingerie are all ways to earn some more travel spends.

Could you use your home to earn you more money? Is there a spare room you could rent out, could you rent your home out whilst you’re away, or could you release the equity in your home by re-mortgaging? The latter is beyond my comfort zone, but if it’s in yours then it could be an option. Before committing, take some independent financial advice.

How to keep your travel savings safe

The best way for me to avoid the temptation of splurging my travel savings on a pair of fab Kurt Geiger shoes (*sigh*) is to keep the money I’ve saved for travel away from my current account.

You can add up how much your estimated savings/extra earnings are likely to come to each week/month.

Simply move this amount (by automatic direct debit if you need to force yourself into disciplinary action to do so!) into a separate savings account for travel every week/month. If you can find out that pays even a smidgen of interest, even better!

Bingo, you can easily keep track of how much you’ve saved and get one step nearer to making your travel dreams a reality.

Do you prefer to spend less, or try to earn more when you want to save money? What compromises are you prepared to make, and which are a step too far? Share your tips on how to save for travel in the comments below.

The A to Z of gap year planning, Part 3: R to T

“Agh! Planning my gap year is so overwhelming!” “I don’t know where to start!”

Help is at hand. In this third of four posts on gap year planning, I share hints and tips on gap year research, saving up, and perfect timing. For more on gap year planning, check out the rest of the series: Part 1, Part 2 and Part 4.

R is for Gap Year Research

Not tonnes and tonnes of research about every town, restaurant, hostel, attraction (thereby removing any opportunity for spontaneity), but enough gap year research to avoid making cultural faux pas and to be aware of the safety / security / health situation in any countries you’re planning to visit.

Your Government’s Foreign Office website is a good source of information, though be aware that some Governments can paint a worst-case (rather than realistic) picture of safety and security.

It’s worth checking out your Government doesn’t specifically advise against travelling to (parts of) a specific country. My long-yearned-for trip to Nepal was scuppered in the mid-2000s by this; I postponed until the situation was calmer.

If you ignore Government “don’t go there” advice, you risk invalidating your insurance if anything happens to you / your stuff.

S is for Saving for a Gap Year

If you’ve got a great big wad of money sat in the bank or in investments, then lucky you. What are you waiting for? Skip right over to T.

For most of us, saving for a gap year will be a necessary reality. Whether you’ve decided you want to spend three months in SE Asia, or four months on a photography course in the US/Europe, it’s going to cost you some cash.

With a budget based on your what you want to do, gear you’ll need, insurance, flights, expenses, costs at home, a contingency, and the like; you’ll need to do your gap year research to work out how long it’s going to take you to save up. And possibly – if the answer is ten years – you’re either going to change your expectations or your lifestyle to achieve it.

In all cases, it comes down to two things. Spending less, and making more. It’s up to you whether you want to focus on one, the other, or both.

Saving for a gap year by spending less – some ideas

First, work out what you’re prepared to compromise on to follow your dreams. And what you won’t.

You can go to the extremes on saving if you’re prepared to compromise heavily – never buying an alcoholic drink / latte again, eating only baked beans, never going out with your friends.

Only you know what compromises you’re prepared to make and how long you’re prepared to make them for. Not going out with friends might be realistic for a month, but for six months? A year? Two?

My personal recommendation would be to prioritise disposable income spending on the things you love.

  • Doing what you love, but cheaper. If you’ve been a season ticket holder at Everton for ten years and never miss a home game, it’s possibly a step too far to go cold turkey on the footie. However, giving away matches a miss, not buying a match programme, having only one pint after the game instead of three – these might be more reasonable / palatable compromises.
  • Volunteer at events. If you’re passionate about music and usually go to three festivals every summer, how about volunteering at one or two of them instead?
  • gap year research: how to save

    Fewer purchases of gorgeous shoes like these. Sob.

    New clothes (fewer of them). If you’re planning six months away from work, do you really need three new suits? How many nights in the Himalaya are those killer heels going to come in handy? (If you’re still lusting after then when you return from your gap year, search for them on ebay!)

  • Car. Could you get by without a car, or – for two-car households – with one instead of two? If once in a while you genuinely need a car, would it be cheaper overall to hire one, borrow one from a friend (buying short-term insurance) or join a car club? You’ll save money on tax, insurance, petrol, parking; plus a chunk of cash from the sale.
  • Gym & other memberships. Do you go? Regularly? If not, ditch the membership. Or learn to love running / cycling. Personally I can only follow this tip in the summer, as I’m a fair weather type when it comes to outdoor exercise.
  • Gadgets. That new 52 inch plasma HD TV with 3D system, internet and the ability to make you a cup of coffee may be better than Dave’s, but could your HD-ready Freeview 40 inch version see you through? Is that iPhone upgrade at absolute must-have, or can it wait?

Evaluate whether you need things (eg the laptop you use for your business has blown up), or just want them. If you must buy, can you purchase second-hand, or borrow from a friend for the short-term?

  • Socialising. Do you have to have a meal out / big night out with your partner / friends every Saturday night? Could you get by with drinking something cheaper than cocktails? Inviting friends round, bring-and-share picnics – all allow for socialising, but with less expenditure.

Saving for a gap year by earning more – some ideas

  • Sell stuff. Clear out your cupboards / wardrobes and get selling your unwanted / unused stuff. Ebay and Gumtree work well; part of your gap year research could include working out how much your old stuff sells for 🙂
  • Rainy day savings you’d forgotten about. Did great Aunt Maude buy you some UK Premium Bonds when you were born? How much is in that jar of 50p pieces/quarters you’ve had on the shelf for the last three years?
plan my gap year research: save those pennies

This terramundi pot had £300 in it! Sadly even that couldn’t make up for my bad hair day.

  • Trade services. If you’re a graphic designer, could you design new business cards for your hairdresser as payment for your pricey cut and colour? If you’re a bookkeeper, could you offer your services for local business such as greengrocers, butchers? Get creative about how you use your skills.
  • Earn more money. Go for that promotion at work, say you’ll be the first aider (it can attract an extra salary payment, plus you’ll get free training), do a bit of freelance consultancy, or pick up some casual work from a pub / restaurant / shop / mystery shopping. It all adds up.
  • Release the equity in your home by re-mortgaging. This one is out of my comfort zone, but if it’s in yours then it’s an option. Take some independent financial advice before committing.
  • Rent out your spare room. Or, rent out your home completely and rent a cheaper room yourself elsewhere.

If there are two of you

Keep some relationship harmony by both contributing to the savings pot. One of you may prefer to save, the other to earn more. Both are valid.

What to do with your new-found gap year savings

Add up your estimated total savings/extra earnings for each month.

Set up an automatic direct debit for that amount into a separate gap year savings account that pays interest (more gap year research needed here: the UK has very low interest rates at the moment).

Voila!

Keeping the money separate means you won’t be tempted by the latest gadget / pair of fab shoes; and you can easily keep track of how much you’ve saved.

T is for Time

If you wait for the mythical “perfect time” to take a gap year, you’ll be waiting forever.

When is it the exact right time to change jobs / move in with your partner / buy a house / have a child? If you have the answers, you’ve got a best-seller on your hands!

There may be better times than others, but if you wait for every single factor to be perfect, you’ll be in for a long wait. If you put off your dreams for the next twenty years and then – for whatever reason – you’re then not able to fulfil them, will you regret it?

plan my gap year research

With that in mind, once you’ve worked out what you need to save, how much a month you can save, and therefore a date of when you’re as ready as you’re ever going to be, SET THAT DATE. Suddenly it’s all very real – exciting!

The final U to Z instalment of this gap year planning series covers working (as a volunteer or paid), and ideas – how do you go about narrowing them down? 

What are your top tips for gap year research? Do you prefer to google, read blogs, or ask friends who’ve done it? Share your ideas below.

The A to Z of gap year planning, Part 1: A to H

“How do I even start to plan my gap year?” “What about a gap year budget?”

You aren’t alone in asking these questions – there can seem like zillions of things to think about when planning a gap year. Do I want to travel, volunteer, learning a new language? How can I save up? What about my job?

In four instalments, I’ll be bringing you an A to Z lowdown on how to plan a gap year that works for you. In this post, it’s the letters A to H, featuring aims, expectations and having a gap year budget. 

A is for Aims

Whether you’re thinking about a couple of months or a year, it’s important to know what you want to achieve from your gap year.

Whether it’s to see the world, renovate a house, write a book, teach English abroad, or become a qualified divemaster; have a clear idea about what your aims are. My own aims and objectives evolved over time.

B is for a Gap Year Budget

Once you have an idea about your aims, get some idea of how much it will cost to achieve them.

Having a simple Gap Year budget – costs on a piece of paper / in a spreadsheet – is good start point that may also help you narrow down your options.

When I did a long-term trip in 2007 I really wanted to see both Australia and New Zealand. Writing down the costs helped me realise that visiting both was going to be a financial no-no; meaning I had to decide which was most important to me in the plan for my gap year (Australia won out).

C is for Comfort Zone

career break planning: get out of your comfort zone

Hanoi – the kind of place that will stretch your comfort zone

Why not use your gap year as an opportunity to step out of your comfort zone? Whether it’s going to a country where you don’t speak much of the language, working abroad, or learning to skydive; having an open-minded approach in your gap year planning will expand your options for your break and your future career.

D is for Dreams – go live them!

Do you have a dream? Have you always wanted to hike the Inca Trail? Be a pilgrim on the Camino de Santiago? Become a qualified yoga instructor?

Have you consistently put these things on the “one day” list, ruling them out because they take longer than your annual holiday allowance, and never believing you’ll actually do any of them? A gap year is the ideal time to remind yourself of your dream list – and go and DO!

E is for Gap Year Expenses

Yup, all that stuff you need to allow money for, but may well forget. Three things I forgot in my first gap year budget were:

  • Medicines and incidentals such as contact lens solution, sunscreen
  • Gifts and souvenirs
  • Posting parcels (usually of souvenirs) home. Consider cheaper sea mail if you don’t need to see it again for a while.

F is for Foreign Language

If learning a language is a priority for your gap year, keep an open mind about HOW you go about it.

Let’s use an example. You want to improve your Italian. You have three months and your gap year budget is pretty limited. At the end of your break, which of these two folks do you want to be?

John’s story

“I really wanted to learn Italian, so for my gap year I spent three months on a college course with some extra private tuition at home. I also had a couple of city breaks to Rome in a decent hotel. The course and tuition were pretty intense, but I can now hold a decent conversation in Italian.”

career break planning: Foreign language learning on your career break

Lucca, Italy. The kind of Italian town that someone like Dave would go to

Dave’s story

“I really wanted to learn Italian, so whilst I was still working in my last job I bought some audio CDs and joined a local language Meetup group. For my gap year I rented an apartment in a mid-sized Italian town for a couple of months, and joined groups and events with local people. It was a pretty intense approach but I can now hold a decent conversation in Italian and learnt so much culturally as well – my cooking’s come on a treat!”

If you’re thinking you prefer John’s approach, re-read C is for Comfort Zone.

G is for Gear

Depending on your gap year aims, you may need to get yourself some gear – travel stuff, language course books, whatever it is.

If you’re planning a lot of overland travel, a well-fitting rucksack is something I wouldn’t skimp on. Similarly, decent walking boots if you plan to do a lot of hiking.

Yup, you’ve guessed it, add the costs for these to your gap year budget spreadsheet.

Otherwise, most things can be borrowed, requested as Christmas/birthday gifts, or bought cheaply from ebay / gumtree. Similarly, you can sell stuff post-trip. Note to self: I need to sell my Goretex jacket 🙂

H is for Gap Year Health

Look after it. My personal health check-list for any trip:

  • When you book your trip: Buy travel insurance that covers you for medical evacuation and any “risky” activities you may be doing. For example, insurers often deem hiking > 3000m as being risky, so check the small print of standard off-the-shelf policies.
  • At least a month before: Visit a health centre to get the advice of a healthcare professional on vaccinations and any anti-malarials / other medicines for your trip. Arrange to get said vaccinations and medication well in advance (some can take a while to kick in). If you’re going to be away for months rather than weeks, make sure you’re up to date with optical and dental appointments.
  • Take with you: A first aid kit, prescription medications with their packaging, a EU health card for EU residents, copy of travel insurance policy and their contact details (I put the latter three in my hand luggage).

In the next I to Q installment of gap year planning, I’ll cover your job, your mortgage, and new experiences.

Is there something here you’d like to see more info on, or need help with? Leave your comment or question below, and I’ll get back to you.

How to flight hack five international flights for less than £500 ($850)

Flight hacking for amateurs alert!

Read on to find out how I used assorted loyalty programmes to flight hack:

Flight hack one – Manchester (UK) to Budapest

First up, there was a one-way flight from Manchester to Budapest in late September.

Thanks to my Jet2 loyalty points built up over a less-than-significant 4 or 5 short-haul flights with them over a couple of years, this cost me the princely sum of £4 plus taxes. OK, once I added in a checked bag that meant it was about £50. But still …. £50 ($85) …. I can’t get from York to London for that!

Jet2 have now discontinued the accumulate-points-to-earn-free-flights elements of their loyalty programme, but you can still spend the points you’ve already accrued with them.

Flight hack two – Athens to Edinburgh

Next up, it was Athens. I’ll be losing my travel bloggers conference virginity at TBEX there in October. I’ll make my way to Athens overland from Budapest over the course of a month; so needed a one-way fight back to the UK after the event.

This was where Nectar came in. For those in the UK, a Nectar loyalty card accumulates points for purchases at BP petrol stations, Sainsbury’s supermarkets and more, and assorted online stores. Points can be spent on shopping and more, and also on flights with Easyjet – a budget airline who I’d class as pretty decent.

The brilliant thing about booking via Nectar’s website with Easyjet is that you can part-pay for flights with your points. Awesome! My one-way flight from Athens to Edinburgh including taxes and check-in bag came to about £70 ($120) once I’d used £50 ($85) worth of points towards it.

Flight hacks three and five – London to Miami (return)

Then … a two-month trip to Nicaragua and Colombia. This one’s work in progress, but I was the proud owner of nearly 80,000 Virgin Atlantic airline miles; earnt from of a couple of flights with them, plus by converting my Tesco Clubcard points into Virgin Atlantic miles over the last year or so.

Virgin miles expire after 3 years, but only if you have no activity with them. Clubcard points count as activity and keep ALL my miles fresh, even though I’ve not flown with Virgin for more than 5 years.

Miles in hand, I started to get creative about how to get to Nicaragua and/or Colombia, given that Virgin don’t fly to Nicaragua (why ever not??!)

Internet scouring gave me three options, all flying to/from London:

  1. Fly to Cancun, using about half of my miles. Maybe stay for a day or two, then sort a flight from there to Nicaragua or Colombia
  2. Fly with Delta to Bogota via Atlanta, using all my miles
  3. Fly to Miami, using about half of my miles. Stick around for a bit, then sort a flight from there to Nicaragua or Colombia

Hmmmm.  Choices, choices. I did a quick pros and cons check of the three:

Cancun

  • Pros – it should only be a short hop on a plane from Cancun to Nicaragua (or somewhere in the vicinity). Mexican immigration is quick and simple.
  • Con – I really don’t like Cancun. The hotel zone is my idea of hell. Centro is ok though.
  • The deal-breaker – There’s no direct flight from Cancun to Managua; and the ones to Bogota were quite pricey.

Bogota with Delta via Atlanta

  • Pro – straight through check-in with one airline / ticket.
  • Con – connecting in the US. It can take hours. Memories of running through Chicago airport after three hours in the immigration queue and only making my connection because the plane was delayed are still in my memory.
  • The deal-breaker – it uses all my points. All of them. And the taxes are £400 ($680).

Miami

  • Pro – I’ve not been to Miami, and a few days of Art Deco architecture and Key West in the sun in January have a certain appeal.
  • Con – a few days there is going to be baaaaaaad news for my budget.
  • The deal-breaker: There are flights from Miami and nearby Fort Lauderdale to all sorts of central American destinations, plus Medellin, Cartagena, Baranquilla and Bogota in Colombia – choices, choices!

So, Miami here I come! Return flight booked with decent availability choice, leaving early January and returning early March. I used only half my miles, and it cost me just short of £250 ($425) in taxes.

Flight hack four – Fort Lauderdale to Managua, Nicaragua

Next up, it was a check of google flights (thanks for that tip, Nomadic Matt). Google flights told me that a one-way ticket from Miami International to either Managua or Bogota would cost between about £220-£300 ($375-$510).

OR … if I flew from Fort Lauderdale (20 miles from Miami), and went a day later with budget airline Spirit, I could get a direct flight from there to Managua for about a third of that. Even once I’ve allowed for bag check in and taxes (and wow, US airline taxes are waaaaaaay cheaper than UK ones!) it comes in at only £80 ($135).

Flights six and seven will be some sort of Central America-Colombia flight, and a one with Spirit back from Colombia to Fort Lauderdale –I’ll organize those when I’m on the ground.

To sum up …

So, there you have it. Five international flights for less than £500 ($850). For a foray into flight hacking that is focused on your regular spending, and occasionally (but not vigilantly) using online points e-stores for special offers and spending, you too could benefit from some flight bargains.

My top tips

  • Many credit cards earn you airline miles. In the UK, Tesco Clubcard Mastercard is my preferred choice.
  • Use online shopping portals where you can boost your points totals on your regular spending. In the UK, that means remembering to log onto ebay, Amazon, Apple via Nectar e-stores (or others) to earn more points.
  • Sign up to airline loyalty programmes for carriers you’re likely to use at least a couple of times.
  • Check out google flights. It can offer options from nearby airports you may not have thought of (as per my Fort Lauderdale example).

*Flight prices rounded to the nearest £5. Exchange rates calculated on 30/6/14 at a rate of £1=$1.705 via www.xe.com, and rounded to the nearest $5.