Often when I’m traveling or thinking about taking another trip somewhere, the way I try to convince myself it’s ok is by renegotiating my money goals. Have you ever had a conversation with yourself like that?
“I just traveled to Asia over the summer, but I really want to go to the South America this winter, too – I could borrow some money from my emergency funds and pay it back later…”
Ultimately I know I can’t listen to this voice. Traveling is great, but so is meeting the money goals you’ve set for yourself.
The way to balance travel and money goals? Get smarter about how you travel so you’re neither borrowing money from places you shouldn’t nor sacrificing your long-term goals.
Get a Travel Rewards Card
Signing up for a card that actually rewards you for traveling is a great idea. It can help you meet your money goals because a lot of these cards offer points for money that you would already be spending anyway.
For instance, rather than spending $2,000 in a month and splitting it between multiple cards and cash, if you have a rewards card you could be getting two free nights in a hotel or maybe 1,000 free air miles for spending all $2,000 on that card instead.
Then when you travel, your hotel or flight is either free or heavily discounted and you haven’t spent anymore money than you would in a regular month – you’ve just been smart about where you’ve spent it.
A lot of these cards are free for the first year and offer great points at the beginning to get you to sign up. Here are some cards with good travel rewards that are worth checking out:
- Marriott Rewards® Premier Credit Card
- Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card
- Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card
- AAdvantage Credit Cards
- Barclaycard Arrival Plus™ World Elite MasterCard®
Don’t Rent a Car
Don’t let the convenience of having a car distract you from the fact that you’re wasting money by doing it. If you’re going to be staying in a city, then unless you’re planning on traveling constantly, it’s probably going to work out cheaper to catch an Uber.
Most people already do this now, but if you’re one that hasn’t yet tried Uber or Lyft then go ahead and sign up for both on your next trip, because both offer a free ride the first time you use the app.
There are plenty of advantages to traveling during the off-peak season: places are quieter, the weather isn’t so hot – oh and it’s typically way cheaper.
Hotels and airlines will raise their prices during peak-season and lower them during the off season, so finding prices to match your money goals is going to be far easier.
When I went to Cambodia with a friend it was during the off season. We had our pick of the best hotels at lower prices and we had the luxury of being able to haggle on everything from the price of our room and our meals to the price of scooter rental, because it was obvious everyone were fighting over our business.
The down side was that we did get rained out by a typhoon for a couple days – but that’s part of the risk and reward of traveling in the off-season!
Travel During the Holidays
This one is tough, because it’s a good thing to go home for the holidays. But if you’re the type who has the travel bug and has it bad, then this can be a great time of the year to get away and do it on the cheap.
Flights on the 26th of December and flights on New Year’s Eve are typically well below the normal rates, but the other advantage of traveling during this time is that it doesn’t use up your vacation time.
You could use the holidays to plan an expensive international trip, without using up your vacation time, and instead take a domestic vacation in the summer when international travel is expensive, so your bank account doesn’t feel like you’ve been on an international vacation.
Book with Small Tour Companies
I’m a big fan of guide books, like the Lonely Planet series, I’m convinced they give you good advice and plenty of options. However, sometimes smaller tour companies and guides that didn’t get mentioned by Lonely Planet are the way to go because they’ll do same thing but for much cheaper.
In New Zealand my friend and I wanted to go spelunking, we called up a few in the guide book that sounded good, but then the hostel desk worker told us about a much smaller company that was family-run, cheaper, and in his opinion better.
He was right. Rather than paying a lot of money to go on a tour with lots of other people, we went on a tour with roughly half the people, for half the price, to a cave that was far more remote than the ones the bigger companies went to.
Sometimes it’s good to look around and ask a local opinion in order to find the best deals.
Take Advantage of Business Trips
If you are fortunate enough to find yourself in the situation where you’re getting to spend a couple days in a city or foreign country for business, then why not consider using some of your vacation time to add a few days to the end of your trip?
Even if you have to pay the difference on a more expensive ticket home, hopefully some of your airfare will have been covered as a business expense, meaning you can spend a few extra days seeing major sights and museums without having paid for a round-trip international flight.
Just two or three extra days in a city on the end of business trip can really make it seem like a quick get away and it’s a great way to strike that balance of travel and money goals.
Work Where You Want to Travel
Ultimately, it’s hard to balance travel and money goals – one usually wins out over the other. The best way to compromise between ten vacation days a year and quitting your job to travel the world is to find a way to live and work in the place where you want to travel.
One way you can do this is to teach English abroad, like I did in South Korea. This way work and travel are the same thing every day, but you’re also still putting money in the bank while doing it.
English Teachers are often able to see the world without the heavy costs of international travel, while also consistently putting money away for things like grad school or buying a house.
Another option is applying for a position in an international branch of a corporation. Finding a company with international branches is one of the best ways to see the world for a couple years while still maintaining a secure job you can keep when you return home.
In the end, achieving your money goals or traveling frequently all depends on what your priorities are.
If your money goals are too lofty or your itch to travel is too severe then there will always have to be some compromises: if money is what matters, then maybe you’ll have to cut back on traveling, and if traveling is important then maybe it’s time to reassess how lofty your money goals are.
There are plenty of travel hacks and rewards schemes that can help you to make traveling while still achieving your money goals a very real possibility, but it’s still up to you to figure out exactly what that balance is.