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Updated on Tuesday, December 1, 2015
Last year was a good year.
In the span of 12 months, my husband and I visited Iceland, Peru, Ecuador, the Galapagos Islands, Costa Rica and Australia, and I took a grand total of three months away from my job to do it. I’m not trying to brag here — my point is that you probably can do it, too. I don’t work in finance (well okay, I do write about finance, but I’m not on Wall Street here, people), so let’s just say my salary (and my husband’s) is pretty standard.
While it takes a certain level of dedication (farewell, monthly clothing budget), if you’re into traveling — and you’re not hedging your bets on winning the lottery any time soon — here are some of my suggestions on how to do it.
1. Live Off One Salary, If Possible
It didn’t seem possible at first to have two people live off of one salary in Manhattan, but we made it work — and our savings account thanked us for it in the end. At the beginning of 2013, my husband and I sat down and went over our expenses, and we determined to try to make it through the year using only my husband’s paycheck for our essentials (rent, utilities, cell phone bill, food and insurances). My paycheck would go towards my personal monthly expenses (which I kept to a minimum) and my retirement accounts … the rest would go to savings. We were able to sock away at least $1,500 a month this way towards our goal of traveling, which was a nice little travel cushion after over a year of saving.
Obviously this only works for people in couples. If you’re unattached, I’d suggest rerouting your direct deposits so that all of your takeaway pay goes directly into your savings account, and you only remove money for your essential living expenses, this way you’re not tempted to spend more than you need to simply because it’s readily available in your checking. Just remember, you’re limited to six transactions pulling from a savings account per month without paying a fee. You could also try switching to the envelope system. Each month you provide yourself with a certain amount of cash for entertainment purposes in your envelope, and when it’s gone, you’re done spending. You’d be surprised how much you can save this way.
2. Make Your Cards Work for You
I’d be lying if I said our credit cards didn’t help us along the way. I’m a big proponent of credit card use — as long as you’re responsible. I make all of my purchases on my credit card each month, knowing that I’ll be on the hook to pay it off in full, on time, at the end of each month. Doing things this way enabled me (and my husband) to make the most out of our cash back rewards, which we put right towards our travel. Check out some of the credit cards with the best cash back and travel rewards right here.
3. Decide Where You’re Okay to Scale Back
Maybe you’re a city dweller who’s happy to walk and/or take public transportation as opposed to cabbing it or renting cars everywhere on your journeys. Maybe you have friends in other countries and you can plan a trip centered around spending a couple days crashing for free on their couches. Perhaps you know food is really important to you, but you’re okay to skip out on some areas of entertainment. Chris and I realized that traveling around South America would present many opportunities for amazing everything — outdoor adventure, food, drinks, and places to stay. We sat down before planning our trip and decided what was most important to us (paying more for safe and convenient hotels and splurging on outdoor activities), and what we would be okay with scaling back on (night life, transportation and bar hopping), that way we would be sure to walk away from the trip with amazing memories from the things that mattered most to us.
4. Change Your View on Entertainment
Prior to our goal of taking time off to travel, hanging out with friends meant cocktails and dinner out multiple times a week. It also meant taking little weekend getaways away from the city whenever possible. (Manhattan can be exhausting.) After we made traveling our goal, we started hosting a lot more friends at our own apartment (having a potluck or buying some bottles of liquor that will last for months is a lot cheaper than hanging out at the bars), and the weekend getaways pretty much ended. We started taking advantage of all the free things the city had to offer (which, thankfully for us, was a lot), and tried to enjoy the cheaper things we could do, all while keeping our main focus on getting away, comfortably, in just a few months’ time.
5. Sell Your Stuff
Since our travel coincided with a big move halfway across the country, this was a no brainer for us, but even if you plan to stay put after your adventure, you probably still have lots of stuff hanging around that you could stand to get rid of. Clothing, shoes, electronics, furniture, kitchen gadgets and decorative details all make for great saleable items on places like eBay, Craigslist and Poshmark.
I won’t lie and say that saving up to take months off to travel is easy — but it is do-able. Set a timeline for your travel, develop a budget, cut back and save, save, save. Coming up with a plan is half the battle.