Every year, you likely earn at least a few paid vacation days at your job. However, if you’re like many Americans, you rarely ever take them.
As the U.S. Travel Association reports, each year, more than half of Americans leave vacation time on the table. All that unused time accumulated to 768 million missed vacation days in 2018.
Of course, it’s easy to understand why many people simply forgo taking time off. After all, traveling can be expensive.
It’s all too easy: bills can pile up, professional duties can get in the way and life events can take hold, all letting you leave those vacation days unused. However, there are ways to not only build vacations into your routine but to also save for vacations too.
With a little planning and a small amount of work, vacations can be yours again. Here are a few ways you could work saving money for a trip into your financial routine so you never miss another vacation day again.
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5 tips for saving for a trip
1. Deciding where you want to go and for how long
To properly plan for how much you need to save for your trip, you first must decide when and where you want to go. Would you like to stay domestic or go international? Somewhere warm and by a beach, or cold and in the mountains? The choice is yours.
Once you make your choice, you could do a little calculating and add up the costs of transportation, accommodations, food, and entertainment for each member traveling with you. This way, you’ll have a ballpark number to save up to.
Here’s a vacation pro tip for you: If your vacation math comes out to be a little too high for your liking, you could look into your intended destination’s “shoulder season.”
Shoulder season is a professional travel term for the time between the high and low seasons. In other words, it’s a seemingly less desirable time to visit a place.
For example, the shoulder seasons in the Caribbean are in the late spring and early fall. During this time, visitors will still experience warmer temperatures, crystal blue waters, delicious Caribbean foods and more.
But the early fall, classified here as September to November, also falls at the tail end of the hurricane season, making travel to the Caribbean a bit of a gamble. During that time, flights, hotels and activities can be much cheaper as there are fewer tourists to fill the seats, rooms and space.
2. Checking out your current finances
Once you decide where you want to go and just how much it will cost, then you could take a look at your current financial situation.
You might want to assess whether you have enough money to take a vacation right now, need to postpone until more fruitful times or have the ability to save up for a vacation later in the year.
If you’re not feeling like your finances are quite in the right place to take a trip soon, that’s okay, as there are ways to save so you can still use your vacation days. And that could begin with a budget.
3. Making “taking a vacation” a line item on your budget
If you already have a budget in place, that’s wonderful news. The only thing you might want to do is add in “travel” as a budget item and start socking away a little cash for that each month.
But, if you’re new to budgeting, that’s okay as well. Now might be a great time to start.
To begin, you could gather all your income statements and any outgoing recurring bills such as student loans, credit card bills, mortgage payments, or other debts.
Then, you could create a list of all your monthly expenses, including everything that comes out of your bank account each month, like rent, car payments, student loan payments, credit card statements, food, gas, insurance, gym memberships, streaming accounts and more. Anything you spend money on, you could make a line item.
Next, you could compare your after-tax income against your debts and see how much you have left over. Any cash left over could go into your vacation fund.
However, if you have nothing left over at the end of your budgeting homework, you might want to take a cold, hard look at your spending and income level to make room for travel.
The simplest place to start might be by reconsidering your monthly spending. Are you still subscribing to that streaming service, and do you really use that gym membership?
If there are things in your current budget that can go, now could be the time to cut them. Then, you could reallocate that money to your travel budget instead.
4. Taking on a side hustle to pay for your vacation
Of course, cutting back isn’t always an option. If you’re serious about saving for a trip, now may be the perfect time to take on a side hustle.
A side hustle is a part-time job outside your normal work. If you decide to go this route to fund your travels, you might want to think deeply about what you’re passionate about so it feels less like a second job and more like fun.
For example, if you simply adore meeting new people, maybe driving for a ride-sharing service is a good fit for you. If you’re a night owl, perhaps picking up a few shifts here and there as a bartender is good.
Or, if you like dogs, you could try signing up for a dog-walking service to bring in a little more money.
If you’d like to flex a little muscle with your other talents like photography, writing, or graphic design, you might try reaching out to a few places as a freelancer, which could both bring in a little more money and make you feel good at the same time.
5. Creating a dedicated space for your travel savings
Now that you’ve done all the hard work of deciding where to go, how much it will cost, and how it fits into your budget, it’s time for a fun item: creating a dedicated savings account for your trip.
After all, it’s way more fun to put your vacation money into a savings account called “oh yes vacation time” rather than simply “account 3045766.”
And, you could take things a step further by making your travel account work for you by opening a cash management account that offers no account fees.
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