Maya Bay Phi Phi Leh

Working Travel into Your Budget

Working travel into your budget: ways to turn a travel dream into reality. You just have to want it bad enough.


The biggest reason people don’t travel is money. They look at pictures of tropical beaches or European castles longingly, thinking, “someday I’ll go there.” They may think they will travel after they retire. For a lot of people though, working travel into your budget can be a bigger hindrance after retirement than before. You also might not be physically able to do as many things when you are older as you think you will.

In reality, biggest obstacle in going somewhere may not actually be money, it is probably just planning and prioritizing. If you want to travel, here are some ways to do it on a tight budget:


1. Prioritize travel

This is the number one thing you have to do if you want to travel, and it is the most difficult. If you want it, you have to keep your eyes on the prize. Maybe those beat up shoes can get you through another year. Maybe you don’t need to upgrade to the new iPhone. Maybe you can cancel your cable package and stream Neflix and Hulu instead. Maybe you can eat dinner out with your sweetie at the bar during happy hour instead of a nice 5 course meal.

You won’t have room in your budget for everything you want, so you will have to pick and choose what is a priority and what can wait or isn’t necessary. Cut back your expenses in whatever way you can. If you’re single, consider getting a roommate. If you want it bad enough, you can work it out.

I’m a planner, and I plan our vacations way in advance and save for them. I did this even when I was working at a low paying job with no paid vacation right after college. I had to save up for the vacation, plus enough to cover my expenses for the week I wasn’t going to be working. I did it, and you can too.

2. Research your trip and get a savings goal together

Once you know where you want to go, research airfare on Expedia, Kayak, or other travel sites. is my favorite site for booking and researching hotels, along with Tripadvisor. Get a ball park figure together of how much plane tickets cost for your destination. Next, figure out what you want to see and where you want to stay and get cost figures on those. Add on and overestimate a total budget for meals, souvenirs, tours, gratuities, and anything else you think you might spend money on. Add it together and you have your final figure.

If the figure is higher than you expected, don’t despair. It just means you will have to cut back your expenses a little more, or postpone your trip a bit longer while you save. If you want it bad enough, you can make it happen. Figure out how much you think you can save per month, and then divide your total figure by that amount, and you have an idea of when to plan your trip.  There are sites with nifty travel calculators that can help you with this as well, such as this one on


3. Use your tax return as a savings plan

I’ve always claimed zero on my W-4s so that my employer takes the maximum amount out of my paycheck for federal taxes. Yeah, I could put that extra money in a savings account and earn interest, blah blah blah. But I know that won’t happen. I would probably just spend it. This is always how I afforded cheap spring break getaways in college. Every year, we get a decent amount of money back when we do our taxes and put that towards our next vacation that year. It’s a “bonus” we can always count on, and it helps.


4. Set up sneaky savings transfers

You can “trick” yourself into saving by setting up an automatic savings transfer for your paydays of a low specific amount, like $20.00. You probably won’t notice the money moving over when your paycheck hits, and it can add up. I do this in small amounts into what I call my “oh shit fund.” It’s what I withdraw from on a rainy day (or if I’m a bit short the day before payday). This can also work towards a travel savings goal. The savings are still there for emergencies, but if everything goes well, it will put you ahead on your savings plan.


5. Don’t be afraid of alternative lodging

You might need to adjust your travel plans if you can’t afford everything you want to do. Research budget hotels on Tripadvisor and check out Also consider hostels. Most hostels cater towards young travelers staying in multi-bunk dorm rooms, but many have private rooms  as well, some with private bathrooms. We stayed in a really nice hostel in Bangkok with a private room en suite for only $35 a night. Hostels also cater to those without a lot of money, meaning they often have free wifi, laundry facilities, kitchens and fridges for making and storing your own food, lockers for keeping your stuff safe while out and about, and helpful staff willing to provide info and sometimes book tours. We’ve stayed in some nice upscale hotels before and hostels, and we really enjoyed the hostels. It is easier to meet like-minded travelers from all around the world at a hostel–you might make some new friends and get some good travel tips as well. Not all hostels are great though, make sure you do your research and read reviews to find the right one.


6. Travel closer to home

Sure, Thailand is cheap when you get there, but flying there from North America is not. Distance = high cost. If the plane tickets are too much, you might consider another inexpensive destination closer to home like Mexico or Costa Rica. Don’t give up that dream of Asia or Australia though–you’ll just need to save a little longer for those trips. If you really want to go on a trip now, try one with cheaper airfare.


7. Travel in the off season

The best times to travel are right before the peak season starts or right after it ends. The rates are lower and the crowds are thinner. We went to Costa Rica during the rainy season in September, and aside from obsessively checking NOAA’s hurricane watch the days before departure, it worked out great. Tours had only a couple other people along with us, and we practically had the town of La Fortuna to ourselves. It rained every day, but in the afternoon and evenings only. We did our sightseeing and tours in the morning when it was sunny, and napped in the afternoon when it rained.

We did travel in the off-season in September again to Mexico, and it was a bit too hot for our comfort. We had the beach to ourselves, but had to tuck ourselves completely into the shade of a palapa umbrella like vampires. Do some research and see what time of year would be the best weather-wise for your destination as well as cost. Shoulder seasons in between the low and peak seasons are often a good bet as well.


8. Stay in one place or one city to save money on transportation

I always want to see everything, so when we go to another country I try to pick a few regions of the area we are going and spend a few nights in a few different places. It gives our trip diversity and more adventure.

However, transportation to all those places can add up quite a bit. If you need a vacation and are on a tight budget, go somewhere that has a good amount of stuff to do and see in one place. Hotels will often give discounts on online booking sites for extended stays as well.


Working travel into your budget can be tricky, but if there is a will there’s a way. We just became first time homeowners, so I’m sure we’ll have things come up that will throw a monkey wrench into our savings plans. Whatever happens, we will still find a way to travel. Prioritize your travel adventures over other non-essentials, and it will work out for you. Be patient and stick to the goal.



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