How to Save Money for Travel the Grown-Up Way

By Jane Mountain | August 5, 2015

save money for travel, travel tips, how to travel

If you’re a wannabe traveller or already a traveller, you’ve probably heard all the little tips out there for saving money. Cut down on your Starbucks runs, pack a lunch for work, cut your cable bill…

These tips are fine and they can be an essential part of saving money for travel.

But, as grown-ups, we have an advantage over those young fresh-faced folks who are trying to save. We older travellers usually own things, have a decent income, and live a less-than-thrifty lifestyle – which means we can save a lot of cash, fast.

Related: The Simple Travel Budget Formula (for Busy People)

Unfortunately, we also tend to have a lower tolerance for change and we have become blind to the excesses present in our everyday lives.

Stephen and I couldn’t see the riches all around us when we were living in LA and saving money for our trip. If we’d known then what we know now, we could have saved oodles of extra cash before we ever left home.

Lucky for you, you have us!

Here’s what we learned travelling that you can use to save money for travel now.

Lesson 1: You Don’t Need a Mobile Phone

How many times in the last year have you had to get in touch with someone right this second or something incomprehensibly dire would happen? How many of those times were you somewhere without WiFi?

For most of us the answer is zero. Zero times when a mobile phone was critical to ours or someone else’s survival or well being. And yet, for some reason, we believe that $70 each month (at least) for a cell phone plan is an absolutely vital expense.

I can pretty much hear your shouts of protest from here. No, it is not IMPOSSIBLE to live without a mobile! Guess how I know? I haven’t had one for three years!

Saving money for travel doesn't have to be that hard. All it takes is a slight shift in the way you see the world.

Hear me out.

You are old enough to remember life before cell phones, aren’t you? You remember when we had to actually arrange a time and place to meet if we wanted to see our friends.

You remember when you didn’t have to send important texts to your spouse that say things like: “in the car” or “on my way” or “train is 3 mins late”. You remember when you had arguments over dinner that weren’t settled by a Google search or a trip to Wikipedia.

Admit it, you kind of miss those days, don’t you?

What travel taught us about mobile phones.
When we left on our trip, we were so brainwashed by mobile phone culture that we even bought a SIM card we could use internationally. After a few countries we realized we had absolutely no need for cell service or 3G, even though we were often in the middle of nowhere on our bikes.

Now that we’re back home, neither of us has a cell plan. Guess what? Nothing bad has happened as a result and most people don’t even know we don’t have one!

(We don’t have a landline either. We use Skype, Hangouts, or FaceTime for all of our calls. Yup, even business calls. And thanks to Hangouts, our Google Voice numbers even ring on our laptops and portable devices when we are online.)

What will you save by getting rid of your mobile plan?
At least $840/year.

What will $840 buy in Vietnam?
14 nights in the nicest place we stayed on our whole trip or about 50 nights in hostels.

The no phone bonus:
Getting rid of your mobile phone will mean you are actually offline sometimes, which is a very good thing indeed!

Lesson 2: Public Transport is Your Ally, Your Bicycle is Your Friend

Owning and driving a car is one of the most expensive things you do. If you have a normal car, like a Honda Civic, a Toyota Camry, or a small SUV, you’re almost surely paying somewhere between $5,000 and $10,000 to operate it each year.

And that doesn’t even include the purchase cost or monthly payments.

Use Edmunds True Cost To Own Calculator to find out how much your car is costing you:

What travel taught us about public transport and cycling.
As you know, we rode our bikes almost everywhere on our trip and occasionally climbed aboard a bus or a subway train. We travelled through 22 countries and never once needed a car.

Related: Busses, Planes, and Trains: How to Get Around While Travelling

So why would we need a car at home?

The answer is, we don’t. Our 2008 Toyota Yaris that we bought when we got back last year is a total luxury. We drive it about once every two weeks and mostly it sits in the driveway gathering bird shit. We ride our bikes everywhere and when it comes time to go further afield, like to Vancouver to visit friends, we take public transport.

What will you save if you sell your car?
If you have a 2010 Honda Civic in average condition, you could sell it today for $10,000. Add to that the money you would have spent on gas, insurance, and repairs for one year, which is around $7,000. Subtract $1200 for annual public transport costs and hell, why not treat yourself to another $1200 for the occasional Uber ride or car share program. You’re still left with a grand total of $14,600 plus interest.

What will $14,600 buy while travelling?
If you have a budget travel style, congratulations, you’ve just saved enough to travel in Southeast Asia for a whole year. If you’re a little more fancy with your travel needs, you can easily go for 6 months on that much money.

Let me repeat that.

If you sell your car, you will have enough money to travel for a full year without saving another penny.

Yup, it is that simple.

The no car bonus:
Without a car you will be forced to cycle, walk, and do other forms of physical activity, like running for the bus. Once you finally leave to travel, you will be fitter and happier than you were driving a car everywhere.

Lesson 3: Buying Stuff is Overrated

Things you normally buy without even thinking about it turn into problems when you decide to go travelling. All of a sudden, you have to pay to move and store all those things you thought you needed.

You end up paying for everything four times: 1) You pay to buy the item; 2) You pay to move it into storage when you leave; 3) You pay to store it while you’re away; 4) You pay to move the item when you get back home. Not a good model for saving money.

What travel taught us about buying stuff.
While you’re travelling, especially by bicycle, you don’t buy things. Things are heavy, they take up valuable packing space, and finally you end up ditching them in some random hostel in Croatia. Travelling, you realize you can live quite happily for years on end with three t-shirts, two pairs of pants, and one old laptop computer.

What will you save if you stop buying things?
If you give up buying things today – that means all new clothes, kitchen gadgets, records, books, and the latest iProduct – you could save an extra $3,500/year (if you’re an average buyer of stuff). If you start selling things you already own and don’t need, you can double or triple this figure!

What will $3500 get you on the road?
You could buy a round-the-world plane ticket for $3500 or have more than enough to fly to Europe and buy a 3-month unlimited Eurail pass.

The no stuff bonus:
Getting dressed in the morning is so much easier when you don’t have a closet full of clothes from which to choose.

Lesson 4: Your House is Too Big

Most of us (especially in North America) live in a home with more than ample space for our needs.

How many bathrooms do you have? How many spare rooms? Do you have a living room, a dining room, and a den? Are there rooms in your house that you barely even go into, except to clean?

Our house in LA was only 1200 sq ft, tiny by American standards, but it still had a bedroom, a bathroom, and a living room we hardly ever used.

What travel taught us about downsizing.
We spent two years living in single hotel rooms or sleeping in a tent. We rarely had a bed bigger than a double and only had access to a kitchen, usually shared with other people, once in a while. Often, our bathroom was shared with other people, too.

While we wouldn’t want to always share a kitchen and bathroom with someone else, we realized we’re perfectly happy in a tiny space and perfectly OK sharing walls with other people. Now, we live in a basement suite that is 900 sq ft, has one bedroom and one bathroom, and seems positively roomy compared to our travel accommodations.

It might seem ridiculous to consider moving a year before you take off on an extended trip, but it actually might be the smartest thing you could do. If you’re planning on selling your house anyway, why not get that hassle out of the way as soon as possible and save a shitload of extra money while you’re at it?

What will you save if you move to a smaller place?
We kept paying our hefty mortgage right up until the day we left on our trip. If we had moved into a one-bedroom apartment a year before we left home, we could have saved an extra $2,000/month or $24,000 in the year (plus interest)!

(We happened to sell on an upswing in the housing market, so we probably were better off not selling early, but if you live in an area with a stable market, downsizing early could work for you.)

If you have the option to temporarily stay with family or friends, or housesit in your hometown, even better. Alternatively, we could have rented our spare room and bathroom and earned an extra $7,500 or so.

What will $24,000 get you on the road?
Somewhere between one to two years of extra travelling money. Or, you could move to Chiang Mai, Thailand and live pretty luxuriously for two years on $24,000.

The small house bonus:
You’ll get to practice living in smaller places before all the stress of travelling is added on.

Most people think they just don’t earn enough to save money to travel. In reality, most people just spend too much to save money, which is not the same thing at all. For those of us who’ve passed our 40th birthday, it’s especially hard to let go of the lifestyle to which we’ve become accustomed.

But the truth is, letting go is exactly what travel is all about.

If you do it a little early, you’ll have a ton of extra money to travel in style for some time to come.  

Featured photo by 401(K) 2012 on Flickr

Do you know someone who is trying to save money to travel? Please share this with them.


  1. Comment by May 11, 2017 at 11:26 pm

    In this interview, he shares his best travel tips for how you can be adventurous on a budget.

  2. Comment by isabella

    isabella October 10, 2015 at 4:25 pm

    Hello Jane! this is a great article.. you made me think a lot especially about moving to a smaller house. although in my situation i would save about 1500 usd in total it is still a month of travelling more or less and all worth it.. it ‘s hard to leave my house, which I am renting but love so much… but as you said.. practising of letting go. I am not sure about the phone because I am a lot on instagram since i am trying to work with it and it is very useful. plus i like to track my altitude when i hike and it is very handy for quick snapshot when i don’t want to take out my camera. and also for instapics :). .. and whatsapp with my mum .. to let her know I am still alive LOL ..on the car thing… mm i live in cancun and still go to work in an office.. so walking on biking at 30 degree is not that nice, especially if you need to get to the office in a presentable form (LOL) . I might sell it before the insurance expire and hold on for a couple of months on taxis. that i can do. About the buying.. i totally endorse this one and it feels so good to save money from a new fancy dress or shoes thinking that I will be travelling instead! thanks a lot for the great job! keep it up :)

    • Comment by Jane

      Jane October 12, 2015 at 12:14 pm

      Hi Isabella,
      Thanks for the comment. Not all of these techniques will work for everyone, but just pick and choose the ones that you think will be best for you. In terms of the phone, it sounds like the only way you really use it when not near WiFi is for Instagram. You can track your altitude offline with PocketEarth app (if you have an iPhone) and there are probably similar apps for nav available on Android. You don’t need to be connected to phone service to take pictures, so you can keep your phone and get rid of your plan. Is there a shower available at your office? I used to bike in 30 degrees in LA and would shower at work instead of at home! There are almost always ways around our excuses if we’re really committed to saving money!

    • Comment by isabella

      isabella October 13, 2015 at 4:20 am

      hey jane! thanks for your reply.
      yes of course no intention to buy a phone plan, just use the phone on wifi! ;)
      as for getting rid of car… my office doesn’t have showers :)
      local transportation is not reliable and decent taxi are relatively expensive and ..i am lazy… i lived on taxi and bike (on days off) for the first 2 years… now i have the comfort of the car it is difficult to let go, but gas is relatively cheap and insurance is paid until february and then I already have a buyer for when i leave, so i guess i can spend the few extra bucks for comfort, time saving and spare a nervous breakdown :)
      can’t wait to leave :))

    • Comment by Jane

      Jane October 13, 2015 at 7:47 am

      For sure. I loved having my car in LA and couldn’t have imagined giving it up when I worked across town. I have a car now too, even though I almost never drive it ;)

      It’s awesome that you have a buyer lined up and you’re leaving in just a few months! So exciting!


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