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Need a bigger vacation budget? Here are 9 ways to save money to travel more

by Ashley
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We certainly don’t travel as much as some folks we know who travel a lot for business or who have embraced that digital nomad lifestyle. But we are always planning a trip of some kind, from a quick local weekend getaway to five weeks in Mexico! And yes, we both work full time jobs and have a small child in daycare. 

Often, people ask how. How can you travel so much? Sometimes the question is even Why do you travel so much? 

Travel is important to us, so we have embraced several practices to save money to travel a lot.

Travel can be hard to prioritize.

Flying with a baby

If you suffer from any kind of medical condition that limits mobility or are a caretaker of any kind, travel can be elusive. Finding the time to go anywhere with a demanding school or work schedule can be daunting. It might not always feel like the best use of funds if finances are tight. For many families, it might not make sense to prioritize travel. 

But if it makes sense for you to spend time and money on travel, then I got you. I always say where there’s a will, there’s a way. If travel is important to you and is something that you want to prioritize in life, then I can help. 

Travel does not have to cost a fortune.

Travel doesn’t always mean big spending. There are plenty of ways to travel cheap. A staycation where you play tourist in your own town could end up being one of the best trips of your life! A weekend in a nearby city could be just the rejuvenation you need. A week spent visiting family could be a simple way to travel cheap. Instead of one big trip, maybe you take several mini-trips. The possibilities are endless and worth trying… if you want to.  

There are lots of little changes that can be made to your current lifestyle that will allow you to fit in more trips and stretch your travel budget further than you thought possible. So let me share the many ways we try to save money to travel frequently. All of my tips come from personal experience!

travel tip: be friendly but increase your situational awareness

Here are nine ways you can save money to travel more often.

Open a high yield savings account.

I can’t believe we waited as long as we did to open a high yield savings account. Live and learn, right? We opened a  high-yield savings account with Ally bank to save money and have been so pleased with the experience that I have to sing its praises. A lovely intuitive UX both on web and mobile. Easy-to-manage organization system to easily visualize your savings goals. Lots of little boosters to help you save faster. And a high APY that is 10x the national average… It’s fantastic. Thanks to the surprise savings transfers and several rate increases, we’ve already saved the equivalent of 20% of our initial deposit. We definitely weren’t saving at that rate previously.

This is a simple, low-effort way to start saving more money now. It’s a low hanging fruit you can take care of with a few clicks and that doesnt require more han a few dollars to get started. Even if you start with $25 or $100, that’s more than you had set aside yesterday. Every cent adds up! You’ll be saving money to travel before you know it!

Cut little costs in your daily life. 

Look, I am the first person to say YOLO. Indulge in that extra piece of cake. Buy the shoes that make you happy. Go see that musical when it comes to town. 

I also know first hand how hard it can be to deprive yourself in the present to prepare for the future. It’s not fun. But it’s necessary. 

Spend less, save more. 

Go without now so you can indulge later. Skip buying the coffee at the cute shop on the corner to brew some store-bought grounds at home. Eat the leftovers instead of ordering takeout (yet again). Resist the impulse buys at checkout. Use coupons whenever you can. What you give up at home can be indulged in when you go somewhere else. Skip the local brew so you can try the dark roast in New Orleans. Forgo the local fine dining so you can experience your favorite celebrity chef’s new restaurant in Asheville. Dont buy another pair of stretchy pants on Amazon so you can buy goods from the local market in Argentina. Future You will thank Past You!

1% improvements add up over time. 

By redefining how you spend your disposable income, you’ll be able to cut costs. Cutting even $20 or $30 bucks per week might not feel like a lot now. But a few months of savings could quickly add up to an extra trip. Every cent adds up.

Here are a few real world examples from my family’s experiences of cost-cutting:

  • We ditched our YMCA membership since we were not using it often enough to justify the cost. The money originally allocated for the YMCA membership covers the cost of a rental car on a trip later on. 
  • Before buying something online, I check to see if I can earn points through the MyPoints portal. I trade in the points I earn on that site for Amazon gift cards, offsetting some of our online shopping costs. 
  • I’m getting better about checking for coupons before we go grocery shopping (instead of later finding them in the drawer three weeks past their expiration date). 

Join loyalty programs to get free flights or hotel nights.

We’ve been playing the credit card points game for years now. I feel like we do a good job of maximizing our credit card benefits. We pay for everything that we can using three cards with different points-earning structures: the IHG Traveler card, the Marriott Bonvoy card, and the one of best travel cards on the market, the Chase Sapphire Reserve. This method allows us to travel cheap, especially when traveling domestically.

The lovely outdoor zero entry pool at the Marriott in Muscle Shoals Alabama
The lovely outdoor zero entry pool at the Marriott in Muscle Shoals Alabama

Stay on top of point promotions and use the cards strategically. 

You can rack up free hotel nights and airline miles! For example, one card may offer 3 points per dollar spent on gas and groceries but only 1 point per dollar on everything else, while another gives you 3 points per dollar spent on dining but only 2 points for dollars spent on everything else: use the first card exclusively for gas and groceries, and the second card for everything else. 

Managing multiple credit cards and their corresponding points programs requires organization (I love my spreadsheets!) But the savings are worth the effort for those who want to travel a lot. I find it a fun and easy way to save money to travel more. If you are a person who pays off their bill regularly without carrying a balance, then a rewards card might be for you. Let everyday expenses boost your travel budget.

Stay for free with home exchange.

Joining a home exchange site, such as HomeExchange.com, opens up a world of free accommodations. While every home swapping site will have some sort of membership fee, the cost is nominal compared to the savings. Absolutely no money exchanges hands between host and guest. Home exchange is a cheap way to travel.

For example, we pay $175 a year to be members of HomeExchange.com, and we already have 3 exchanges lined up for 2023. That means free accommodations in each location. 3 weeks in a Chicago apartment. 1 week in a lakeside beach house with a golf cart. 2 weeks in an urban condo outside of Montreal. All for free

Ways to travel more: save money by using home exchange!
Our fabulous home exchange partners, Cora and Hans, and their family.

Home exchange is an amazing free way to travel.

We’ve had so many wonderful home exchange experiences! Home exchange took us to the Hague, Nuevo Vallarta, and Cape Canaveral. Swapping homes and allowing strangers to occupy our most personal space has allowed us to visit DC, Portland, Toronto, Montreal, Chicago and Michigan Beach. I can not speak highly enough about home exchange as a community and way of travel. If you ever have any questions about the practice, please ask! I’m an open book on the topic.

Housesit your way around the world.

Adjacent to home exchange, there’s housesitting. With sites such as TrustedHouseSitters.com, HouseCarers.com, and HouseSittersAmerica.com, the housesitting world seems just as expansive as the home exchanging community. 

How do you housesit to travel the world for free?

Each site works slightly differently. Some are free for house owners, some are free for the housesitters, some require a small fee for both. The gist is the same: travel the world affordably by taking care of someone’s house and/or pets. 

Similar to home exchanging, housesitting requires mutual trust, explicit communication, and flexibility. Housesitters respond to listings by homeowners who need help while they’re away. Your travel schedule is determined by the listing you respond to and get chosen for. 

Use MindMyHouse.com

We haven’t yet housesat for anyone, but we do want to try it as a way to travel cheap. We joined MindMyHouse.com to find housesitters for our five-week trip to Mexico. We were overwhelmed by the number of responses to our listing. It seems everyone wants to come visit Nashville and have a free place to stay! The house sitters we’ve found through that site have so far been awesome – reliable, communicative, friendly, and people we would want to be friends with!

Avoid over-touristed destinations.

Over tourism is becoming a big problem around the world. While tourism certainly packs an economic punch, it can also negatively impact the environment. Over tourism also contributes to local housing crises, worsens traffic and pollution, and threatens inadequate infrastructure. Visiting the most visited places means you’ll face more crowds, wait in more lines, and probably spend a lot more money. Some places are instituting tourist caps, shutting down souvenir stalls, limiting the number of tourist buses or cruises, clamping down on short-term rentals. Some places have stopped promoting themselves as tourist destinations at all. 

So when thinking about a big trip, consider skipping the stereotypically big ticket destinations. Opt instead for lesser known or smaller locales as a way to save money and get more bang for your buck. 

ways to travel more: avoid overtouristed destinations.
The main building of the university in Groningen, Netherlands

Choose this, not that.

For example, if you want to check out the Netherlands, skip Amsterdam. Everyone always seems to want to go party in Amsterdam, but whatever you want to do in Amsterdam, you can do in every other Dutch city. From coffee shops and nightclubs to canals and red light districts, you’ll find incredible history, culture, and architecture throughout the whole country

Ignore FOMO.

When you haven’t seen all of the big ticket items and postcard attractions, you may feel a sense of FOMO by skipping them. I get it! I want to see all of the famous sites too. But in exchange for avoiding some of the over-touristed areas, you may be rewarded by unexpected pleasures and more authentic local experiences that you wouldn’t have had. You will also save money! So open your mind, expand your horizons, and choose the less-traveled path every once in a while.

Don’t choose your destination, let the destination choose you. 

Keeping an open mind and being flexible about your destination can open your travel possibilities when it comes to home exchange and house sitting. 

But what if you just want to go on a regular vacation? Can you still let the destination choose you?

Yes! By searching for flight deals using Google Flights or Scott’s Cheap Flights, you can save hundreds (if not more!) on flights simply by looking at what’s available instead of searching by a specific location. You’ll be amazed at how far your budget can take you if you chase the deals instead of the destination. Several people I know use this method to travel cheap all the time. It does not always work for our lifestyle, but if I were a single or solo traveler, this would be my go-to cheap travel method.

save money to travel more: use hotel points

How we have let the destination choose us:

This is how we often plan weekend getaways. We login to our IHG or Marriott account to see what the cheapest hotel is within a certain driving distance. Then we plan a weekend of activities around that. For example, in the last two years, we have used this exact method to check out the NASA space center in Huntsville; enjoy a child-free holiday weekend in Muscle Shoals; and visit the famous TPC Sawgrass golf course in Jacksonville

Partake in free or cheap activities during the trip.

Much of your travel budget is eaten up by the cost of getting there and having a place to sleep at night. That doesn’t always leave much room for fun while you’re there. 

Or does it? You don’t have to pay for tours, buy tickets to museums, or eat at expensive restaurants when visiting a new place. If you’re going to a place specifically to do or see something that costs money, like attending a conference, a sporting event or a Broadway show, you can supplement that activity with low or no-cost activities to stretch the budget. 

Enjoy free activities in any city to travel cheap.

Stroll along the river. Wander down some cobblestone streets. Meander in and out of random shops. Watch the sidewalk artist for a while. Enjoy a coffee at a park while watching the kids play. Visit a flea market or farmers market. Go on a public art crawl, finding murals and sculptures freely available. Look for free yoga or dance classes offered in parks or at community centers. Find out what free festivals might be going on while you’re visiting (or just wander around, you might stumble upon one! It’s happened to us many times)! Many cities offer “free museum days” or DIY walking tours. 

Find free things to do when traveling.

Just google “free things to do in _____” for wherever you’re going and start making a list. (Here’s a list to get you started in Nashville!) Personally, I like to build a Google map for each trip, adding anything interesting to the map. Then, when we’re exploring, we can target specific areas of the map, based on how much there is potentially to see or do. 

Real world examples of low-cost trips:

Let me give you two real-world examples of enjoying a place solely by doing low or no cost activities:

When we spent 72 hours in Paris, the only thing we paid for outside of food and drink was a pair of tickets to the Louvre, which we hadn’t even planned to visit. I was only going to show him the outside of the building. But when we got there, no one was in line. We decided to buy the $20 tickets and do a speed round of the highlights. Everything else we saw that weekend was free.

Just before the pandemic hit, we went on a South American cruise with my parents and ended the trip with 5 days in Buenos Aires. The only thing we spent money on was our AirBNB (a ridiculously cheap 2-bedroom apartment on the top floor) and food. We ate a LOT. (I still dream of those empanadas.) But everything else we saw and did was free including strolling through a really cool cemetery, perusing a community art center, visiting a brutalist library, buying too many books at a theatre-turned-bookstore, getting lost in a street market, and enjoying a lot of street art.

Prioritize travel.

Ultimately, the best way to travel more is to prioritize travel in your life. 

We only go as many places as we do because we want to. Well, at least *I* really want to. 🙂 Traveling is so important to me that I actively plan our lives around going. Our budgeting and cash flow management style, our schedules, our insistence on working remotely, our single car lifestyle – these are all decisions and behaviors that were influenced by our travel habit. I’m grateful to have a husband who goes along with my need for freedom, flexibility, and variety because it allows travel to remain at the top of our family priority list.

Standing triumphantly on the top of an ancient pyramid at Ek Balam

Where does travel fall on your priority list? 

Do you ever think to yourself “I want to go there someday” but havent quite made it yet? Do you crave to know the world first-hand? Do you ever feel like you’re living vicariously through your friends’ instagram feeds? If any of this resonates with you, then you are like me. And I say with love and encouragement: if you’re not living your travel dreams, maybe it’s time to rethink your priorities! 

There will always be a million excuses not to go. 

Putting off traveling now can make it harder to make time for it later. So if it’s important to you, go for it! There’s always a way to make it happen. 

I know there are people who don’t understand this mentality. I know there are people who think it’s a waste of money. Maybe it seems odd to devote so much of my time, energy, and budget to dragging my family to new places for weeks at a time. For those who might not totally understand my decisions or where I’m coming from, let me share why travel is my biggest passion (second only to the love I have for my family). 

Travel is the best education a person can have. 

It has opened my mind, expanded my worldview, and widened my palette. I’ve learned about language, history, cuisine, and geography. Travel helps a person become more empathetic and compassionate, and often creates a greater desire to help others. It can help you understand this complex world in ways that you can’t while staying at home and reading about it.

Travel is not for everyone, though. 

Everyone has their own goals. I don’t want to diminish your passions! This article (and tbh probably this whole blog!) is not necessarily for that audience. But, if you,like me, crave travel in your soul, then you’ve got to make space for it in your life. I hope to help you do so over time! 


Alrighty, my travel friends. Now it’s your turn! What are YOUR tried-and-true methods for saving money so you can enjoy more travel in your life? Where do you cut costs and find small ways to save? How do you make space to pursue your passion?

American dollars, Hungarian forints, Euros

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