Overwater Bungalow

How to Afford Travel (Without Giving Up Everything Else)

How to afford travel has to be the most asked question people wonder about frequent travelers. Having the money to afford travel is even one of the biggest obstacles readers share with me in their emails.

So, in this guide, you’ll find tips and strategies for how to afford to travel more, including how to get a return on your everyday spending and how to travel for less.

How to Afford Travel
(Without Giving Up Everything Else)

The majority of people (myself included) are just regular people with jobs, bills to pay, and groceries to buy. Saving for travel can easily feel like an impossible task!

Now, many of you know, how I afford to travel is by redeeming credit card, airline, and hotel miles and points for just about all of the trips I take.

But, I also put the time and effort into learning the ins and outs of miles and points and how to redeem them for the best value.

(If you’re interested in learning more about this, get started with my free basics course.)

So, I totally get that many people don’t have the time or the interest in applying for credit cards and studying airline award charts. This doesn’t mean all hope is lost when it comes to travel bucket lists, though! There’s never just 1 path to success. 

The way I see it is there are 2 sets of strategies for affording travel without miles and points.

First is having a long-term strategy that includes making the money you already spend on bills and everyday things work harder for you so you can afford more travel in the long run.

Second is knowing how to save money when you book flights, hotels, and rental cars, as well as how to penny-pinch on things like activities, tours, food, and local transportation. These costs can add up quickly if you’re not prepared or don’t know better.

Let’s dive in and take a closer look at both of these strategies.

Making Your Money Work Harder For You

Travel coin jar

A lot of affording travel advice includes forgoing simple pleasures or never again going out on a Saturday night.

There’s certainly no denying that prioritizing money for travel instead of eating out or making an impulse buy will help your travel savings grow. I don’t spend carelessly and I focus on needs versus things I want because I’d much rather be in Paris than getting a pedicure.

However, I also want to be realistic. 

For most people, we have apartments, houses, cars, kids, and pets.  We need to cook something for dinner, feed the dog, buy household goods and furniture, pay for school supplies, do home repairs, and do everything else that comes with daily life.

So, why not have the money you’re spending earn cashback rewards on every dollar?

This transforms “how do I save for travel” into using what you’re spending on everyday goods to simultaneously build a travel fund.

I’m all for throwing spare change in a jar, but what I’m getting at is making the money you already spend work harder for you. It’s a simple habit shift to spend your money smarter.

You don’t need (although it will further maximize this strategy) a travel rewards credit card or a cashback credit card to get started or do this. A debit card will also work.

You do need a Rakuten account (formerly Ebates) and the willingness to make a few extra clicks when you shop online. Both are free.

The premise is simple.

  • Sign up for a Rakuten account.
  • Go to Rakuten when you need to make a purchase online.
  • Select the merchant where you’d like to shop.
  • Click on the merchant and be redirected to their website.
  • Shop normally as you would have if you had just gone directly to the merchant’s website.

And if you’re not a big online shopper, no worries. 

You can still sign-up for a Rakuten account. Then, using the website or the app, browse cashback offers and link them to the debit or credit card you plan to pay with.

Rakuten Shopping Portal

Depending on each merchant’s cashback earn rate, which fluctuates all the time, you’ll earn a percentage back on every dollar you spend.

Imagine if every time you bought things like paper products, pet food, clothing, and home improvement products you earned cashback rewards.

Could it purchase a flight? How many nights could it get you in a hotel? Maybe that cashback could pay for your rental car or the cost of meals or activities on your next trip.

After all, cash is travel in your hands for wherever you want to go, whenever you have the time off to travel.

Every time you shop and spend money without earning a return on what you’re spending is like washing money down the drain. 

And remember, if you already have a cashback rewards credit card (again, not necessary), these cashback earnings from Rakuten would be in addition to the cashback earnings from your card.

Cash down the drain
Avoid doing this! Make your money work harder and deliver a return on your spending.

Consider the average American family has a household income of between $55k and $75k and spends, on average, $1300 a month on food, household goods, personal items, and other everyday needs. This doesn’t even factor in housing, transportation, or healthcare costs.

The bottom line is every penny counts, especially when you’re hoping to afford more travel.

Yes, I use miles and points to treat my travel bug.

As a result, I don’t spend any money without first seeing what I can get as a return in the form of travel rewards.

You can do the same by earning cashback for every dollar you spend on everyday goods by shopping through Rakuten.

So, think about the money you spend every month on unavoidable daily life stuff and then think of the places on your travel bucket list.

You could be on a flight heading there sooner than you think.

Saving Money on Travel

Saving money on flights, hotels, rental cars, activities and events, local transportation, and food adds up and can be the difference between affording a trip and not.

Look for Cheap Flights…

airplane seat and window

Use airfare aggregator sites like Google Flights, Momondo, and Skyscanner to compare prices across thousands of travel websites, including smaller ones that get left out of searches elsewhere.

Follow cheap flight websites like Secret Flying and The Flight Deal to catch deals as they happen or even take advantage of a mistake airfare.

Read more in this Best Websites for Cheap Flights guide.

But Consider Letting the Destination Pick You.

Were you thinking of going to Rome but a bargain airfare came up for Madrid instead?

Book it!

You’ll either discover a new destination or you can figure out how to cheaply get from Madrid to Rome.

I’ve changed my destination several times after seeing a flight deal or stumbling upon available award seats for a destination I didn’t initially search for.

Search for Hotel Deals…

Hotel Room

Compare hotel prices for your destination across a variety of travel sites on TripAdvisor.

Use Booking to take advantage of generous free cancelation policies.

Or work towards earning a free night with Hotels.com.

When you join hotel and travel loyalty or rewards programs and sign in when you search, you often get access to members-only pricing.

And memberships like AAA often have discounted pricing for their members.

You can also search for promo codes or bid on a mystery hotel on a website like Hotwire.

And remember, if you’re booking through the hotel chain directly (i.e. Hilton, IHG, etc) or an online booking site (i.e. Expedia), go to Rakuten to see if the merchant participates and earn cashback on your reservation.

But Look at Apartment and Home Rentals, too.

Booking an apartment or entire home can be more economical than a hotel, particularly with larger groups who want to avoid booking multiple hotel rooms.

Apartment and home rentals allow you to buy food at local markets and cook meals at the rental. Even preparing just breakfast each day can save a lot of money. Here are a few of my favorites when booking apartment and home rentals.

You might even consider becoming a housesitter with a service like TrustedHousesitters, where you can stay in places around the globe for free in exchange for watching the house and, usually, a pet.

Only Rent a Car When Needed…

Airport car rental sign

It rarely makes sense to drive around big cities so plan to do your sightseeing on foot or with the help of public transportation.

Many places have trains and buses that connect cities and towns.

Check for subway ride cards that last for a set number of days and let you take an unlimited number of rides during that time.

If you need a car, use Kayak to compare prices and only rent the car for the days you need.

Learn a few more rental car hacks in this guide.

Activities and Tours Don’t Have to Break the Bank.

Tourists on open top sightseeing bus in city

Free is always good, right? So, take advantage of free tours, activities, and events when you travel.

  • Most cities have free walking tours where just a tip is appreciated at the end.
  • The Global Greeter Network has people around the globe excited to show you their town or city.
  • Museums often have free days and times during a given week or month.
  • Check local tourism websites before you travel for information on free events like concerts or theater in the park.

Of course, not everything is free, especially admission tickets to popular places. But in most places, preparation and research can make all the difference to your bottom line.

After all, the travel industry is banking on your lack of knowledge about a new place and/or the belief that more expensive must equal a better vacation.

Attraction and tour representatives will try to sell you tickets for tourist attractions like the Statue of Liberty or the Tower of London.

The same scene plays out in cities around the world and it’s easy to feel pressured if you haven’t done your homework.

Before you travel, look at Groupon for your destination to check for local deals on sights and activities.

If you plan to do a lot of sightseeing, don’t buy separate tickets for each place.

Bundle these costs with a city sightseeing card instead.

Not only do you get entry to many popular sights, they often come with other discounts and skip-the-line privileges.

For example, CityPASS can help you save money in New York City, Boston, Chicago, San Franciso, Seattle, and more.

Go City passes bundle costs in cities like ParisLondonStockholmAmsterdam, and others.

Have a Food Plan.

Cordoba Spain food

Food costs can quickly add up if you’re not careful.

One of the biggest reasons is because restaurants in touristy areas are usually a lot more expensive than other neighborhoods.

Instead, explore the area on foot and choose cafes and restaurants that are at least a few blocks from popular sights. (i.e. Don’t eat in Times Square or across from the Colosseum in Rome.)

And, try not to wait until you’re starving! You’ll be tempted to grab the first thing you see.

Look for food trucks and food carts. They can be a cheap and quick option.

Lastly, think about how your accommodation choice can help offset food costs.

Places where you can cook or even hotels that provide free breakfast can cut costs. They also allow you to prepare snacks that you can purchase locally and take with you for the day.

The bottom line is…

Overwater Bungalow

It’s absolutely possible to afford to travel. 

Get a cashback return on your everyday spending with Rakuten. Consider pairing it with a cashback or travel rewards credit card to maximize your earnings.

Save money on your travel expenses with research and preparation. In the same way you’d look for deals, comparison shop, use promo codes and coupons back home in your daily life, apply this same logic to your trip budget and your travel mentality to save more.

How do you afford to travel?

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