Since I started taking French in high school, I dreamed of being in France and traveling all over Europe. In high school, I took a class trip to Europe, and during college, I spent a summer in Toulouse and studied abroad in several countries during winter break. All that to say, I have an insatiable wanderlust, especially for France, and my dreams to return came true when I accepted a position to teach English in France. With the teaching assistant salary being so meager at around 800 euros per month, I knew I’d want to save up big time so that I could enjoy my time as much as possible. I put aside $7,000 with these 19 ways to save money to travel.
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Sell your clothes and books
Not only did I want to make extra cash, but I also wanted to downsize since I’d be living in a small studio apartment. And selling clothes and books is a great way to do both. Full disclosure: it’s not usually anywhere near being able to quit your day job. But it’s money you didn’t have before, and it helps you minimize clutter.
Where to sell your clothes: Plato’s Closet, Clothes Mentor, Poshmark or directly on Instagram Stories (takes more work on front end but usually better pro t in the end)
Where to sell your books: Half Price Books, Amazon or eBay
Do your homework
Be sure to research different deals because yes, they do exist. Don’t pay full price until you’re absolutely sure there’s no way around it. For example, the French train system offers reduced prices for people ages 12 to 27 in their Avantage Jeune Card. With this card, you lock in 30% off train tickets on specific lines. Can I get a oui oui?! And I bought it at half price during a summer sale. I also learned about the TGVmax pass, which offers all-inclusive rides with the 79 euro monthly subscription. One of the best ways to save money to travel is to see how you can make that bottom line smaller. Long story short: don’t pay full price unless you absolutely must.
Earn cash back with Rakuten
I seriously don’t know how this secret gem hasn’t gone viral because it is such a fun tool. The premise is simple: you download the Rakuten plugin to your browser and click the “Activate” button at selected stores. And you get a certain percentage of cash back from thousands of stores, sometimes even more than 20% cash back. And it’s at stores you actually shop at. Think Gap, Target, Nike, American Eagle, Hello Fresh, Kate Spade, Saks on 5th — the list goes on! Simply click the button before you check out, and you’ll get a PayPal payment. I’ve earned nearly $100 for doing the online shopping I already do. Get $30 in cash back today with my referral link.
Monetize your blog
When I started my blog in 2014, I never dreamed of making money from this hobby of mine. Since then, I’ve published three books and created a travel budgeting course with more than 6,000 students enrolled. I’ve made money from my affiliate links and worked with all kinds of brands. If you’ve ever considered starting a blog or want to grow yours, this is the time.
Blogging is a fabulous way to make money on your own time and in your own niche. You set your hours, you set the price. I even created a free video series called Blogging Basics to walk you through those first steps of starting your blog and setting it up for professional growth.
Apply for a travel rewards credit card
If you do anything on this list of ways to save money to travel, this is the one you need to add to the top of your to-do list. If you’re going to be spending money, you might as well get some back for fun things, right? Before I moved to Toulouse, I applied for a Bank of America Travel Rewards credit card. And although there are plenty of great credit cards out there, I’m very satisfied with mine. It has zero foreign transaction fees, which has easily saved me hundreds, maybe thousands of dollars. With my introductory offer, I used my points to get a round-trip flight to New York City from St. Louis.
What I like about this card is that it’s not tied to one specific hotel brand or airline. I can use it on just about any travel expense, and it comes back on my credit statement as a reimbursement. Oh, and there’s no annual fee!
Over the past few years, I’ve earned $700 in travel credit. And this is by doing the spending that I normally do anyway, mainly while I was a college student whose only real income was with a summer job. Other credit cards my family has had luck with include Southwest and Chase United credit cards.
Shop at places with rewards
Although there may be a time to have a no-spend week or two, it’s impossible to not spend money, and that’s not a bad thing. In the months leading up to my move to France, I knew I wanted to save, but I also wanted to live my life. It’s important to spend time with friends and to take care of yourself each step of the way. But there are less expensive ways to do that.
One way I liked to still treat myself but on a budget was shopping at places with rewards programs. For example, if I needed a pick-me-up, I went to Starbucks because I get points with every purchase. And even then, I opted for an iced coffee, which is one of the cheapest things on the menu. My other go-to budget-friendly treat was a local custard spot, which also had a good rewards program.
Related: Take my free 30-minute travel budgeting course to identify your travel values and make a game plan.
Don’t guilt yourself
At one point during this budgeting process, I became a bit discouraged. I’m saving up for who knows what? It’s hard to picture the finish line when you’ve been budgeting for months. You could be extreme and never leave your home so you can have the most lavish vacation of your life. However, there are more practical ways to cut back and save.
All that to say, find budget-friendly activities like small treats or outdoor activities, but don’t guilt yourself when you spend money. There are good reasons to spend money even as you’re budgeting, but if you heap guilt on yourself, you can’t actually enjoy it. Plan for the future, but be present.
Pick up another job
Those months leading up to departure were full-on hustle. I worked as a legal assistant, nanny and freelance writer. The big plus of these jobs was that they were extremely flexible, but I still had breaks (evenings and weekends). Having a couple part-time jobs is a great way to amp up your income for a short time, but I don’t recommend this long-term.
Could you Uber or drive food delivery on Postmates? Does anyone in your family have a business where they could give you some hours? Could you ask friends and family if they know of any good babysitting jobs? Can you house-sit, plant- sit or pet-sit? (I’m sure I missed a “sit” in there!)
Cut housing costs
Believe me: Moving home after college graduation was not my dream. Those first couple months were a big adjustment, but once I started researching the costs of being on my own, I became more grateful. Love you, Mom and Dad! If you’re able and really have your heart set on a big trip or moving abroad, live at home for a limited period of time.
Consider getting roommates or moving to a more affordable place. Whatever you choose, have a very specific goal: I want to cut my rent down by $200 each month so that I can travel Spain next summer. Keep your eyes on the “so that.”
Pack a lunch
Grabbing fast food for lunch at work adds up. Think about it: if you spend $10 each day on takeout lunch, that’s $50 per week and $200 per month — and that’s a fairly conservative estimate. Packing your lunch takes more effort, but it’s such an easy way to save money. If packing your lunch five days per week sounds impossible, start with just one or two days a week. Making a bigger dinner the night before so that you can pack a lunch is another good hack and is one of the simplest ways to save money to travel.
Take it out of your account immediately
Do not tread near temptation. The moment I’d get a paycheck, I would pay off my credit card bill, leave a little extra in my account and transfer about 80% to savings. Sometimes when you see that big number in your account, you begin justifying purchases here and there. I just made $800, so what’s a $50 pedicure here and a $45 dress there? It adds up.
Cut back on the beauty treatments
I’ve always had my nails painted, and once I started getting big girl paychecks, I loved treating myself to a good dip manicure. But y’all, those manis add up quickly. My friend Annika recommended DipWell, an at-home dip nail manicure set. And although it takes more time and effort, it saves you big bucks. I bought the kit with a coupon for maybe $35, which is less than one pro manicure. Using it once would be saving money already, and I’ve used it multiple times. If not that, I love the Sally Hansen and Essie at-home gel kits. Get $10 off your first DipWell purchase.
Maybe you’re not a mani-pedi gal but love getting your hair done. Ask about discounts, consider coloring your hair at home or spacing your appointments out.
Re-evaluate healthcare expenses
Much of honing your saving strategy is looking at your disposable income. But don’t neglect your fixed costs, such as doctor visits and medications, when looking for ways to save money to travel. Perhaps you pay out-of-pocket for your medications. Typically, my insurance covers medications, but before I left for France, insurance refused to cover the prescriptions I would need to advance for my year in France. *Eye roll*
Your doctor and pharmacist may or may not be helpful in trying to find you the best price. In any case, look up your prescriptions on GoodRx to nd the best rate for your meds. They price-compare medication around you and show you the best deals.
Take surveys or participate in advisory panels
There are sites that will literally reward you for giving them your opinion. (If only my family did the same — ha!) Years ago, I received an email about being a part of The Bank of America Advisory Panel. I applied and was accepted. Now I get a survey maybe once a month to answer questions about new products and changes in their banking system. I earn points that I can exchange for gift cards and even straight cash. Plenty of websites and brands, such as the Southwest Rewards for Opinions, want your opinion and will exchange monetary value for it.
Make an account on Upwork
Not into babysitting or DoorDash-ing but still looking for a side gig? Perhaps there’s a need for freelanced skills. Upwork is a website that connects freelancers with businesses willing and ready to pay. Their site has freelancers in realms from writing to translating, virtual assisting to designing.
Cut the booze
I hate to say it, but truth hurts: Buying alcohol with dinner adds up big time, and the markup is often highway robbery. A cocktail or glass of wine easily adds $10 to $15 to your tab, if you’re lucky. Instead, research happy hour deals, which helps with both drinks and apps prices. If you’re a wine aficionado, eat beforehand and make the sips the main event. Buy your booze at the grocery or liquor store, and share with friends on your back patio or in your living room. Consider cutting back on the booze as one of your ways to save money to travel.
Leverage birthdays and holidays
There’s only so much saving and budgeting you can do: life can just be expensive sometimes, but planning ahead can save you the big bucks. For example, ask for high-quality luggage for your birthday or the holidays. For my 21st birthday, I asked for TSA Precheck and Global Entry, which helps me speed through security and customs.
For graduation, my grandpa gifted me a very generous check, and every last penny went to savings immediately. Instead of spending birthday money on a cute purse or necklace, think about putting it toward savings or necessary items for your trip. Months later, I was able to take the trip of a lifetime through the French Riviera with that savings.
Don’t neglect the future
Beware of being penny-wise and pound-foolish. It’s great to save up for a big trip and search for many ways to save money to travel, but don’t forget about thinking long term. During my few months of hardcore savings, I remembered my AP Economics class, specifically the day we talked about retirement plans. I remember learning that putting a little in now is way better than putting in a lot later. And I made the hard decision of pulling some of my savings out to put into my very own Roth IRA. Super sexy, right?!
I also have an Acorns account, which rounds up your purchases and puts them into a diversified portfolio. You pick how conservative or aggressive you want your account to be. When you make a coffee purchase for $4.65, it automatically invests the 35 cents. This feels like less of a commitment because it’s not a massive chunk of change at once.
Stay with a host family
One of the biggest costs for travel is lodging. One of the best ways to lower the bottom line is to cut back in the housing department. Finding a host family may feel like giving up freedom and perhaps a recipe for disaster, but when you find a great one, you not only save money but also get an intimate peek into the culture. One of the main ways I’ve been able to make living in France a reality is renting a small studio from a host family. Although living with a host family comes with more responsibility, you save a crazy amount of money and get a better immersion opportunity.
Finding and implementing ways to save money to travel can be daunting, but focus on how much you’re investing in yourself. On y va !
Looking for more budgeting advice? Take my free 30-minute travel budgeting course to identify your travel values and make a concrete game plan.