If there is one thing I look forward to each and every year it’s our annual vacation. In fact we just got back from an AMAZING vacation in Jamaica which inspired this week’s blog post. We NEED the time to unwind, relax and re-connect. I personally believe that taking that time every year is a very important part of personal well-being. While I am all for saving and routinely putting money away towards our investments, there is more to life than growing our bank account. In our marriage we value getting away together and making memories. And for us it’s worth every penny. However, there is one rule when we travel…we NEVER take on debt in order to pay for a vacation. We are both under the mutual understanding that vacations are a luxury that you save for, not a “if you want it, just buy it” indulgence. So how do we travel debt free? Here are our top 5 secrets.
- Plan ahead – This is the first and most important step in taking a debt free vacation. Planning ahead sets up the rest of the debt free process. This is something I learned from my mom at a young age. Every family vacation was planned at least a year in advance because it gave my parents time to save, budget, and look for deals. Now years later, this is the same principle that my husband and I use when planning a vacation. Sure you can get last minute deals that seem great, but with anything that is last minute the process often becomes rushed and you may end up spending more money right out the gate which may impact your cash flow. For example, Andrew and I are planning a European Cruise for next spring. Planning a year in advance we know when to book the trip that will give us time to look for the best deal as well as put cash aside each month leading up to the time of booking. This ensures that our cash flow is maintained every month. But, if we were to book a last minute deal and didn’t have time to plan around our cash flow and living expenses, we may find ourselves strapped for cash, and that’s when people are likely to take on debt.
- Budget – After we have decided when we want to take a vacation, we set our budget which takes into account all associated costs of the trip to ensure we know how much we can afford and how much each month we need to save. Our budget may change each year depending on our income or other financial responsibilities, but one thing we never do is spend beyond our needs. If you can only afford to set aside $100/month for your travel budget than you need to find a vacation option that fits that budget, or save for a longer period of time in order to pay for it. It’s that simple. And when planning your budget, you need to consider all the costs, not just the upfront costs. Consider travel insurance, immunizations, exchange rates, transportation, tips, travel gear, etc. Consider EVERYTHING so you can plan and budget appropriately.
- Save, Save, Save – This may be one of the more difficult steps to stick to, especially if you have a trip planned way in advance. It’s easy to think “oh I’ve still got 6 months before I have to pay for the trip, I can spend this money on something else”. Instead be diligent with your saving so when it comes time to pay your bill, it’s easy because the money is all accounted for and you haven’t impacted your cash flow. For easy money saving tips visit our Money Challenges.
- Deals – You know what the best feeling is? When you set your travel budget and then find a deal that either saves you more money or gives your better bang for your buck. DO NOT book the first vacation option that appears on Expedia. Shop around to find the best deal. I also like to subscribe to sites like Travelzoo that have a monthly top 20 trip deals. Know what the seasonal peaks are as they highly impact the price of a trip. And most importantly read customer reviews. A deal may seem too good to be true, and more often than not it is. We read TripAdvisor reviews before booking ANYTHING.
- Get a US Bank Account – If you’re Canadian like me, you probably dread having to take out US cash because the exchange rate is so bad. Unfortunately for us Canadians, the US dollar is the universal currency so we often have no other option but to accept the fact that we will lose out on the exchange. However, most banks offer FREE US bank accounts which give you a preferred rate. After your trip if you have anything left over, stick it right back in the US account so you can put it towards your next trip.
So that’s how we do it in 5 easy steps. The secret is diligence and not spending beyond your means. If you have any other travel savings tips leave a comment below!