London Lover - mexico - NYC - roadtrip - study abroad - travel - weekend trip

How to Budget Travel Into Your Lifestyle: Part I

If there’s one question I’ve been asked over and over, it’s “how do you travel so much?” quickly followed by things like “It’s so expensive” and “I wish I could do that”

Well guess what – YOU CAN! All it takes is deciding what is more important: a new shirt for $50 – or knowing that’s 1/4 of your flight to Seattle.


Full disclosure on financials for this. I will give you an idea of my budget and how I made it work. It’s about budgeting your essentials, and then deciding what’s most important to you.

When I was 24 I was working at my first job, and after my raise, I was making $35,000/year. After taxes, this came to about $2700/month.

This is about what I was budgeting a month. Of course there’s always the things you forget about, but I’m $100 under budget, and that’s also what misc expenses are for. I also always budget extra into my ‘gas’ budget, for things like your registration, burnt out break lights, and oil changes.

My rent was rather low, but to make up for it, I was making double car payments ($300×2) so I could pay my car off early. Once that was done, I planned on taking that extra $300 a month to place towards student loans. Budgeting means taking care of responsibilities and debt first.

What you might notice is low is my “fun” budgets – $150 for eating out, for example. At approximately $15/meal with tax and tip, puts me at 10 outings a month (or 2 per week and a couple left over). This is more than enough to accommodate girls nights, coffee stops here and there, so-and-so’s birthday, brunch on Saturdays with my roommate. There is absolutely no reason no eat out every night unless you don’t have a kitchen. And even then, you can get a hot plate. It’s one of the biggest money vacuums to a young budgeter – don’t fall for the trap! Save your restaurant excursions for special occasions and being social. Skip the table for 1 or the close relationship with the local pizza delivery guy.

A small experiment – let’s say every dinner costs $15 with tip. Every “quick, cheap” lunch costs $6, and every coffee you stop for is $3. If you do each of these things 3 days a week (very easy to do if you aren’t paying attention!) you’re looking at an average cost of $72 per week, or just under $300 per month. Check your eating out habits, and start saving to eat out when you’re in Chicago instead.

Another thing that’s low is my “others” category: mani/pedi’s, movies, buying clothes. I would limit myself to 1 movies a month in the theater, and 1 mani/pedi every 2 months. A bottle of nail polish costs $8, and $35 saved is a 1/5 of a plane ticket.

Now clothes. Ohhhhh clothes. I’m a girl. I love them. But there are more important things in life! This doesn’t mean I never buy any – it just means I play it right. I wait for sales, scope out TJ Maxx, and save my $50 budget from this month, so next month I have $100 to play with 🙂 It’s much more satisfying, and I don’t feel like I’m missing out on anything.

Giving myself this budget allows me to fly 8-10 times a year, visiting friends and places all over the US. I’d also like to add that I took a few babysitting jobs a month – between 1-3 per months – and put that cash directly into a box labeled TRAVEL FUND. This is how I managed to visit Europe three years in a row. $50-100 per babysitting job, I was pulling in about $2k per year of unexpected cash. This could easily be done with a 1 day a week night job at a coffee shop, or doing retail floor sets. If you work one, 5 hours shift a week at $8/hr, you’ll earn $2000 before taxes. Now where did you want to go again?

If you find yourself thinking you have no room in your budget, I’d challenge you to do this. Take your debit/credit card statement from last month and get a few colors of highlighters. Highlight anything like in spending (i.e., all coffee, or all take out/eat in food, all clothes shopping). You’ll be shocked what you’re spending! I did this with my coffee habit fresh out of college, and realized I was buying 1-2 coffees every single day – putting my bill at almost $200 a month! For that, I could have purchased a fancy espresso machine. I put myself on a budget of 2x a week, for more like $25 per month, and enjoyed my new extra $175 to buy myself a plane ticket.


Budgeting travel is all about taking all of your “extras” and deciding if they’re worth it. Let’s say you want to take a trip to New York with your girlfriends.
Flight: $200
3 days of meals: $150
Drinks+Coffee: $75
Broadway Show: $100
Hotel split 4 ways: $225pp
Weekend Metro Card: $25
Misc Spending: $50
Trip total: $800

Luxuries You Want:
iPhone 5s came out (you still have a 4s) = $200
Monthly Mani/Pedi $600/year (at $50 per session, including tip)
Never Packing Yourself a Lunch $1560/year (at $6/day, 5 days a week for 52 weeks)

Deciding if they’re worth it?: 
Stick with your 4s for another 6 months, and your flight is paid for. $200 saved
Take cut your spa days to every 2 months instead, and pay for your hotel & drinks/coffee $300 saved
Decided to pack your lunch MWF every week, with leftovers, or batch cooked meals (very affordable) – even if you spend $50 extra on groceries a month, you’ll have enough money to pay for your drinks, food, coffee, souvenirs, metro card, broadway show, and still have $275 extra to put towards your next trip. $650 saved

It’s a matter of priorities. If new technology is on the top of your list, then go for the iPhone. If seeing old friends and new places ranks higher, stick with the ghetto phone as long as you can (I got an iPhone when the 4s came out – and I still have it), and enjoy texting slightly lesser quality photos to your friends stuck at home.

Do you have any budget tips or tricks? Where would you like to save up to go?