Money-saving travel trips

You can always count on TIAA for strategies and tools to help you save for short-term goals like travel as well as longer-term priorities like retirement. When you’re planning for a trip, it’s important to save money for travel, but it’s also valuable to think about how to manage money when traveling.

Careful planning and being smart about how to save money for travel will help turn your dream adventure into a reality. We’ve got some tips to help you manage money when traveling so you can have the best experience without financial stress.
 
A woman looks out from a train while on her vacation

Select an affordable destination
For many, saving for a vacation is as valuable an investment as saving for retirement because exploring the world pays dividends to your personal growth. But simply throwing darts at a map is a great way to ensure your trip never gets off the ground. Before you take flight, it’s important to do some deeper research into a destination’s cost, your travel budget and the best way to travel with money when you get there.

You might want to start by choosing a region known for its affordability—including a strong exchange rate. The best way to exchange money is typically at an ATM when you arrive, but it’s best to check rates with a currency exchange tool and then find out what the typical fees are where you’re going. It’s a good idea to do this for all the places you’d like to visit.

As you evaluate your destinations and travel budget, be sure you look into the average cost of travel basics, like where to sleep (you could start with hostels or homestays), what to eat (try street markets or food trucks for quick, authentic bites), and how to get around (trains or buses could save you money and connect you with the locals). These are the most critical things to understand before you determine your travel budget.
 
Person writing out a travel budget in a notebook

Create a realistic travel budget
Now that you understand how much things cost, the next step is saving up travel money so you can avoid any financial stress when deciding how to afford to travel. To come up with your vacation fund goal, multiply your estimated daily costs in the places you’ll visit by how long you hope to stay there. For example, if you want to spend three months somewhere where it would cost you about $800 a month, you would need $2,400. Next, break this monthly total into a daily amount: $800 per month / 30 days = $25 a day. While you’re traveling, it’s much easier to track against a daily budget than a monthly one.

Your phone is your friend for managing money when traveling 
The first rule for how to manage money when traveling is to create a simple system for tracking everything you’re purchasing, but you probably don’t want to be updating spreadsheets every day of your trip. After all, that feels like the opposite of a vacation. Luckily, all you really need to do is create a daily note on your phone and input everything you spend money on that day—including travel costs, food, lodging, trips, gifts and everything (yes, everything) else. If you can make this a habit during vacation, you can easily keep it up once you get home, and that’ll lead to even better spending habits for life
 
A woman looks out from a train while on her vacation
 
The 15-minute rule
Here’s one of the most useful money-saving travel tips: Take 15 (or fewer) minutes each day to track your spending. Consider making it part of your vacation routine, maybe during your morning coffee or that sunrise bus ride to an exotic temple. During this downtime, review your previous day’s spending and look for categories where you may have overspent (or even underspent!). Also check your online bank and credit card accounts to make sure everything looks accurate.
 
Young man reviews a map near train station while on vacation
 
Adjust on the fly
Staying consistent about tracking your spending will help you understand it better and use your travel money more wisely, increasing your financial confidence.

Once you arrive in a new place, the things you thought would be important may change. Maybe you realize that you just can’t pass up an opportunity to explore the untouched beauty of a hidden waterfall even though you hadn’t budgeted for a three-day kayak excursion. All is not lost! By looking at your daily travel budget notes, you can easily adjust for that leg of your journey by increasing your sightseeing allotment and decreasing in other areas, like food or museum-entrance fees. A good rule of thumb is to figure out what excites you and redirect your travel money toward those experiences.

Waste happens
If you’re traveling to another country, there’s almost a 100% chance you’ll overspend on something during your trip. Don’t beat yourself up about it. Remember, you’re on vacation. Instead, recognize those moments and learn from them.
 
Here are three great traveling abroad money tips:
 
1.Understand tipping etiquette
Many countries don’t tip. If you come from a country where tipping is the norm, you may be spending your travel money when it isn’t expected.
 
2.Chat with other travelers
Strike up a conversation to find out how to save money on food and how to avoid overpaying for goods from shops.
 
3.Practice your haggling skills
In many countries, haggling is the norm—and you’ll find vendors quickly negotiating prices to try to sell you something. Be prepared with a price you think is fair (possibly by asking experienced travelers what they paid), negotiate confidently to get the best price, and don’t be afraid to walk away from a purchase that feels too expensive.

You’ll find that no two days are the same when you’re traveling. Your spending will go up and down—and that will provide a great learning experience for balancing your travel budget.

Remember, if your spending feels too high one day, you can pull back on another day. By saving ahead and tracking your expenses, you should feel more confident that you don’t have to miss out on an amazing opportunity because you’re worried about money.
 
A woman looks out from a train while on her vacation

Bonus: Consider a trip that could be tax deductible
One of the hottest travel trends right now is combining tourism and volunteer work abroad into a single trip—turning your vacation into an opportunity to enrich your life and someone else’s at the same time. With the right research and some attention to detail, the travel money needed for your volunteer vacation could be tax deductible. 
 
You can start by volunteering with a qualified group. Just make sure to choose a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization that’s approved by the IRS so your trip can be considered tax deductible.

This is important: If your trip includes excursions or recreation in addition to volunteer work abroad, the IRS may not allow your deductions when tax time rolls around. Get to know the guidelines it's set before you go so that once you’re there, you can maximize the good you’ll do and the total amount of your deductions.

You’ll also need to know how to write off travel expenses, exactly what you can deduct and what you need to keep track of before leaving for your trip. Keep track of those receipts!
 
Finally, once your trip is over, if you need any additional helpful advice for saving and investing back at home, we’re here to help. Happy travels and smart spending!
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