MY WIFE AND I JUST got back from two weeks of travel through Vietnam and Cambodia. For us, traveling strengthens our relationship and reminds us what we want in life. International travel is a luxury—there’s no doubt about it—but it’s also a meaningful experience that is easier to afford if you follow some basic principles before crossing oceans or international borders:
1. Save in advance. Before booking a trip, take the time to build up the funds needed to cover your expected costs. By doing so, you will avoid paying for the trip on credit, or booking a trip that is simply out of your budget. As I mentioned in an earlier post, our approach is to regularly dedicate a portion of each paycheck to our “travel fund,” which we keep in a separate savings account.
2. Pay with a purpose. There are many travel rewards credit cards that not only give you points that can be redeemed to offset hotel and airfare, but also don’t charge any foreign transaction fees. By avoiding those 3% fees, you’ll have more money to spend on souvenirs, lunches and bus tickets.
3. Search strategically. When you’re flexible about your destination but know you want to travel, use one of the many search aggregators, like Kayak’s explore function, to find the best deals. We did this when planning our honeymoon and found cheap direct flights to the Azores. We previously weren’t considering the Azores as a destination, but I now strongly recommend them to friends for an amazing, budget-friendly week that’s off the typical tourist’s radar.
4. Borrow instead of buy. Use your local library and social media friends to get your hands on travel guides and climate-specific gear, instead of purchasing things you’re unlikely to use again. This is an easy way to save initial costs and get good recommendations.
5. Explore the outdoors. Research experiences and outings at your destination that allow you to interact with local culture and be physically active. Often, these are free or low-cost—think visiting neighborhood food markets, hiking and exploring city parks—thus ensuring that some of your time abroad doesn’t cost anything.
Zach Blattner’s previous articles include Zeroing In and Money Pit. Zach is a former teacher and school leader who now teaches teachers across the Philly/Camden region as a faculty member at Relay GSE. He is a self-taught finance nerd who dispenses advice to his wife, friends, family and anyone else willing to listen.