How we afford to travel: Our top travel budgeting tips! (+ travel budget template!)
Curious how we can afford to travel? We’re sharing all of our top travel budgeting tips + a travel budget template that help us save money to travel and while traveling. Ready to travel more for less? Keep on reading!
“How can you afford to travel so much?” We get this question often and we wanted to write an honest and open blog post about this topic because there are so many things that help us be able to afford to travel. And the best part–everything we do you can do too!
Travel has a reputation of being expensive, but there are so many ways to make it more affordable, it just requires more planning and researching up front! Some may be under the impression that we spend tons of money every weekend to go on our adventures, but in reality, the majority of our adventures cost us under $50 and sometimes cost us no money at all.
Although we now travel full time in our self-converted sprinter van, we are on a budget and try to live as affordably as we can. It would be easy for us to pretend we are on vacation 24/7, but with full time jobs and also a limited amount of funds, we have a limited amount of time and are on as tight of a budget as before we hit the road full time. The only difference is that we can visit new places much more easily, don’t have to pay for lodging, and the temptation to spend more money is higher.
All of the travel budgeting tips that we are outlining in this blog are what we have lived by both before and after becoming full time travelers. Everyone’s lifestyle and financial situation is different, but if you implement some of these tips, you’ll be able to travel more for less.
We’ll be breaking down the blog into three sections: how we make money, tips to save money before a trip, and tips to save money during a trip. None of it is necessarily groundbreaking news, but we hope that it’s a good reminder of all of the ways you can make travel more feasible.
And to make this blog post even sweeter, we’re sharing our super useful travel budget template to help you get started! If you follow our tips and download our travel budget template, you’ll be adventuring more in no time! Note: To use the sheet, please go to “File” and then “Make a Copy” to create your own version!
Looking for more travel planning tips? Check out these posts:
- How to Plan a Trip: A Detailed Travel Planning Guide (+ Itinerary Template)
- Our Favorite Travel Credit Cards
- Fly for Less: 14 Tips for Finding Cheap Flights
- How we make money
- Travel Budgeting Tips Before A Trip
- Travel Budgeting Tips During A Trip
- Ready to travel more?
Note: this guide contains affiliate links, which means that if you use the links provided and make a purchase, we get a small commission at no extra cost to you. We will only ever recommend products we truly love, actually use during our adventures, and think you can benefit from too!
How we make money
While some may assume we travel and have fun everyday, you can actually find us glued to our laptops about 80-100 hours per week. With our various jobs that we have, we typically work 15 hour days every Monday-Friday and then spend the weekends vlogging and photographing the destinations we are in, which is a mix of fun and work.
While we absolutely love this life that we live, it definitely doesn’t come easily or without a ton of hard work. We have had many weeks where we felt extremely overwhelmed, stressed, and burnt out by everything we are juggling.
Since hitting the road, our careers have changed a bit. Before we started van life, Adam was a teacher and I worked in event marketing for a 100% remote tech company.
We made good money by most people’s standards, but we lived in one of the most expensive cities in the US (Seattle), just finished paying for Adam to get his Master’s out of pocket, bought a new car a couple years ago, bought a Sprinter van, and were paying college loans, so we weren’t loaded by any means, but we were able to save a lot and fund our adventures.
Our jobs on the road
Once we started van life, our income and jobs changed quite a bit. Adam quit teaching and started his own web design business, which he is working hard to grow, but the income fluctuates month to month and it does not equal his teacher salary at this time.
I still have my full time job as an event marketer. I am fortunate to be able to work this job from the road and work very flexible hours (usually from 6 AM- 3 PM). My job is our largest source of income, as well as provides us health insurance, 401k, and other perks.
Monetizing Adventures of A+K
We also both work full time hours on Adventures of A+K! In the last year, our blog and YouTube channel have grown beyond what we ever thought they would (THANK YOU to everyone who watches and reads!) and have given us the ability to make money off of the hard work we put into them.
Our website, as you may notice, is monetized by ad revenue through a program we are a part of called Mediavine. We reached the minimum requirements to get accepted into Mediavine in the summer of 2019, which was a crazy exciting accomplishment for us, and have been able to make decent money off of our blog since.
We also became eligible to monetize our YouTube channel in March of 2019. What this means is that ads will play before our videos and we get a very small amount of money per view. It’s very small, but it does add up over time!
The last way we make income off of Adventures of A+K is through affiliate marketing. If you ever click on our Amazon links, book a hotel with Booking.com from our guides, or book a rental car from rentalcars.com, we get a small percentage of money from your purchase, at no extra cost to you! We only ever recommend products that we truly love and use on our adventures.
With all of these career changes, we are making about 35% less than we used to. Our expenses in the van are down about 38%, so for us, living in the van is about the same cost-wise as living in our apartment was.
We are without some bills now, like rent, energy bills, and water bills, but we have gained some additional expenses, like paying for more fuel, higher cell phone bills (for our hotspots), and spending a bit more on fun things.
We also have some big costs holding us back from lowering our cost of living: our van payment and my student loans. We are working super hard to save right now to have them both paid off in the next 1-2 years.
Regardless of our jobs and living situation, one thing remains the same—we try to be smart with our money, never spend more than we have (as in no credit card debt), and save as much as we can.
Travel Budgeting Tips Before A Trip
There are many travel budgeting tactics we use to save money before a trip, ranging from saving money itself, to finding good deals, to rethinking what travel means to us. Each tactic has helped us lower the cost of a trip or be able to pay for a trip and when combined together, you’ll definitely be able to travel more for less money.
Create a travel savings account
Since the beginning of our marriage we have always had three savings accounts, one of which being a travel fund. Every month we automatically deposit a specific amount into this account to help fund our travels. Doing this helps us know exactly how much travel money we have guaranteed for the year, which helps a lot with trip planning.
As we book flights or incur other travel expenses, we transfer money from this savings account into our checking account to pay off our credit card. It’s really satisfying to go on a trip and know that it’s already paid from savings.
You may be thinking, “well this sounds great, but how can I save more?” Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered! This is something that we have played around with a lot the last few years and while these methods may seem small, when you combine them all, you’ll start to see the $$$ go up!
Eat out and shop less!
We forgo many luxuries in order to save money. We rarely buy clothes or material possessions, we make our own coffee everyday, and back when we both went into work, we would always pack our lunches.
When we lived in an apartment, our monthly budget for eating out and coffee was about $100-$175/month. This usually meant we got 1 meal out + 1 coffee date a week. This saved us hundreds of dollars each month! We also don’t drink, which we know is definitely not the norm, but that also plays a role into how much we are able to save.
Since hitting the road, we have a rule that we only eat out if we are vlogging (once or twice a week). We love sharing local food spots on our vlogs, so we avoid eating out during the week when we aren’t filming so we can afford to eat out for the vlogs. However, we have been eating a bit too much on these vlogging days lately and are going to be sticking to a “per vlog” budget moving forward.
We also try to work at places for free on the road, like libraries, to reduce how much we are spending on coffee. We do sometimes have to go to a coffee shop, but we will order the cheapest coffee to keep costs down, while still supporting the business. While not our favorite, Starbucks has also helped us save money through their rewards program. We have gotten quite a few free drinks!
Get smaller paychecks
You may be wondering “why would I ever want a smaller paycheck?” but we have found that living off less now helps us save more later. This is definitely not for everyone, but we choose to select “Single and 0” on our W4, which means we get the most amount of taxes taken out of our paychecks.
We do this in order to avoid paying taxes at tax time and to also get a fat tax return check every year. Yes, we realize that we are getting our own money back from the government, but it’s a sneaky way to save without realizing you’re saving. Last year we got back $3,850, which paid for our Italy trip and this year we got back $6,500, which we split among our different savings accounts.
Note: we are not tax experts, but we wanted to share this tip, as it has helped us tremendously. To see if this would work well for your financial situation, we recommend speaking with a tax professional.
Put bonuses into savings
I (Kathryn) have never been lucky enough to get a bonus, but if I did, every single bonus would go into our travel fund. Adam on the other hand used to have a more fluctuating salary due to coaching, summer school teaching, and other random ways teachers can make money. We always tried to put this extra money (or “bonuses”) into our travel fund immediately.
Rethink what travel means
Growing up, we thought of travel as this magical and exciting experience full of exotic destinations, beautiful scenery, foreign languages, and different cultures. We thought that we would need to leave the United States to experience what travel really was.
But we were so wrong! The United States is full of so many gems, from the sharp peaks of the Tetons, historic cities in New England, glacier filled lakes at Glacier National Park, vast Arizona desert, to the rocky Oregon Coast, there is so much to explore just in our “backyard!”
And the best part? Traveling in the US (or in your own country) can be way less expensive than traveling abroad. If you think that you need to fly to faraway lands to get your travel fix, step back and think about the places around you. Is there somewhere you can drive for the weekend? A cheap flight you can take to another state? Travel doesn’t have to be Europe, Asia, or South America. It can be just around the corner!
Get travel credit cards
Credit cards can be a controversial subject, but we believe that when used responsibly and treated like a debit card, they are the best tools for travel! We currently have 4 travel credit cards that have given us hundreds of thousands of miles, tons of free flights, lounge access, and many other perks.
Check out Our Favorite Travel Credit Cards blog post to see all of our tips about travel credit cards, which ones we absolutely love, and how to decide which one is the right one for you.
Budget your trips in advance
One of the biggest things that helps us figure out how many trips we can afford for the year is budgeting them out in advance.
We usually sit down in the fall to start mapping out where we want to go the next year, research average costs, and make educated guesses on other costs. We use a Google Sheet where we keep track of the dates, how much PTO we have to use, all costs, you name it!
We found that budgeting out each trip in detail beforehand helps us get a good idea of the overall cost (sometimes tours and other activities can really add up!) and prioritize what we actually want to do during the trip.
We also track how much we will be saving throughout the year and how much we estimate our tax return will be so we can figure out how much money we’ll have compared to how much we’ll need.
Our goal is to always have extra money in our trip fund at the end of the year so we have a head start for the next year and by tracking our estimated trip expenses and savings, we are able to make this happen.
To get a better idea of your anticipated travel expenses, download our detailed, super helpful travel budget template. Note: To use the sheet, please go to “File” and then “Make a Copy” to create your own version!
Research and plan your trips
While we enjoy being spontaneous when we travel and discovering cool gems that we didn’t know about beforehand, being too spontaneous can end up costing you more. We are big fans of researching like crazy before our trips, writing down every spot we want to visit, and making a detailed itinerary.
This isn’t to say you have to stick to your itinerary 100% of the time, but it’s nice to have a good understanding of the restaurants, attractions, and transportation in the destination you’re visiting and have a loose plan to follow.
There have been many times in the past where we were starving on a trip and had no idea where to eat because we didn’t research and ended up going to an overpriced, tourist trap, when we could’ve had a cheap and delicious local meal instead!
Planning ahead can also save you admission fees to museums and attractions and also be a good way to know what attractions are worth paying for and which aren’t. We have also saved money on trains in Europe by booking in advance.
We absolutely love planning trips and have tons of tips to share. Check out our step by step guide to how we plan trips to see our exact trip planning process. And also download our travel itinerary template to help you put your next trip together!
Find cheap flights
There’s no better feeling than snagging a cheap flight to somewhere you’ve been wanting to visit. You may have found cheap accommodations and restaurants for the place you want to visit, but if you can’t find a cheap enough flight, you may not be able to take the trip.
We’re sharing our 14 tips for finding cheap flights, which have saved us thousands of dollars when traveling. From tracking our flights, signing up for cheap flight alerts, comparing prices, booking one way tickets, taking early flights, and so much more, there are many ways to cut the cost of a flight.
Know when to travel
Traveling during the off season or shoulder season is almost always cheaper. Unfortunately, we haven’t always had the luxury of traveling whenever we want to.
When Adam was a teacher, he got a lot of time off, but we were restricted to traveling during holidays and peak season, which meant that we usually spent more on trips. And even now with Adam not being a teacher, my job limits when we can travel because of my work events.
If you’re not in this situation, we recommend finding out when the off season or shoulder season is for the destination you’re eyeing and going then.
The only downside to this is that sometimes things you may want to do may not be open (for example, the Going-to-the-Sun Road at Glacier National Park is only open mid-late summer). In those situations it’s best to look at your priorities and reasons for wanting to travel somewhere and weigh the pros and cons.
Check out our 14 tips for finding cheap flights blog, where we share what months are the cheapest and most expensive for different countries and continents. It may help you figure out where you’ll head next (and for less)!
Get creative on where to stay
There are so many more options of where to stay when traveling than there were years ago! You’re no longer restricted to hotels, which can be very pricey. From hostels, to Airbnb, to camping, there’s something for every budget and by combining these lodging methods, we have likely saved $2,000+ this year!
Airbnb’s tend to always be cheaper than hotels and provide extra conveniences like kitchens, laundry, and more space. We stay in an Airbnb anytime we are doing a more city focused trip, like our trip to the UK and two-week long Italy trip.
Camping is great for more outdoorsy trips and is usually around $30/night, making it a super affordable option. Our trips to Zion, Bryce, and Banff in the summer of 2018 were all super cheap because we camped the whole time. If you want something more unique than a traditional campsite, we recommend checking out Hipcamp, which is basically Airbnb for camping!
If you don’t mind a less private lodging situation, hostels can be a great option! Adam stayed in hostels a lot when he lived in Australia for 3 months and during our trip to the UK, we stayed at a hostel in the Scottish Highlands.
Many hostels have different types of rooms, some are shared with strangers, while others can be private. When we stayed at a hostel in the Scottish Highlands, we had our own “pod” outside and then used the shared kitchen inside. It wasn’t the cheapest hostel experience, but it saved us money in the area, and was really cool!
Hostelworld is a great website to check out different hostels around the world!
Sleeping in our car
One other thing we did a lot before van life, which is definitely not for everyone, was sleeping in our car at rest stops or trailheads. We got a small SUV a couple years ago and if we put the seats down it fit us, our sleeping pads, and our sleeping bags perfectly.
We would only do this for one night at a time and it was usually if we were getting somewhere late and then planned to get up early the next morning. In situations like that, it didn’t make sense to spend money on an Airbnb or hotel.
Travel Budgeting Tips During A Trip
While a lot of our travel budgeting tips occur before you go on a trip, there are a few ways we try to reduce our spending while actually traveling!
Cook your own food
We’re not going to lie, half of the reason we love traveling is to eat the food wherever we go. But eating out non stop while traveling definitely adds up! Another great reason to book an Airbnb when traveling is to be able to cook some meals there instead of going out.
Whenever we go to Hawaii, for example, we usually cook at least one meal a day at the Airbnb, whether that’s breakfast, dinner, or packing a lunch to go. We also try to buy snacks to have on hand so if we get hungry during the day we don’t spend more money than we planned on food.
Another food tip that helps us save money traveling is packing food and snacks for our flights and waiting for the free coffee on the plane. We usually try to visit a lounge and stuff our faces with their free food, but if we can’t, we will do this instead!
We will make a homemade meal beforehand and take it with us to avoid spending money on food at the airport. Cause let’s be real, airport food is expensive and usually not very good! We also pack our own food for road trips and hikes to save money on our smaller weekend adventures.
Choose cheap & free activities
Some of our favorite travel activities include hiking, going to beaches, visiting scenic overlooks, and just walking around towns. And lucky for us, these are all usually free!
We try to avoid spending a lot of money on activities, like museums, tours, etc. by limiting ourselves to one big paid activity per trip. For example, when we go to Hawaii, we will usually go snorkeling or whale watching and then try to do only free things the rest of the trip.
This can be a bit harder in Europe, as there are so many historical sights and museums, but there are ways to get around it! Some attractions have free days or certain times that things are free. For example, if you visit Parc Güell in Barcelona before 8 AM, you get in for free and at Montjuic Castle in Barcelona it’s free after 3 PM on Sundays. This is a great way to save money, so make sure to check each attraction’s schedule!
Take public transportation
Our last big tip is another easy one that can save you quite a bit of money when traveling: take public transportation! We hardly ever Uber/Lyft/taxi on vacations. While individually the rides may not be that expensive, they definitely add up.
Note: in some destinations, Uber and Lyft are extremely cheap and the safest option, like in Mexico City. So we will make exceptions in those situations.
If we aren’t renting a car (which we will do for non-city trips), you can find us on the train or busses, which is a fun way to experience a city like a local. Most larger cities have great public transportation systems and different types of passes you can buy, so we advise doing some research in advance to find the right pass for you.
The only downside of public transportation is that sometimes it takes significantly longer, so we try to be smart about the time to money ratio. We usually take short and jam packed trips, so we don’t want to waste our limited time getting around either. It’s a balancing act, but in most cases, public transportation is the way to go.
Ready to travel more?
We hope these travel budgeting tips helped you find new ways to save money and make traveling more affordable. Even if you just follow a couple of our suggestions, you should be able to travel more for less money. If you have other tips, let us know in the comments below! And don’t forget to make a copy of our travel budget template to begin budgeting your future adventures.