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How to Save for Your Dream Vacation

Never miss a vacation because you can't afford one.

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globe, travel, aarp, sisters
Dan Saelinger/Trunk Archive
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Whether it’s the beach, a foreign city or the luxury of putting your feet up at home with no one bothering you, the beauty of time off is undeniable. So, why aren’t more of us taking it?

The statistics are depressing: According to the U.S. Travel Association, Americans left 662 million vacation days unused in 2016 — and women are guiltier of this than men.

Never ever be one of those people again. Although vacations are fun, what’s not fun is coming back to big credit card statements or bills you can’t pay. Yet with a few simple life adjustments, you can always have money in the bank for a trip. Whether it’s Paris, Johannesburg or Negril, it’s covered. Here’s how:

Don’t call it a budget.

The very word sounds repressive and can cause the most disciplined person to want to go on a spending spree. Instead of thinking “bare bones budgeting,” shift your perspective to focus on your destination. Tape a colorful picture of the place on the back of your closet door and make it your computer’s desktop picture.  It is easier to pass up a new pair of shoes if you have a daily visual reminder of the beach at sunset.  

Plan ahead when the year begins.

Right after you’ve made your New Year’s resolutions, commit to your travel goals. Open your calendar and work out where you want to go and when. Schedule it the same way you would a dentist appointment. Set aside time for staycations, but try to plan at least one trip each year to a place too far away from home to sleep in your own bed at night. Setting a date gives you something to aim for in your financial planning.

Get a ballpark figure of what a vacation will cost.

Head to, or and see what airfare costs for the time you’re considering a trip. Keep in mind that there may be sales closer to your departure date, so your costs could change — the point is to get a general sense. Based on the results of a 2018 survey of over 900 million flight prices, pinpointed three weeks to four months before a trip as the prime booking window to access great fares and promotions. Tuesdays and Wednesdays are also the cheapest days to fly, in case you have wiggle room in your schedule.

Or work in reverse. Choose the time that you want to be away. Then download the Skyscanner app, enter your dates and find the cheapest flights within your time frame. Pick a locale based on which affordable place is calling your name.

Next, look on Airbnb or Expedia to get a general idea of how much accommodations cost. For example, $65 a night could get you two bedrooms in Athens but not even a doormat in Manhattan. Then, using a guidebook and Internet research, approximate what you will spend daily for meals and entrance fees to attractions. If you do not live the mass transit life, add Uber money onto the list, or set aside cash for a rental car. Finally, decide what you will spend on shopping. Remember that AAA, military and AARP members are often entitled to discounts for hotels and car rentals.

Total all of these and you have a rough idea of what you need to save before you go.

Warning: This is not so fun, but it is very useful. You will also get amped to go once you dive into all of the attractions and places to visit.

Do a financial trade-off.

Take one thing from your regular expenses and give it up to save for your trip. A few budget-friendly life hacks: packing lunch at home twice a week, having morning coffee at home every day and painting your nails once (or more) a month in lieu of trips to the salon.

Set up a separate bank account.

If you can set aside $25 a week, that is $1300 a year; aim for more if you can. Open a separate bank account that makes deposits directly from your primary account in intervals that work for you. Maybe that’s weekly, every payday or once a month —but make sure the money is not accessible with your ATM card. Capital One and the app Digit are two reliable options.

Expense account reimbursements and a portion of an IRS refund that is not earmarked for necessities can also be deposited here. Your thinking should be that any money not needed for day-to-day expenses can be funneled out of your main account and into this one.

Don’t knock the side hustle.

Although it really does seem like no one works harder than Black women, is it possible to work just a tiny bit more? Think of the skills you have and how they can be used for one-off projects. For example, are you an excellent editor and know people who need a bio or website edited? Make a list of all of the things you find yourself doing for free and see if any can be monetized. Even just a few hundred dollars toward a trip helps.