Balancing Travel and Savings

Like most people, I love going on vacations. Someone else cooks for a week in an exotic locale? Sign me up!

But, traveling can get pricey fast. First class seats for the flights. 5 star hotels. Michelin starred restaurants. Guided tours. A personal masseuse. Champagne whenever you want.

Ok now I'm just detailing the life of an average billionaire. But you get the point.

Traveling around the world doesn't have to be super expensive. I thought detailing my expenses for the last two major trips I've taken would be helpful and inspiring.

Elephant Rocks, Australia


Total cost: $4480.40


Flights: $2462.46At over half the total cost, the flights were easily the most expensive part of my vacation. I traveled around the holiday season and tickets always cost more then. Even though I made an effort to take red eye flights on a Tuesday night, I still paid through the nose. Thankfully my roommate gave me rides to the airport so I didn't have to worry about leaving my car at the airport for 3 weeks.
Reimbursement: $1543.80I visited my sister who lived in Perth at the time. She was leaving Australia shortly after my visit, so she was trying to spend down her Australian cash. It was a win for both of us- I didn't get any foreign transaction fees and she didn't have to worry about converting her money before she left.
Cathay: $190.68Since my sister was leaving the country, I agreed to be a pack mule and covered the cost of her extra luggage that I hauled back with me. 200 lbs of luggage for a little person like me was quite the sight.
Misc: $103.46All the extra little things I bought. Things like snacks for the flights (much cheaper at the supermarket than the airport bodega), souvenirs of my trip and gifts for friends back home.

If I were to plan the same trip to Australia, it'd probably cost me about twice as much now that I don't have the luxury of crashing on my sister's couch- or the floor after she sold the couch on Craigslist. Housing is crazy expensive Down Under and even more so in Perth. Not to mention I'd probably want to rent a car and learn how to drive on the wrong side of the road. All I really paid for were some groceries, petrol, and splitting the camping fees for some of the sites we stayed at. While I was incredibly fortunate to have access to my sister and her network of friends, we still made an effort to keep costs down. Only one fancy dinner (my treat because I wanted to spoil my sister and her roommate for New Years) and cheap entertainment options, like riding bikes around Rottnest Island or hanging out at the beach all day. Hence, an amazing 3 week vacation over Christmas in Australia for the low, low cost of slightly less than $5,000!



Total cost: $3239.72


Flights: $778.81Turns out, not having to fly halfway round the world during December is way cheaper. My actual flight costs were closer to $225 after I used my travel rewards. Thanks to Brad at Richmond Savers for all the personalized help!
Trip cost: $2600All inclusive trip! This included transportation, one night in Quito, a week at the Hosteria, more food than I could eat, and other fun activities like ziplining and a chocolate factory tour.
Incidentals: $415.83All the little things I bought during the trip, and travel insurance. It was mostly food and alcohol 🙂 Oh, and one postcard at the Equator Museum.

This trip was obviously much cheaper overall than the trip to Australia, but that comes with the caveat that this was a one week trip and Australia was for 3 weeks. I could've made the trip even cheaper if I hadn't bought so much chocolate or chicken strips at the airport, but then the trip would be slightly less special. And I would've been even hungrier than I was. The extra marginal costs were totally worth it.

“Ok, Gwen, that's totally cool that you posted all of your expenses and everything. Kudos on traveling fairly cheaply. But we want to know HOW you came up with the money to spend on these trips in the first place.”

To which I respond, that's a very valid question/response.

My snarky answer is I have a job.

My actual answer with substance is I saved up for them. I have all of my savings coming out of my paychecks first automatically (401k, Roth IRA, etc). Then, whatever is leftover after taxes and bills is my “fun money”. That's money I usually spend on extra food and nights out at the bar, but I do save up some of it in a different account. Then, when something comes along that I want to do (like spend a week in Ecuador or go see the new Harry Potter play in London), I have the money waiting. Then at the end of the month I transfer the vacation funds over and pay off my credit card with the extra cash. Rinse, and repeat.

I also find it helpful to pay for things in advance in small chunks. That way, the impact to my nomal monthly budget is fairly minimal.

“Gwen!! One more question- Do you set aside X% of your salary for vacation every year?”

Excellent question, but no, I don't. How much I save for vacation inversely depends on how many burritos and margaritas I buy. The more money I don't spend at home is more money for me to spend away from home. Doing some back of the napkin math, I spend about 5% per year on average on vacation. I would spend a lot more on travel, but I only get 10 days of vacation a year (booooooo!) from my job, so my spending is artificially limited by time scarcity. That's the only limit I really have on my vacation spending.

TL;DR: I took a couple of really awesome trips that didn't cost a whole lot due to a variety of factors. All of my vacation spending money comes from my “fun money” fund that I contribute to every month.

How do you approach vacation spending? Where are some awesome cheap places you've visited?

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3 thoughts on “Balancing Travel and Savings

  1. I love this. You’re the only other blogger I’ve seen total their trip costs. I’ve done a couple (Switzerland and Peru) and right now I’m working on a trip to Japan we took last month. I include food expenses too so I can compare all the countries on every expense category, I even figure transportation costs per mile traveled in each place.

    We keep our travel expenses low by churning credit cards for miles and points. So my wife and I kept Peru and Switzerland under $2,000 each for 8 or 9 day trips, including food, and I think Japan will be around the same.

  2. Wow your vacations seem crazy expensive to me. Have you look at sites like They often have these escorted 1 week Ecuador vacations for less than 1k.

    • It was slightly more expensive than it could have been, yes. Keep in mind this trip was all-inclusive, so everything was covered. I could probably find a cheaper all-inclusive trip to Ecuador, but this one was special as it had an FI focus. I consider every penny worth it since I got some really great knowledge from Mr. Money Mustache, Jim Collins, and Paula Pant. I also met 20 some odd other FI-minded people from around the country who I consider friends and can visit now!

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