How to Build Your Travel Fund So You Can Afford That Upcoming Vacay

Creative Ways to save for vacation

Vacations are supposed to be relaxing, but it’s hard to unwind when you’re constantly stressing about how you’re going to pay for it all.

Whether it’s a road trip, cruise or another much-needed getaway, now is the time to start saving up for that vacation you’ve been dreaming of for months. With a little creativity, you can bulk up your bank account and be ready to hit the road or beach in style, without going into debt to do it.

3 Strategies to Save for Your Next Vacation

Saving money is something many of us struggle with, but a dream vacation is great motivation to start stacking your coins. These three money-saving strategies will have you sipping cocktails by the beach (or hiking at a four-star mountain resort… or testing out your language skills at an international destination) in no time.

1. Open a Dedicated Vacation Bank Account

One easy way to save for a special trip is to open a dedicated vacation savings account. If you choose a high-yield savings account, your money might even grow a bit while you’re looking forward to your trip.

You can open a savings account at your local bank, but if you go with an online bank, you’ll be less likely to withdraw the money.

Set up automatic payments into the account, and, with a little restraint, leave that money there until it’s time for your trip. Bulk up your account balance by depositing any $1 bills or $5 bills that you receive as change from everyday purchases. Funnel any extra money — like a work bonus or birthday cash — into your vacation fund as well.

If you have a side gig and don’t rely on the income to cover your essential expenses, you can save that money toward your upcoming getaway, too.

2. Create a Savings Goal

If you budget for your trip in advance, you don’t have to spend time stressing over your spending while you’re on vacation.

Research the costs of your expected expenditures, such as airfare, rental cars, gas, hotel stays, meals, souvenirs, special excursions and tickets to attractions or events. After totaling those costs, you’ll have an estimation of how much you’ll need to save.

Now work backwards to reach your savings goal. Divide your estimated vacation cost by the number of months you have before taking your trip to figure out how much money to save aside each month. For example, if you’re taking a $2,400 vacation a year from now, you’d need to save $200 a month to fund your getaway.

If your vacation date isn’t set in stone, you could figure out how much you’d like to save monthly and divide your total estimated vacation cost by your monthly savings amount to figure out when you can afford to take your trip. Using the $2,400 vacation example, if you could only afford to save $150 a month, you’d have the funds for your trip 16 months from now.

3. Download Money-Saving Apps

A phone displays Digit, a money saving app.
Aileen Perilla/ The Penny Hoarder

Take advantage of technology for extra assistance with saving for vacation.

Digit is an app that links up to your checking account and automatically transfers money to your savings account. It uses an algorithm to calculate how much money users can afford to have pulled from their checking account without causing them to overdraft. You can even set a vacation savings goal within the app. 

Bonus: Penny Hoarders will get an extra $5 just for signing up. Additionally, savers will receive a 1% bonus every three months. Digit is free to use for the first 30 days, then it’s $2.99 per month afterward.

Qapital is another savings app that links to your checking account. You set savings goals and then determine how you’d like to reach those goals. You have various options for saving, like taking a certain amount out your account on a weekly basis or rounding purchases up to the nearest $5 and depositing that money into your savings. You can set up multiple savings options to fund your vacation faster.

8 Ways to Bank Extra Money for Your Trip

Strategizing how you’ll save money for your upcoming vacation is just half the battle. Making extra money or finding smart ways to free up some of your cash will get you there sooner.

Saving up for a big trip isn’t easy, but these eight ideas should help you pad that vacation savings account and have your trip already paid for before you leave home.

1. Pick Up a Side Job

Sure, you may need to work a little harder now, but think about all that relaxing fun you’ll be having on your stress-free vacation that’s already paid for.

Look for ways to earn extra money outside your regular job, whether they’re more traditional (like babysitting or waiting tables) or a bit less orthodox (like leading guided tours of craft coffee shops or getting paid to stand in line). Side jobs help bring you one step closer to affording your dream getaway.

Pro Tip

Consider opportunities related to the season. Around the winter holidays, many retailers look for seasonal workers. Leading up to the summer, you may see postings for camp counselors and lifeguards.

Working these side jobs may mean sacrificing your free time for a while, but it will help make your vacation possible.

2. Sell Your Stuff

If you’re into vacations, you know that life is about experiences, not stuff. Especially when your stuff can put cold, hard cash in your pocket.

You can sell stuff you have at home on OfferUp, Letgo or Craigslist or resell thrift-shop finds on eBay. Check your attic, too — a rare item collecting dust might sell for a fortune.

Our guide to the best times of year to sell things online will tell you what you should sell in certain months to take advantage of increased demand and possibly bring in more cash.

3. Make Your Credit Card Work for You

Consider using a credit card that accumulates airline miles for all of your regular expenditures throughout the year. Come vacation time, you could be flying for free.

Another option is to earn credit-card sign-up bonuses. Writer Steve Gillman scored hundreds of dollars in credit-card bonuses. That’s money to put toward your next road trip! (Just make sure to ask yourself these five questions before opening a new credit card for the rewards.)

You can also earn tons of frequent flier miles without signing up for a credit card by shopping online, eating out, taking surveys and other methods.

4. Cut Back on Your Monthly Food Budget

For many households — especially those with little ones or teenagers running around — food can be a huge monthly expense. Shave a little off the top and in no time, you’ll notice you’ve got some extra cash to put toward your getaway.

Save money by buying in bulk, by shopping at farmers markets or by joining a community supported agriculture — or CSA — program. Start a garden in your backyard, or save on produce by regrowing vegetables at home. Earn rebates on your groceries by taking pictures of the receipts with apps like Ibotta.

Or simply look for a few items you don’t really need, like soda and treats, and keep them out of your grocery cart while you’re saving for your vacation. Wouldn’t that ice cream taste even better if you were eating it on the beach?

5. Use Your Car to Make a Little Cash on the Side

Paul Pruce drives in in Philadelphia, PA on January 13, 2017.
Jessica Kourkounis for The Penny Hoarder

Why not use your car for a little extra income? You could make additional money as an Uber or Lyft driver or set up a carpool and charge coworkers for rides.

If you’re flying to your destination and want to park at the airport for free, let TravelCar rent out your car to other travelers while you’re gone, and you could have a check waiting for you when you return.

If vacationing is so important to you that you’re willing to resort to drastic measures, you could ditch your car completely, like this family did (they saved $11,500).

6. Make Money With Your Home

Move a little extra money to your vacation account each month by listing space in your home on Airbnb. Even if you don’t have a dedicated room available, you can get creative with your Airbnb listing by hosting people in a tent in your backyard or letting guests crash on your couch. You could also rent out your entire home, stay with a friend or relative and split the profits with them.

And make sure to save on housing during your vacation, too, by using Airbnb or one of these other cheap accommodation options.

7. Spend Less on Your Workout

Want to get in shape for the itsy-bitsy bikini or new swim trunks you bought for that trip to the beach? Think of how much better your wallet will look if you could work out without forking over loads of cash.

Consider saving money on the cost of a gym membership with these free or cheap gym alternatives, working out at fitness stations at public parks or by following fitness-focused YouTube channels. You could even get paid to work out by teaching yoga or leading fitness boot camps.

Pro Tip

If you can’t bear to leave the gym, look for deals on discounted memberships and classes through your employer or sites like Groupon.

8. Find Deals on Outdoor Equipment

If your vacation involves costly items like skis, snowboards, kayaks, tents and more, consider buying used rental equipment, shopping at company “garage sales” and hunting in thrift stores to cut down on the cost.

Also consider buying and reselling gear at your destination. Who knows, you may even come home with a little money in your pocket.

Sarah Kuta is an education reporter in Boulder, Colo., with a penchant for weekend thrifting, furniture refurbishment and good deals. Find her on Twitter: @sarahkuta.

Senior writer Nicole Dow contributed to this article.