2021 might be the best year to learn how to save money for travel. Who knows what will happen with the COVID-19 pandemic? There are signs that countries might start opening up. If not, well, we can always plan for the future, right?
For those of you who are unemployed and suffering from pandemic induced economic downturn, I’m not sure what to tell you. I genuinely wish you the best of luck, and I’m sorry you’re in a tough situation. But for those that do have jobs…
There are a billion “How to Save Money for Travel” articles out there. I just did a google search. It’s literally a billion. Almost all of them involve some sort of poverty-shaming “bootstrapping” bullshit coated in sugary positive affirmations. “Be positive and learn how to budget!” “Give up that gym membership!” “Skip the daily Starbucks latte!” “Don’t buy the latest iPhone!” Blech.
Honestly, there are some people who simply won’t be able to afford it. If you have kids or other family to support, there are probably ways you can still afford to travel, but that’s beyond the scope of what I know. I also don’t really know how to help if you’ve got a mountain of debt to deal with. Sorry.
This is a guide for working class people who are single and relatively independent. For all those essential workers who are dreaming of getting the hell out of town. Here are my tips for using your shitty soul-crushing job to save money and escaping overseas.
The Best Way to Save Money for Travel: the Direct Deposit Trick
This is how I was able to save enough money to travel and eventually pick up and move to China. It’s also relatively simple and painless, too. For it to work you will need two things: a bank account and the ability to direct deposit.
Okay, so you will actually need two bank accounts. A savings account and a checking account. This trick works best if you can set the two accounts up at different banks. If that’s a hassle, you can still do it with one bank and two accounts, but you need to be more disciplined.
It’s really simple: set up your direct deposit so that each month, a certain percentage goes into your savings account. Then don’t touch it.
And when I say “don’t touch it” I mean it. Throw away or hide the ATM card that’s connected to the account. Avoid any online transfers. Forget this savings account exists.
This is why the trick works best with two separate banks. You want to make it as big of a pain in the ass as possible to touch the money in your savings account.
Keep this up for a year or so. You’ll be surprised at how quickly you’re able to save. Suddenly, you’ll find you have enough money for a plane ticket and you didn’t even realize it.
Obviously, you need to budget to figure out how much you can save. The more you put in your savings, the less you have to spend each month. Only you can determine how much money you really need on a monthly basis.
Of course, you should still be able to access your savings for emergencies, but the harder it is to access your savings, the less you’ll be tempted to dip into it for unimportant reasons.
Give Up Your Car
This is also how I was able to save money for travel. I’ve lived most of my adult life without my own vehicle. This won’t be an option for everyone, especially people who live outside of big cities, without access to public transportation. But, if you can go car less, you’ll find you save HUGE amounts of money each month. Dump that money into your savings account.
This isn’t an easy tip. American public transport, for the most part, really sucks. Even in a city, it’s a pain in the ass living without a car, and what you save in money you end up paying in time. Full disclosure: I knew people who would let me borrow a car if I needed to.
I spent the last few years of my life in Minneapolis working a job that started at 6am. Early enough that the buses didn’t start running yet. This meant I had to get up at about 4:30 most mornings to make it in time.
Anyone who knows about Minneapolis knows the city becomes a frigid wasteland during the winter months. During those times, the roads are icy death traps. I walked about 45 minutes every morning in 30 degrees below zero weather, with only the thoughts of future vacations to keep me warm inside.
Sure, I could have moved closer, but my job was in a gentrified neighborhood with expensive housing. I found a happy medium in a poorer (and cheaper) neighborhood that was still close enough that I wouldn’t have to buy a car to get to work.
Yes, walking sucked, but in the end, it was totally worth it. Plus, I could act all smug whenever people complained about their car heaters not working. Also, it was good exercise.
Join a Union
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, workers with union jobs make on average $1,095 versus $892 for non-union jobs. That’s a difference of about $200. A week.
My job unionized a couple of years before I moved to China. Before the union, I was making around $9 an hour. After the union, my wages suddenly went up to $12 something. Still less than what minimum wage should be, but that extra three dollars an hour added up fast. Yes, you have to pay dues, but they barely make a dent in those extra wages.
I want to say I put all that extra money into my travel savings account, but that would be a lie. I went out and bought a bunch of dumb shit that I didn’t need. And I was still able to save enough money to not only buy that dumb shit I didn’t need, but have enough to move to China, take two ten-day trips to Costa Rica and Glacier National Park as well as smaller weekend trips to Seattle, Austin and elsewhere. I was rolling in it.
There are other benefits to unionizing besides just being able to save more money for travel. Since everything in a contract is negotiable, there’s a good chance you could negotiate for some more vacation days. That way you can take time to travel and still keep your job, if that’s the sort of thing you want to do.
When you finally do travel, you’ll meet people from France and other parts of Europe who are taking lavish two-month vacations. Despite what eugenicists and middle-class liberals might tell you, Europeans aren’t naturally superior. They got those long vacations through a history of strong unions and a willingness to go on stike.
Starting a union just to save money to travel isn’t an easy task. But, here are a few articles to get you started if that’s what you want to do:
Raise the Minimum Wage
As of the time I’m writing this, the minimum wage in the U.S. is still only $7.25 an hour. That’s definitely not enough to save up to travel. It’s not even enough to cover a person’s basic living expenses. It’s definitely not enough to keep up with inflation. There are plenty of other reasons the minimum wage should be raised, besides giving working people the opportunity to have enough money to travel.
If forming a union isn’t possible at your specific job, you might want to look into how various cities around the U.S. have successfully raised their minimum wages to $15 an hour. Imagine how much money you could save for traveling if you made $15 an hour. Here are some groups working to do that sort of thing, there are probably more, but this is just a start if you’re interested:
Will it Even Be Possible for Working Class People to Afford to Travel in the Future?
Who knows what the world will look like post-pandemic? COVID-19 has not only taken millions of lives, but it’s also diverted millions of dollars from the poor and working classes to the super-duper-ultra rich. Are we ever going to return to that golden era when even lowly grocery stockers could afford to take vacations?
I certainly hope so. The internet has made the world smaller, but so have cheap hostels and discount flights. International travel shouldn’t just be the domain of Instagram filtered trust fund babies. I really believe it’s important for everyone to get out of their comfort zones and experience another part of the world.
And, if the world doesn’t go back to normal? If we all end up stuck wherever we were in 2020? Well, in that case, if you follow my tips you can use the money you saved to buy some Starbucks and a new iPhone.