How to Save for a Vacation: Creating a Travel Fund

By Stacey Leasca · April 03, 2023 · 9 minute read

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How to Save for a Vacation: Creating a Travel Fund

Who needs a vacation? You do! The average American has almost 10 unused vacation days sitting around, according to a recent Qualtrics survey.

Why don’t we take those days off that we earned? There are a variety of reasons, such as work deadlines, childcare issues, and, of course, money…or lack thereof. Travel can get expensive, especially if you are craving a trip that involves a pricey plane ticket.

But whether your travel dreams have you strolling through Paris, eating dozens of flaky croissants, or cozied up in a cabin at a stunning state park, there’s a method to making it possible. Smart budgeting and saving tactics can help you gather the funds you need to use the PTO that’s coming to you.

Read on to learn:

•   How much to save for vacation

•   How to start a vacation fund

•   How to grow your travel fund.

The Importance of Emergency Savings

Sure, it can be tempting to pick up on a whim and travel somewhere, without even glancing at your checking account. But that can be somewhat risky business, financially speaking. And so can prioritizing a vacation fund when you don’t have much money in the bank.

Before you think about funding a vacation, you should consider saving for life’s emergencies first. And a prime way to do that is by establishing a healthy amount of money in your emergency fund.

To build an emergency fund, a general rule of thumb is to have enough money to cover at least three to six months’ worth of expenses socked away. It’s totally okay to start off with a small fund and build your way up over time. Even depositing $20 per paycheck into the fund can be a wise start. This account may be for a true emergency, such as a car breaking down, an unexpected move, paying rent after being laid off, or a visit to the emergency room. What isn’t a good use for your emergency fund? A sale on plane tickets to Hawaii doesn’t count, sorry to say.

Beyond emergency funds, it may be a good idea to ensure you’ve paid off any high-interest debt before allocating your money toward a vacation.

How Much to Save for Vacation

Once your emergency reserves are on good footing, you can take the first step in saving for a vacation by opening a separate account earmarked for travel. Keeping it in the same bank as the rest of your money could allow you to easily keep track of how much you’ve saved. It can also make it a bit simpler to transfer extra cash into your vacation account.

•   Pro tip: Many financial institutions will let you name the account, which is seriously worth doing. It might be harder to be motivated to contribute to account XXX924 than your “Valentine’s Day in Paris” Fund. Go ahead, and give it a good name so you know what you’re working towards.

•   Another smart move is to automate savings. You can set up automatic deposits into this account each week or month, depending on your pay cycle and what you’re comfortable with. You could even allocate a specific amount to be auto deposited right from your paycheck. That way, it’s like you never even hit your checking account, where it can tempt you to go shopping and have a fancy dinner. You won’t see the money until you’re ready to go on vacation.

Now, about how much to save. Here are a couple of approaches to try:

•   Some people like to establish an amount of their paycheck to siphon off into travel savings. Perhaps it’s 5% of your take-home pay, or an amount like $50. Once it hits a certain figure ($500 or $1,000), you can then dig in and start your specific planning.

•   For many, though, building a budget makes the dream real. You can scout out transportation and lodging costs, among other items by doing online research. You can add food, entertainment, excursions, and other potential expenses and come up with the figure you’ll need. Then divide that by how long you have to save, and you’ve determined your monthly savings goal.

   So if you need $2,400 for your trip and have eight months till the date you want to travel, you’ll need to set aside $300 per month.

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Doing Some Research on Your Dream Vacation

As briefly mentioned, research can be the foundation of your trip planning. And it’s often a really fun enterprise, whether you are a moodboard or a Pinterest sort of person. Decide what kind of vacation you want to have — be it a surf, snow, hiking, adventure, leisure, city, or country escape — then start looking into destinations that suit your desires. Maybe a friend took a cool 30th birthday trip to Iceland that you want to emulate, or you are in search of a few budget-friendly spring break destinations. Start searching! Some guidelines:

•   Once you pick a spot, you can look at things like average hotel pricing, average food cost, transportation costs (including the flight, drive, boat, or train there as well as a car rental, taxi, or ridesharing service for when you’re there), average excursion cost, and add in a bit extra for entertainment expenses.

•   Don’t forget to budget for hidden fees, such as resort fees, rental fees, and taxes. You may want to call the hotel’s concierge to get those numbers if they aren’t displayed, as they can add up rather quickly. Also, you may want to ensure your number crunching includes an “extra” slush fund for those “just in case” moments.

•   If hotels look to be a bit too pricey in your intended destination, you could always look for cost-cutting accommodations. There are always hostels, and some are adding amenities these days that make them less barebones.

•   You might consider places that will let you stay for free in exchange for services. You could try signing up on websites like Rover to swap dog sitting services in exchange for a free place to stay. Websites like Mind My House also bring together people looking for house sitters and those looking for accommodations. Check out the listings and see if any fit your vacation needs.

Recommended: Tips for Finding Travel Deals

Saving Consistently into Your Travel Fund

If you have an estimate of how much it will cost, now you just have to figure out how to save for a vacation. Consider these ideas:

•   Dividing your projected vacation cost by the months you have to save and stashing cash away is a tried-and-true method. By doing so, you can watch your trip fund grow and get you closer to your trip.

•   Some people like to use round-up apps or the “change jar” method to also boost their savings.

How to start a vacation fund is simple: You make that first deposit, But next, learn some other ways to keep building towards your travel goal.

Using Windfalls to Your Advantage

While working toward your vacation, you could use any financial windfalls to your advantage. Consider these sources:

•   A tax refund

•   A bonus at work

•   A raise at your job

•   Proceeds from selling your stuff, like electronics, kitchenware, or clothes you no longer need or use.

Putting this money into where you keep a travel fund is a great way to boost your savings.

Adding a Side Hustle to Your Routine

You could always create a windfall for yourself by taking on a low-cost side hustle as you save for your vacation.

Working a side job or taking on freelance work you have the skillset for could help you save money faster to get the vacation show on the road. And the best part is, if you save using your side gig money, you won’t even need to touch your savings or primary paycheck.

Some pointers:

•   Think about what you’re after: Something that will help your career in the long-term, or perhaps something that will simply earn you a bit of quick cash?

•   If you’re hoping it could help your career growth, you could try tackling a side job that’s connected to your goals. For example, if you’re hoping to be a writer, scout article writing or copywriting gigs. Want to be a photographer? Build a website and offer your services.

•   If it’s just quick cash you need, think local and urgent. Could you sub in at a busy cafe on weekends or do odd-jobs through various apps like TaskRabbit or Fiverr?

•   Decide how much you’re willing to put into a side hustle. Often, side gigs require you to work before or after your regular nine-to-five, which could mean giving up your nights and weekends. But, again, all that extra work could pay off for either your career or your short-term goals.

Making a Little Extra Cash While on Vacation

You could always try putting your assets to work for you while you’re away to help pay for your vacation. If you own your home or apartment or your landlord allows it, you might rent your space on websites like Airbnb or VRBO. You may be able to earn a hefty sum.

Have a car? That can be rented out on websites like Turo, too.

The Takeaway

If you’re planning a vacation, dreaming about it and planning where you’ll go and what you’ll see can be a fun pursuit. But you’ll also need to save for it. That can be accomplished by saving from your paycheck, stashing away any windfalls, and putting energy towards earning additional money.

As you save, you need a good place to keep your cash securely and help it grow. The SoFi Checking and Savings Account can be a smart option. You’ll be able to easily keep track of progress on each of your vaults (including one that’s your vacation fund), you’ll enjoy a competitive annual percentage yield (APY), and other benefits. And when it’s time to travel, you can use ATMs within the Allpoint® Network without any fees.

SoFi Checking and Savings: The smart, simple way to save.


How does a vacation fund work?

A travel fund is an account that helps you save the amount needed to take a trip. Typically, you add to it regularly (manually or by automatically depositing some of your paycheck) until you reach your goal amount. Having the money in an interest-bearing account can help you grow your money more quickly.

Where should I put vacation money?

If you want to grow your trip fund money, it’s wise to put it in a savings account where it’s liquid but earning interest. Look for a secure bank that offers a healthy annual percentage yield (APY). These high-interest or high-yield accounts are often found with no fees and low or no minimum balance requirements at online banks. Because these banks don’t have bricks-and-mortar locations, they can pass the savings onto customers.

What is a reasonable vacation budget?

A reasonable vacation budget will depend on your particular plans. Are you going to a lavish resort in the Mediterranean for two weeks or to a cabin at a local park for the weekend? Whatever your travel style may be, making a budget is critical. By researching transportation, lodging, food, entertainment, and excursion costs in advance, you can likely figure out your savings goal.

Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.
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