The science of saving money for travel

Ada Ubrezi
8 min readMar 22, 2018

…isn’t really that much of a science. Or is it? Well, you can judge for yourself, but one thing’s for sure, there is more you can learn about life than just saving money.

I don’t really like to confess this, but saving up was more of a struggle for me than I expected it to be, especially because it was easier to find excuses why I wouldn’t be able to do it rather than just going for it. First of all, my salary wasn’t really that high. How could I survive until the end of the month while saving when I could barely make it in Amsterdam now! How much of a sacrifice would I need to make?

That does not sound encouraging at all, does it? Well, nothing in life is achieved without some obstacles along the way. On the other hand, I could’ve saved myself a ton of time by applying for some remote work. However, since the only job I really wanted to do during my travels was to plan and organize my upcoming trips, I was left with the ‘saving-up’ option. So how did it go?

2 years prior to my travels

It went bad…really bad. It wasn’t as much about the fact I wouldn’t be able to put money aside as it was about taking money out of my saving account. Let’s face it, there’s always something to do in Amsterdam. Life there isn’t cheap at all. This went on for a few months and my savings weren’t really moving in the direction I imaged. They were stagnating and at some point even dipped below the amount I started with. Basically I made almost zero progress after 6 months.

Copyright: GIPHY

Lesson learnt: Give everything you do in your life 100%, no matter the goal you want to achieve.

1.5 years prior to my travels

When there is no will, there is no skill. My saving tactic had two basic problems. First of all, I wasn’t 100% committed to it. Secondly, I have an addition to coffee. The days wouldn’t pass without me going to my favourite cafe and getting a cappuccino to go. It might not sound like a big deal. At first glance, 2.75 euros for a cup of coffee per day doesn’t sound too bad. However, after I went through my expenses I found out that I was spending on average 500–600 euros yearly on ‘coffee to go’ only. The money I spent on coffee could’ve easily been used for a plane ticket to some exotic locale. Good wake up call, right?

What did I do differently?

  1. I set a specific target — this will not only give you an overview of where you stand, it will motivate you as well.
  2. In addition to my already existing accounts, I opened a savings account where I could only deposit money, but not withdraw the funds.

Having the additional savings account and target didn’t stop me from spending on ‘coffee to go’ completely, but it definitely helped me reduce the number of coffees I bought. I learnt to prioritize. Do I want another cup of coffee or have three months to spend on a kickass holiday?

The beginning is always hard. No one wants to limit their lifestyle. Well, if you want to achieve something you better suck it up and get working on your goal.

3. I had to learn how to be nifty when it comes to spending my money. Here are few tips & tricks:

You can remain a coffee addict without spending a fortune:

  • Limit the number of coffees you buy;
  • Learn how to prepare a fresh Mocca or cappuccino at home. Even if you include the electricity and water you spend on it, it will be still cheaper than buying a cappuccino every single day on your way to work.

How to save money on food without ending up on noodle soups:

If you are among those lucky ones who get their lunch provided by your company or you only have to pay for a small part of your lunch fee, good for you! The rest will agree with me that lunch can be an expensive item on your monthly expense bill. Here are some tips on how to reduce your food expenses:

  • Start cooking and bring your own lunch to work;
  • Start practising meal preps; besides saving some money, you will also learn how to eat in a healthier way.
  • Start making a grocery shopping list; trust me, it’s not that kind of a thing only old people do. How many times do you walk into a shop without having any idea what you want to buy, plus you’re hungry. The result is that you end up buying tons of very tasty, but unhealthy, crap lacking nutrition. You end up eating it all at once and then you need to go shopping the next day. With a proper shopping list and a plan that outlines the dishes you want to cook, you’ll really buy only things you need. Plus, this type of planning will help you limit food waste. How many times have you ended up forgetting what you had in the fridge and found it later on only to discover that it’s past its expiry date? Hello trash.
  • Start cooking dinners & brunches for your friends at home instead of going out all the time. It will be cheaper and you’ll have more fun.
ϵ 10 brunch for 2 people at home
  • Immediately remove your credit card number from all food delivery services. Do it now!
  • Test your internet research skills. Sign up for discount alerts, register of Groupon type websites & deals. Here are a few recommendations: Groupon,,, check Foursquare for recommendations on where to eat cheap but good food. Don’t want to miss out on a Michelin star experience either? Just wait for Restaurant Weeks and get your dinner for half of the original price.

After adopting some of these changes I actually managed to lower my food-related expenses (not that I would get slimmer) as well as food waste.

Fashion aficionados will hate me now, but do you really need that many clothes?

Here is my advice on how to save some money here:

  • This will be straightforward — just limit what you spend on clothes! Do you really need to buy a new pair of jeans or shoes every month?
  • Organize your closet. How many times did it have you found a bunch of new clothes you’ve never worn? Or forgot you bought new clothes so you bought some new pieces? Do a big clean up and sell the clothes you don’t wear on Facebook or a second-hand market. You’ll get rid of unwanted stuff, receive some extra cash & feel more organized.
IJ-Hallen market sales
  • Shop in second hand stores or during the sales season (50%–75% off)
  • Fix your clothes rather than tossing them out straight away.
  • Set a rule of not buying any new clothes for a few months unless you really need them.

It might be hard to believe, but you really don’t need all that stuff you think you do. Stop collecting and start selling. Before I left Amsterdam, I donated or sold around 30kg of my clothes, shoes and accessories. Again, extra cash for your travels in your pocket.

Subscription, subscription, subscription…

  • Which ones you actively use and which ones you don’t?
  • Cancel the subscription you don’t use regularly. During my last year in Amsterdam I ended up paying 19 euros for a monthly cinema pass which I used only on a couple of occasions so I decided to cancel it.
  • Do not forget to cancel all your subscriptions prior to your travel. You can always renew them once you return.

How to save money when you are a travel addict:

There is no nice way to say it, but you’ll have to stop travelling in order to save for your long-term travel…KIDDING! You will, however, need to cut down on trips or find smart and super cheap ways to travel. Here is some advice:

  • Plan your travels in advance (more than 6 months in advance);
  • Be smart about your trip bookings; use discount codes, limited offers, look for error offers (you might end up flying to Rome for 1 euro, no joke), set up email notifications for price dropdowns;

Check out some of these: HolidayPirates, Secret Flying, Hotwire, subscribe to Skyscanner, Airfarewatchdog and many others. Also remember, whenever you book your flight ,do it on Tuesday when prices are at their lowest.

  • When travelling, choose Airbnb or hostels over hotels. Hostels offer a number of private and low-cost rooms that are pretty well equipped. In case you are a first-time Airbnb traveller, you can get a 30 euro voucher to make your stay cheaper.
  • Never take a taxi from an airport. Try cheaper options such as UBER (or similar depending on a country you are travelling to) or public transport.
  • Look for free or cheap activities to do. Set a daily budget for yourself.
  • Cheeky option (also limited to those who have this option); be smart when travelling for a business trip with your company. If you end up going to your ‘bucket list country’, ask your boss for a few extra days and turn it into a holiday. Your flight will be covered anyway, so you’ll only need to take care of accommodation and food. Yeah, there is no shame in my game. Why there should be? At the end of the day, you work hard, so why not to combine it with a little bit of pleasure? Treat yourself.

Thanks to all the pieces of advice above I managed to visit 15 countries (I’ve never been to 7 of those before) and still got to save money for my sabbatical. There were trips I had to sacrifice, but at the end of the day, I reached my saving target and I enhanced my travel-planning skills.

Make your business trip your holidays and see the world

One last piece of advice:

If you have money left in your bank account at the end of each month, put them towards your savings account. Even a small contribution is a contribution that will help you achieve your goal. Alternatively, you can create an emergency fund. You never know when you’ll need some extra cash.

The most important thing you’ll learn is how to manage your finances. It’s invaluable not only when you need to save up but in your everyday life too.

So whenever you are ready!

Good luck!




Ada Ubrezi

I enjoy researching different topics, occasionally, I’ll turn them into articles.