The most common retirement dream — shared among 70% of American workers — is to travel the world, according to the 18th Annual Transamerica Retirement Survey.
There’s only a problem: Traveling costs money. (Often a lot.)
Chances are good you’ve heard that Americans are financially ill-prepared for retirement. Most of us will struggle to even meet basic needs, much less live out the golden years of our dreams.
But what if there were a way to travel in retirement without having to save a ton of extra money? Here are three ways to help make that happen.
No. 1: Expand your horizons
This one is simple: Travel outside of Western Europe. The whole region is incredibly expensive: Museums, food (often with significant value-added tax attached, since restaurant purchases are considered a luxury item), intra-country transportation, and housing. Heck, my wife and I paid over $100 a night for a private room and shared a bathroom at a hostel in Copenhagen! (And our B&B in Paris ran us over $200 a night.)
If you’re hoping to travel for less, strongly consider Southeast Asia and South America — most countries there have a much lower cost of living (and therefore far cheaper amenities and attractions). To give you a sense of the difference in scale, here are a bunch of well-rated hotels in Kuala Lumpur for around $20 a night. Speaking from personal experience, it’s very doable to get a nice room in Hanoi for $60 a night. We negotiated cab rates to as low as $2 in Bangkok, and we had to splurge hard to spend $30 (between the two of us) for dinner in historic Ayutthaya.
(For that matter, if you enjoy visiting these places enough and want to save money on other retirement expenses, there’s an argument to be made for moving to some of these countries, too.)
When traveling to these places, your biggest expense will likely be plane tickets — which is why it’s important to…
No. 2: Have flexible travel plans
Once you’re retired, you’ll have a bit more time on your hands, and you won’t be encumbered by that pesky vacation policy that limits how many days you can be gone.
Fortunately, that means you can save lots of money by being flexible with your travel dates. There’s broad consensus across the internet that Tuesday and Wednesday are the best days to depart if you’re looking to save a few bucks. That’s specifically because, well, most people don’t want to. But why should you be tied to the traditional work week? It’s no longer your problem!
To test this out, I plugged a two-week trip to Singapore (my best friend is moving there) into Kayak (one of the major flight search sites). Here were my results (your mileage — pun intended! — may vary):
|Friday 10/5 through Sunday 10/14||$917|
|Wednesday 10/10 through Thursday 10/18||$817|
Now, I probably can’t justify coming back on a Thursday and trying to work through the jet lag on Friday…but someone who’s retired doesn’t have those strictures.
Also, consider the time of year. Every tourist spot has a high season and a low one (Google will help you figure it out). Flights and hotels are cheaper (often significantly so) when booking during the offseason. My example above was offseason; Singapore usually sees higher travel volume between January and June, hence why the cheapest trip available on Kayak for the travel dates January 5th to January 13th, 2019 is $1,061.
If you haven’t subscribed to Scott’s Cheap Flights (it’s free), do so. Sites like Scott’s keep an eye out for especially cheap fares and alert subscribers when those occur. The discounts are often $500 or more, so it’s a great way to save a lot of money on a vacation you were already planning if you have flexible travel dates. So, make a list of countries you’d like to go to at some point and be ready to pull the trigger when the deals are announced.
No. 3: Consider a travel rewards card
This one comes loaded with caveats. You shouldn’t open a new credit card if you’re swimming in debt, bad with credit cards, or if you have a major (financed) purchase incoming in the next few months (that last one is because opening a new credit card temporarily lowers your credit score by a few points).
But if you check all of those boxes and can pay your card off in full every month, travel rewards cards offer two major benefits. The first is that they usually offer attractive sign-up bonuses tied to you spending a certain amount within the first few months of opening the card. For example, a travel card might give you 40,000 points (worth $400 or more toward air travel) if you spend $3,000 on it during the first three months.
They often come loaded with other benefits, too — things like travel insurance, luggage fee credits, and no foreign exchange fees. Plus, they usually offer some kind of incentive (usually extra points) if you use them to spend money on travel. So, you can pay for one trip using the card, rack up a bunch of extra points in addition to the initial points reward I just discussed, and then potentially get the next trip free using those points.
By your powers combined…
The key to doing all of this effectively, of course, is to combine these tactics to maximize your savings. Buy a ticket when Scott’s (or one of the other deep discount hunters) gives you the tip, adjust your travel dates to maximize savings, and pay (if possible) with points you’ve accrued from other necessary spending. That’s how you can live your retirement dream without breaking the bank.