As a travel nurse, I have the privilege of being able to take time off and travel as much (or as little) as I want. In 2018, I took 5-months away from work to travel solo through Europe and Southeast Asia before coming back to a new travel nurse assignment. And because travel nurses don’t earn PTO, I oftentimes get asked, “How can you afford to travel so often and for so long?” My trick? Building a hefty traveling savings account that is strictly used for travel.
Before I get started in telling you the exact steps I take when saving money for a trip, I want to point out that I am innately good at saving money. I’ve never overspent on my credit card, and I never spend what I don’t have. I don’t say this to deter you, but to warn you going forward, that if this isn’t you, you can still build a travel savings, but you probably won’t do it as quickly. To really build a hefty travel savings, you need to be conscious of not spending money beyond your means.
The second thing I’d like to point out is that travel does not have to be expensive. While I wouldn’t consider myself a backpacker, I also wouldn’t consider myself a luxury traveler. I sometimes sleep in Airbnbs that cost $30/night, and I sometimes sleep in hotels that cost $100/night. Depending on how much money I have saved, I choose what country to visit based on how cheap or expensive it is. If I know I want to be gone for 2+ months, then I choose to visit cheap countries like Eastern European countries or Southeast Asia. If I’m only going to be gone for a couple of weeks, I choose more expensive countries.
How to Build a Hefty “Travel Savings” While Saving Money (in 6 Steps!)
What’s unique about being a travel nurse, is that we make quite a bit more money than staff nurses and we get paid every week. These two things definitely factor into my ability to save, but even as a staff nurse I was still using this same strategy to be able to take multiple trips a year. These are the exact steps I take when saving for a trip.
Step 1: Create 3 different banking accounts
These accounts will be your checking account (where every paycheck goes), a savings account, and a travel account. Make sure that they are all linked to your checking account so that you can easily transfer money from one to the other.
Step 2: Make a list of all of your expenses
This list will include rent, utilities, car payments, phone payments, gym membership, and anything else that you pay for each month. Add all of those numbers up to get a lump sum and then divide it by the number of paychecks you get in a one-month period. For example: (hypothetically speaking), I pay $1,800 in rent, $120 in gym fees, $100 in utilities, $400 for car payments. Together this adds up to be $2,420. I get paid 4 times/month so I take $2,420 and divide it by 4 = $605. Before getting my first paycheck that month, I know that in order to cover my cost of living, I need to remove $605 from each paycheck. (Another option is to use one paycheck to cover rent/bills. I don’t do this because I don’t like having one week where I have no money and other weeks where I have more money).
Step 3: Transfer your money
Take the amount of money that it takes to cover your monthly bills (in this case $605), and move it into your savings account. We want it out of your checking so that you don’t feel like you have money to spend that isn’t really there. Then at the beginning of every month, move the total of that money ($2,420) back to your checking and pay your bills. The way this works is that I use money from May to pay June’s bills. I’m always saving for the next month so that I’m not behind.
Step 4: Move money into your savings account
Say each week your paycheck is $2,000. You’ve now moved $605 into your savings for next month’s bills, meaning you have $1,395 left. The next thing that I do is put money into my savings account. Having a hefty savings account (different from your travel account) is imperative in case anything were to happen. As a travel nurse, we risk having our contracts canceled and even being jobless at times. As for anyone else, you never know what could happen. For this reason, I have a separate savings account (aside from a 401K or Roth).
As a minimum amount, I move 10% of my paycheck into my savings account each time I get paid. This money is for emergencies and goes untouched. I don’t use it to pay off my credit card because I don’t spend beyond my means, and I act like my savings account money doesn’t exist. Move 10% of your paycheck (before taking money out for bills) into your savings account. In this case, I would move $200 (10% of $2,000) from checking to savings. Now, instead of moving $605 from every paycheck, I’m moving $805 from each paycheck. Meaning I have $1,195 leftover.
Step 5: Live life!
Now that I have moved my money into savings, and have $1,195 left in my checking account I live my life that week as normal. If someone asks me out to dinner, I go because I know I have money. If I want to go shopping and buy something, I do that because I know I have money. Because I can’t predict how much money I will spend each week, I wait until my next paycheck to move money into my travel account.
Step 6: Money money into your travel account
Say that you get paid every Friday. Come Thursday, the day before I get my next paycheck, I log in and check my credit card statement. I use the money in my checking account to pay off my credit card entirely. If I spent $500 that week, this means that I have $695 left in my checking account before my next paycheck comes. Now is when I move that $695 into my travel account. Each week I repeat this process and watch both my savings and travel accounts grow.
Your savings account is for emergencies and big purchases. This includes things like losing your job, getting scammed out of housing, and buying a house or car.
Your travel account is for traveling. Use the money from this account when you rent a car, purchase a plane ticket, and are on vacation.
If you prioritize travel, this system may be beneficial to you. By having a travel savings you know exactly how much money you feel comfortable spending on vacation without breaking the bank. Just remember not to be too hard on yourself. Some weeks you may save more money than other weeks. And other weeks you may save no money at all. It’s a learning process, but with consistency, you’ll get there.
Are you interested in learning more about prioritizing travel as a nurse? These articles may be helpful…