Financing Your Travel

I spent a couple of hours this weekend watching Smart Money Women on Netflix. It’s a witty and sometimes exasperating 13-episode series from Nollywood discussing African women’s relationship with money. I’m only a few episodes in, but I’m hooked. We meet Zuri, the main character, who has just come back from an extended holiday abroad. Among many other problems in her life, she’s broke. Sound familiar? I couldn’t help but relate to the storyline, and I’m sure some of you will too.

As a hobby, travel has many benefits; exposure to new places and cultures, relaxation, boosts your creativity and soothes the soul. It is, however, an expensive hobby, and you must plan your finances before you indulge.

Unfortunately, we’re ready to go when the travel bug bites, often without prior planning for the trip. It’s a last-minute rush to book tickets, accommodation and source funds to pay for the vacay. As my best friend would say, this usually ends in premium tears. You end up dissatisfied because you didn’t get value for money or in debt, having paid for the trip with your credit card or used cash intended for other expenses to fund the trip. When you’re back, you can’t make ends meet, and you are suddenly borrowing from friends or Apps to pay your bills.

To fully enjoy travel without the anxiety of financing them, you need to plan. As a travel enthusiast, I understand the allure of travel but insist that you get your finances right to enjoy these getaways. Like you, I have been Zuri and paid hideously for poor, though well-intentioned, choices. Here are a few recommendations on how to finance your travel.

Learn to say NO!

The first tip when it comes to travel is to say no. Yes, you read that right! It’s tempting to travel with friends and family, but if it wasn’t in your plan, it could cause you grief. In the euphoria of a recent trip, I invited a friend to another trip three months away. Enough time for planning, right? She said no because she had responsibilities, and she didn’t intend to travel until next year. I admire her conviction, and she made me wonder about the times we feel compelled to say yes because we want to spend time with friends and family and end up in financial distress. If you cannot comfortably afford a trip, say no.

While on this track, know and stick to your lanes when travelling with friends and family. If you’re a B&B person and your group insists on a 5-star hotel, maybe you should sit this one out.

Say no if the trip will cause you financial distress. Trust me. The memories are not worth the heartache.

Start with a budget

If, however, you’re planning for a trip that you can comfortably afford, let’s go to the next step: get your finances in order. As with all expenses, work from a budget. You’ll need to work up a travel budget and then compare it with your financial budget.

The travel budget should factor in all costs: transport (to the destination, transfers and outings), obtaining or renewing your passport, visas, accommodation, medical tests and vaccinations, meals, shopping, excursions and entertainment. You should also have a contingency amount to cover any unexpected costs.

With this amount in mind, review your overall finances. How soon can you afford the trip?

Remember, the idea is not to pay from your current salary or to incur debt but to save a little at a time until you can afford to pay for the trip. If you need to save KES 50,000 for your December holidays, you have three months to save this amount now that it’s September. This translates to putting away KES 16,700 every month. If you had started saving in January, you’d only be saving KES 4,200 per month, which is likely a more comfortable amount.

If you can’t raise the KES 50,000 in three months, you should consider postponing the trip to when you can afford it. Less heartache even though you’ll miss out on all the family fun. If the family asks why you’re not travelling, refer to rule number one. In any event, you’re likely to enjoy the same destinations with fewer people in the low season.

Setting aside money for travel

As always, match your saving to your cash inflows. As an employee with a monthly salary, you will likely save a portion of your salary monthly. If you’re a gig worker or an entrepreneur, you can choose to set aside a percentage of each revenue you earn.

For my hustlers, it is perfectly acceptable to take on a gig primarily to pay for your travels. What does this mean? In addition to their day jobs, I know techies who design websites, build apps, and set up office networks and CRMs on the side to pay for the extras. This way, their main job pays for their needs and investments, but the hustle pays for extras. Smart, right? This doesn’t apply to techies only, as many other professionals can do the same. If you can hustle to pay for the extras, power to you!

Storing your travel money

One increasingly popular way to save for your trip is the lay-by. You’ve probably seen ads for “lipa pole pole” by travel companies on Instagram. This means that you pay a commitment fee and then pay in instalments up to the day of your travel. The travel company becomes your “account” as you save for the trip. The primary benefit of this model is it allows you to pay slowly and fixes the trip’s price for you when the costs and fares are still low. This model only works for a trip at a time, although nothing can stop you from paying for multiple trips with the same company or different ones.

Another way to do this is to save on your own. It could be a separate savings account or just a running balance you accrue in your operating account. This also works for the one-time trip, like saving for your December holiday. A word of advice, don’t wait until the last minute to book accommodation and transport. The price is higher the closer you are to the travel date. Perhaps, pay for flights first, then housing, then excursions. The problem with this model is that you have to pay in full, which means you have to start saving long before its time to pay for the trip.

My favourite and recommended approach is the travel fund. If you like to travel, as I do, then this fund is a part of your life, just like the Emergency Fund. You set aside money with each cash inflow towards your travel. The fund caters for all future travel and not just a specific trip and covers all costs, including shopping, so that you’re never dependent on current earnings for your trip.

With a travel fund, you can vary the amounts depending on the trips you have planned or the state of your finances. You can also keep your money in a revenue-generating account and put the surplus towards your next trip. This way, you’re never dependent on your earnings for your travel, and your money works for you. It gives you the freedom to enjoy your trips without ending up like Zuri. If you invest the funds well, your earnings could even contribute to your next trip.

You can save your travel fund in similar accounts like those for your emergency fund; unit trusts, and MMFs. Readers working in fintech and financial institutions, here’s a niche market that’s just waiting on a tailored solution.

Parting shot

I wonder how it ends for Zuri. It’s a glamorous life she lives, and I don’t see her giving up her love for travel. In her shoes, I wouldn’t. I’d postpone any travel until I get my act together. The hard lesson to learn, though, is your love for travel has to fit in with your finances. That means planning, saving money, being travel savvy (not all deals are good deals), sacrificing (your finances and the quality of your trips) and waiting until you can afford it to make those experiences so much more worthwhile.  Once you do, all we can say is Bon voyage!