Parenting is a Journey
An Adventure of Discovery Not Only of our Children But of Ourselves as Well
Saving money isn’t very fun. It can be difficult to see the far-off goal of what you’re saving for.
Saving money for a summer vacation can be especially difficult. With such a fun goal on the horizon, putting money aside can be like collecting sand one grain at a time so you can build a sandcastle.
This summer, my family is going on vacation to Europe for four weeks, and we saved for it in two big ways—putting money aside for it since November 2016, and cutting our travel costs immensely by swapping houses for most of the trip.
A vacation savings account
We started by putting money into a savings account dedicated to the trip. We’ve been doing this for a few years already with automatic transfers from our checking account each month, but we stepped it up late last year.
As a freelance writer, I’ve dedicated a monthly paycheck from one of my clients to the vacation account. I’ve also tried—not always successfully—to deposit another check from another client each month.
The account allowed us to pay for much of the trip upfront. A travel agent helped us find a deal on a flight-hotel package in February, when reasonable rates were still available. We paid a deposit on the package, giving us until June to save for the final payment that’s due then.
We also booked rooms in two hotels in cities we’re visiting during the trip for a few days, so those rooms were paid for in February. We also paid in February for a deposit on a waffle-making class in Brussels.
One difficulty of saving in winter for a summer vacation is that the trip seems so far off that it’s hard to be enthusiastic about trying to put money away early. It’s delayed gratification at the extreme.
But that’s what helps make it a little easier to save for. It’s such a fun goal that I’m spending months reading guidebooks and listening to podcasts about the areas we’re visiting, which is making the savings easier to put aside.
The biggest way we’ve been able to make this trip affordable is by swapping homes. Through a home exchange website, we’re exchanging homes with a family in the Netherlands for almost three weeks.
After paying the site’s annual membership fee of about $80, home exchanges are free. Using another family’s home is saving us at least $3,500 in lodging.
Every time we go on vacation, one of the biggest costs is housing. We’ve rented vacation homes from homeowners and stayed in hotels, and housing always end up being the second-biggest expense after transportation.
A home exchange allows us to cut out almost all of that from our vacation budget, except for a week before the exchange that we’re spending elsewhere in Europe. It’s an idea I’ve been thinking about for years, and finally a newspaper story about a father going on a trip to Europe with his child persuaded me to get moving on it.
It took us about a month to find a family in Europe that was a match. What took me a little while to figure out was that finding a home in a similar situation to ours was key.
We live in a Bay Area suburb and can be in San Francisco on BART in 45 minutes. San Francisco is a very popular tourist destination, and promoting our home in an exchange as being 45 minutes outside of the city is a high selling point.
Our home exchange is with a family who lives about a 30-minute train ride from Amsterdam. That exchange makes much more sense for us than with a homeowner in central Amsterdam. It’s a fair distance for each family.
We’ll cook in their kitchen—which will save us money—and we’ll be there long enough that we won’t feel like we’ll have to constantly be on the move to see exciting sites as we might if our time was limited. It can be a relaxing vacation to enjoy another culture at a leisurely pace.
That’s one of the main things I want my daughter to get out of this summer vacation. Saving and paying for much of it months in advance should only make it that much easier.
Aaron Crowe is a freelance journalist who specializes in personal finance writing. This will be the first trip for his daughter, 12, to Europe, and hopefully not her last. Follow Aaron on Twitter @AaronCrowe or read his personal finance blog about family finances at CashSmarter.com.