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Where are you going on summer vacation?

One of the great things about having money is traveling in style. You can buy a first-class plane ticket, book a suite at the Four Seasons, eat wherever you want, and dress the part the whole way. But you don’t need to do that every time you travel.

I recently got back from New York City, where I was traveling on about $200 a day. The hotel, where I had a nice but small room, averaged around $185 a night. That’s a great deal by New York standards. I was interning at Bloomberg (long story), and they gave us free lunch every day, which is a powerful perk. Somehow, feeding people buys loyalty in a way that money cannot.

I had a few fancy dinners thrown in there, but a lot of nights, I just hit up the Shake Shack near my hotel—the burgers there are delicious. All in, I spent around $3,000 for a two-week trip. I would call that an accomplishment.

You probably know people who refuse to travel unless they can do it in style. Every trip is a $20,000 production—so they don’t take that many trips.

When you travel lighter, you can travel more. That’s important because everyone needs a vacation at least once a year. Travel gives you perspective. It shows you how people think and operate in other places. And without it, your world gets pretty small.

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  • So, let’s look at how much you can spend on travel every year…

Normally, I prefer principles to budgets, but in this instance, a budget helps: You can spend up to 2% of your income on travel. That’s for personal travel. It doesn’t include work stuff. So, if you make $100k, you can take a $2,000 vacation every year. That might not sound like much. It won’t get you a luxury trip to St. Barts. It won’t even get you a week at Sandals. But you can have a perfectly acceptable vacation for two grand.

The truth is, checking into a fancy hotel room is one my favorite things in the world. But I also love camping. It’s great—you’re eating ribs, roasting marshmallows, jumping in the lake. And it’s super cheap. A campsite is usually $20 a night or less.

The point is, you can travel on a budget, especially when you’re young, and still have a fantastic time. Then, as your income increases, you can stay in nicer hotels. Just make sure to increase your standards slowly.

And remember that you don’t have to go all-in on every single trip. I went to Las Vegas not long ago—a place where money just disappears—and the whole trip cost me a couple hundred bucks. How is that even possible? Well, I got cheap flights, I paid for the hotel room with points, and I made a little bit gambling.

Sometimes, I also save on a nicer hotel by using the Hotel Tonight app. When you get smart about travel, you can go more places without adding financial stress.

  • Travel is one of the big things…

Personal finance is mostly about getting the big things right—the house, the car, the student loans. Travel is one of the big things, too. There are families who make $80k a year and drop $8,000 on a trip to Hawaii. That’s 10% of their income, and that’s how they wind up with credit card debt.

If you make $50k a year, you should probably just go camping, and that is fine. I still camp sometimes.

One last thing—don’t put off travel until you retire. Retirement is a pretty small window. After 5–10 years, you’re going to be pretty old, and it might not be as much fun. So, save your money and take a vacation. It’s the best thing you can do.

Jared Dillian
Jared Dillian