Our first big international trip as a family was in 2010, and it was immediately following that amazing experience that my husband and I vowed to make family travel a priority. Our goal is to take a big trip overseas every 2-3 years and so far we have been able to achieve that goal. Let me show you how!International travel is not cheap when you consider the cost of airline tickets can easily run you $6000 for four people. And by California standards, which is where we live, we are a middle-class family so saving the $12-15,000 cash needed for three weeks abroad can be a challenge. Thankfully, I have a found a super easy way to save money without having to make huge changes to our lifestyle, and you can do that same!

I have scoured the internet for ways to save money and have found that many of the suggestions, while great for some people, are not realistic for our family. For example, neither my husband nor I have jobs that require frequent travel, nor do we have family that lives out of state which means we have no one we are flying off to visit on a regular basis, so saving airline and hotel points are not an option. And even if we did stay in hotels often enough to be granted superstar status (if that’s a thing?), when we travel we prefer apartments.

Aside from keeping our splurges to a minimum, there are only two things we have done that have made a significant impact on our ability to save money; we opened a savings account dedicated to our travel, and we opened a credit card account. That’s it! Super easy! But, full disclosure, both take dedication and discipline. Here is how we do it:

Travel Fund: Everyone who writes or talks about saving your money for travel will tell you to establish a travel fund, and for good reason. They truly work! I set up a direct deposit account through my job and had $50 from each paycheck automatically put in to our travel fund account. To help offset the savings, I made a commitment to myself to bring my lunch to work nearly every day, allowing one day a week to go out with co-workers. To my surprise, I did not notice the difference in my budget so after a few months, I increased the amount to $100 per paycheck. And while I did feel the need to watch what I was spending after increasing the savings, I was able to find small ways that made a big impact – such as exchanging my 5-6 days a week latte habit to 1 day a week. Bonus is that I’ve taught myself to make them at home and still get to drink them every day, for much less money! Since I am now saving $2,600 per year for travel I’ve been able to accumulate nearly $6000 since August of 2013 which is halfway towards the minimum goal of $12,000 needed for three weeks abroad!

Credit Card: Both my husband and I have a Capitol One Venture Card, which earns us two points for every dollar spent. Those points can be used to airline tickets on absolutely any airline with absolutely zero blackout dates. They can also be used on hotel stays and rental cars. Because our airline travel is so pricey, we are saving all of our points for our tickets. To do this, we now pay all of our monthly bills via our credit card. Our electric bill, our cable, phone, internet, health insurance, homeowners insurance, and car insurance. On top of that, we pay for everything with a credit card and rarely carry cash. As I mentioned, this takes tremendous discipline because we really need to stay on top of our monthly budget and make sure we are not overspending so that we can pay it off in full each month and not get stuck with high interest payments. But the greatest part of paying our bills this way, aside from earning us points for travel, is that now I only have to remember to pay one bill each month instead of many different bills! To date, we have earned enough points to pay for 2.5 of our 4 airline tickets for our trip next year, assuming a price point of $1500 per ticket.

While there are many credit cards that will earn your points, we chose this particular credit card for two main reasons that work well for us: the fact that we can use our points for any airline at any time and the fact that Capitol One does not charge foreign transaction fees for purchases made outside of the U.S. And since we use our credit card during out travel (to continue to earn points, of course!), this was an important consideration for us.

So, there you have it. Our next big trip is planned for June of 2016 and we will have a total of about $4,500 in points for our airline tickets and about $7,500 in our travel fund which will get us to our minimum savings goal without trying very hard. Because we are visiting Paris this time around – and the cost of accommodations is significantly higher there – we will need to try to save an additional $3000 or so in the next 8 months. With the holidays descending upon us, and with a few high cost home improvement needs staring us in the face, this will be a huge challenge. But, in my mind, we have no choice but to make it happen!

Happy Travels – and don’t forget to pack the passports!