How to actually take your dream vacation.
Pick a destination.
Even deciding where to go may be a challenge, since there are so many amazing places to visit. First, determine what type of experience you want to have: like taking in the culture of a foreign city, traveling across a region known for its unique landscapes, going on an outdoor adventure or even all of the above. Focus on what you most want to get out of your trip.
Then, determine the city or cities where you’ll start, continue and end your trip. Depending on your idea, like if you’re planning a camping trip at a national park, you may need to do some research to figure out the specific city you’d travel to. If you’re planning a multi-city trip or cross-country road trip, start sketching the route you’ll want to take and identifying where you may need to stay in between.
Do some research.
Start to gather information about the place you’re going to and what you might do while you’re there. The internet makes planning a trip easier than ever, but friends and family can also be a good resource. Try to find blog posts by others who have taken a similar trip. You may want to learn more about the following:
- When is the best time to go? Consider seasonal weather patterns, peak travel season and when landmarks you’d want to visit are open. Are there culturally significant festivals or events, natural phenomena or one-time museum exhibits happening at a certain time next year?
- What is there to see and do? From historic sites and world-famous restaurants to local attractions, get a sense for the activities you’d like to do.
- Where might you stay? Do you know anyone that lives there? What type of place would you want to stay in: fancy hotel downtown or cozy bungalow in a neighborhood?
- What are your options for getting around once you arrive? A major city may have public transit, or you may need to rent a car, depending on your plans.
- Are there any existing packages offered by travel companies that fit what you’d want to do? Going this route can sometimes save money if the company has negotiated better rates with travel vendors.
Pick a date.
Based on your research, figure out what time of year might be the best to go. Then compare that to any known commitments for next year, like friends’ weddings or key work events. Schedule a time now that works for your calendar, before it starts to fill up.
It may help to communicate your plans to your family, close friends and coworkers. That way they can start to prepare and hopefully help you stick to your plan.
Start simple and with the big, obvious expenses like travel costs, housing and major outings (like guided tours). See if you can find a cost breakdown online written by someone who’s made the trip.
Then, based on the types of activities you found while doing research, estimate your discretionary spending. Take your priorities for the trip and for traveling in general into account. For instance, if you like going to museums, set aside enough to pay for admission fees.
Brace yourself and then tally up the total amount you expect to spend on the trip. If it feels like too much, see if there’s room to cut back on non-essential spending or by securing accommodations at a lower price point.
Set a monthly savings target.
With the total estimated cost in mind, and based on when you plan to go, calculate how much you’ll need to save each month to achieve your goal. Review that number against your other financial goals to make sure you can afford to put enough aside each month. Think of it like any other monthly payment. If you don’t think you can afford it, review your expenses again to see if there’s more you can do to decrease the cost of the trip, or consider ways to reduce your current living expenses.
If it still feels unreasonable, think about scheduling the trip a little further out. Review what your monthly savings would need to be if the trip was 18 months from now, two years from now, and so on. Just because it can’t be next year doesn’t mean it can’t happen at all. In the meantime, you can plan some smaller, close-to-home trips to still get away.
Motivate your saving.
Once you settle on your goal, consider ways to keep yourself motivated. There are plenty of savings strategies available if you do some research, but here are a few ideas:
- Save for certain milestones instead of a monthly target. For instance, you might save up for your plane tickets, housing, key activities and spending money at different stages. You’ll have a tangible reward for sticking to your goal.
- For every month that you hit your target, do something fun for yourself that is related to your trip. You could buy a guide book, eat at a restaurant that serves the local cuisine or buy an accessory you’ll wear on your vacation.
- Set up a savings account labeled with your trip destination. Then schedule an automatic transfer to move your saving target to the account each month.
- Find ways to keep the excitement for the trip alive, either through a mood board that you hang in your house, by learning the local language or watching movies that take place there.
- Team up with a friend or family member who also wants to save for something. Schedule regular check-ins to help hold each other accountable. You can also rely on each other for moral support if one of you is tempted to spend travel savings on something else.
From travel reward credit cards to online coupons for outings, there are seemingly endless ways to find discounts on travel. For keeping costs low while you’re traveling, consider the following:
- Before you go, ask friends and family if you can borrow gear you may need, like a money wallet or tent.
- Use public transit instead of taxi cabs when possible.
- To cut down on eating out costs, stop by a grocery store and pick up items for breakfast, lunch and some simple dinners.
- Look for free or reduced cost entry to local festivals, museums and attractions.
- Walk when it’s possible, safe to do so and in an interesting area.
- Instead of buying souvenirs as gifts, send postcards.
- Avoid purchasing items from touristy gift shops and maybe look for local items instead.
And, before you go, just remember to update your bank and provide your travel details. This can help prevent issues with your card, and the bank can keep better eye on possible fraud attempts. For more on traveling best practices, consider reading “Security steps to take before you travel.”