I love to travel. Not any specific type of travel, either. I like any and all of it. Whether it’s laying beachside at an all-inclusive or crossing off historic sites from a detailed itinerary. The adventure of exploring new places makes me feel alive. In recent years I’ve come up against the challenge of finding a way to fit travel into a financially responsible lifestyle.
First let’s start off by calling out a few misconceptions about travel:
Traveling is expensive! – Traveling is as costly as you want it to be. If you’re in a position to pay thousands of dollars to go to luxury resorts and pay for expensive flights, then go for it! On the flip side, you can still enjoy similar destinations for less money. I must also add that I’m referring to the type of travel that requires you to leave your surrounding area (the assumption is that you already know a staycation is the cheapest option available).
Traveling is stressful! – I can’t roll my eyes back into my head far enough when I hear comments like this. Most people find themselves stressed out when their expectations weren’t set appropriately. Later I’ll walk through ways to make it less stressful.
Traveling is confusing and hard to plan! – With the google machine and endless online resources, no part of traveling should be hard to plan or confusing. We can walk through the basics together to give you an idea of how I plan a trip that keeps it clean and simple.
I recommend you follow these steps to help ease the pain and confusion of travel if you find yourself at a loss of where to start:
Step 1: Determine what type of vacation you want to go on. Are you in the mood for the beach? The city? Going overseas? Lots of sightseeing? Starting off with some basic parameters will make the planning much easier because you will know what to ignore and what you need to look into.
Step 2: Research, Research, Research. In this step you should be noting what flights cost to various destinations and what the hotel cost is. These are going to be the two most expensive parts of any trip so it’s important to have realistic expectations of how far your money will go in different areas. Play with the time of year, days of the week, and other details such as this when pricing your options. You may find that changing your flight by a day, or visiting certain locations at other times of year can cut costs.
Step 3: Define the max amount you would want to spend on the trip. Now that you have an idea of what things cost, decide what amount seems reasonable for the trip you want to take that fits within your budget. If the destination you’ve chosen won’t work with your budget then go back to Steps 1 and 2 until you settle on a place you can make work with the money you want to spend.
Step 3: Consider the timing of when you have to pay for the trip. Even though you may not be leaving for the trip for 6 months, some costs will be due immediately to reserve your spot while others won’t be incurred until you are at your destination (think flights vs. food). Some of you may already have a chunk of change saved and are just now deciding what to do with it. If that’s the case you can skip Step 4. Otherwise….
Step 4: Map out your savings. If you want to go somewhere in 6 months you need to put a plan in place for saving money to make it happen. Need to book the flight in the next month or two? Can you save for it in that amount of time? These are the types of questions you need to answer and put a plan on paper! As you do your monthly budgets for your household you can reference the plan to make sure you are on track to save the right amount before your trip.
Step 5: Book as you go. Don’t let the idea of planning a vacation overwhelm you. Tackle it like you would eating an elephant – one bite at a time. Secure your spot on the trip (whether that’s the flight, special tours, hotel rooms) and don’t worry about any other details until this is done. At this point you know when you are going and where you are staying. Now you can start to mold the trip to fit your style.
Step 6: Research, Research, Research. Back at it again, this time focusing on activities, dining, entertainment, and other forms of enjoyment you want to experience while on your trip. I like to list out all that I find and categorize them so I can piece together fun days mixed with cool things to see, do, and eat.
Step 7: Refine your budget. Now that you have a list of the activities you’d like to do and the restaurants you would like to eat at you should have a better idea of what the costs associated will be and what is feasible for your trip. Maybe you wanted to eat at 4 really expensive restaurants but after looking at the budget realize you can only make 2 of them happen so you don’t go over on spending. This also includes a look at what special clothing you might be in need of so you are comfortable on your trip (swimsuit, hiking boots, etc.). This step is where you can really make your trip expensive or cut costs based on your choices. It can be easy to go crazy buying a whole new wardrobe for your trip, or booking non-stop expensive activities. BE REASONABLE. It’s up to you.
Step 8: Lock in an itinerary. I love to organize plans and create itineraries for trips. Not only does it help me summarize all of the research I’ve done and put all of our information in one place (reservations, flight numbers, sights to see), it is also a quick way to share your recommendations after the trip with friends or family who plan to visit there. Additionally, I add costs and whether or not they have been paid by each activity or reservation so I can quickly see what costs we still have and what has been taken care of.
Step 9: Travel safe! Now that everything has been book, you’ve saved up your money, and have a solid itinerary in place it’s time to enjoy all you’ve planned!
[BONUS] Step 10: Set your expectations appropriately. This is a bonus step, but I would consider it the most important. If you are one that tends to hate travel it might be a struggle you have with setting your own expectations appropriately. Any time you are flying you should expect there to be delays or even canceled flights. This happens ALL THE TIME and should not be surprising or even ruin your entire trip. Sure, it’s frustrating. But not surprising. Contingency plans can help with a lot of this. Ask yourself questions like, “If our flight is canceled what is the worst thing that will happen?” Maybe the answer is that you will miss a day of your vacation or have to re-arrange some plans. Is that really the end of the world? Maybe you show up to your destination and it’s not what you thought. Read reviews before you go so you have an idea of the culture of where you’re going and know (to some degree) what to expect. What do you think the food will be like? If you hate it, is that the worst thing in the world? Most of this information can be found on sites like TripAdvisor or Yelp where people are more than willing to give detailed reviews of places they’ve been and what they did or didn’t like.
Expect the process of traveling somewhere to include long lines, rude people, and bad food so when you show up and everything is butterflies and rainbows you will be on Cloud 9.