Planning the Perfect Vacation
Budget Friendly Version
Planning vacations may be one of my favorite things to do. Maybe I should be a travel agent. 🙂 I love all of the list making, researching, budgeting, and pure excitement of the upcoming vacation! I guess that I thought everyone loved planning vacations as much as I do. I’m learning that isn’t the case. Here are some tips that will help with planning vacations. . .on a budget.
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Big or Small Vacation?
Do you have a list of destinations that you want to visit? If you don’t then I suggest you sit down and rank the top destinations that you want to travel to over the next 10 years. Label your destinations as big (more expensive) or small (less expensive).
Once you have decided your top destinations then you are ready for the next step.
Choose a Destination
When I choose a destination for a vacation, I think about what will be taking place within the next year. Will you have a lot of extra home expenses? Are you planning to buy a car? These questions will help you determine if you will take a “big” vacation or a “small” vacation.
I try to plan vacations a year in advance. Usually I have a rough idea for vacations two years in advance. Planning in advance helps with budgeting. It also allows you to get better prices for certain items if you are traveling during a busy season.
Since we are both teachers, we have to travel during breaks from school. Those breaks are typically considered “peak season”. If I book rental cars, condos, etc. in advance then prices are typically lower. Some rental car companies allow you to reserve a car and pay when you arrive. Prices may drop in time for vacation. 🙂
Utilize Google Drive
You should see my Google Drive. . . no really.
A snapshot of the REST of my Google folder for vacation.
I LOVE Google Drive. I can organize all of my planning, budgeting, files, and lists into separate folders. The folder in the pictures above is labeled “Kauai 2017”, and then I have several Google documents located inside that folder. If you could look inside my brain, this is what it would look like . 😉
As soon as we decided to go to Kauai, I started organizing all of the information so that I could easily find prices, websites, and other vital information.
Fly or Drive?
Once you know where you want to go and have your Google folder made, you need to figure out if you will fly or drive to your destination. Driving is usually cheaper, but there will be certain destinations that you HAVE to fly.
After you figure out if you will fly or drive then you can start researching how much a flight to your destination will cost. This can vary depending on where you live in the country.
Example: Flights from California to Kauai are cheaper than flights from the central part of the US to Kauai. :/
Is there an airline that you prefer over another? If so, I suggest that you download their app and look at flights through that.
If you prefer the cheaper route, then you can use flight search engines like Kayak or Priceline. The determining factor for me are the flight itineraries. I wanted to arrive in Kauai in the early evening so that determined which airline I used.
If you love Delta as much as I do then use this link through Airfare Watchdog to save on weekend Delta flights! Hawaii Airlines is a great option if you are traveling to Hawaii.
There are many options for finding flights. Here are a few of my favorite budget-friendly options.
Cheap Flight Now
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Will you need a rental car at your destination? Check and see if your destination offers Uber or other public transportation options.
That is where TripAdvisor comes in. Scan the forums about your destination. That will give you LOADS of information about rental cars. You can even search specific topics. Type in your destination, and click overview then click “Forum” at the bottom.
If you need a rental car then I suggest researching rental car discounts through Costco. If you are going to Hawaii then you can use Discount Hawaii Car Rental. I got a great deal for a Jeep Wrangler for two weeks through DHCR.
Look at a Map or Use a Travel Guide
Are you going to be staying in one area/region? Will you be driving to see various sites? Will you want to move to another location and change accommodations? These are all questions to consider while you are looking at regions to stay in. I love using TripAdvisor for this too. I can pull up any area and see what is located in that region.
If you are traveling to a US destination that is offered by CityPass then you could save a TON of money by utilizing their resources. They offer savings up to 50% off of top tourist attractions! Check out their site today and see if your destination is offered at CityPass!
Go Card USA and Smart Destinations
Gocard can save a traveler a ton of ,money if you plan on purchasing tourist attraction tickets. Check out this site before purchasing elsewhere. Go Select: Build your own custom attraction pass and always save over gate prices–guaranteed!
Tours4Fun has tons of offers for touring packages for worldwide destinations and numerous vacations within the United States. If you haven’t researched their tour prices then definitely check them out before booking elsewhere!
Booking.com is great for searching for hotels in specific areas. This website also has great prices. Check it out! Booking.com guarantees the best prices for any type of property and no booking fees! Read reviews on the hotels before booking. 🙂
If you are wanting to stay in a condo, house, or bed and breakfast then you should check out Airbnb. Airbnb allow you to put in specific filters for what you are looking for in a specific area. It does have various fees so you should look into that.
I used Airbnb to book our condo in Kauai and had a great experience with them. Accommodations must be paid in full at booking. I loved how I could read reviews about the property in the Airbnb app on my phone!
Use my referral link to sign up for Airbnb and get an automatic $40 to travel!
Have you ever watched the movie The Holiday? It’s one of my FAVORITE Christmas movies to watch. The main characters used a site similar to HomeForExchange.com. You switch homes with a person for an alotted time in the area that you want to visit. Cool huh? Check it out!
Hotelwiz.com is another great resource for finding the best deals on hotels near your destination.
Find Cheap Hotels Worldwide and Save $100 with Coupon Code HWIZ100*
I cannot stress enough to utilize TripAdvisor when planning vacations. It has an abundance of information.
Once you choose the destination and type it into TripAdvisor, select various options that will give more information about the region. The tabs that I use on TA the most are:
Things to Do
These four tabs will give information about attractions in the area, the best restaurants and where they are located, plus tips from locals (forum).
How did I survive before Pinterest? It has so much information in one site. I absolutely LOVE it! Now that I am a blogger, I appreciate it even more. Using Pinterest for vacation planning is super simple. Simply type in your destination in the search box at the top and behold the tons of vacation planning nuggets!
I create specific boards for our trips. I also have a generic “Travel” board for future trip ideas and travel tips. Check out my recent travel and destination boards, and give them a follow. 🙂
If you will have a rental car or access to easy public transportation, then you will probably want to see several areas on your trip. I like to make a list of all the areas that I want to see and what is located in that area. That way I won’t miss anything, and we can eat at the best restaurants in that area while we are there.
Here is a Google Doc that I created to list restaurants in specific regions on Kauai.
Google Docs is great for making lists of regions or towns and what you will visit and where you will eat while you are in that area.
The island of Kauai is rather small so I knew that we would be able to see all of the road accessible parts of the island with a rental car.
Now that you have gathered a wealth of information about your destination, you can start budgeting to make sure that you can afford it. 🙂 This is also why I plan a year in advance because it takes time!
To start your budget I suggest making a Google Doc or Excel spreadsheet. This is typically what I budget for:
rental car/public transportation
Gas for rental car
Restaurant Food (How often will you eat out?)
Groceries (Will you have kitchen access?)
Activities/Excursions (You can find prices for most of them online through TripAdvisor)
Add it up! Make a Plan!
Now that you have your budget, can you afford it? I like to have everything paid off (if we use a credit card for anything) by the time we leave for vacation. I typically use a 0% interest credit card to charge large purchases (like airfare or accommodations).
We have two different savings accounts. One is specifically allotted for vacation money. I divide out roughly how much our entire vacation will cost (minus the purchase on the credit card which is a separate monthly payment) and divide it by 12. This shows me how much I should be putting in savings each month to have our vacation paid for by the time we leave. I love vacationing debt free! 🙂
Now for the Best Part!
Now that you KNOW that you can afford your awesome vacation, you can start drafting an itinerary. This is my FAVORITE part of the whole process. I love pulling out all of my research and deciding which activities can be grouped together. It’s essential to include “chill” days so that you aren’t exhausted on your vacation!
Itineraries are meant to be adjusted so don’t feel like everything is set in stone. Of course some activities have to be booked in advance so there will be SOME days that are more concrete than others.
Just know that it is OK if you plan everything down to the minute and then you have to change it. It’s also OK if you plan a vague itinerary and relax more. This is your vacation so customize it to fit your needs. 🙂
Last but NOT Least
The destination is chosen. Budget is made, and the itinerary is drafted. Get to booking! Now is the time to start booking rental cars, accommodations, and flights. Some people like booking flights right before they leave to get a better price. Since I like having everything paid off before we leave, I usually book 6 months out. Popular excursions/activities should be booked at least a few months in advance as well.
The Countdown is On!
The hard work is over so now you can sit back, relax, and count down the days until your glorious vacation! I try not to look at the remaining days until it is less than 200 days away. I don’t always succeed. 😉
Do you have any vacation planning tips? Comment below and share your secrets. 🙂 Do you need help planning a vacation? Contact me, and we can discuss your options!