How to Plan a Vacation on a Budget. The Ultimate Guide to Travel Planning

How to Plan a Vacation on a Budget. The Ultimate Guide to Travel Planning*Some of the links contained in this post are affiliate links, meaning at no cost to you, I will earn a small commission if you click through and make a purchase.*

Travel can be expensive but there are ways to plan a vacation on a budget.  There is no need for you to hire a travel planner or start working with a travel agency.  With the right guidance this is something you can 100% do your self.

I personally love to plan trips. It is one of my favorite things to do and is part of the excitement of traveling for me.  After years of creating travel guides and itineraries for all of my travels I have decided to share my secrets with everyone.

I will warn you in advance. This post is long. But I hope you find a lot of helpful tips to make your travel planning easy and doable. I also hope that some of my tips and tricks with help you to save money while traveling. 

Not only does planning your itinerary in advance lead to less stress but it helps to save money. By doing your research before hand you will know what to expect. No coming out of pocket for a $200 cab ride into Paris when you could have taken public transportation from the airport for as little as 6 Euro. That is a big savings in my opinion.

Whether you’re planning a weekend getaway, two weeks in Asia or six months touring the world, this guide is for you. So let’s get the planning.

1. Set a Goals

Where do you want to go? What do you want to do?

Before you do anything the first thing you want to figure out is your goal. Do you want to go on a relaxing beach vacation. Are you looking for sightseeing and history? Is hiking and adventure more your flavor? Knowing what you want to do and where you want to go is the best way to start your planning.

My goal is to travel as much as I can with as little time and money as possible.  I do not always have my heart set on a specific place or type of vacation. I want to see and do everything.  Every year I put together a list of places I want to visit. A lot of my inspiration comes from friends, family and social media.  I will also use tools like Google Flights and  TripAdvisor.  I love to play travel roulette with Google Flights and TripAdvisor is a one stop with so much useful information where to stay, what to do and reviews from real people. 

How Much Time Do You Have?

If you are like me and have a 9-5 you may not have the luxury to take off a week or two when the travel bug hits. That doesn’t mean you can’t travel. That means you have to be flexible. I am notorious for taking 48 hour trips. It is a great way to see different places as well as satisfy my travel itch. (I just booked a long weekend in San Diego. So excited!!!).  Figure out how much time you have. That may impact where you end up going.

What is your budget?

It is easy to fantasize about where you’re headed to next however there is no point in planning a getaway to the Maldives only to find out you can’t afford it. But if you plan you will be able to afford it. Figure out your budget and figure out how much you think you may need in order to go to your dream location. For example I usually will set aside about $100 a day to go to Europe. (Although with planning I have known people to do it for less). So if I am going for 5 days I am looking at a minimum of $500 (not including flights).

Travel Planning- Where To Go

2. Save Up: You Too can Travel on a Budget. 

Once you know what your budget it is time to start saving. Saving can be intimidating when you’re broke. But it is not impossible. Start small. Even if you can only save a $1 a day. That is the step in the right direction.  Think about it. If you saved a dollar a day you would have $365 by the end of year. Now up that number to $5. That is over $1500 which is more than enough for a trip.

Do a mini audit of your spending and figure out where you possibly find a few bucks here and there. There will always be something. Some ways that I have cut out some expenses:

  • Swapped out my expensive cable for a digital attenanae
  • Wake up earlier everyday and make my own coffee and breakfast
  • Pack Lunch everyday
  • Cut back on alcohol (Alchohol is expensive)
  • Shop Sales at the Grocery Store-I only purchase what’s on sale and that dictates what we are eating for the week. The good news about this is that usually what is in season is what is on sale therefore you will eat better.

Look for Deals

I subscribe by the idea of “Shop Often, Buy Sparingly”. This applies to everything from clothes shopping to booking my travel. Once you have an idea of where you want to go and how long you want to go it is time to start looking for deals. Sites like Google Flights, Kayak and SkyScanner allow you to set up alerts. For example I really want to go to Iceland. So I have an alert set up for flights to Iceland. When there is a flash sale I will get a notification and will book my flight.

I also will stalk AirBnb as well as all my favorite hotel sites like, TripAdvisor and Kayak. Having an idea of how much things cost will help you know whether you are getting a good deal on accommodations or not. 

3. Book Your Flight

Because I like to play travel roulette I usually book my flights first. I will of course do all the necessary research to make sure I can actually afford to go once my flight is booked (some places can be super expensive once you actually get there). But flights and hotels can really eat into your budget. So it is a good idea to jump on the deals as soon as you can.

As a mentioned above you can find deals on sites like Tripadvisor . However I usually will look for flights on Google Flights to get an idea of pricing. Once I know the airline I want to fly I always book directly with the airline. I never use a third party to book my airlines. In my opinion that can be risky.

I put together a guide on how to find cheap flights. To learn more check it out here.

4. Book Your Hotel

Depending on the location or length of trip I will go back and forth between staying at an Airbnb or a hotel. I don’t have an exact formula as to why I stay in one over the other. Honestly it comes down to cost. Sometimes hotels are cheaper. (extra points if they include breakfast).  If I am going with a group an AirBnB might make more sense. Do your research and make sure you pick the option that is best for you. For example when I went to Sonoma I stayed in an AirBnb. I was familiar with the area and I wanted a place where I could make breakfast in the morning and relax with a glass of wine on the porch in the evening. When I went to Miami I opted for a hotel. I wanted the amenities of having a pool and room service. It really just depends on your travel style.

Find Your Best Holiday Travel Deals Today- Book Now!

Travel Planning- Booking Hotels

5. Getting Around

Should You Rent a Car?

Once again it is important to do your research. Not all places are created equal with it comes to transportation options.

This comes down to cost and convenience. And this can make or break a vacation. Not having a car in Virginia. Probably a bad idea. Having a car in New York City. Also a bad idea. Always make sure you know what you are getting yourself into. And keep in mind it is something cheaper to rent a car. Uber may be convenient but it adds up very quickly. 

Getting to and from the airport

If you are renting a car this is easy. Map it out before hand  just to get comfortable. It is always nice to know whether you will be driving 15 minutes or 2 hours.

If you are not renting a car looking public transportation options to and from the airport. I do this almost every time I do not rent a car and it has saved me soo much money. For example a cab from the airport in NYC to Midtown Manhattan can be anywhere from $40-$75. Or you can pay as little as $2.75 and take the subway. That is a huge difference if you ask me.

6. Plan Your Activities

Planning your activities ahead a time is not only a huge time saver but it can help you save a ton of money as well.  I am big on planning my whole trip well in advance however I always make sure to leave some room for error and rest and relaxation.

The first thing you want to do  is to make a list of all the things you want to do and rank them based on order of importance. So  when I went to Paris going to the Eiffel Tower and The Lourve were high on my list. Palace of Versailles was on my wishlist as well but wasn’t has high up on th list.  Since we were only there for a short time we never made it to the Palace of Versailles. However I was not disappointed because I got to see all the things I really wanted to see. And now I have an excuse to go back and visit again.

When it comes to booking tours it really comes down to two options. Convenience and location. If your short on time and are the type of person that needs a minute to get their bearings a tour might be best for you. However if you are like me (cheap, DIYer, did I say cheap) there are so many resources out there that can help you DIY your way around. 

For example when I went to Italy I chose to DIY most of my trip. There is so much information on Rome so it was easy for me to just create an itinerary and stick to it. However when I went to Egypt I was only there for a short period time and getting from place to place proved to be a bit difficult. I therefore opted for an organized tour.

7. What To Eat and Drink

Food and Drink is extremely important me. Not only am I looking for a good deal but I want something authentic and not end up in a tourist trap. I have made the mistake of planning every single meal however I have since tried a new technique. I will research restaurants based on the areas of the city I expect to be in. So for example I start with finding a few breakfast and dinner spots close to my hotel. Then I go down the list of all the places I am hoping to visit and do the same. I end up with a big giant list of places to eat and drink however if I find myself hungry near the vatican I can easily looking at my list and find a place to eat that I have already vetted.

Some of the tools I use to find great places to eat are the google near me function. What I love about it is the fact that it will give you recommendations of places including reviews. I actually prefer this better than yelp and Tripadvisor. However I would definitely recommend also cross referencing yelp and Tripadvisor when trying to come up places to eat.  Another great resource. Family, friends and Facebook. Ask my friends and family for recommendations. Then go to Facebook to ask the same question. I have received so many awesome recommendations this way. And I am rarely disappointed with my choices. You will be surprised with what you can find. 

Travel Planning- Food and Drink

8. Travel Documents

Where ever in the world your travels take you make sure you do your research. Do you need a passport, do you need a visa.  You should always make sure that you have at least a year before your passport is set to expire. I have heard of people being denied entry to countries because they had to renew their passport in less than six months. Do not be that person.

Plan ahead for Visa’s. Visa requirements vary from country to country so make sure to do your research. While you can get a visa fairly quickly for some countries others can take months.  Make sure you are taking the appropriate steps to get your Visa. Another thing to consider is the cost of your visa. That can make or break a budget real quick. For example if you are looking to go to Russian. Be prepared. Visas can cost over $500 depending on your itinerary.


There are a number of countries which require immunizations. Especially if you are traveling to South East Asia. Not only does this require you to plan ahead as some immunizations have to be done months in advance but this is another added expense that you should consider when figuring out your travel budget.

Make Copies of Important Documents

It is always a good idea to make copies of your travel documents. I personally have a paper copy as well as scanned copies in my email and on my electronic devices. In the event that my travel documents are lost or stolen I have a backup. While copies will not take the place of the originals it will be easy to get new originals when you have copies with all the relevant information you need.

9. Tell Your Credit Card and Bank you are traveling

I learned this the hard way the first time I traveled to Europe only to find out my credit cards were susepended because my credit company deemed my spending suspicious. Call you credit card company and bank and make sure to inform them of where you’re traveling. This will ensure that your cards are not deactivated because of suspicious activity.

10. Pack

Packing can be so overwhelming but it really doesn’t have to be. I always leave this for last because I need to know where I am going, what I’m doing, what the weather will be like and how long I will be there. From there I can start building my packing list. I like to make a list of what I will need which helps me to not over pack. When you’re traveling on the budget getting hit with baggage fees can be a huge bummer. But think to yourself. Do you really need five pairs of heels. Chances are you don’t. Pack smart. And one of my favorite hacks is packing cubes. I love them. They are a lifesaver. 

Traveling Planning- Packing Tips

11. Money Exchange

If you are traveling internationally you may need to exchange your money. I would suggest to start tracking exchange rates ahead of time. I personally have found I get the best rates when exchanging at the bank (before I travel) and/or using my credit cards. However be mindful that some banks and credit cards charge fees. Make sure you have a card that doesn’t charge fees before going down this route. Also keep track of exchange rates. I made the mistake of exchanging my money a little too soon when I went to Europe. Long story short rates changed and I ended missing out because I was a little too eager. Just like with everything. Shop Often. Buy Sparingly.

12. Consider Travel Insurance

When I was younger I never considered travel influence. Nowadays I am a smarter traveler.  Travel insurance is worth the investment. Not only will it cover you should you need to cancel your trip but it may also cover travel delays and cancellations. Further most travel insurance comes with medical benefits. So if you fall ill or get hurt while traveling you will be covered. So worth the few dollars in my opinion.

Planning a trip can be overwhelming. However take things step by step and you will be jet setting in no time. Also keep in mind the more you plan the less you will spend. Knowing what to expect can make or break your travel budget.

*Some of the links contained in this post are affiliate links, meaning at no cost to you, I will earn a small commission if you click through and make a purchase.


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