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.
How to plan a vacation on a budget easily.
We can agree that planning a vacation is enough of a challenge. And trying to do it on a budget. Well that just makes it harder.
But it is not impossible. There are a few simple steps that you can follow to help you plan the perfect vacation on a budget.
- 1. Set a Goal
- 2. Save Up: You Too can Travel on a Budget
- 3. Book Your Flight
- 4. Book Your Hotel
- 5. Getting Around
- 6. Plan Your Activities
- 7. What To Eat and Drink
- 8. Travel Documents
- 9. Tell Your Credit Card and Bank you are traveling
- 10. Pack
- 11. Money Exchange
- 12. Consider Travel Insurance
How Do I Start Planning a Trip?
Planning a trip can be overwhelming. I am not even going to sugar coat it and pretend that it is not for most people.
However it doesn't have to be.
When deciding to go on a trip try to focus on one task at a time. By doing it this way you're less likely to feel overwhelmed.
By taking things step by step you're less likely to miss out on the details. Also you will be surprised by how quickly things come together.
When Should you Start Planning a Vacation?
The easy answer. As soon as you're ready.
While planning ahead can always help you to save money and find the best deals there is truly no magic number that will dictate the best time to start planning a vacation.
When it comes to research locations you want to start as soon as possible. Create a bucket list and research the places you want to see and things you would love to do.
Hotels can be booked at far in advance as one year. Just make sure that you look for hotels that have a generous refund policy. You don't want to get stuck having to pay a penalty if your travel plans change.
For flights, the sweet spot is between 2-3 months in advance. The exception to this rule are holidays like Christmas, New Years, Thanksgiving. Those you want to book as far in advance as you possibly can.
Everything else it really just depends on your comfort level and your location. For example tours in Alaska book up and sell out as soon as a year in advance because they are limited.
However, in many other places, you can book tours the same day (and sometimes with a nice discount).
Doing your homework is half the work. And the more comfortable you get with the planning process the quicker and easier it will be.
The 12 Steps to Planning a Vacation on Budget
1. Set a Goal
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.
If you're like me one of your goals is to travel as much as you can with as little time and money as possible.
Since that is my goal I do not always have my heart set on a specific place or type of vacation. I want to see and do everything.
If that sounds like you start by putting together a list of places that you want to visit.
It doesn't matter if you have your heart set on one dream destination or a million. The first step is writing it down and taking it from a thought into a tangible object.
And if you don't now where to start. That is ok.
You can get a lot of inspiration from friends, family and social media.
How Much Time Do You Have?
Do you have a 9-5? Then you may not have the luxury to take off a week or two when the travel bug hits.
Did you know that most people don't take their paid vacation days? I know appalling. Find out how I go on over 12 trips a year while still working a 9-5 office job. Click here.
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 the travel itch.
Figure out how much time you have. Then use that to narrow down options that would be great for weekend trips versus longer weeklong adventures.
What is your budget?
It is easy to fantasize about where you’re headed next however there is no point in planning a getaway to the Maldives only to find out you can’t afford it.
But here is a little secret. With a little bit of planning, 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, let's say you need $100 a day to go to Europe. (Although with planning I have known people to do it for less). If you are going for 5 days you are at a minimum of $500 (not including flights).
It is very important to be aware of how much things cost so that you're not spinning your wheels trying to plan a trip if it is out of budget at the moment.
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.
You can also stalk AirBnb as well as all my favorite hotel sites like booking.com, 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
Flights can be one of the biggest expenses when planning a vacation. When planning and booking it is a good idea to start here first.
However, it is important to do all the necessary research to make sure you can actually afford to go once your flight is booked (some places can be super expensive once you actually get there).
If you see a good deal though try to jump on it as soon as possible. Before hitting book read the fine print. Most airlines will provide you with a 24 hour free cancellation window for example that comes in handy.
Other airlines may actually give you the option to put a flight on hold (although there are restrictions to this and most don't permit this when you're booking last minute).
Finally, utilize search engines like Google Flights and SkyScanner to help you find the cheapest flight these however once you know the airline you want to fly it is recommended that you book directly with the airline.
This will save you a lot of headache later down the road should you have to cancel or experience delays or other travel interruptions.
I put together a guide on how to find cheap flights. To learn more check it out here.
Have you seen our guide to NYC on a Budget?
4. Book Your Hotel
Nowadays there are a lot of options when it comes to booking your accommodations. You can go with a vacation rental like AirBnB or a traditional hotel just to name a few.
When decided which would work better for you consider your options based on location and the length of your stay.
For example for longer trips I prefer to convenience of having a kitchen and or washer/dryer therefore I may lean towards an AirBnB.
It all comes down to cost. For example a hotel might be cheaper. Especially if they include things like free breakfast.
For group or family trips an AirBnB might be a better deal where you can have room for everyone as well as amenities such a kitchen to help cut down on food expenses.
Do your research and make sure you pick the option that is best for you.
For example, when I went to Sonoma we stayed in an AirBnb. We were familiar with the area and wanted a place where we could make breakfast in the morning and relax with a glass of wine on the porch in the evening.
In the alternative for a trip to I opted for a hotel. I wanted the amenities of having a pool and room service. It really just depends on your travel style.
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 not researching first 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 sometimes 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 of 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 as high up on the 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 of 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.
Research restaurants based on the areas of the city you expect to be in. So for example you can start with finding a few breakfast and dinner spots close to your hotel because that is most likely where you will start and end our day.
Then go down the list of all the places you're hoping to visit and do the same.
You will end up with a big giant list of places to eat and drink however if you find your self hungry near the Vatican you can easily look at your list and find a place to eat that you have already vetted.
One of the most useful tools you can use to find great places to eat is 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, it doesn't hurt to also cross-referencing yelp and Tripadvisor when trying to come up with places to eat.
Another great resource. Family, friends and Facebook. Ask your 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 by what you can find.
8. Travel Documents
Where ever in the world your travels take you make sure you do your research. (Are you noticing a theme here?)
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 but at the very least six months.
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 Visas. 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 that 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 you have a backup. While copies will not take the place of the originals it will be easier 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 suspended because my credit company deemed my spending suspicious.
Call your 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.
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.
11. Money Exchange
If you are traveling internationally you may need to exchange your money. Start tracking exchange rates ahead of time.
The first place to look should be your bank. 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.
What is the Best Way to Plan a Vacation?
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.