10 Steps to Planning the Perfect Vacation

Proper planning can mean the difference in having the time of your life or being completely stressed your entire trip. It is so important to know how to plan in order for things to go smoothly and to save the most money. I use the same process every time I travel. It is 10 simple steps and it allows me to have zero worries (well, almost zero) on the day of departure. 

1. Give Yourself Time

Planning vacations don’t just happen. It’s a lot of work to get a good deal. Giving yourself enough time to shop around and book within certain windows will help tremendously with budgeting. You also don’t want to rush into a trip without researching and having that time to really learn about your location and figure out what you want to do. 

2. Pick a Destination

Seems like common sense, right? You can’t very well plan a vacation without a destination. If you’re anything like me, this can often be more difficult than anticipated. I have so many adventures and not enough time or money! It is really difficult for me to decide what my next destination will be. Watching YouTube videos or researching pictures/activities online can really help to narrow down your choices!

3. Look at the Off-Season/Special Events

This is going to be one of your biggest money savers. Traveling during the off-season can save you 50+% in some cases. Simply google your destination and what the most popular times of the year are to visit. Then don’t travel during those times. You’ll pay significantly less if you travel during the non-peak season. You might not necessarily get everything you want, but everywhere has it’s perks no matter what time of the year you visit. 

4. Rank Activities (Must-Do, Like to Do, Time Permitting)

Before you make any reservations, you need to decide what your trip will look like. Research about your destination and pick the attractions/activities you want to do. My suggestion is to rank these into categories:
– Things you must-do
– Things you would like to do
– Things that you can get to if time permits

This gives you a baseline for deciding on other aspects of your vacation. You then can plan your hotels, transportation and other things around your most desired activities. 

5. Decide on a Budget

After you’ve picked a location and decided what you want to do, you can have a relatively good idea about a budget for your trip. This is so important! You always want to tailor your trip to your budget and not the other way around. You might have to pick and choose between a nicer hotel and doing one more activity, for example. Pick a ball park that you’re comfortable with and find things that fit into that ball park. You might have to make some sacrifices. Costs add up rather quickly. You want to be able to take future vacations, so you don’t want to put yourself in a sticky financial situation. I wrote a post on ways to save money on travel here. My baseline budget is $100/night for accommodations and $50/day for food and activities. This has to altered depending on the vacation, but it is always a good starting point!
Budget Example: 10 day/ 9 night vacation 
Accommodations: $900
Food/Activities: $500
Transportation: $100
Total Budget: $1500

6. Build Itinerary

After you’ve decided on how much you’re willing to spend, and what you want to do, you can build your itinerary. Take time to at least write out a draft of each day of your trip. This will give you a guide on what reservations you need to make. Not to mention it eases the stress of having to decide something on the fly. You can just go and enjoy. If you’re like me, you can plan everything down to the minute with charts and binders and step by step guides. OR if you’re more of a free spirit, then a draft will work just fine and you can go with the flow a little more. Either way, it is a good idea to have some sort of plan. You don’t want to waste your vacation planning out your day.

7. Book Hotels/Tours

With a budget in mind and a draft of how your days will go, you can book accommodations and tours. Prices for these don’t typically change, so this can be done at any point in the planning process. My suggestion is to do it rather early since these things can sell out. Plus, it helps spread the costs of the trip. Spreading the costs can make taking vacations easier on the pocket book. Paying everything in a lump sum is something very few people are able to do. The earlier the better in this category since the budget-friendly places typically book/sell quickly!

8. Book Flights/Transportation

If you noticed above, I didn’t mention purchasing flights. This is because the cost of flights fluctuate soooooooo much. The common misconception is that the earlier you buy your ticket, the cheaper it will be. Wrong. Truth is, airline tickets have a ‘sweet spot’. Typically, the best time to buy your ticket is 120-40 days out from date of departure. This is when the tickets will be the cheapest. The fuller the aircraft, the more money the airline makes. After the 40 day window, tickets skyrocket because at that point, your just an inconvenience. As you plan your trip, try your best to book within the ‘sweet spot’ to get the best deals on airfare! Refer back to my money saving tips to learn some valuable tools to getting the best flights at the best price.

9. Finalize Plans

Double Tap. Zombieland taught us all that is a crucial step. This goes for EVERYTHING. Even though you might have made a reservation, that doesn’t mean you actually have a reservation. A little confused? Hang with me. Double check all of your bookings to ensure you have some sort of confirmation. I’ve had instances where I’ve tried to book accommodations (and thought I did so successfully), but then they end up canceling by accident or something happens with the system…blah blah blah… and I don’t have reservation anymore. Always double check that they do in fact, have your reservation. Print, screenshot, take a picture of your confirmation numbers and payments. 

10. Pack

Packing is a lot harder than you would expect. What outfits do you take? Maybe you should take this outfit just in case. What if this happens? Truth is, 90% of people completely over pack. I always try to lay out my outfits before putting them in the bag. This way I know what I have and which pieces can work for multiple outfits. At a maximum, take one outfit per day. Its better if you can take pieces that work in different ways, so you can reduce suitcase volume. For more info and help with this, check out my posts here and here.
The most important thing is to HAVE FUN! The steps above are to ensure that you can go and have the vacation of a life time. It might seem like a lot of preparation, but it gets easier (and faster) with each trip. You’ll find that it frees you to relax and truly enjoy the time away from reality. Proper planning is so important for maximizing fun and your budget!
If you have planning questions or would like for me to help you out, please don’t hesitate to contact me! I love planning vacations (even if they aren’t mine!). 
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