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Wednesday, October 21, 2020

How to Plan + Budget for Big Trips

How many years have we been trapped inside now? 23? I mean, I know it's only been 8 months, but it feels so. much. longer. If you're dying for some travel, well, I wouldn't recommend it. Most office buildings are talking about extending their WFH dates through June or July now. Buuuuuuuut, that doesn't mean you have to sit at home do nothing but watch all the streaming services you now subscribe to. You can do staycation or destination dates like we do, and you can totally start planning and budgeting for that big trip you're going to go on when you're allowed.

how to plan for big trips

With the weather turning cooler, we're probably all getting into that wanna-get-away mode and wondering how we're going to get through the winter blahs. First thing's first, let's figure out where and how.

Where do you want to go?

I know not everyone has a 5 or 10 year plan for vacations like I do. This year has kind of hampered that plan. Last year we went to the UK. This year we were supposed to go to Walt Disney World, and next year we were supposed to go to Iceland. This year isn't happening, and next year may not happen either if my suspicions are correct. The only good thing is that we're saving by not traveling, so we might actually get to do more when we can travel again. We've got a plan to hit up Japan by 2030, and we might even move that up, but we'll have to see how we get through 2020 and 2021 first. 

If you have a travel list of places you want to go, this is a great place to start. Choose a place and make it a plan. If you don't, then ask friends about their favorite vacations, ask your family where they want to go, get inspiration online or in travel magazines or shows. 

What do you want to do there?

Now that you know where you want to go, choose the things you absolutely have to do there. I keep a running list of things that are on my must list and what Eric has on his list. These are the things I add, including their prices. Then I look to see if I can get a discount on any of those things online, as a bundle with other things, or with a CityPASS. If so, this enables me to have a little wiggle room. 

Now, choose things that you want to do if you can , but aren't crucial to your trip. These are things that are nice to have in a trip, but you won't be that disappointed if you can't do them.

How much money do you need?

Look at airfare rates for the time you want to travel, as well as hotel or vacation rental rates. I find that Airbnb rates are as affordable as hotels, but include things that would cost me extra, like laundry, a kitchen and WiFi, so I save over a hotel room. If this isn't important to you, then look for hotels with things that help with your bottom line, like free breakfast. 

Now, add those two things to your attractions budget, figure out if you need a car or how much transportation will cost, and then do a bit of research on what restaurants charge to come up with a food budget. 

How can you stretch your budget?

There are lots of ways to stretch your budget when you travel. These are my favorites:
  • Make breakfasts instead of eating out.
  • Make lunch your big meal of the day. If you are dying to eat at a fancy restaurant, lunch is almost always much cheaper. 
  • Look for food carts or local favorites, as these will charge less than places that are trying to attract tourists.
  • Hit up happy hours.
  • Bring snacks, so you don't have to spend money in between meals when you get peckish.
  • Take along a reusable water bottle to stay hydrated and keep from buying beverages wherever you go.
  • Pack light and do laundry, so you aren't paying baggage fees. 
  • Look for free activities, like museums, cool parks, and landmarks. 
  • Use daily deal sites like Groupon to do things at a deep discount. 
  • Walk wherever you can to save money on transportation.

Easy ways to save

I hate saving money, but I love going on vacation, so I try hard to do it without complaining. Instead of making excuses for spending money, think about all the awesome things you can do with that money if you spend it on travel. You'll have lifelong memories, enjoy a mental health break, and spend more quality time with your family/significant other/friend(s). Here are some of my favorite ways to save money that are also super easy:
  • Pay yourself first. You know how when you invest in something like a 401-K and it gets taken out of your paycheck before you even see it? And you never miss it? Do this with your vacation fund. You know when you get paid, so set up an automatic deposit, either through work or on your own online, to go to that separate account. Even just $50 per paycheck can quickly add up and it's not so much that you'll notice it's gone. If you can afford more, change the dollar amount that goes, even if this is a one-time occurrence or permanent. A few dollars more is better than no dollars more.
  • Open a high-yield checking or savings account. Just like I say above, make sure it's separate from your everyday account. While your money is just sitting there, you could be earning more each month for doing nothing more but keeping it in the bank. Free money is good! 
  • Use a money-saving app like Qapital. It's free to sign up, you link your bank accounts to it and set up your goals. Next you'll add rules, such as the round-up rule. Rules can include anything you do on and offline and when those rules are employed, your Qapital account grows. It all works on a phone app and can easily be ignored if you don't want to see your money too much (because, like me, you'll want to immediately spend it). And if you sign up with my link right now, you'll get $20 free in your account!
  • Make a list and stick to it. When I go grocery shopping, I make a list. I try to plan my meals around the same ingredients with some variety. Chicken, noodles, potatoes, carrots, beef and beans are all great staples, because you can make a ton of things with them. Buy enough to make twice as much as you plan to eat and freeze so you have dinners for future nights and can save money in the coming weeks, or have easy food to make when you return from vacation. 
  • Keep the change. If you're like everyone, you have a ton of change just sitting in your car or the bottom of your purse. Make a jar or container at home to throw all that change in at the end of each day. You wouldn't know it, but all those cents can add up over the months and you might find you have a spare $100 or so that you can use as spending money!
  • Get cash back. You're going to buy stuff. You just are. Rakuten lets you save money on your online purchases by offering you a set amount of cash back on participating retailers, including a lot of travel sites. If you're going to spend money, you might as well save as much as possible. Rakuten sends you cash back payments four times a year, either by check or deposited to your Paypal account. It's super easy, and those payments can be used as spending money on your trips.
  • Ask for gift cards. When the holidays and your birthday rolls around, ask for gift cards that can be used towards your trip. This could include cards for theme parks, airfare on your chosen airline, restaurants or grocery stores where you can shop for snacks and meal staples (you know how I like to buy breakfast stuff and eat before I head out into the world). Now you've gotten free money you can use on vacation and have to save even less than you thought. 
Now you have a great foundation for planning and budgeting for your next big trip (and your small ones!). Get started saving and get excited about all the places you're going to go in the world. If you need more ideas on where to go and what to do there, sign up for my bi-monthly newsletter for extra tips. 

What are your favoritie ways to save for or on your trips?

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links, and I appreciate any purchases made through them.

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