Are you planning a major vacation or trip this year?
We hear you! We’ve got some major travel plans ourselves. In fact, we’ll be heading to Europe four times, visiting the Caribbean at least twice, and we’ll even squeeze some U.S. travel in there!
Of course, all this travel doesn’t happen without proper planning! And, with so many things to think about, it’s easy to get overwhelmed or confused.
Don’t worry. We’ve got you covered. Here’s a list of everything you need to think about while preparing for your trip. Enjoy!
Build a Solid Financial Foundation
- Monthly Budget – Creating a monthly budget helps you use the money you already have more efficiently. When you have a plan for your money, less of it disappears. You’ll end up “finding” money you didn’t know you had, and that’s money you can use for things like travel!
- Track Your Spending – Tracking your spending goes hand-in-hand with your monthly budget. While your budget serves as your plan, tracking your spending tells you how well you executed that plan. It’s an important step that helps you understand where your budget may be leaking and/or areas where you can save even more.
- Emergency Fund – An emergency fund is the third essential tool you should use to make the most of the money you have. Essentially, it’s an insurance policy for your budget. When something comes up or goes wrong (like an illness, car repair, or lost job), an emergency fund is there to help you ride out the tough times. Learn how to start an emergency fund and why they are so important.
- Retirement Savings – Are you saving for retirement? Saving for retirement is a HUGE part of being financially stable and creating long-term wealth. So, if you aren’t saving for retirement yet, you’re probably not ready to travel.
- Life Insurance – While this has nothing to do with travel, having life insurance is another important part of a solid financial foundation. Plus, term life insurance is usually super cheap. Get a free quote here.
- More Money Tips – Want more money tips and tricks? Learn how to save more and build real wealth here.
Choose a Destination and Dates
- List of Target Destinations – Create a list of three to five destinations that you would like to visit.
- Date Windows – Choose at least three different date windows that would work for your trip.
- Research Hotel and Flights – Research average flight and hotel prices for all of your destination and date combinations.
- Select Destination and Dates – Choose your destination and dates based on the best price combination.
Create a Trip Specific Money Plan
- Research Activities and Attractions – Gather information and pricing for things you want to do and see during your trip. Organize them by how important they are to you.
- Build an Itinerary – Create a daily plan for sightseeing and activities for your trip.
- Trip Budget – Using the information you’ve gathered, determine how much the entire trip will cost you. It may be helpful to create daily totals as well.
- Start a Travel Fund – Use the “sinking funds” method to create a new travel savings fund for your trip. For the best results, implement automatic deposits into your travel fund so you can save without thinking about it. We recommend starting your travel fund here.
Researching and Booking Your Trip
Compare Airfare – Compare prices between airlines for flights to and from your destination. See if using different dates and days of the week affects the price. Use Google Flights to monitor prices and changes.
Entry/Exit Fees – If you’re leaving the country, determine if you’ll need to bring cash for any government mandated entry or exit fees.
Book Flights – When you’re ready and think you’ve found the best deal, book your flights.
Compare Hotel Prices – Compare room rates between hotels at your destination. Try using different dates and days of the week to determine how it affects pricing. Here’s a piece on finding free hotel stays.
Compare Vacation Rentals – Don’t forget to compare rates from vacation rentals to hotel rates. This is especially important if you are traveling with your family or a group.
Research Local Taxes – Determine if you’ll need to bring cash to pay for any local lodging taxes.
Book Lodging – When you’re satisfied you’ve found the best rates, book your lodging.
Getting to the Airport – Decide how you’re getting to the airport from your house.
Research Airport Parking – If applicable, research long-term airport parking options and fees.
Book Hotel Transfers – Determine how you’ll get from the airport to your hotel and vice versa. Consider taxis, rideshare companies, public transportation, and private transfers. If you are visiting more than one city on your trip, you may need to book multiple transfers. You can search for private airport transfers at your destination here.
Book Rental Car – Research and book a rental car if needed. We typically book rental cars through Expedia.
Book Train Tickets – If you’ll be traveling by train between multiple cities, you may want to book your tickets ahead of time. Remember, train travel is often a fast, affordable, and comfortable way to get around. When traveling by train in Europe, we reserve our seats using Trainline.
Purchase Sightseeing Passes – Research whether your destination offers a sightseeing pass. Here’s a list of some of our favorite sightseeing passes from around the world.
Book Guided Tours – If guided tours interest you, it’s smart to book them before you get there. Many tours are only offered on certain days of the week and may have limited space. Use this link to find tours at your destination.
Get a Guidebook – Guidebooks are a great resource for almost any destination. In addition to recommendations on sightseeing, restaurants, and hotels, guidebooks can provide a basic understanding of the sites you’ll see and the culture you’ll experience once you arrive. We like to read ours both before and after touring historical sites, museums, and more.
Food & Entertainment
Research Your Options – It’s a good idea to research food and entertainment options before leaving on your trip. Not only does it help you estimate your daily food costs, it’s also a good way to find some delicious food. Along with guidebooks, TripAdvisor usually provides some excellent restaurant recommendations.
- Research the Best Travel Cards – Research the best travel credit cards, paying special attention to the signup bonuses. Compare the best travel cards here.
- Determine if You Can Use Points – If you already have points and miles, determine if you can use them to reduce the cost of your trip; or, determine if you have enough time to earn points that can be used toward your trip. Remember, points and miles can be used to book flights, hotels, sightseeing, and more.
- Create a Points Plan for Future Trips – If you can’t use points and miles on this trip, use the information you’ve gathered to plan for future trips. Start gathering points and miles now so you can use them for later.
- Apply for a Card – When you’re ready, apply for a card. If you’re new to points and miles, we think this is the best travel rewards card for beginners.
Hot Tip: Don’t forget, you can support this free information when you use our travel portal to book flights, lodging, sightseeing, and more.
Bank & Currency Considerations
- Pack ATM & Credit Card – No matter where you’re going, you’ll need some money while you’re there. Be sure to pack your ATM card and bring a credit card that doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees.
- Call Bank for Travel Alert – Using your ATM card in a foreign country can trigger a fraud alert with your bank. Call them before you leave and ask them to put a “travel alert” on your account. That way, you won’t get stuck at an ATM machine that declines your transaction.
- Call Credit Cards for Travel Alert – Additionally, call your credit card company to let them know you’ll be traveling.
- Cash for Tips/Emergencies – In case of emergency, it’s always nice to have some cash with you. Bring about $100 USD with you so that you can exchange it at a money center if needed. If you’re traveling to a country that accepts USD, you may also want to bring small denominations for tips.
Important Paperwork You May Need
Secure a Passport – If you’re traveling internationally, you’ll definitely need a passport. Passports for adults are good for 10 years. So, give yourself plenty of time and apply a few months before your trip.
Secure a Visa – Although U.S. passport holders can enter over 160 countries without a visa, visiting certain countries (China, Russia, Brazil, etc.) will require one. Research your destination’s visa requirements and secure a visa when applicable.
Print Confirmation Numbers – We always like to carry a hard copy of our flight and hotel information, including confirmation numbers. (Don’t count on your cell phone working when you need it.) These come in handy in case of any issues.
Print Maps to Hotels – Although having Google Maps on a smartphone can be a life saver, don’t count on it working in a pinch. If you plan to walk from a train station or use public transportation, it’s always a good idea to carry printed directions to your hotel.
Print Daily Itineraries – Again, international data can be notoriously undependable. Bringing a paper copy of your daily itineraries can help keep you organized.
Travel Insurance – Travel insurance is easy to blow off, but it’s important to have when you need it. In addition to helping you cover emergency medical costs, many travel insurance plans offer assistance recovering unreimbursed expenses for trips that are delayed or cancelled due to illness, weather, and other events. Find a list of our favorite travel insurance companies here.
International Cell Phone Coverage or SIM Card – If you want to use your smartphone overseas, be sure you have either an international plan or an international SIM card installed. Call your provider for options or purchase your SIM card well in advance of your trip. Make sure you have talk, text, and data covered so you don’t rack up hundreds (or thousands) in surprise charges.
Apply for TSA Precheck/Global Entry – Nobody likes waiting in airport security lines. If you’d like to move through security and immigration lines faster, you can apply for TSA Precheck and/or Global Entry. Here’s a list of credit cards that help you get TSA Precheck and Global Entry for free.
Plan for Children – If you have kids that you’re leaving at home, remember to secure a plan for somebody to watch them.
Plan for Pets – Like children, pet owners need to plan for pet care while they’re away.
Get Luggage – As we’ve mentioned, we prefer not to check a bag whenever possible. Try using some expandable carry-on luggage like this.
Whew! That’s a lot to think about, right?!?
Thankfully, we’ve got even more info that can help you prepare for your travels. It’s called the “Travel More, Spend Less Roadmap” and it’s completely FREE. Get started by entering your email in the form below!
Thanks so much for reading! Until next time, happy traveling!