Planning and Funding Your Dream Vacation (Without Breaking the Bank)

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Whether it's through your Pinterest board, saved posts on Instagram or a good old fashioned mood board of magazine clippings, plenty of us have the ultimate dream vacation planned out in our heads ... that one trip you say you'll eventually take "someday." And life, as it so often does, happens. Either your budget doesn't allow for a trip or other high priority commitments take precedence.

But that doesn't mean your dream vacation isn't possible.

Consider some of these pointers for planning your dream vacation while saving money along the way.

Not enough can be said for early planning when it comes to travel. Not only can getting the ball rolling early allow you to book the cream of the crop for lodging and excursions, but you'll also save money (and time) in the long run. If your ideal destination or experience is in high demand or falls on a holiday, beginning to plan about a year out is wise. Taking this initiative will also allow you plenty of time to plan out your itinerary and budget accordingly.

Evaluate the cost of your ideal trip (factoring in flight or gas, rental car, lodging, excursions, meals, etc.) and then determine how much money you can realistically set aside. Many banks, credit unions and budgeting apps offer automatic transfers to a particular savings account, allowing you to passively save for your trip without even thinking about it. If you're starting to save for your trip from the ground up, you may need to incorporate another six months to a year into your planning to make it happen comfortably.

A huge way to travel to your dream destination while saving some cash is considering traveling in that area's "off season." Research when a destination's peak travel season is and see what you can find for travel slightly before or after. Depending on what activities or weather you're eyeing, the off season could be your perfect match.

You can also majorly save by considering more under-the-radar destinations, a tactic that has gained in popularity with travelers since the pandemic's onset. In addition to providing lower fares and better availability, both of these options are likely to offer another highly sought after perk: no crowds.

According to the experts at The Points Guy, you can make your credit cards work for you—especially if they're co-branded with an airline. Perks when flying with that particular airline can include miles to put toward airfare, access to airport lounges (with free food and beverages) and waived checked bag fees. Plenty of cards also offer cash back on certain purchases, so don't hesitate to look into how your cards could help you save while booking and enjoying your trip. Memberships like AAA can also come in handy.

Of course, exploring your options for saving also calls for getting creative and sometimes doing the not-so-fun options: Packing your own snacks, not buying that overpriced souvenir, etc.

Did you know? Travel professionals (tour operators, travel advisors, etc.) often have access to discounts and perks the general public doesn't. They've also likely built years-long relationships with others in the industry—and you can reap the benefits. Short on time or not sure how to plan the best trip possible? Leave it to the pros. These professionals also advocate on your behalf when things go wrong and take care of the little things so you don't have to. Another amazing detail? The majority of the time, there's no additional cost for their expertise and services. Talk about value!

What's Worth the Splurge?

TRAVEL INSURANCE. From unexpected delays to COVID-19 related issues, travel insurance and flight protection are the closest things you can get to purchasing peace of mind. While you hope you won't need to use it, you'll be thanking your past self in the event things go awry.

PERSONALIZED AND ONE-OF-A-KIND EXPERIENCES. When it comes to taking a trip to an especially unique or special destination, don't hesitate to truly enjoy the experience and all it has to offer—take the private tour, buy the photo package, book the local cooking class, dine at the area's top rated restaurant, etc. Within reason, it's worth it to spend on experiences that round out your entire trip. Remember to let staff members know of any special occasions! You might just get a surprise upgrade.

COMFORT. Now this doesn't mean you have to book a first class flight, but perhaps you upgrade from the main cabin to comfort+ for the extra legroom on a long flight. Or maybe you decide to rent a larger vehicle so the family isn't squished together when getting from point A to point B. Vacations are meant to be comfortable and relaxing, right?

Written by Sarah Suydam, Managing Editor for West Michigan Woman.

This article originally appeared in the Aug/Sep '22 issue of West Michigan Woman.


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