Part 1. A few years before T-day (travel day)
At one time it was the dream of every college student – graduate and spend a month, or a year, backpacking around another continent. Most of us, of course, never managed to accomplish that; money, time, and parental concern got in the way, but that doesn’t mean the plan should go away. Now that you’re older – and employed – you can still travel like a college kid, except now you have an income. It’s true that your vacation will take a little more planning to overcome the responsibilities of work and mortgage, nevertheless you will have an awesome time and you can, and should, do this.
Start planning now
Your vacation is still a dream away, but you need to take the steps now to make that dream a reality. The biggest problem is likely going to be money, beginning from right now, start saving. There’s nothing worse than worrying about debt while you’re on vacation, and you don’t want to leave home knowing you can’t afford this. Plan like a broke college kid - take the time to find the least expensive, most appropriate choices for what you’d like to do. And save for them before you go.
Set a dollar amount to shoot for. I would recommend $5000. You may spend a little more or a little less, but it’s a reasonable goal to start out with. As you work through the next steps you may decide to increase this, or you may change your choices if they are beginning to look expensive. Decide how far out your trip will be, and if you can realistically save for it. If your vacation goal is five years out, you need to save $20 a week, two years out, $50 a week.
Decide what time of year you would prefer to go. Keep in mind any restrictions that your job may put on travel time. Your biggest single expense is going to be transportation. Airline tickets are generally most expensive in the summer and cheaper during the spring and fall. A few weeks in the winter may be screaming deals, but then, you’ll be vacationing in the winter. This might work well for you if your chosen destination is south, or you may decide to go somewhere that is fabulous during the winter just so you can get a good deal. My recommendation: If you are interested in a southern destination, choose the spring, if you’d like to head north, go in the fall, anywhere on the equator, December. Cairo is miserable in June.
Make a list of potential destinations. Start with a long list of possibilities and do some research. Are the sights you want to see open during the time of year you want to go? What’s the weather typically like? Is it a big tourist destination the month you are thinking of going? Narrow down your choices, balancing the probable cost of the flight with the places you really want to go. These are the vacations spots you’ll be focusing on. My recommendation: What you want to see or do should be the driving force behind your choice. You can always put on a sweater.
Set a length of time for your vacation. If you can only spare a week, narrow your plans to one city, or a few close towns. If you plan on the three month extravaganza you may decide to do some country hopping. Keep in mind that travel is tiring. The longer you stay away from home, the more down-time you need to keep from feeling exhausted. My recommendation: I’ve come to the conclusion that for me, three weeks is optimal; I’m still having fun, but starting to feel the drag of having to constantly make new decisions.
Putting the pieces together
Write down your list of potential vacation spots and make some decisions about how you want to travel. Do you want to stay in a central location and take day trips to nearby sights? Would you prefer to move from place to place finding a new place to stay every few days? What are the transportation options for these choices? Will you need to rent a car? Do you need a train pass? Are buses the way to go? My recommendation: If you’re doing this for the first time, choose a central location. It’s tiring trying to find a new place to stay, new stores, new maps, new streets. A central base lowers the stress significantly.
Get some travel guides. You have a couple years to research so your first stop should be the library. Look at guide books from many different publishers to get many different perspectives on how a person can travel. Last year’s version is just fine for reading about sights and places to stay; don’t buy anything new until just before you go. Travel guides are updated yearly and the newest edition will have the best information and the most accurate prices. Start browsing on-line sites for first person stories and recommendations. Talk to people to find out what they enjoyed the most the last time they traveled. Remember that each person’s experience is an individual event and your neighbor’s vacation is not yours. I love Italy and have been back several times, but I’ve met people that hated it from the minute they set foot off the plane. Find out what they liked, or didn’t like and decide if it relates to your personal expectations.
The last step in pre-planning: Don’t lose sight of your goal.
Remind yourself why you’re saving money (“I’m skipping the latte today so I can sit in a café in Ljubljana and have a cappuccino.”) Look at ordinary things with a new eye (“Hey! That church has flying buttresses – just like Notre Dame!”) Browse clothing with a new goal (“Look at this shirt. Light, comfortable, and doesn’t wrinkle – perfect for putting in a suitcase.”) This is exciting, and it can be exciting for the entire time you’re planning.
When you’re ready, move on to Part 2: The final planning stages.
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