Many people are planning major vacations now that the world is reopening for travel. If you’ve been confined to your home and workplace for a year, you probably feel the urge to get away.
Some intrepid souls have already dipped their toes into tepid travel waters by taking trips to outdoor destinations. Others have splurged on a long weekend somewhere close to home. Now it’s time to get ready for something bigger.
Whether or not there’s a pandemic, preparation is critical to travel. And the better the planning, the more enjoyable the time at your destination.
If you’re planning your next big vacation, here are four key ways to prep for it.
Put Your Finances in Order
Despite the monumental pent-up need to get away at any cost, making a travel budget is smart. Maybe you’ve spent lockdown saving for a dream vacay. If not, you don’t want to descend into deep debt by spending beyond your means.
Figure out how much you can invest in a trip. Then figure out where you can go on that budget. Europe might be too expensive, but an all-inclusive resort in Mexico might fit the bill.
To avoid overspending while you’re gone, use your debit card. Cards in major networks, like Visa or MasterCard, can be used almost anywhere in the world. Remember to add “turn on international settings on my debit card” to your to-do list.
Check whether your debit or credit card charges foreign transaction fees if you’re traveling abroad. Those can add up. So if you don’t have a fee-free card, get one.
That’s not the only way card fees might get you. Wherever you’re going, check the availability of your debit card’s fee-free ATMs. If there aren’t any, add a few dollars to your budget for pulling out cash.
Remember that most cards charge a single set fee for out-of-network ATM use. Make the most — or rather, the least — of that charge. Withdraw enough cash at one time to reduce the number of times you need to get more. Put only as much as you need for daily use in your wallet, then leave the rest in your hotel’s room safe.
Don’t return from a great vacation only to be weighed down by credit card bills you can’t pay. If you spend wisely, you can start planning your next trip instead.
Build Your Itinerary
You shouldn’t plan how you’ll spend every single minute of each day away. A rigid schedule is like going to work. Nonetheless, you should put some thought into what you want to see and do while you’re at your destination.
Even if you’re planning to go to the beach every day, there are other things to consider. Where will you eat dinner? Will you go shopping or visit a museum or other attraction?
Keep your itinerary somewhat fluid so that it suits your mood or the weather. You don’t have to go shopping on Wednesday. Just go on a cloudy day when the beach lacks its luster.
If your itinerary includes going to museums, shows, or special events, plan ahead. For some attractions, you may need to get tickets well in advance. You don’t want to go all the way to Rome and be unable to get into the Sistine Chapel.
If this is a family trip, make sure everyone gets to weigh in on activities. Sort out the options and drop them into a loose itinerary. A family vacation should be fun for everyone.
If you need help creating a plan, you might want to use a free template as a guide. You might as well start your vacay early by letting technology do some of the work.
Just remember that itineraries should be guides to what you want to see and do. Ink in those events you have tickets for, but pencil in the rest. The point is to have a good time. You might get to your hotel and hear a lounge chair by the pool calling your name. Make space for whims.
Pick the Right Time to Buy Tickets and Reserve Hotels
Buying things too late can cost you more. So can buying things too early. Getting the best prices on things like airfare, car rentals, and accommodations is all about hitting the sweet spot. Trouble is, not everyone can agree on the ideal timing.
If you’re flying to your destination, there are some good rules of thumb. It’s usually less expensive to fly on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Also, there are less expensive months to travel depending on your destination’s high season and low season.
There’s less consensus on how far out you should buy tickets, though. Give yourself plenty of time to do some online research. It’s probably best to rely on findings based on survey results from actual domestic and international travelers.
Booking accommodations early or at the last minute can sometimes yield the lowest prices. Hotels or Airbnbs that want to fill unreserved space will give you a great deal a day or two before arrival. Having a warm bed, even at a steep discount, is better than no bed at all.
Waiting until the last minute isn’t always wise, though, especially if accommodations are limited at your destination. One strategy is to play both ends against the middle.
Many accommodations allow you to cancel your booking without penalty 24-48 hours before arrival. So go ahead and book early for peace of mind. Then, keep monitoring for better deals as you near your travel date. If you find one, cancel that first reservation.
Timing these major vacation purchases is not a perfect science. But do your homework and buy early if cancellation policies are generous. Then keep your eye on the market just in case a bargain comes along.
Pack Well Before Hitting the Road
Don’t leave packing for the last minute. Throwing your luggage into the trunk of your car for a road trip might not require much preparation. If you’re going to fly, however, packing is basically a science.
Most people overpack, and airlines’ fees for suitcases over 50 pounds can quickly add up. Plus, many airlines now charge for small bags in addition to the airfare.
Consider using tools like packing cubes. Choose clothing items that you can switch around to make different outfits. Limit shoes to a couple of pairs. And don’t bring shoes you haven’t broken in yet, no matter how cute they are. Wear bulky items while traveling so they don’t take up room in your suitcase.
The fear of leaving something behind is sometimes justified, but don’t let that feeling consume you. Unless you’re traveling somewhere remote, you can probably buy anything you need at your destination. Many hotels provide razors, toothpaste, and mouthwash just in case.
Above all, leave room in your suitcase to bring home souvenirs. The lighter your suitcase on the way out, the more treasures you can add on the way back.
Strategic planning for your next major vacation is a wise investment of your time and resources. It can also be nearly as fun to plan your trip as it is to take it. You can be certain it will make your time away more enjoyable.
As Benjamin Franklin said, “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” By planning ahead, you’ll make sure your long-awaited major vacation isn’t a major fail.