We all dream of sailing off to a land covered in white beaches and palm trees. But too often, buying a ticket to paradise seems like a daunting, unaffordable luxury — so we push away those fantasies of vacation.
If the only thing that stands between you and your island getaway is cold, hard cash, you’re in luck: With a little advance planning, you can score big deals on travel, save more money than you thought possible, and find cool, low-cost excursions in your destination of choice.
The first thing you need to do is envision your vacation. Do you want to see kangaroos in the Outback, or ski the Alps? Whatever it is, write it down on a piece of paper and post the memo somewhere you will see it every day: This will help you to stay motivated as you start to save and plan.
Next, start your research. Check sites like Expedia or Travelocity for typical fares, call your local AAA office or travel agent to see what kinds of things you’ll need for an excursion to your destination of choice, and start to read online reviews for hotels, resorts, tours, restaurants, spas, or anything else you imagine will be part of your vacation.
Once you have an idea of what the costs will be (don’t forget to include travel insurance!) — you are ready to start planning. Try to figure out how much you can save (e.g., $200 a month) toward your goal, and how long it will take you to save the amount you’ll need (e.g., one year). Once you have these figures in mind, you can start to look at other things, such as cuts you can make in other parts of your budget (personal training, daily lattes at a coffee chain) to stick to your savings plan.
Now that you have your savings plan in place, it’s time to look for deals. Regularly check travel sites for airfare discounts, or sign up for e-mail deal services such as Living Social or Groupon. You may also want to consider opening up a rewards-based credit card to earn points or rack up miles that you can put toward your vacation, or sign up with a major hotel chain’s e-mail newsletter to hear about deals as soon as they become available.
Last but not least, consider putting a snapshot or a magazine photo in a place where you’ll see it every day, like your fridge or office desk. Seeing this image will remind you to stay focused on your savings goal.