Catching the vacation blues? Are you daydreaming about traveling the world? Whether it's sun-drenched beaches, decadent castles, rousing beer gardens, ancient ruins, or simply tucked away in a remote area (physically and/or mentally) from the everyday mayhem of emails, meetings, and TPS reports, here's how to make it happen in five easy steps.
1. Plan out what your expenses will be.
You don't know how much to save if you don't know how much you're going to need, do you? You'd be surprised how many people neglect to answer this most basic question. You're going to need money for...
- Airfare. In general, it becomes more difficult to find good prices when you book a few weeks before you want to leave. Instead, if you can, book your tickets ahead of time by at least a month if possible. You might try priceline.com, cheaptickets.com, kayak.com, or expedia.com, just to name a few.
The other potentially decent time to buy a seat is at the last minute. You can sometimes get Internet specials with jaw-dropping prices on round-trip fares, though those great deals apply generally in the off-season and are often subject to severe time limitations -- you might be able to stay only for a weekend or for a week or two, for example. Go to the websites of the major airline carriers to find out about their special deals and to be notified by email of such deals. Websites like airfarewatchdog.com can also clue you in on advertised and unadvertised specials from various airlines.
Lodging and food. Many of the websites that book airfare (see above) also offer discount hotel rooms. But if you're really adventurous, you can seek alternative lodging at places like youth hostels and campsites, which allow you to save some serious cash. Before you dismiss alternative housing, do the research. Turn to sites like tripadvisor.com for candid reviews of hostels, campsites, and hotels to ensure that you won't be regretting your stay. If you're going with a group of friends, consider renting a house or condo together. You'll save on both lodging and food. And to ensure that your stomachs are content as well, do some surfing online to come up with different authentic restaurants to try. The last thing you want is an overpriced tourist trap with mediocre food.
Transportation within or between countries. Depending on how long you're going to be in a place or places, you may want to look into various modes of transportation. For example, to travel through multiple cities in Europe, many travelers choose to purchase a Eurail pass. Transportation is definitely something that you should factor into your expenses, as certain types of transportation can become pricey in some countries. If your trip looks rather complicated, you may want to consult a travel agent for advice.
- Fun. Yes, fun. Your entertainment and souvenir expenses can pile up quickly. Prepare accordingly, and keep reading for more tips.
2. Add $500 to the expenses you figured out in step No. 1. Consider it "cushion money." After all, this is your vacation and you don't want to pass on that last-minute hike to a breath-taking landmark because you had to follow your budget.
3. Decide where in your personal budget to cut back, and start now.
Every little bit counts. Whether these cutbacks are contributing to your vacation fund or an IRA, it'll make a world of a difference over time. Do you really need to eat out at restaurants twice a week? How about the money you're tossing off for drinks at a bar? Instead, eat at home and become a teetotaler -- OK, maybe not anything that drastic, but at least consider buying your six-pack at the supermarket. And think twice about those useless lottery tickets.
4. Put the money in an account that'll earn you the highest possible interest. You're looking at too short a time span to invest in the stock market, but check into money markets and short-term CDs. Make sure there's no penalty for early withdrawal. Or try an online savings account if you don't already have one. Fellow Fool Robert Brokamp runs through all short-term savings options in our savings center.
5. And finally, get ready to relax and enjoy yourself! Now that the money situation is taken care of, focus all your attention on how to maximize your vacation. (Just don't forget to set an out-of-office message!)
If you're looking for more traveling tips, browse through our Travel Center. It's full of articles and tips to ensure that you have a Foolish vacation!