How to Plan a Great Vacation that Won't Break the Bank ─ Part 1

by jblack

Good planning is the key to having an enjoyable and affordable vacation to remember. Learn how to self-plan a perfect, stress-free getaway.

A Great Vacation Begins With a Great Plan
A Great Vacation Begins With a Great Plan
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We've all likely seen one of those romantic-comedies where a guy surprises his wife or girlfriend with airline tickets to some romantic, exotic destination.  Such a spontaneous approach to trip planning might work great in Hollywood films but in real life ─ not so much. 

Trying to take a do-it-yourself, spur-of-the-moment vacation is more likely to turn out to be a high-stress nightmare that provides lasting memories of something you would really rather forget.  To paraphrase Winston Churchill, "a failure to plan is a plan to fail."  This introduction to a two-part guide offers some tips that will help you plan a great vacation.

1. Decide on a Vacation Destination

Deciding where you want to go is of course the obvious first step in vacation planning.  Try to decide on a destination at least six months in advance.  A six-month planning window accomplishes several important things;

  • it allows you to find the best airfare deal,
  • it minimizes the chances that the resort, hotel, or bed & breakfast you really want to stay at will be fully booked,
  • it gives you time to save cash so you can minimize how much of the trip you have to finance with plastic,
  • it offers you the opportunity to save money and headaches by taking your trip during shoulder seasons instead of peak seasons,
  • it allows time to apply for or renew passports.

2. Harness the Power of the Web to Find the Best Vacation Transportation Deal

Once you have a destination in mind, the next step is deciding on how you are going to get there.  Unless you're planning a road trip adventure in the family car, flying to your destination is likely the best option.  There is a good reason that transportation is considered so early in the trip planning process.

Airfares change almost constantly and prices vary significantly for most destinations based on seasonal factors and specific days you want to travel.  Having a six-month planning window allows plenty of time to find the best deal.  Simply harness the power of the web by signing up for price alerts on airline tickets to the destination you have in mind. 

Kayak, one of the popular online airfare comparison sites, offers a price alert service that notifies you by email about airfare price changes.  All you need to do is sign up for a free account by entering an email address, password, and your home airport.  Then select "Other" on the home page which will take you to a page of Kayak services.  Under "Tool" select "Price Alerts" then "Add a flight price alert."  One good option here is entering a price alert during specific dates.  Here you could use the inclusive dates of your six-month window.  After you have set up a price alert you will receive regular notifications by email whenever prices rise or fall on your target destination offering you the best chances at getting the most reasonable prices.

3. Research Vacation Destination Sights and Attractions

With transportation addressed for the time being, next it is time to take a look at what kinds of sights and attractions are available at your selected destination that you might be interested in.  This requires a little of what is known in military jargon as reconnaissance.  Reconnaissance for our purposes simply means choosing some resources that can be surveyed to gain factual information about a travel destination.  A few convenient sources of such information include;

  • travel guides (printed, digital reader versions, or web-based),
  • Internet tourism sites,
  • travel brochures.

Travel guides (e.g., Frommer's, Fodor's Lonely Planet, etc.) are a treasure trove of destination information.  They literally provide volumes of information on recommended places to stay, dining options, sights, attractions, suggested itineraries, travel tips, and much more for practically every destination imaginable.  Travel guides can be found at public libraries, bookstores, and online book retailers.  They can even be downloaded to digital readers from retailers like Amazon and Barnes & Noble. 

Don't want to pay for a travel guide?  For the budget minded, much of the same information in printed travel guides can be readily accessed free at the websites of the companies that produce them.  Frommer' is just one example.

Most major tourist destinations have a web presence.  Just do a web search on terms like "(your destination) tourism."  As an example, entering "australia tourism" yields a link to, the official Australian tourism website.  These kinds of sites give even more information you can use in deciding what you want to see and do at a particular destination.  Most major resorts and even some larger hotels have similarly useful websites.

Without expressing any ethical judgments on the practice, there is nothing stopping you from visiting a local travel agency and asking for free travel brochures on the place where you want to vacation even if you have no intention of booking your travel through the agent.  Just telling a representative that you are "thinking" about taking a trip to so and so while remaining vague about any definite dates is usually enough to get an armload  of useful resources.  Travel agencies are usually more than happy to accommodate you in hopes that you will return at some point and utilize their services for your trip.


If you have found this information useful and informative, please read continue to How to Plan a Great Vacation that Won't Break the Bank ─ Part 2 for more tips like;

  • how to get the most from your vacation time,
  • how to save money on local transportation at your destination,
  • how to find the best hotel location and deals,
  • how to complete your vacation plan.

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Updated: 01/09/2012, jblack
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