How to Plan a Great Vacation that Won't break the Bank ─ Part 2

by jblack

Discover even more useful vacation planning tips in this final part of a two-part travel planning guide.

Destination Research is Part of Effective Vacation Planning
Destination Research is Part of Effective Vacation Planning

4. Get the Most From Your Vacation Time With Advance Research

(Author's note:  This is the final part of a two-part vacation planning guide.  You might wish to read the first article, How to Plan a Great Vacation that Won't Break the Bank ─ Part 1 before beginning this one.  A link is provided at the end of the first article that directs back to this one.)

With destination information resources in hand, take your time and analyze the information thoroughly.  As you go along, take notes and build a "dream" list of everything you find in the way of sights and attractions that pique your interest.  Later on, you can cull the list down to something more realistic.   

Unless you are traveling solo, this is a good time to bring your family or travel partner back into the loop.  You likely got any travel companions input at the beginning during the destination selection step.  Now is an excellent time to poll him, her, or them for input on sights and attractions of mutual interest.

From the big picture dream list, with vacation time and funds available considerations in mind, start identifying the "must see" sights and "must do" activities.  Once you have this new prioritized list it is time to do a bit more vacation sleuthing. 

Let's use a trip to Australia again as an example vacation.  Assume that you will be visiting Sydney, and touring the Sydney Opera House is on your "must see" prioritized list.  Believe it or not, there is a Sydney Opera House website on the web where you can find directions, tour schedules, and current tour prices.  In fact you can even make tour reservations online and get rewarded with a price discount.  Going through this process for each major tourist sight and attraction does two things.  It aids you in developing a realistic vacation budget and helps you identify attractions that cost more than you really think they might be worth.  In the process you may find things that you decide to drop from your list or replace with something else.

5. Minimize Local Transportation Costs at Your Holiday Destination

Unless you plan to travel directly to and from an all-inclusive resort somewhere, with the intention of relaxing on a beach for a week sipping Mojitos, costs for local transportation can really cut into the old vacation budget.  But that expense can be minimized by gleaning the locations of major sights and attractions from the appropriate websites and then roughly plotting them on a local map of the destination. 

Permit me another Australian vacation example.  Say a trip to Sydney is planned and you have decided to tour "The Rocks" historical district, take a romantic Sydney Harbour dinner cruise, spend a day at Bondi Beach, attend a performance at the Sydney Opera House, and visit the famed Royal Botanic Gardens.  Plotting these sights and attractions on a map (like the interactive maps conveniently available at the Google website) will show that all of those things (or convenient, cheap local transportation to them) is centered in the Circular Quay prescient, at the foot of the Sydney CBD (central business district).  This information yields a clue that the best place to look for lodging in Sydney is somewhere near the CBD as opposed to something near the main airport, which is quite distant from Circular Quay.

Staying near the things you want to see and do allows for the option of using inexpensive local public transportation, or in some cases even walking, to get from one attraction to another rather than having to use a rental car or taxis.  Rental cars serve a purpose.  At some destinations they are indispensible.  But at locations where parking and petrol are expensive and where the rules of the road are completely opposite from those back home, rental cars are not a great idea.

6. Zero in on Lodging Location

With a rough idea of the area you want to stay in, you can now hone in on the perfect lodging choice.  Simply go to a travel site like Expedia or Travelocity and start researching lodging option.  If you do a hotel search at and type in "Sydney" a host of options appear in a dropdown menu.  One of those options happens to be "Sydney, CBD, New South Wales, Australia."  That is the perfect option for the example used above.  That search option will only present a listing for hotels in or conveniently near the Sydney CBD saving you valuable time.  Simply peruse the listings for hotels that offer the amenities and price you want. 

Sometimes the photos and information hotels provide to travel sites can be a bit misleading.  A good practice before booking a hotel is to look potential choices up in the travel guides you acquired for information and recommendations or in the alternative, research them at sites like Trip by reading reviews from past guests.  That will a long way toward ruling out chances that you will be stuck for a week or more in a hotel you absolutely hate or that is located in a seedy part of town.

Once you have found the perfect place to stay, do one step more.  Before booking on one of the online travel sites, do some comparison shopping among multiple sites including the actual website for the establishment.  Many times you can find a better rate by doing so.  Once you are satisfied with your choice and have found the best possible rate, you are ready to book your room after nailing down your airline reservations.  Do make air reservations first because that is often the largest single vacation expense.

7. Close the Vacation Deal

With your destination chosen, due diligence done with regard to destination research, sights and activities locked in, it is time to put the finishing touches on your vacation plan masterpiece.  In order, the steps to finish up your plan include;

  • make airline reservations,
  • make hotel reservations,
  • make airport transfer reservations where required,
  • consider making advance reservations for sights and attractions when doing so offers significant discounts,
  • obtain foreign currency when traveling abroad before leaving home as the rates are usually better than what you will find at your destination.

With a solid plan in place, you can sit back and look forward to your departure date confident that you will have a terrific vacation experience at the best possible price.  You can spend the time on your flight scrutinizing the restaurant recommendations in your trusty travel guide so that you can add fantastic cuisine to your long list of satisfying vacation memories.

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Updated: 01/09/2012, jblack
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jblack on 01/13/2012

Oh yes Lissie. Those spur of the moment change of plans can sweeten the adventure of a good trip.

Lissie on 01/13/2012

Sounds like a solid approach. I quite like trip planning myself - but often once i've done the planning the trip turns out to be something totally different - which is OK too

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