This year, you’re really doing it. Seriously. Swear to God.
You’re finally going to take that big trip you’ve always dreamed about. You even made it your new year’s resolution.
Quick: how many resolutions have you actually kept over the years? Exactly.
Don’t let your travel resolution befall the same fate.
If you ask your friends to take a trip this year, they’ll all say yes. Everyone’s interested until they actually have to commit. Your friends are great but don’t rely on them to keep your resolution. It’s all up to you.
Planning the trip seems daunting, but we’re here to help. Below are 22 clear, actionable steps to help make your travel dreams come true this year. Not all of them are easy. Some will require sacrifices.
The key is to keep moving forward. Keep checking items off the list. Keep building momentum until, before you know it, you’re boarding your flight.
Make sure you’re committed, then read on to find out how to keep your travel resolution.
Planning Your Trip
Let’s start with the two hardest tasks.
1. Pick a destination: This is where most people choke. Don’t let paralysis by analysis kill your travel dreams. If you don’t have a set destination in mind, check these lists of the top destinations for 2012 and pick one on impulse.
2. Pick a date: After “where,” the other major hurdle is “when.” Again, pick impulsively. Traveling in the shoulder season is a great way to save money and avoid crowds in popular cities. If you’ll need to save up money for the trip, set your departure at least a few months out. More on financial matters later.
3. Call off work: Now that you’ve picked a date, let your boss know. By putting in early for time off, you’ll be able to make sure your work is covered while you’re gone, and your boss can’t guilt you out of your trip. If you get any pushback, feel free to tell a white lie like, “I already bought my tickets.”
4. Tell everyone: Now the you’ve chosen a destination and date, immediately post it to your social networks and tell your friends. Making goals public leads to better accountability. As a bonus, you might find some travel companions who are grateful they don’t have to make the two biggest decisions. Making the trip more concrete empowers people to say yes or no, rather than waffling indefinitely.
Paying For Your Trip
6. Price the trip: Spend three days and only three days researching airfares and food and lodging costs to get an estimate for the cost of your trip. Add a 20% buffer, and set this number as your target savings goal. You’ve now set another concrete, measurable goal.
7. Start a travel fund: Open an account with ING Direct or your online bank of choice. Here, you’ll stash away money for your trip while keeping it separate from your other accounts.
8. Set up automatic transfers: Most online banks allow you to set up automatic transfers from your checking account. Divide your target budget from #6 by the number of paychecks you’ll receive until then. Set up an automatic transfer for this amount from your checking to your travel savings account for every payday.
9. Track your goals: Use a financial tracking program like Mint.com to track your progress toward your savings goal. Monitoring your progress will keep you motivated and on target.
Having trouble meeting your savings goals? Here are two solutions, but be warned: neither are easy.
10. Ask for a raise: Follow Ramit Sethi’s advice to negotiate a raise. Put the extra money from each paycheck into your new travel fund.
11. Make a sacrifice: Pick one regular purchase to sacrifice in the pursuit of your goal. Coffee, alcohol, or cigarettes are common choices. Calculate how much you spend per week on your sacrifice, stop buying it, and deposit that money into your savings account instead. No one ever said it would be easy, but it will be worth it!
12. Apply for a frequent flyer credit card: Determine which airlines fly to your destination and apply for a credit card from the one with the best offer. New cardholders can often earn 25,000-100,000 miles for as little as $10,000 in spend in a year. Move all of your regular expenses (bills, groceries) onto the card and pay off the full balance at the end of every month. If you can’t be trusted with a credit card, close it after you’ve earned enough miles for your trip.
13. Put some skin in the game: If you have any available cash, pay for one part of the trip. Buy your flight, put down the deposit on a short-term apartment rental, or even book a tour. Now you’ve spent real money on it. Continue making it harder and harder to back out of your trip.
Prepare for Your Trip
15. Research visa requirements: Check visa requirements for your destination country. Fill out the necessary paperwork today.
16. Make copies of important documents: You’ll want to have backup copies of your credit cards and passport in case the originals are lost or stolen.
17. Back it up: Make sure your important personal and work documents are saved in the cloud in case of emergency on the road. We recommend Dropbox for easy syncing and backups.
18. See your doctor: Figure out which immunizations, if any, you’ll need. Make an appointment with your doctor for a few weeks before you leave (depending on immunization requirements) to have a complete physical and to get the necessary shots.
19. Buy a travel guide: Buy a guide from Lonely Planet or Let’s Go (for budget travelers) and set it next to your bed. You can slowly start researching and planning for your trip. Plus, you’ll get an instant pick-me-up every morning and night when you see the book and are reminded of your upcoming adventure.
20. Immerse yourself: Sign up for a language class, start sampling the cuisine, and crash an expats’ meetup for your destination country. More context and some advice from the experts will make your trip a richer one.
Whether supplementing other travel plans or opting for a cheaper alternative, here are two more ideas for how to see and do more awesome stuff this year.
21. Explore your backyard: Don’t overlook your home state or region, which has its own history and noteworthy sights. If you live in the U.S., national parks are both incredibly beautiful and free.
22. Be a weekend warrior: Weekend trips are better than no trips. Hop on a flight Friday evening after work and take the redeye home on Sunday night. You can easily see a few new cities every year this way. Americans can use this approach to get away to Canada or Mexico. When traveling in the States, use Hotel Tonight to book cheap, last-minute hotel rooms.
Screw it, just go: Remember that life is too short to not do what you want. Get out. See the world.
Did you make a resolution to travel more this year? If so, where are you headed and how are you ensuring that you keep your resolution?