Despite being on a pretty tight budget, John and I have gone on some amazing trips together. From the first major vacation we took, a road trip to Cumberland Island in Georgia six years ago, to our most recent adventure, a week-long venture to California, we’ve never spent better money than on seeing new parts of the world together. However, we spend a lot of time making sure we’re putting that money to good use, and we’ve picked up some tips for travel planning along the way that I’d love to share!
Budget your vacation days
In 2013, 169 million vacation days were forfeited by American workers! Travesty! We are big (big, BIG!) believers in taking all of your allotted vacation days, but make sure you use them wisely! We’ve found that if we aren’t intentional about planning to take vacation days, and then planning what we’re going to do with those vacation days, vacation doesn’t happen… and we get grumpy.
At the beginning of the year, we parcel out any days we know need to be spent on non-discretionary vaca, like family holidays. Then, we brainstorm where we want to go, how many days each trip will be, and what month would be best for each with what’s left (we use Accuweather to check average temps and rainfall!). For us, it works to take one big week-long trip per year (we hope to alternate domestic and international) and then several weekend trips. Finally, we pull out our calendars and choose dates for each.
Budget your money
Know what’s important to you, and spend your money accordingly! Do you prioritize accommodations? Food? The remoteness of the location? You can go to Charleston and spend $500 or $5,000. You can camp or you can stay in a 5-star hotel. You can eat from a taco stand or from a fine dining establishment. You can charter a day sail or you can hike to the top of a beautiful hill. Some vacations we go all out, and sometimes we stay at Hampton Inns. We usually have an equally great time at both.
Within our vacation budget for the year we set a budget for our big trip, and then parcel out the rest to the weekend or day trips as needed.
Prioritize physical beauty
Even though we reminisce about delicious meals we’ve eaten and sumptuous hotel rooms we’ve stayed in, our most vivid memories are from the beautiful places we’ve visited. There are very few things as soul-expanding as breathtaking vistas, coves, trails, forests, and horizons, and the best part is, they’re usually free!
Do your research
We pound the pavement before we spend one dollar! A few of our favorite resources:
— If a blogger you admire lives in the area you’re visiting, search their blog to see if they’ve written about it, or email them if not! Some of my favorite folks who take lots of trips include Meredith, Joanna, Jamie, Jamie, and Jordan.
— We like national magazines, particularly Travel + Leisure, and also like to ferret out great regional magazines, like Sunset in the West, Our State in North Carolina, Garden & Gun, and Southern Living. The NY Times 36 Hours series and Design*Sponge’s City Guides are also great resources.
— While a lot of pins of beautiful places lead nowhere, searching the location you’re interested in on Pinterest can turn up great blog posts, articles, and sites to see. Same with Flickr.
— Look up the city you’re traveling to on Wikipedia. The climate section can be helpful, and you never know where the listing, photos, or tourism section will lead.
— Plug in your destination on Google Maps – you can see parks and attractions, and click through to find photos and more info.
— Our North Carolina hiking trails book is invaluable for local trips, and we look for similar sources when traveling farther afield.
— John uses TripAdvisor for hotel and activity recommendations and I prefer Yelp for restaurant reviews. It’s easy to get bogged down in crowd-sourced review sites, but we look for themes in the reviews, and then ask ourselves, is that something that would bother us? There will always be negative feedback, but it often isn’t that meaningful. Jetsetter is also a great place to find hotels, and we love Airbnb, too!
Even if we don’t have a trip on the books, I’m constantly adding potential travel ideas to various locations to one of my iPhone notes!
Use Google Docs
For big trips, we like to collect all of the information and ideas we’re gathering in a Google Doc, which we can access anywhere, easily share back and forth, and both add to. I go into a little more detail in my post on planning a point-to-point trip!
Even with all of these tips, I still maintain that some people just have a knack for turning up the most picturesque locations, the most delicious meals, and the most fun activities. Luckily for me, my husband is one of them – I think travel planning is truly his calling! He actually does custom planning for a few lucky clients each year, so if you’d like some help with your own trip or honeymoon, feel free to email me and I will put you in touch!
In case you’re looking for some inspiration, here are a few of our past trips:
Charleston (also here, here, here, and here)
Camping in NC
Nevis (here and here)
Asheville (also here, here, and here)
Beaufort, SC (also here)
Hiking in Boone, NC
Friends, I’d love to hear where you’re traveling this year, or any of your favorite travel resources!