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Vacation Planning Guide

Trying to plan the “big vacation” can be a daunting task, especially if you are not familiar with researching new destinations. But take heart, RxForTravelBlues has written this vacation planning guide to help walk you through the entire process in order to create the trip that best meets your vacation dreams and budget.

The best way to use this guide is to read it in it’s entirety once then go back through and use it as a step-by-step guide. We recommend you budget a minimum of five hours or research and planning in order to get the most out of your trip. The more stops you make or activities you want to do will increase the amount of time you should set aside to make the arrangements.

I love a good bargain. I’m not cheap but I do like to know I have maximized my travel dollar and squeezed every benefit out of it I can. OK, maybe I am a tightwad but I want to take lots of vacations and not break the bank to do it.

When it comes to planning a vacation, there are a few things to consider in order to get the most out of your trip. You will find many opinions on how best to go about it. Some will say start planning early, others like to take advantage of the “last minute deals,” and there’s always the ones who prefer to grab a backpack and start off. I like spontaneity but not when it comes to vacations. Weekend getaways are a different story and I will address those in another post.

Always start with a budget in mind and stick to it. It will be very tempting to “push” the budget a bit when you begin exploring your options. Don’t do it! You want to be able to take a trip next year and not still be paying off your last vacation.

Where to go? What locations provide the attractions or activities that will provide the relaxation or enjoyment you’re looking for?

When is the best time of year to visit the desired location?
What type of accommodations are within your budget?
What kind of transportation is available to reach your destination?

The Budget:

When it comes to funding your trip, you have many options. You can save every month and try not to spend your vacation fund on emergency car repairs or items around the house that absolutely must be taken care of or you can look for alternative ways to help pay for your trip to paradise. I don’t know about you, but it seems when I start saving, the “fix it” list around the house explodes.

One of the options I like best, is using reward points for travel. This requires some time, strategy and planning but if done correctly, you can earn most of your vacation for free. I have a couple of credit cards that give reward points towards travel for every dollar I spend. One is a major airline and the other is a bank card that awards travel points based on how much I spend on credit card purchases each month. The bank card is my favorite. It allows me to shop around, find the best travel deal and use my rewards points when and where I want to.

One of the disadvantages of using airline rewards points is unless you have 50K plus points, you will most likely have at least two stops on your journey and one is sure to include a change of planes. That may not sound too bad unless you are traveling to Hawaii and travel time is 14 hours verses an 8 hour non-stop flight.

If you are using a credit card to rack up points for travel, do NOT keep a monthly balance on the card. Be disciplined enough to pay off the credit card balance every month or you are not saving anything. You’ll actually be paying more for your vacation than if you had paid out right cash.

For more information on how to best utilize rewards programs, visit “The Points Guy.” He explains how to best capitalize on the awards points and the many bonus programs airline and credit card companies promote.

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Where To Go:

This will take some time unless you have had a life-long dream of going to only one destination and nothing else matters. For me, it’s the beach! I love the sand, surf and smell of suntan oil. Beyond that, there are many different things to consider when choosing a beach destination.

First, consider what activities you like to do. As much as I love the beach, 10 hours a day sunbathing will result in some very dry if not sunburned skin. When you are not on the beach, do you enjoy outdoor activities such as hiking, water sports such as kayaking or stand-up paddle boarding? Are you looking for 5-star restaurants and shopping or do you prefer to cook your own meals? Do you like the hustle and bustle of a busy resort destination or do you prefer a secluded hideaway? Are you traveling with children and need a combination of both?

When To Visit:

Keep in mind that many locations have a low or “off-peak” season. If you have flexibility with your travel dates, this can afford you much savings both with accommodations and transportation.

Another thing to consider is weather? Some tropical destinations have a rainy season, but even then you can have an enjoyable time if you are willing to put up with a bit of rain and you might enjoy a bit of cost savings by traveling during that time.

Almost all popular destinations host special events throughout the year. For instance, St. Croix is home to the Crucian Christmas Festival which runs mid-December with New Year’s festivities continuing through to mid-January, probably not the time for those seeking tranquility. Athletes from all over the world converge on Kailua, Hawaii for the Ironman World Championship every fall. Again, probably not the place for peace and tranquility seekers that time of year.

Where To Stay:

More than any time before, you have options when it comes to selecting accommodations for your “big vacation.” Whether you prefer a small bed & breakfast, vacation condominium rental, palatial resort or a budget friendly hotel, in most cases, you will have several options. I tend to like to save up and stay in beachfront resorts. However, once my kids reached the teen years, I ventured out and decided to try condominium vacation rentals. We recently rented a three bedroom condo in Waikaloa Village on The Big Island of Hawaii for the same price as the resort I was reviewing. Thankfully, instead of sharing a bed with my bouncing, war fighting teen, he will have his own room and I will be able to sleep comfortably in my own room. We also have the opportunity to fix meals should we choose. Not sure the wife is open to that, but the option is there. She much prefers to leave the cooking behind when we go on vacation. The best part of this condo is the fact that we are able to use the pool facilities of the resort I was originally reviewing. That’s having my cake and eating it too.

How To Get There:

One of the most costly aspects of your vacation will be the transportation to get there. Flying is typically the most expensive way to travel even with discount fares. If you are able to drive a vehicle, you will save a considerable amount of money, although you have to allocate the extra time it takes to reach your destination.

There are several beautiful beaches in the continental United States. California beaches are shadowed by jagged cliffs and framed with beautiful blue water. Florida has pristine white sand beaches with Caribbean turquoise water clear enough to see your feet even at waste deep. Depending on where you live in the United States, most of these beaches are reachable within a day or two by car.

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When To Start Planning:

It’s really never too soon to start planning or at least doing your research. I personally can enjoy myself and fully relax when I know I have done my due diligence and feel confident that I have selected the best options available for my travel budget.  If you are planning to take a cruise, keep in mind, many travelers go every year and plan at least twelve months in advance which limits your choices if you wait till the last minute to book.

As far as air travel goes, tickets usually go on sale about 11 months before departure. According to a study by www.cheapair.com airline ticket prices can change several times from when they go on sale until the day of departure. One of the optimal times, to buy is 21-121 day before departure. If you’re not able to buy then, you have other options but may not be getting the lowest fare.

Organize and travel worry free!

I know we are living in the modern age, but I still find myself at times scratching confirmation numbers down somewhere and then later trying to go back and find them what I did with them. In order to keep me organized and have everything in one place, I use a free trip planning app called TripIt. The app can be synced with your email so that confirmed plans can be automatically inserted into the app, or you have the option to add the information manually. I’m a control freak. You can guess which way I choose to do it.

Keep in mind:

When booking the “big vacation” several months in advance, I would strongly encourage you to purchase trip cancellation insurance.

Be sure to pack a good attitude. Travel is stressful on everyone including the service personnel you will be dealing with in airports and resorts. Be flexible and make the most of your journey. Realize that unavoidable things do happen such as weather cancellations and unexpected equipment maintenance. The more stressed you become over a situation you don’t have any control of, the more you will need a vacation from the vacation when you get home.

While I’m on the topic of things to pack, I would strongly encourage you to pack snacks of your choice when taking flights. It is amazing how a two hour flight can turn into an unexpected seven hour adventure. For that reason, I don’t fly on Spirit Airlines any longer. Cheap is not always the best way to go.

Tip: Many resorts are now charging fees for everything from housekeeping to daily service fees. Also, many room discounts or specials are non-refundable, non-cancellable. Be sure to read the cancellation clause and check the summary for hidden charges before you press the “confirm” or “book now” button.

Where will your dreams take you?

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