Always wanted to see the Taj Mahal up close or lounge on beach somewhere exotic? Well, you can. Here’s how.
By LaRue V. Baber
If you start drooling every time you see ancient ruins in faraway places or crystal-clear water hugging white sandy beaches— either on a television screen, a postcard or within the glossy pages of a magazine—then it’s time. Time to travel.
But maybe you have no clue what to do. Travel plans? Currency changes? Where to stay? What to do? How to do it? And how in the world can you afford it? A much-longed-for dream vacation might seem downright impossible. But guess what? It’s not. We asked the experts and they gave us these super savvy tips to help you make your traveling plans a reality.
Where do I go?
First thing’s first. Where do you want to go? Make a list. Write everything down, even if it seems silly. Need some help? “Choose places ‘you’ want to go, not places somebody else liked,” said Edward Hasbrouck, author of The Practical Nomad: How To Travel Around the World. “Think about what experiences you want to have: what do you want to do? What do you want the trip to be like? Then you can move on to where you might find those experiences.”
For example, are you a die-hard foodie? Consider taking a food tour of a particular country or city. Are you a history buff? Europe is full of historical places that will blow your mind. Thrill seeker? Try Central America where you can zip-line, cliff-dive and spelunk your way to the most memorable vacation ever. “The very best places to visit any time are those that have a special appeal to you,” said Peggy Goldman, who has been organizing vacations for U.S. travelers for more than 30 years.
Can I afford it?
Contrary to popular belief, traveling is affordable. But you can’t make travel plans without budgeting first. You’ll need to do some prior research so you’ll know how much you might need for a particular getaway, or just figure out how much you can realistically save and spend and base your travel plans on that dollar amount. Whatever the case, you’re going to have to budget. Here are some wise financial tips:
- Pay off your debts. “You can travel while in debt, but nothing makes it harder to afford the time and money to travel,” Hasbrouck said.
- Resolve to do it and start taking concrete steps. “Most people could travel more if they decided to do it and made it a priority,” Hasbrouck added.
- Do NOT under-budget. “While travel can be cheaper than most people realize, most people under-budget.” So, be realistic and include all costs, from how much you will spend each day on food to how much for transportation, admission fees, souvenirs, etc.
- Book wisely. Thomas Spagnola, senior vice president for CheapOair (cheapoair.com) said the following tips will help save you money: be flexible with your dates, use alternate/secondary airports, consider connection flights vs. non-stop, try to find packaged deals through companies like CheapOair, and earn mileage with credit cards that offer frequent flyer miles to get free tickets.
- Travel during low season. “One of my best money savings tips is to travel during off-peak seasons,” said Goldman. “You’ll not only save on airfare and accommodations, but you’ll also avoid swarms of tourists and be able to get closer to many sites.” For example, book travel to Europe between December and March, to Australia between April and August, to Mexico in July through September, etc.
- Book hotels that offer breakfast. “By simply choosing to stay in a hotel with a complimentary breakfast, you can save between $10 and $20 per person per day,” Goldman said. “I suggest eating a big meal in the morning and even grabbing some fruit from the breakfast buffet on your way out to munch on throughout the day.”
Other money-saving tips include shopping off the beaten path so the price of souvenirs aren’t as high, using an ATM to get cash in a foreign country so you get the best exchange rate, keeping a budget for daily expenditures, and, documenting all expenses so you know how much you are spending each day. “Because much of the world is cheaper than the USA, travel sometimes costs no more than staying home and doing nothing for the same amount of time,” Hasbrouck said. “The average American could afford to go almost anywhere if they want to and if they make it a priority.”
Is it safe?
Going to a foreign country might seem incredibly intimidating. We get it. But just because the language and scenery are different doesn’t necessarily mean you won’t be safe. “My biggest tip when it comes to feeling safe and secure is to trust your gut,” Goldman said. “It sounds simple, but it’s true. While there are many misconceptions about the true crime rates in certain foreign countries, it is always important to be alert when traveling—both domestically and abroad!”
Some quick safety tips: keep important documents in a safe place and also leave a copy of those documents with a trusted individual back home. Be aware of your surroundings at all times. Think twice about traveling to a war zone or a place with especially fragile ecosystems.
If you are too concerned about safety, then consider traveling with a tour guide and group. “On our tours, the guides are specially trained to keep all travelers safe, secure and connected,” Goldman said.
What if I don’t want to travel alone?
“You don’t need to go it alone!” said Greg Geronemus, co-CEO of smarTours (smartours.com). “Consider using a tour operator to do the planning for you and to help you avoid some of the headaches of traveling. Find a friend or family member to go with you. It is much more comforting to travel with a companion. But even if you can’t find someone to go with you, going on a group tour can make a big difference.”
If you can’t find someone to go with you or you don’t want to do the tour thing, you can hook up with travel companions through TripTogether, a social travel app and site designed to connect people from around the globe to pursue their travel aspirations.
What do I do when I get there?
If you are a planner, then you might want to plot out your vacation ahead of time and choose what you want to do each day. If you’re a more fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants kind of person, then plan lightly and see where each day takes you. It’s up to you. Before you go, at least make a top-five list of things you want to do while there. One of the best ways to see a particular city is to do a hop-on/hop-off bus tour, particularly on your first full day. Not only will you cover a lot of ground, but also you aren’t confined to a tour group and schedule and you can get a great lay of the land. Another way get acquainted with a city is book a three- to four-hour walking tour with a local tour guide. These types of tours are intimate and you can learn so much about your destination, up close and personal.
Just remember, don’t over-plan or overdo it. You may want to see everything, but sometimes it’s just not possible. Don’t get frustrated if you don’t make it to all the sites you wanted to see. Cherish and savor each moment. You’re on VACATION!
Smart Packing Tips
“I know that one sure way to ruin a first trip is to be bogged down with too much stuff,” said Susan Foster, author of Smart Packing for Today’s Traveler. “Whether it be a car trunk full of every conceivable piece of gear or too many suitcases, packing more takes time and energy away from the positive experience of travel. Packing light means less fuss and bother and more attention to the trip.” Plus, most airlines now charge for bags that weigh more than 40 or 50 pounds (depends on the airline) and those fees could cost up to $100 per bag.
Susan’s seven smart packing tips:
- Start with a small bag
- Mix and match
- Choose items that pack small
- Take only three pair of shoes
- Minimize cosmetics and toiletries
- Do laundry
- Just take less
Peggy Goldman, who has been organizing vacations for U.S. travelers for more than 30 years, suggests these additional packing tips:
- Lay out everything you want to bring and then put back at least half
- Pack early; do not wait until the last minute
- Roll your clothing up and use rubber bands or Velcro straps to hold everything tight