Summer does not really feel like summer without vacation. Childhood memories of playing all day at the beach, swimming and collapsing in exhaustion at the end of the day always make me smile. However, creating a stress-free, relaxing vacation these days seems difficult. Even with the economy “feeling” a little bit better this summer, most families hesitate to make big summer plans that will require a lot of cash.
How to Make Your Dream Vacation a Reality
Northern California provides endless “staycation” or mini-vacation possibilities that can keep your spending in check and provide a well-deserved getaway from everyday life. However, it is the bigger plans that most families dream of but feel like they are out of reach. Whether you fantasize about starting a family tradition of a couple of weeks each year on a white sand beach, taking an extended vacation to see family, or renting a house in Italy for the summer, mindful planning can make fantasy a reality.
Bigger trips typically require more money, so planning is the key. Below are ten simple steps to follow to ensure that you can achieve your dream vacation goal and enjoy it without guilt.
CREATE your own picture of the ideal vacation. I recommend that you and your partner sit down separately. Write it down, cut out articles, or clip pictures out of magazines. Then, come together and see what the other person has in mind. It is important that there is a shared vision for this goal since you will be using family resources to make it a priority and reality. Include everything from location to how you want to spend your days.
DECIDE on your family’s big vacation goal. If your separate visions of your big vacation are worlds apart, compromise will be in order. You might decide to postpone the trip to Peru until your kids are older and opt for Disney World now.
DETERMINE how much money you feel comfortable spending on this trip. It is VERY important for you to decide on the amount you want to spend before you let others tell you how much it would cost. This amount will serve as an anchor for you when you start researching costs of the vacation. If $5,000 is the total budget, you will need to allocate this to travel (airfare, car, or train), lodging, food, and activities.
CALCULATE how long it will take you to save enough money to pay for your vacation. This is where having a comprehensive understanding of your family’s finances is critical. How are you savings towards retirement? Do you have a sufficient Emergency Fund? Are you living within your means? If you can save ~$275 per month over the next 18 months, the trip is paid for. This may mean temporarily cutting back on eating out or shopping, or potentially refinancing your mortgage to generate this savings. If you already have a sufficient Emergency Fund, you could tap into it (within reason) and take the vacation sooner, with an agreement to pay the money back over time.
MARK your calendar for the big trip. This will help make the vacation a reality and eliminate any scheduling excuses.
SET UP a high yield savings or money market account solely for this trip and give it an inspiring name, like “Summer in Provence.” Check out Bankrate for best rates so that you are at least keeping pace with inflation. Open an account and put in any amount you can afford. It might be $50 to start. By having the account open, it is ready to receive future money.
FUND your new Vacation Account. If you can put aside a specific amount each month before paying your other expenses, set up an automatic transfer. If money is tight, see what you can spare and get creative. You may have a mountain bike that you have not ridden in five years that you could sell.
SET a date to start planning your trip. If the vacation is 18 months away, you most likely do not need to start booking your plane tickets or making reservations yet. To make sure this dream vacation does not consume your every thought, determine when you will start the actual planning process.
ENJOY the planning process. Building up to a big trip can create a lot of stress for a couple because it requires decision making without instant gratification. As soon as the planning stops being fun, take a step back and revisit your vision for this trip and how you want to feel when you are on vacation.
MONITOR your progress and acknowledge your accomplishment. While it may take time to save enough money for this goal, give yourself credit for having a vision and taking steps to make it a reality. For example, once you have saved ¼ of your goal, buy a travel magazine or book for your destination.
Of course, life can throw you curve balls, such as unplanned expenses, unforeseen job loss, the arrival of another child. These things might cause your “vision” of the dream vacation to change and for you to postpone the trip for a while.
Deciding on your dreams is completely within your control, and by creating measurable goals to get you to those dreams, you are one step closer to making it a reality.