Scrolling through Facebook or Instagram and watching your friends and former classmates travel the world can be a stressful experience. This used to be me. Seeing familiar faces in exotic destinations that we’ve seen in books and television shows may incite emotions of envy, however traveling the world doesn’t have to be an unattainable aspiration. This is a new year, and yes, you can take a trip to a fabulous destination, even if you don’t have a disposable income. It just takes careful planning, discipline, and preparation. With this helpful planning guide, you can take that trip to your dream destination in six months or less.
For the purposes of this planning guide, we will assume that you have already secured your passport. Also, it is very important that before picking your destination that you sign up for all of the flight deal lists and websites. This will send flight sales right to your inbox. My favorite of these is Google Flights. It will give you an overview of flights from different sights and will email you when the price drops. Another great resource is the Flight Forecaster tool on kayak.com. It is true that flights are cheapest on Tuesdays, however this tool will tell you the overall trends of a particular flight based on comparable flights to the same destination.
- Research Your Destination
- Nail Down Your Dates
- Pick Your Travel Partners
- Set Your Budget
Six months out from your trip is the time to research the destination itself. What do the initial flight and hotel prices look like? What does the TripAdvisor community say about this city? What are the cultural norms of the destination? When planning my next trip I immediately like to look up the geotag on Instagram. This is my favorite way to scope out a new place and it will give you a visual idea of what the destination is like through the eyes of other travelers. The next immediate step is to nail down your dates. Will you travel during peak or off peak season for your destination? This is an important detail to research as it will impact your budget. The third step is to select your travel partners. Will it be a solo trip or a group trip? I love to keep myself organized by putting my fellow travelers on a specific Slack channel named just for that trip. Lastly, after you decide your travel partners, it is time to set your budget. Be sure to think about food, ground transportation, attractions, and tours. As a rule of thumb, I always add a small cushion to my budget, just in case of the unknown. This cushion is usually 5% of my overall budget. When setting your overall budget, I like to divide my costs in the flowing manner: flight 40%, hotel 30%, food/alcohol 15%, attractions/tours 5%, and ground transportation 10%. This helps to balance how much I’m willing to pay for my flights and hotels. By the end of the first month, you should have 10% of your trip budget saved.
- Finalize Your Travel Partners
- Begin Hotel Research
At five months out from your trip, you should finalize your travel partners. Let them know of your plans for the next five months and get them to commit to joining you on the trip. Next, begin your hotel research. Some hotels require a deposit with the reservation, but there are tons of options that allow you to pay the full amount at the hotel. Be sure the read the fine print carefully and to run the hotel options by your travel partners. How will you split the rates? Should you upgrade to a VIP option? Is there an all-inclusive option? These are all good questions for your travel crew. By the end of the second month, you should have 20% of your trip budget saved.
- Book Your Hotel
- Apply For Travel Visas
- Research Attractions
At four months out, it is time to secure your hotel. Make your reservation, making sure that all members of your group are listed on the reservation. Make sure you plot out who will arrive first! I made the mistake of not adding my travel partner to the room on a recent trip to a resort in Phoenix and my friend had to call me to get into the room because the resort had no record of her on the reservation. This month is also the time to research and apply for travel visas if you are going to a foreign country. Your group should get together to research the attractions that your group might be interested in doing. It may seem early, however the best attractions fill up months in advance, which is why research is key. I’m headed to London in May and I booked my London Eye tickets first because if I waited, I would have missed out. If the attractions appear to be filling up, book as soon as you can. By the end of the third month, you should have 40% of your trip budget saved.
- Book Your Flight
- Finalize Ground Transportation
This is an exciting month! Your group should be ready to book your flights (if you haven’t already). Another item to research this month is your ground transportation. You may have a free airport shuttle, but what about ground travel to other places? Does your destination have Uber or Lyft? How about destination specific ridesharing apps? Ground transportation will be the most flexible part of your budget. What about shuttles to popular destinations? It is a great time to finalize exactly how you will get between point A and point B. On a recent trip to Turks and Caicos, I was able to book my ground travel for my entire stay in advance by hiring one vendor. This company took me on all my tours and back and forth to the beach for one flat rate which was a huge savings to my wallet. Don’t forget to think outside of the box and think about public transportation, which will also be a huge savings to your wallet. By the end of the fourth month, you should have 60% of your trip budget saved.
- Read Travel Guides
- Book Tours
- Convert Your Money
We are one month away from your trip and your group should be glued to all the travel guides, articles, and Instagram posts that they can find about your destination. If your group is interested in paid tours or free tours, this is the month to book them if you haven’t already. Free walking tours are my favorite thing to do when travelling, especially if I am travelling solo! This is also the time for everyone to convert their travel money into your destination’s currency. It is always better to go to your local bank to convert your money than to do it once you begin your journey. The exchange rates are much better at your bank. I have Wells Fargo and they made it very easy for me to order British Pounds for my upcoming trip. By the end of the fifth month, you should have 80% of your trip budget saved.
- Research the Weather of Your Destination
- Pack Your Bags
- Tie Up Any Loose Ends
It is the month of your trip! Now is the time to examine the weather. I always add the destination’s zip code to my weather app to make the weather easily accessible at all times. The weather will impact what you pack and what you leave home, which in turn impacts your baggage fees. I usually add baggage fees to that cushion section of the budget because I try to avoid paying this fee as much as possible. Once you look at the weather and decide how many bags you are taking, it is time to pack them! In the month of your trip it is always good to make sure that all matters on the home front are handled, especially if you are headed somewhere without Wi-Fi. Trust me, you do not want to be responding to work emails on vacation. Also check in with your cell phone company and your bank. Does your bank have foreign transaction fees? Does your cell plan include international calls? My best friend when travelling is WhatsApp because it is a universal texting app that works over Wi-Fi. It will help you to keep in touch (if you want!) while you are away. By the date of your trip, you should have 100% to goal.
A few other items that will make your trip flawless and stress free are signing up for Global Entry and Priority Pass. Global Entry is the TSA Precheck for international travel. It will ensure that you get through security as seamlessly as possible. Priority Pass is a subscription service that gives you access to hundreds of airport lounges around the world. This will save you on a long layover, especially one overnight! I hope this travel budget helps all of you first time travelers out there. Travelling is possible, and with this blog as your guide, you can take that trip and have the experience of a lifetime. Please be sure to share your travel pics with us by using the hashtag #blackandwelltraveled on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.
Be sure to comment below with your experiences!
By LaTwyla Mathias