The World is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page. ~St. Augustine
Just about everyone lists travel as one of their passions in life.
We're enamored with the idea of travel — getting away, doing something fun and adventurous, seeing cool things, and meeting different people. It all sounds so exciting.
But when it comes to actually planning a real trip (something more than visiting Grandma or going to the beach for a week), it's too easy to find a reason not to go, not to make it happen.
Our lives are so damned busy and complicated. Between our jobs, kids, pets, commitments, and responsibilities, taking time out for a trip (or even doing everything that must be done to prepare for one) is enough to make you hyperventilate with anxiety.
It feels like too much work to get a trip off the ground and yourself out the door. I think that's why many of us spend so much time dreaming about traveling rather than actually doing it.
But traveling is one of the most life-affirming things you can do for yourself. Aside from the obvious fun involved, traveling can transform you on so many levels. It provides happiness and satisfaction long after the trip is over.
Through travel, you will . . .
- become a more interesting, engaging, and educated person;
- have an appreciation for and perspective on different cultures and lifestyles;
- challenge yourself to step out of your comfort zone, providing a sense of accomplishment;
- share experiences with people you care about;
- meet new, interesting people;
- take a break from the everyday stresses and demands of life by stepping into something entirely new and different.
There is much research and evidence that experiences trump material possessions when it comes to sustained feelings of happiness and positive memories. Travel is one of those peak experiences that you can revisit in your mind for a lifetime.
I'm at the stage where I want to create my life around a few very important passions, travel being one of them. It is a priority for me. After many years of travel deprivation, I'm determined to experience the world and all of the wonders that are out there for exploring.
When my children were little, we used them as an excuse not to travel much farther than the coast. It was too expensive, too hard on them, too much trouble. In retrospect, I think we were just to tired to take action.
Don't get me wrong, traveling with kids (and making all of the necessary arrangements to take them along) can be a pain in the butt. I've dragged enough Pack-n-Plays and sand toys to the beach to know how much work can be involved.
And that's the wonderful thing about family travel: it provides you with experiences that will remain locked forever in the scar tissue of your mind. ~Dave Barry
But if you know your kids, what they can tolerate or even enjoy, and you plan accordingly, you can find wonderful trips that work well for all of you — not just the compulsory trips to visit family or the fallback beach vacation.
And if your kids are older or you don't have children, then you're ahead of the game with the ability to travel fairly easily.
With or without children, if you decide to make travel a priority in your life, then you'll find a way to make it happen.
Here are a few ideas for getting started:
Make the Decision
Is travel a priority passion for you?
Is it important enough to you to give up some other important events or possessions in order to make it happen?
It's hard to answer that without knowing exactly what you will have to give up, reschedule, or sacrifice to make it happen. But if your answer is generally, “yes, travel is a priority for me,” then you need to put in some pre-planning time to get the ball rolling.
Yearly Travel Planning
The best way to ensure you plan travel into your life is to plan out your year of travel in advance. You don't necessarily have to stick to the exact plan you create initially, but this pre-planning will provide a framework for launching your plans.
Sit down with your spouse or other travel companion (or alone if that's how you travel) for a travel planning meeting. You will likely need a few of these meetings, but the first one will set the stage for your year of travel.
Step 1: Plotting travel time
Discuss how much vacation/travel time you have between you. Look at national holidays, school breaks, and how many possible long weekends (in addition to full weeks) you might have.
Pull out your calendar for the year, and mark the pre-determined holidays, breaks, etc. with a yellow highlighter.
Step 2: Week-Long Trips
Discuss the big week long vacations first. Look at your calendar where you have marked the pre-determined holidays/long weekends. Fill in your weekly vacations several weeks or months apart from the shorter trips to space things out.
For example, you might not want to plan a summer vacation within a couple of weeks of Memorial Day weekend.
If you only have a one or two weeks of vacation a year, in addition to time off at Christmas, then consider taking a trip during the holiday season. A holiday trip (rather than spending money on gifts, a tree, etc.) could be an amazing way to create memories for you and your family.
Plot the weeks on your calendar for potential week-long trips. So far, you don't have anything planned yet. You are just plotting out weekends and weeks for travel.
Look at other important calendars for events that might interfere with your travel (school events, work-related trips, etc.). This may require a bit of research or a few phone calls. Determine whether or not you need to adjust your travel weeks.
Step 3: Budgeting
Plan in advance for how much money you are going to budget for travel. If money is tight, look at what you have currently available for travel, and then start brainstorming ways you can save or earn more.
Think about these questions:
- How much can I set aside a month to put in a travel fund?
- How can I cut back in order to build my travel budget (ie: dinners out, impulse purchases, etc.)?
- What could I sell on eBay or Craigslist or in a garage sale to bring in some extra cash?
- How could I earn some extra cash to apply to the travel budget (ie: a special project, a part-time job, extra hours, etc.)?
Take a look at Chris Guillebeau's travel hacking products for ideas on saving money on airfares.
Write down your answers to these questions and create a realistic picture of how much money you will have available per quarter to allot for travel. Write that amount down for each quarter.
If money isn't a big issue, then determine how much you want to spend on travel for the year, and write that number down.
Step 4: Brainstorming locations
Start discussing places you want to consider for your travel weeks and weekends. Begin with the week-long trips first. Write down every possible place you are considering. If there are two or more involved in planning, each person should make a list.
From that list, divide the destinations by season. If it doesn't matter the season, make a separate column for those destinations. Compare your lists to see where you have listed the same destinations.
Determine 3-4 options for your first week-long trip. Each person should be assigned one or more of these options for research.
Step 5: Research
Once you've determined possible travel options for your first trip, begin researching the destination. Look at the costs to travel there, the possible accommodations, a possible itinerary, and the highlights of the trip that you want to include.
Read Trip Advisor reviews to get an idea of the best places to stay and things to do. Get a Rick Steves' Best of book to help you. (Rick Steves “advocates smart, affordable, perspective-broadening travel.”) Or consider getting a travel agent to work with you to find the best deals.
Have another travel meeting with your spouse or traveling buddy to compare notes and make a decision about where you want to go for this first trip.
Step 6: Rinse and Repeat
Repeat Step 5 for any other week long (or longer) trips you put on your calendar. Even if the trip is planned for 6 or more months down the road, go ahead and do the research and budget planning. This will give you time to save or earn extra funds if necessary.
Step 7: Weekend Destinations
Now take a look at the possible long weekend dates you have slated for travel. These shorter trips can be planned closer to the weekend date, but you still might want to think ahead about possible places to go.
Brainstorm a list of ideas as you did in Step 4, compare notes, and pencil in a few options for each particular weekend.
You might do this planning quarterly, starting your planning for one quarter in the last month of the previous quarter.
This planning also helps if an unexpected free weekend pops up. You'll have your list of fun options available to choose from.
Step 8: Travel Checklist
Create a travel checklist so you know what needs to be done and when before you leave town. This might include:
- stopping mail/newspaper
- getting necessary medications and/or shots
- updating your passport
- arranging a pet and/or home sitter
- paying bills in advance if necessary
- knowing how you will get to and from the airport if necessary
- having a general packing list
Step 9: Book the trip
Book the trip! You've got to pull the trigger. All of your planning doesn't make the trip happen. Purchase the airline ticket, book the hotel, get the time off of work, notify people who need to know. The trip won't be real until you spend the money and tell people.
Step 10: Stretch the memories
Take a journal and a camera with you. Even if you just jot down a few notes at the end of each day about what you've done, it will chronicle the memories and help you relive the experience months and years later.
After a family trip to Europe, we created a wonderful photo memory book through Shutterfly. You might read a bit about creating great travel photos. If you travel a lot, you might end up with a bookshelf of wonderful travel books!
Here are some additional resources that might be helpful for you:
- Article on how to ask for more vacation time
- Frommer's Europe From $70 a Day 2001: The Ultimate Guide to Comfortable Low-Cost Travel (Frommer's $ A Day) (There are a variety of Frommer's low-cost travel guides)
- Packing light article
- Budget travel blogs
If you have any tips about how you plan your travels and make them happen, please share them in the comments below.