How to prevent tripping about your trip
September 27, 2015 at 2:00 am
So you just got off of Instagram and saw all the beautiful pictures from the travel accounts. Now you have the itch to go somewhere new, explore a different part of the world, and see places and people you won’t encounter at home. We call this feeling wanderlust. After this high of travel inspiration, it’s easy to get discouraged when thinking about the steps you’d have to take to actually make it happen. It looks too expensive. How will I get there? Who will go with me? Do I have enough vacation time?
If you let trip planning overwhelm you, you’ll talk yourself out of taking the trip in less time than it took to like the Instagram pictures on that travel page. Let me assure you that the trip of your dreams is totally within your reach! No, you don’t have to be rich to travel. Yes, you can plan a trip on your own. And yes, you can make it everything you dreamed of and more.
I just finished planning a trip to the great Southwest with a few friends, followed by a big move out of the country. And I didn’t use frequent flyer miles, a trust fund or Olivia Pope to make it happen — nor did I go broke. Here are a few tips that made all the difference:
Once you’ve decided where to go, budgeting will probably be the most tedious part of your trip. Don’t let it discourage you! You can definitely have a great trip while staying on target financially. When deciding on how much to spend on each piece of the trip, determine your priorities. Do you prefer a plush villa on the beach with a personal butler? That might mean taking a cheap Spirit flight where the only free carry on is your clutch. Are you trying to go to a fancy brunch spot that charges $500 a plate and has bottomless mimosas? (Yes those exist.) If so, you might have to cut your trip short one or two nights to supplement the cost.
The sooner you can start saving, the less you have to put away each month and the easier it will be for you. If you’re worried about spending every penny you save before you take off, purchase in steps. Buy the plane ticket as soon as you have the money and then pay for your lodging or any excursions. For items you can’t purchase ahead of time (like food and souvenirs), create an automatic deposit to a savings account you can’t easily access — even if that means setting up a new one.
figure out the essential costs
If you are going international and don’t have a current passport, expect to pay between $140 and $225. The cost depends on whether you need a renewal and if you need it expedited. Applying at least six weeks ahead can help prevent expedite fees. Also, check if there are tourist visa costs for the country you are visiting.
A safe way to budget for food is to expect that you will pay between $20 and $50 for food per day. This depends largely on where you are going and how much you eat, but it will give you a rough estimate. If you’re driving, don’t forget you will have to pay for gas along the way. Check the average gas price in the city you’re visiting and the car’s miles per gallon to figure out an estimated cost.
Also, think about your hair! Of course, we must look cute in all our travel pics. If your trip entails quite a bit of water activities, add in braids to your budget. Pick up a few extra head scarves for when your hair is doing its own thing. Make sure you have enough products to get you through the trip.
The easiest place to start is by booking flights. Nine times out of ten, the spot you are visiting (especially if you saw it on social media) has plenty of housing options that will be much easier to find once you know how long you are staying and how many people will join you. Your flight budget will help you figure out how long you are staying, because you’ll want to choose optimal flights. Airlines have become more and more unpredictable, but for most destinations, flights will be the best price for a six- or seven-day trip.
If your destination is close enough to drive, most rental car companies charge less for pick-up and drop-off at the same place. Pay close attention to the fees, which can include mileage and re-stocking (basically putting the car back where they found it in the lot or at a different facility).
look for flight and lodging deals
There are tons of ways to find the best flight deals. Visit Student Universe, which has low cost flights for passengers up to age 26. Set up fare alerts on Kayak for free. Check Google Flights using an incognito window so you lose the cookies; this prevents airlines from tracking your searches so they can’t raise prices on your flights. Southwest flights don’t show up on search engines so check their site separately. And TWITTER WILL SAVE YOU! Accounts like @airfarewatchdog and @TheFlightDeal post low fares and glitches all day, literally. Turn on notifications for these accounts and you can hop on a deal as soon as it comes up. If you’re nervous about committing, you can usually cancel a flight within 24 hours of purchasing it — just read the terms carefully. Groups such as Travel Noire and Nomadness Travel Tribe also have great options catered to black travelers.
Once you’ve got your flight, you can start looking for housing. Check several different options, including sites like Hotels.com that have rewards programs. For trips lasting longer than three days, AirBnB and Couchsurfing usually end up being better deals. These options are especially helpful if you have a group bigger than four or you prefer to steer clear of tourist-riddled parts of town. Just remember to take safety tips and terms to heart — tell someone from home where you are going before you leave and always use a third-party for payment.
choose your travel partners wisely
One of the most important things when planning a trip is who joins you. This can make or break your trip. If you’re going international, don’t take your friend who is notorious for procrastinating and always ends up in some dramatic situation that would have screenwriters eating out of the palm of her hand. You don’t want to end up one person short because someone ended up in an Italian jail. Take people who you trust will have fun with you at that laser foam party, but will also get you back to the hotel safely at the end of the night.
Of course, we all have those flaky friends who are “for sure down” for the adventure and then cancel at the last minute or just never commit. Make sure everyone that’s “tryna go” actually has his or her passport, or seriously intends to get one. Make deadlines for passports and for everyone to get plane tickets. People can put a down payment on a hotel or AirBnB and ask for it back after the flights got too expensive because they procrastinated, but try asking Delta/American for your money back from a flight you “just can’t make.” Not happening. If your friend booked the flight by your deadline, she will be a little more invested in making that trip work.
Regardless of where you end up or how you get there, remember you’re there to enjoy the experience. Don’t let planning drag you down. Enlist your travel partners to help you. If you’re like me and love spreadsheets, make one for your trip that organizes your links, budget and a list of who is joining you. You have all the power to create the trip of your dreams!