A new blog series: Make your dream vacation happen

I'm going to spend the next several blog entries going over how to make your dream vacation happen... and sharing with you some stories from ours. 

This isn't a "follow these ten steps to financial freedom" blog series or anything like that, but a real and honest look at how we were able to travel around the world this year without putting anything on our credit card. Our dream destination was a Mediterranean Cruise, as well as desperately needing to get out of the rain for spring break in March and going to the Caribbean. 


First of all, let me tell you: No matter what your financial situation, you can make your dream trip happen! There are some variables with us that allowed us to travel sooner rather than later which I'll highlight below, but regardless of circumstance you can take the same trip that we took and not be in debt for it. 

(MY photo from Santorini, Greece-- my real life, in the flesh, personal view of the blue domes and white walls of Santorini that I hiked up 588 donkey-poop-filled steps for!)

Why we travel

I should start off by telling you that travel is incredibly important to me. There is nothing like shutting off the media and the world's demands in general and exploring someplace new with someone you love. Through travel I have been challenged beyond my comfort zone, had to navigate unfamiliar territories, met people from all around the world whom I've learned from, and saw places that had only been in my dreams before. Timothy and I choose to make travel a priority for us because one, it is the thing that helps us chill out the most when we need a break, and two, it grows us so much closer together as a couple. Escaping for a week is the best form of relaxation for both of us. :)

Travel also allows us to experience the highs of touching down at our destination airport, riding in a cab or train taking in the scenery as we anticipate our hotel and dropping our bags and exploring once we reach our room with a view (9/10 times we always get upgraded! More on that, later.)

Of course there are lows when, say, we misplace our passports, we're completely jet-lagged and the other person wants to keep going, or things cost a lot more than we anticipated. By enlarge, however, travel is something we can't stay away from and we often have friends and family wondering how we do it so often on teachers' salaries. 

How we make travel happen {financially}

I'm about to expose the nitty-gritty to you of our personal sacrifices and financial decisions so that you can see how accessible planning your dream trip can be. Our lives are relatively open books in areas that we are passionate about, and our travel habits is one of those areas. 

First, a few things that you should know about our budgeting and expenses:

1. We are both employed (two incomes)
2. We do not have kids (no clothes/diapers/food/medical expenses there)
3. We own our own home (mortgage payment + utilities)
4. We have summers off (a lot of time to work & travel; also the most expensive time of year to travel)
5. I did whatever I could to earn extra money on the side to pay for the trips (you, too, can be creative in this area depending on your flexibility) 

So while we don't have tons of extra disposable income that abounds from us, we do have a percentage from what's left over after tithing, mortgage, bills and personal expenses to put towards whatever we want. We choose to put that money mostly towards travel. We're certainly not rolling in it, and I share that only to encourage you not to think that we can take vacations because we're rich and have tons of extra money. That's just simply not the case. We just choose to spend our money in different ways that allow us to travel. 

If your financial circumstances match ours, it only took us eight months to save up for both trips. For others with different circumstances, it might take more or less time to save. However, we booked our Europe vacation during a time when I was not employed full-time, and when we evaluated the cost, I decided I would do whatever it took to come up with our bottom line dollar amount. That, for me, meant working four jobs. 

Now when I say "working four jobs," that was a term that, very loosely, meant that between four jobs I was working around forty-fifty hours a week. My job schedule ebbed  and flowed from January - July. During the school year I was a full-time substitute teacher doing Stella & Dot styling and trunk shows one - two weekends or so a month; during the summer, I worked heavily in photography and supplemented the time I wasn't photographing weddings/engagements/families working at Starbucks. All in all, I was still averaging about 40 - 50 hours a week during that entire time. I saved 100% of my Starbucks and photography incomes to put towards our trips, and half of my subbing income from the school year. 

I will also say that for us, planning an affordable and economical vacation without cutting corners is work. Work that is worth it, but more on that later. 

Our travel budget process

When we decide to take a trip, we come up with a realistic dollar amount that we would feel comfortable spending to get to that location. We also research what some reasonably-priced hotels are for the area and see what Hotwire and Priceline are offering. More and more, however, the wanderlusts in us have satisfied our urge to see the world on a budget by cruising. I'll write another blog post later about cruising, but for now it has become our go-to travel option to get the best bang for our buck. We have done extensive research on similarly-priced all inclusive vacations and cruising comes out on top each time. 

We use a lot of strategies to bring our vacation dreams to fruition on a budget, such as Priceline.com to "name our own price" on flights or cars. We have had 99% luck with Priceline and saved hundreds (if not thousands) of dollars by offering a lower price than the market rates-- the key here, though, is flexibility because you do not get to choose your car, hotel or airline. They just guarantee your minimum star rating, your car preference and/or to get you to your destination within the same day and with a maximum of one layover. For 4-star hotels, we typically bid around $85-100 and 8/10 times we are awarded that hotel. It beats paying their market rates of upwards of $200!

We also have signed up for airline credit cards so that we can accrue points for airfare, discounts on partner hotels, and sometimes even using a "companion fare" ticket where one person gets a ticket for $99 with a full-priced fare paid. (Obviously it goes without saying that the key here is to keep your card balance paid off. :))

Timothy and I share a lot of our meals because we are not big eaters, so our food budget is relatively low. Especially when it comes to cruising, where we pay virtually no money for our food and drinks. If we're staying at a hotel for a vacation, we will often stop by grocery stores if we can to load up on snacks, or hit up the nearest Starbucks or coffee shop if breakfast is not included to save on breakfast. Dinner is definitely the meal that, if we're not on a cruise where it is free, we tend to splurge on. 

We pretty much live on Priceline.com and Tripadvisor.com when planning our vacations. I often will look at the least-expensive, highest-rated hotel if we are planning on staying in a hotel somewhere and go with that. Usually those types of hotels are boutique or family-owned and their customer service is what typically gets them top rankings (as opposed to luxurious furnishings). 

Dream trip to the Mediterranean this summer-- views of Positano, Italy and the Amalfi Coast! Be still my heart. 


I'm going to end this installment here, and pick up tomorrow on how Timothy and I almost always get upgrades and/or discounts on our hotel rooms when we vacation. I'll also talk about what we did and how we planned our spring break cruise to the Caribbean for two people for under our $3,000 budget for 13 days. (Hint: We were well under $3,000!) 

I'll also leave you with this. When planning your vacation {start now!}

1. Set a goal
2. Set a budget
3. Make it happen! {Seriously.}

You won't regret it. 


No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.

Blogging tips