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How to Plan Your Dream Trip Without Going Over Budget

As you dream of the perfect trip, your plans to make it a reality may be consistently halted by the price tag. While costs for vacations can be overwhelming, money should not keep you from being able to have unforgettable experiences. No matter how close or far your dream destination is, setting the right budget and saving strategically are key players in helping you fly straight there instead of straight into debt. We’re going to share with you some ways you can be financially prepared for your next journey, as well as some tips on how to get the best deals!

What Are Some Smart Ways to Save Money Before You Start Your Trip?

Imagine your dream vacation in your mind. You’re likely thinking about the hotel or resort you’ll stay at, what activities you have planned for the day, or what food you’ll eat. While planning the ideal itinerary for your trip is an essential part of being prepared for your vacation, knowing how much you’ll need to spend each day and how much you need to save before you get there is just as important. Being financially smart when it comes to traveling shouldn’t feel like a heavy burden, instead it takes the weight off your shoulders so you can relax and focus on your experience. Before you even begin to figure out your budget, here are some helpful ways you can save money:

  • Cancel any excess subscriptions. While all your favorite movies may be spread across multiple different streaming services, it might be best to choose only one to pay for as you save for your trip. This one choice can help you to save a lot of money month-to-month that you can allocate to your travel budget.
  • Track any overspending. Going on shopping sprees might be tempting as you think of what you want to wear or bring on your trip, but it isn’t the best idea to overspend. You’ll want to save money for souvenirs and personal items when you’re on the trip, which you will likely treasure more than anything you buy from home beforehand.
  • Cut back on eating out. While you may not think of your kitchen at home as fine dining, it will help guarantee your culinary adventures abroad. Eating at home is significantly cheaper overall than eating out, so try to eat out as little as possible as you save for your vacation.
  • Find fun ways to earn extra cash. Do you have a hidden talent or craft you love? Try selling some of your work or pick up a teaching opportunity to earn some extra cash.

How Can You Create a Realistic Budget for Your Dream Vacation?

Before we explore how to create a budget for your dream vacation, it is important to acknowledge that there will be some limitations. You may be wanting a simple weekend getaway to a National Park for your anniversary, or you may be wanting a three-week intensive trip that’s planned in Europe. While both these kinds of trips are possible, one will take more time and work to achieve than the other depending on your income and how soon you want to be there. With that mind, it is possible to reach either kind of trip, you might just want to adjust your expectations and keep your options open as you’re building your budget.

Step #1: Make a List of Your Non-Negotiables

Before getting caught in the weeds of expenses, make a list of the must-dos for your trip. Are there places you must go, or are you lenient? Is there a landmark you must see, resort you want to stay at, or restaurant you want to try? Having a general idea of what you want to do before leaving can help you be aware of any potential costs, and you can adjust for the things you don’t care as much about.

Step #2: Set a Timeline

You need to make sure you have a set timeline for when you want to go on your trip. For example, if you know you’re wanting to take your trip on your fiftieth birthday or see a seasonal festival, you will need to coordinate your savings around that timeline. However, if you’re open to go anytime of the year, you’ll have more flexibility. A helpful resource to set your savings goals for your trip is using a savings goal calculator, so you can know how much money you need to set aside per month to have what you need for your trip’s deadline.

It can be discouraging to see how long it will take before you reach your goal, so organize some fun activities for you to do as you wait. Once you hit a goal, celebrate it! Did you reach the $2,000 mark for your trip to Greece? Watch a fun Greek-themed movie or make Greek food for dinner. Celebrating these milestones not only encourage you to keep moving forward in your journey, but they also help you stay excited as you’re waiting.

Step #3: Look at Your Current Budget

As you begin to calculate the cost for your entire trip, look at your current monthly and yearly budget. Have you already been setting aside money from your savings, or are you starting from scratch? Knowing how much you can designate to your vacation already can help relieve some of the financial stress you may feel about your trip. If you’re starting from scratch, no worries! Taking the time to assess your financial situation is a great way to take care of your financial wellness and remain confident in the process.

Step #4: Always Be Prepared for the Unexpected

While spontaneity is fun and welcome with travel plans, it is not ideal when it comes to sudden expenses. It is important to be aware of any unexpected costs that could occur when you’re on your trip. Depending on how long you’ll be gone or how many travel companions you have with you, you will want to set aside extra money. You can think of this as your trip’s emergency fund. For example, you could be going on a two-week road trip across the United States with your family. Whether it’s a flat tire or you take a detour to see a new state park, you want to be prepared for whatever unexpected expenses might come your way.

How Do You Find Deals and Discounts on Flights, Accommodations, and Activities?

While flying across the Atlantic Ocean or taking a cruise in the Caribbean may be expensive, there are may strategies you can try to cut those higher costs down. It’s all about doing your research into where you can find the best deals. Don’t be intimidated by the price tag, and look around for the options that are beneficial for you. While last minute trips are fun, keep in mind that making plans for travel in advance might be healthier for your personal finances overall.


When looking for the cheapest flights, try Google Flights or Skyscanner. These websites are helpful for finding the best deals on airfare, and it helps you to narrow down prices that work with your timeline. However, don’t book your flights on these sites. Be sure to go to the airline directly, so you can have more ease with any cancellations or changes. If you have points with an airline already, see what flights they have available.

As you begin to think about booking your airfare, it is important to know if you’ll be traveling in peak seasons or off-peak seasons. According to U.S. News, international flights will need to be booked four to ten months in advance, and domestic flights need to be three to seven for peak travel seasons. For off-peak, international flights can be booked two to eight months out and domestic flights one to three months. Another tip to consider is booking one-way flights instead of round-trip.


Similar to flights, don’t book your hotel through a third-party website. While you want to book directly with your resort or hotel, be sure to check out Kayak, Expedia, or All these sites show you ratings and compare prices for when you can find the best stay for the best deal. Select resorts and hotels will have a points system, so pay attention to who offers them so you can earn more to put towards your next adventure.


Now that you know how to get to your dream destination and where you’re going to stay, it’s time to decide what you want to do with your time there. Let’s say you’re planning a trip to London, England. Are you looking to do more touristy attractions like Big Ben or the London Eye, or are you wanting to spend your time looking through local bookshops and lesser-known museums? How you want to spend your time will determine how much you’ll need to save.

For example, if you’re interested in visiting well-known areas, getting a city pass might be a cheaper option instead of paying for each attraction individually. Many well-known cities, domestic and international, have passes for their major sight-seeing spots, such as Go City. Another resource is Free Tours By Foot, which provides free or low-cost guided tours at cities around the world if you want a more personal approach to your dream destination. Always be sure to stay up to date with any promotions or special offers for locations like theme parks may offer during their off-seasons.

What Are the Best Tools and Apps to Help You Manage Your Travel Funds?

There are several moving pieces to planning your trip, and trying to keep up with your finances and the potential costs may seem a bit daunting. One way to help manage your expenses beneficially is by downloading a money management app. Be sure to check with your local financial institution to see what they offer so you can connect your accounts and see all your transactions throughout your trip. Having your budget easily accessible on your phone can help minimize the amount of time you have to worry about your finances, so you can spend more time enjoying your long-awaited vacation.

Prepare for Your Next Adventure with Leaders Credit Union

Getting ready for your perfect trip should be a fun experience, not a source of financial stress. Using these strategies hopefully will help you to be prepared for creating your travel budget to pay for your flights, hotels, and activities.

Tired of imagining your dream vacation and ready to make it a reality? Explore how to grow your savings for your next trip with Leaders Credit Union. Download our free Beginner's Guide to Establishing Savings.