6 Easy Steps on How to Plan a Vacation on a Budget

After a crazy few years, we all deserve the kind of break that comes with a packed suitcase and a passport. Maybe a nice glass of wine too while we wait for boarding call. With people flocking to go on vacation again, you may be looking to plan your next getaway stat. But trips can quickly get expensive, and once you get into the nitty-gritty of planning, you may start to feel overwhelmed. Where should you go? What should you do? Where will you stay?

The last thing you want is for the planning to take all the fun out of your upcoming trip. But it doesn’t have to. 

Keep the process simple and help yourself stay stress-free by following these simple steps to perfect your vacation planning and have an amazing trip.

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How to Start Planning a Vacation

So, you’ve decided that you want to go on vacation. 

That’s a big step! 

Considering how many people leave vacation days by the wayside or put off planning a vacation and never end up going anywhere, you’ve already fought half the battle! 

Now that you know you want to travel comes the fun part: planning your vacation.

Outside of actually being on vacation, the trip planning process can be one of the best parts of your upcoming trip. Why? Because present you gets to make plans for future you. 

You may be stuck at home or in your office now. But while that’s happening you can liven things up by living vicariously through future you. Picture it—all the exciting things you’ll do once your bags are packed, and you’ve finally arrived at your destination.

Of course, if vacation planning still doesn’t seem that glamorous, you can console yourself with this: planning now ensures you make the most of your time away later. 

Who wants to show up to their destination and realize they have no idea what to do with their time? Should you relax, go on a tour, or take a fun class? On vacation, the options seem limitless. 

Sometimes making plans on the fly works. But it might have been a while since you’ve been on vacation (trust us, we’ve all been there), and you may be rusty. Or maybe you’re on a tight budget and trying to figure out how best to get away without spending more than you have.

With our handy guide to planning your next trip, you can kiss those vacation stresses goodbye!

How to Plan a Vacation on a Budget in 6 Easy Steps

Planning a vacation can feel like a lot of work. However, when you break it down, it becomes a whole lot easier and much less panic-inducing. 

As you work through these steps, remember why you wanted to plan a trip in the first place.

You deserve a break, and more importantly, you deserve a break that’ll actually feel like one.

So, put in the effort ahead of time to make this your best vacation yet!

1. Figure Out Your Budget

First things first. When planning a trip, we’ve got to talk about money. This is the not-so-fun part, but we need to do it to determine where we can go and what we can do.

Pro-tip: Money doesn’t have to make or break your trip.

Whether you have a lot to spend or a little, planning a vacation that you remember for years to come is possible. But there are some questions you’ll need to ask yourself when you get to the planning stages:

  • How much are you willing to spend on a vacation?
  • Do you have enough money already saved?
  • Do you need more time to save?
    • And if so, how much time do you need?

People tend to focus on taking longer trips when they want to get away. But short vacations can be just as effective at helping you take a break. So if a small budget is the issue, look into planning a short, weekend trip that’ll still give you an opportunity to get away without spending much.

How Much Should You Budget for a Vacation? 

How much money you budget for vacation will depend, primarily, on two factors:

  1. Your income 
  2. Your destination

The more you have saved, the more you can put in your vacation fund. But as you budget for your vacation, make sure to remember this if nothing else: do NOT go into debt for a trip.

Taking a vacation is meant to be a break—mentally, physically, you name it. 

Adding to or going into debt to take an extravagant trip might feel good in the moment, but reality will hit hard and fast when you return home. 

And constantly thinking about how much you have to pay off after your trip could end up stressing you out during your vacation too.

So, do your research on your destination to develop a reasonable travel budget. 

Look into the cost of meals, transportation, and any attractions you’re interested in seeing.

City vacations are generally more expensive than rural ones, and what you’ll need to account for will depend on the kind of place you’re planning to visit. 

Going to Paris? You won’t need to rent a car to get around because the public transportation system is extensive. You can get pretty much anywhere you need via the Metro or by walking.

Heading to Iceland? You’re going to want to check out rental car costs and gas prices. Or look into tours that’ll give you a pre-planned travel itinerary and take you from location to location. 

Ideas About How to Save Money for a Vacation:

There are a ton of ways you can save money for your next vacay, from calculating your budget to cutting down on weekly spending to selling stuff on sites like eBay or Etsy if you’ve got a creative hobby. 

Look for simple ways to get started. That said, don’t be afraid to brainstorm creative ways to save and make the most impact on your future vacations.

  1. Set savings goals
  2. Record your expenses
  3. Use auto-transfer to send money directly to savings accounts
  4. Pass on takeout, dine in
  5. Prep for your grocery run
  6. Skip the coffee run and make your own
  7. Pick up a side hustle 
  8. Use a credit card responsibly

2. Make a List of the Type of Vacation You Want and the Places That Offer That

This is one of our favorite parts of planning a trip: deciding what kind of vacation it will be and picking a travel destination (or several).

Are you interested in an adventure-packed holiday with hiking, mountain biking, or skiing? Then maybe you’re looking for a vacation to hike Machu Picchu in South America, bike across New Zealand’s South Island, or ski along the Alps in Switzerland with a scenic view.

If you want to explore a place with a lot of rich history and culture, you may be looking at a trip to Athens to wander through ancient Greece, or to Angkor to lay eyes on the magnificent remains of the Khmer Empire.

On the other hand, if you’re looking for a relaxing vacation, someplace with a beach, like an island in the tropics, might be the perfect spot.

Think about your vacation goal, be it adventuring, learning, shopping, or relaxing. Then explore the destinations that offer that kind of experience. 

Narrow it down, but don’t get too picky. 

The best thing you can do is give yourself several options of similar but different destinations so you can leverage whichever one works best for your travel dates and budget.

3. Research the Best Time to Go Versus When You Can Travel

  • Rio Carnival – February to March (Brazil)
  • Holi Festival – March (India and Nepal)
  • King’s Day – April 27 (the Netherlands)
  • Día de Los Muertos – November 1 and 2 (México)
  • Oktoberfest – September to October (Germany)

Any of these ringing a bell?

When you’re planning a trip, you’re going to want to figure out the best time to go and what that means for you. Are you interested in attending any special events or festivals like the ones above? 

If so, you’re going to need to account for that in your budget. Prices go up around special holidays because businesses know they’ll be receiving an influx of visitors eager to participate in the festivities.

Also, consider that every destination has three important seasons. 

Now, you might be thinking that’s one season too few, but we’re not talking about the weather here. We’re talking about travel seasons.

  1. Peak Season: This is the busiest time of year for travel when businesses are crowded, tourists are everywhere, and prices are high.
  2. Off-Season: This is the slowest time for travel when businesses are closed or operating with a smaller staff. Visitors are few and far between, and prices are much lower.
  3. Shoulder Season: This is the period between peak and off-season when most businesses remain open but often see reduced numbers of tourists.

The exact times differ by destination and region but follow general patterns. 

For a ski resort located in Denver, the peak season will be in winter, whereas for a European getaway like France, it’ll be in the summer when the weather is nice.

Pro-tip: If you’re traveling on a budget, the shoulder season is the best time to plan your vacation. You can skip the crowds and avoid those pesky price hikes. Just be sure you’re prepared for sudden weather changes!

4. Find Hotels and Airfare That Suit Your Budget and Location Preferences

Thankfully, when it comes to hotels and airfare these days, there are plenty of options available to get the most out of your money.

Finding Accommodations

From luxury resorts to budget hostel stays and everything in between, most destinations have an endless array of options to choose from, so you can take your pick. 

Once you’ve chosen your destination, you can decide your price point for accommodations, whether or not you’re comfortable staying with other travelers, and search accordingly. 

You might be surprised at the kind of hostel you can find for cheap, and if you’re traveling out of season, you can expect fewer companions in a multi-person room. 

Or, if you’re looking for more middle-ground options, you can check out what kind of offerings you get on a hotel room or a charming Airbnb

Pro-tip: If you’re traveling during peak season, be sure to book early to secure your stay and get in before prices hike further.

Many search engines and OTAs will help you find the best prices and deals, whether you’re looking for a hotel, hostel, or even an apartment. 

Here are a few options to help get you started:

  1. Booking.com – offers results with multiple kinds of accommodations (hotels, hostels, and apartments)
  2. Google Hotel Search – integration with Google Maps helps you find the perfect location
  3. Hotels.com – offers a variety of filters to focus your search and find the right fit
  4. BookingBuddy – lets you compare rates from different sites

You can shop around to find your favorite search engine or see what accommodations you can put together yourself!

Finding Airfare

Depending on where you’re traveling, booking flights can be one of the most expensive parts of your trip, with international travel costing several hundred dollars at best and thousands at worst.

Unlike with accommodations, however, you generally don’t have as many options to choose from, as a select few budget airlines fly internationally and then only on select routes to specific airports. However, this is one reason to keep your departure and arrival destinations open so you can still score the best flight deals. 

Example: If you’re located in Columbus and looking to fly to Italy, it might be cheaper to drive or fly to Chicago and depart from there instead. Or fly into another country like France and catch the train to Italy.

We always recommend you start planning this part of your vacation early, as the earlier you start looking, the more likely you are to catch a great deal!

Pro-tip: Traveling in the shoulder season will help you save big on airfare, as prices aren’t as high, and competition between airlines keeps costs low.

If you need some help getting started on finding the best airfare deals, then How to Find Cheap Flights to Anywhere is sure to help.

One of our biggest tips is using a search engine like Google Flights. What we like most about Google Flights is that it’s free and easy to use, allowing you to quickly compare prices between different airports and dates to score the best deal.

Another option is to sign up for a service that monitors all this stuff for you, like Next Vacay. 

With a site like Next Vacay, all of the searching is done by a team of experts, so you can sit back and receive curated deals delivered directly to your inbox from your airports of choice. That means one less thing to worry about when planning your vacation.

5. Choose Activities (or Not) During Your Travel Dates


Airfare and lodging? Check and check.

Now, this might be where you’re ready to throw up your feet and take a well-deserved break or maybe a nap.

We’re going to tell you to hold that thought, though, because we’ve gotten to one of our favorite parts of planning your trip. Choosing your activities. 

Think of it as putting together a rough itinerary of things you want to do while you’re on vacation. Any landmarks you want to see, tours you want to take, or adventuring you want to do? You can check out prices and plan the best days to go where and do what.

When our team member, Moriah, traveled to New Zealand in 2018, she planned her days for maximum fun, scheduling activities based on their location and how long she planned to spend on each. 

On her first full day in New Zealand, she went to the Waitakere Ranges Regional Park, hiked to the top of Kitekite Falls, then headed to Piha Beach to check out the views from the top of Lion Rock and the Tasman lookout! The day was packed full of fun but still with plenty of time to stop and take in the incredible views.

And if you want a relaxing, do-nothing vacation? That’s fine too! You can do some light research on the best beaches or cafés to sit on a chair, soak up some rays, and just enjoy the scenery.

6. Create a Packing List 

Finally, we’ve reached the last thing on your do-to list, which is its own separate to-do list. Make a packing list for your trip!

To keep your trip low on stress, set aside time to make a packing list a several weeks out from your vacation. That’ll also give you time to shop for anything you’ll need or order it online.

Want a new bathing suit for the beach? Need some sunscreen to protect your skin while you’re hiking through the mountains? Whip out your phone’s Notes app or grab a handy piece of paper and write down all the things you’ll need, from clothes to bug spray and device chargers. 

Then, when the time comes, check everything off as you’re packing up to double-check you have everything you need. 

We’ve all had that panic-inducing moment when we realize we forgot something on the way to the airport or just as the plane takes off.

Do your vacation planning early, and future you will thank you for the stress-free travel ahead!

Still Need Help Figuring Out Where to Travel To?

If you still need help figuring out where to travel, Next Vacay can deliver deal alerts to your inbox with amazing vacation destinations and even better airfare deals.

Once you enter your home airport, we hunt for all the best deals available for you, searching nearby airports or the custom-selected airports you’ve chosen to make sure you never miss when a great deal comes knocking. 

We’ll keep you up to date on the best prices and destinations throughout the year. And no matter what your plans—an adventure-packed vacation to the Alps, a culture trip through the streets of an ancient city, or relaxing on a beach getaway in the Caribbean—we at Next Vacay have got you covered.

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