There are three basic decisions that underlie any vacation plan: place, time, and cost.
Obviously, the three are related. If you want to ski, you don’t plan a trip in the Northern hemisphere in July. If you have a small budget, a round the world cruise isn’t happening.
Start by looking at the time you have available from work and other obligations. Are you bound by kids’ school or extracurricular activities? Do you have work commitments at specific times? Does your company close for a few weeks, requiring staff to take vacation then?
If you personal schedule allows, vacationing off-season can save you money and limit the crowds. However, you may also face limited facilities and shorter hours. For example, Florida theme parks are far less crowded in January than in July, but some attractions and restaurants are dark and the parks close hours earlier. I like the shorter hours because I can do everything I want in the parks (due to the shorter lines) and still have evenings free to go to dinner or shop or take advantage of resort amenities. You need to decide what you prefer.
You also need to decide how much money you can afford to spend. You should NEVER EVER go into debt for a vacation. The purpose of a vacation is enjoyment and relaxation. Debt is neither enjoyable nor relaxing. If you are already in debt or lack even basic emergency savings (at least one month’s living expenses), vacation spending should not be in your plans. You can and should take time off, but vacation spending is out. You can play tourist in your town, go camping, or exchange houses with friends within driving distance. And the money you have earmarked for vacation? Throw that at your debts or put it toward emergency savings.
Even if you do have vacation funds available, there are ways you can save on a vacation. Going to a less popular place often means lower prices for hotels, meals, and sightseeing. They are also often less crowded — another bonus. Going slightly outside the most popular times can lead to big savings through lower lodging rates and special promotions. Follow tourist attractions you want to visit on social media and watch Groupon and Goldstar. I’ve gotten amazing deals that way. Looking for package deals can also lead to savings — though you often give up some freedom to get the deal (leaving on specific days, staying in specific hotels, etc.). Still, it’s worth a look.
As you begin your vacation planning, think about the following questions:
1) In what environment am I most likely to relax?
2) What have I always wanted to do?
3) What sort of activities would I like to do?
4) What time of year do I want to travel?
5) How much can I afford to spend?