June 1, 2020
Due to travel restrictions, plans are only available with travel dates on or after
Due to travel restrictions, plans are only available with effective start dates on or after
After you tough it out studying calendars, reviewing destinations, booking itineraries, and packing, unpacking and repacking, you deserve a break.
In other words, there is no better pay-off for vacation planning than taking that vacation you worked so hard to prepare for.
If you’re planning a big trip for the first time, or maybe there’s a new wrinkle — maybe it’s your first family vacation, for example — then it’s a good idea not to totally wing it. Take a step back, take a deep breath, and take a little advice from us. We’ve been there, done that. And we have the vacation planning tips and advice to help you bring your ideal getaway into focus.
Sure, creating goals and objectives sounds like you’re draining the fun out of a trip before you even pack your bags. But when you take a moment to think about it, what good is building a trip plan without knowing what you’re planning for? You’re going to pack different wardrobes and schedule unique itineraries for an Alaskan cruise designed for relaxation vs. an adventure travel trek to Hawaii meant to immerse yourself in the islands while breaking a sweat. First determine whether you’re traveling for family bonding, to pursue a hobby or passion, or you’re embracing your inner tourist and opting for full-blown sightseeing mode, fanny pouch and all.
You know why you want to travel. But before you can determine where — unless this is a wedding or other trip where the destination is being dictated to you — you’ll want a ballpark budget to see what feasible. This includes where you’ll go, as well as how you’ll get there, where you’ll stay and how long you’ll travel.
To give you some measure of what’s realistic, for the average 4-night domestic vacation, Americans pay $581. That number jumped to $3,251 for the average 12-night international getaway. All in all, Americans spend about 2 percent of their overall budget on vacations, a number that’s steadily decreased over recent years. Americans are now taking about one-third fewer vacations than they were a decade ago.1 So let’s make this one count, right?
We should mention that you shouldn’t take a “set it and forget it” approach to the critical budgeting stage of vacation planning. For example, if your budget doesn’t fit your travel goal or dream destination there are a number of steps you can take to trim down spending. This includes everything from delaying your departure to book airfare in advance — sites such as FareCompare.com can help determine the most cost-effective time to book — to swapping 5-star hotel rooms for more budget-friendly Airbnb.com bookings. Smart and savvy vacation planning dictates that you continually revisit this budgeting phase as your vacation planning evolves.
Before we jump into the method behind your vacation planning, a brief word. This is a phase of trip planning that can really be broken into two parts: all the organization that goes into choosing a vacation, and all the trip planning work that occurs once you’re booked and counting down the days til departure. Fortunately, these are some easy-to-use digital tools that can help you on both ends.
When you’re comparing Hilton Head to Napa Valley or Disney World to Disney Land, TripAdvisor is a handy, long-trusted site and app for weighing pros and cons. Build potential itineraries cherry-picking top-rated local attractions and accommodations, poring over a treasure trove of user reviews. (Hint: Once you lock in your plans, you should return to Trip Advisor to dial in the details).
When it comes to organizing your paperwork and staying on track during your trip, apps such as TripIt and Allianz Global Assistance’s TravelSmart can come in handy. In fact, TravelSmart allows you to access your insurance policy, track your flight, and even find nearby hospitals and the right medication anywhere in the world.2
Yes, you’ll want to use Google’s search engine to look for, i.e., Google, everything from foreign currency exchanges to Visa requirements. (Allianz Global Assistance can help you with these trending travel topics, too.)
But you’ll also want to take some other Google tools for a spin, including Google Maps. One of the best vacation planning tools available, this gives you the lay of the land and shows you areas and attractions you may miss otherwise. Unsure if you’ve pulled up to the right Airbnb address? Simply type in the address and get a picture of the exact condo you’re looking for. And don’t forget Google News, which can alert you to potential travel warnings as well as deals. You can even set up Google Alerts to stay updated about topics ranging from “Costa Rica weather” to “Super Bowl ticket tips” and “free first class upgrades.”
So all you need is a reliable smartphone, and you’re good to go for trip planning, right?
When it comes to the actual vacation planning, you’re not too far off. After the apps and sites we mentioned, consider downloading apps such as OpenTable to scan for available meal reservations and Google Translate or Waygo to help with calls to non-English-speaking hotel employees and tour operators abroad.
Once you’ve locked in on your destination and itinerary, then you can start customizing the gear you’ll want to maximize fun, safety, and convenience. This might include everything from RFID-blocking travel wallets and bags if you’re embarking to crowded Rome to wireless, noise-canceling headphones and the cushiest travel pillow if you’re flying from Chicago to Melbourne. And here is one more gadget that can help no matter the destination: The iPhone Packing Pro app, which lets you create custom lists of travel must-haves so you're never trying to find a drugstore at 3 a.m. to buy a toothbrush.3
If you’re practicing responsible vacation planning, then you’re likely considering travel insurance. Life is unpredictable. Flights are canceled, passports are lost, accidents happen. Travel insurance gives you peace of mind knowing you're protected from unexpected travel mishaps. The benefits offered by travel insurance plans differ, so please be sure to review the plan benefit details. Be sure to ask about concierge benefits, too, as providers such as Allianz Global Assistance offer representatives who can help you with everything from early vacation planning to on-the-ground troubleshooting once you’ve reached your destination. (Or you can reference the aforementioned TravelSmart app, too.)
Vacation planning is really about finding the right balance for you. Some travelers like to leave nothing to chance. Others enjoy the experience of learning about new locales as they encounter them, in which case real-time available tools and resources are important. Wherever you sit on the spectrum, considering each of these trip plan steps is key to creating great memories that will last a lifetime.