The pandemic isn’t over yet, but after putting a hold on travel for years now, many Americans are eager and excited to get back to adventuring. In fact, the World Travel & Tourism Council projects that travel and tourism in the United States will reach pre-pandemic levels in 2022, contributing nearly $2 trillion to the U.S. economy.
If the thought of hitting the open road (or skies or water) appeals to you, but you feel a little rusty when it comes to travel prep, there are a few things you can plan for ahead of time that might help make your next voyage the best — and least stressful — one yet.
Establish a budget
The financial news may vary from day-to-day, but according to some surveys, savings held in deposits and other financial accounts have increased, real estate and stock market wealth has increased, and borrower distress has decreased. In other words, some Americans have more savings now than they ever have before. If you, like many Americans, were able to create lemonade out of stay-at-home order lemons by socking away a good amount of money into savings accounts, that’s great. A solid travel budget will still help you avoid coming back from your long-overdue vacation with a busted bank account. Whatever your financial level, consider the following:
- Cover your bases. Before creating a budget for travel, make sure you have your everyday budget on solid ground. This includes making sure your emergency savings is stocked with three to six months’ worth of expenses, and that you have a plan to pay off any debts, particularly high-interest ones. With your regular budget in place, you can determine how much money you can funnel towards fun things, like vacation.
- Do your research. You won’t really know what type of vacation you can afford until you start looking into it. An all-inclusive beach vacation somewhere might cost you more up front, but once you arrive you’ll likely spend very little. Something that’s laid out for you that way might be easier to plan for than something more fluid, like a trip to a big city where your expenses vary based on food, entertainment and transportation. Look into a few different types of vacation options to determine which fits your budget best. Don’t forget to factor in any currency differences and fees for money exchanges, as well, as these can really add up.
- Create a timeline. With those two factors in place — how much you can afford to save for vacation and the type of vacation you’d like to take — you can create a timeline for your trip that allows you to save up enough money to avoid being stressed about spending while you’re gone.
- Open a new savings account. Open a high-interest savings account and set up an automatic transfer from each paycheck into it for your vacation goals. Watch it grow, and get excited!
Consider money-saving travel hacks
If you’ve run the numbers and a vacation just isn’t smart right now (if you have too much debt, say, or you had to borrow from your savings for an emergency and building that back up is your first priority), then set up a plan to be able to go where you want in the future. Do all the research you can now — like being flexible with dates and times and subscribing to deal alert sites — to save as much as you can when it finally does come time to book.
Don’t forget your rewards
It’s a good idea to plan to have the money to pay for things upfront, but there are other ways to save. If you have a credit card that offers travel rewards, look into how you can make the best use of those options. Or, if you don’t have one, think about signing up for a new one that will help you save money on your travel goals. (It’s worth repeating that any time you open a new credit card you should always plan to pay it off in full each month to avoid paying more in interest.)
Check in with other programs you’re a part of — like Costco and AAA — for travel benefits that might be available to members. Valley Bank, for example, offers a Prestige Program with various perks, like a travel program with custom-designed adventures.
Plan for contingencies
If there’s anything we’ve learned over the past two years, it’s that nothing is certain. If you’re planning to travel in the next few months, it’s best to stay flexible. Some things you can do to help get ahead of the game (with the caveat that you’ll be willing to change up your plans, if need be), include:
- Make physical copies and cloud backups of your vaccination card. Some places only allow vaccinated travelers to visit, or you might only be able to get back home from certain places if you’re fully vaccinated. Make paper copies of your vaccination card and be sure to keep a digital copy on the cloud, as well.
- Research Covid restrictions. Covid restrictions can change swiftly. Be sure to know what resources you can trust for the most up-to-date information on traveling to your destination. Check in with specific attractions on the day you plan to visit to ensure the places are open and operating normally.
- Pack for any expectation. Even if your destination doesn’t have Covid restrictions in place right now, it’s best to plan for them, anyway. That means packing extra masks, especially if you’ll be taking public transit, and bringing some rapid tests.
Start saving for your next vacation now
Even if you can afford a vacation right now, that doesn’t mean the circumstances might change for you in a couple months or a year. Setting up that travel savings account and contributing to it regularly is a great way to ensure you can always take the time off that you deserve/need.
Travel may have lost a little bit of its spontaneity — at least for the time being — but that doesn’t mean that a trip can’t still be a life-changing experience. By taking the opportunity ahead of time to cover all your bases, you’ll be better able to enjoy every moment of your much-deserved adventure.