The 10 (Pain-Free) Steps to Planning a Vacation

Woman on chair at beach, holding book

Photo by chen zo on Unsplash

Heather K Adams
Heather K Adams733
Content + Copy Writer
Planning a trip can feel akin to planning a military campaign. Reservations, tickets, kids, pets: juggling all the details might make you question your decision to go away at all. But prepping for your next journey doesn't have to drive you crazy. It can even be fun (yeah, we said it).
Knowing how to plan a vacation is totally a must-have life skill. Let these ten tips get you on your way to planning like a pro, and traveling like a boss.

10 steps for planning your next vacation:

1. Imagine what you want your vacation to look like. 

It's never too soon to start planning your next (or first!) big vacation. In fact, the sooner you start, the better. This gives you time to plan, a goal to keep you motivated and also builds anticipation. After all, having an awesome trip to look forward to can get you through a lot of rainy Mondays.
Start with your bucket list places. Dream big (or, dream local — staycations can be amazing too!). This is all about you.

2. Start the research early. 

This is where the internet reminds you it's a tool, not just a delivery system for memes. Google your top five destinations and start reading about them, researching prices and reviews. Not only do resorts have their own websites, local tourism boards do too.
Exploring each destination will help you zero in on the perfect-for-you spot pretty quickly. Once you do, research that particular place more in depth.

3. Request the days off.

Schedule time off from work as soon as you know where/when you want to travel. Why waste months of planning and dreaming about a lovely June cruise, only to find out you can't have off till August?
If your company has a fair amount of restrictions in terms of when and how much time you can have off, don't fret. There are so many awesome places to travel, you'll be able to plan an amazing vacation any time of year.

4. Set your budget, and start saving.

Start with a clear idea of how much money you'll really be spending. Factor in travel expenses and dining out, as well as fees for your planned activities. Decide ahead of time where you'll probably want to splurge, and where you'll pinch your pennies gladly.
Once you have an idea of those fun-money needs, focus on building up your stash. If you begin far enough in advance, you can open a savings account just for your trip, and also consider getting a credit card with travel rewards.

5. Make destination reservations.

There are tons of apps for the modern traveler. Even the first-time planner can rest assured she's getting the most bang for her buck with these little tools in her kit. Good thing, too. No one wants to travel halfway around the world just to end up in a motel with water stains on the ceiling. Finding apps you love will help you book that flight and room with confidence (or, you can always try an all-inclusive vacation to make things easier).
The Hopper app, through which you can check flight and hotel prices, even predicts prices up to one year in advance. Already have a favorite travel app? Let us know in the comments, below.

6. Build your itinerary.

Okay, you put the pin in the map and the date on the calendar. But knowing how to plan a vacation of a lifetime isn't just about finding a dream destination and getting a great deal on a flight. What are you going to do when you get there?
Check local tourism boards for museums, parks and other attractions. See what's going on during the time you'll be there, and build out your list of must-do's. Make sure you buy any necessary tickets well in advance.

7. Lists are your friends.

And for the vacation planner, they're also absolutely essential. The more detailed a list is for each task, the easier it is to follow. Go ahead and make one for every aspect of planning, from finding the right hotel to packing your suitcase. 
Even if you don't go full wedding planner with a binder and multi-colored highlighters, having at least a folder for all your lists is a good idea. Keeping yourself organized is crucial to staying sane and having fun while you plan that getaway.

8. Manage the home front.

About those lists: remember to make one specifically for what you need to deal with at home before you leave (like cleaning any perishables out of the fridge), and what you need to hand off while you're gone (bringing in your newspaper and feeding Fred the Ferocious Goldfish).
Keep everything ticking along at home while you're away. Nobody wants to come back all tanned and fabulously world-weary, just to realize they forgot to pay the rent.

9. Pack like a pro.

Pile up everything you think you'll need. And then viciously edit it to the barest minimum. The whole point of taking a trip is to get away from it all, not try to bring it all with you.
When it comes to your travel wardrobe, think basics: staples you can mix and match. You want clothes you can wear all day, then dress up with a blazer for dinner. 

10. Travel like a pro.

There are experts aplenty who know how to plan a vacation down to the letter. They've been there, they've done just all of that. They can tell you the best way to hydrate your skin during a long plane ride, and how to hail a water taxi.
The best part? All of this expert advice and experience is at your fingertips. The internet is your ultimate resource. That's how you found this article, right?

Final thought

When it comes to knowing how to plan a vacation, the pros start early and stay organized. Remember: this is your journey. Let our ten tips help make planning that dream vacation a source of pleasure, not stress.

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Heather Adams is a writer, and the creator of the speckled note.