Realistic Tips to Make Your Travel Dreams Come True

How to get away guilt- and debt-free for real this time.
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How to get away guilt- and debt-free for real this time.

Americans love to travel. Whether it comes from our pioneering ancestors, the onslaught of social media vacation photos (are you always on the beach, Instagrammers?), or that we live in a vast country ripe for exploration, a whopping 70 percent of us say that travel is a priority we should be saving for. Still, despite our love of jet setting, only 15 percent of us are actually saving for the kind of travel we want to do in the long haul, according to a 2013 study. That means that about 55 percent of Americans want to travel—think it’s important—yet aren’t saving for it. Now that’s a lot of buildup to potential regret.

A huge reason for this is that travel costs aren’t something we consider on a daily basis. Sure, budgeting for travel is nice to think about, but it isn't a want or desire we’re forced to reckon with every day. This lack of consideration and planning makes it really tempting for millennials to put this kind of expense entirely on our credit cards when we’ve decided we’ve had enough and need to get out—according to credit card reporting company Experian, 52 percent of millennials come back from vacationing with credit card debt. But there’s a more sustainable way that involves a lot less headache and guilt, and a lot more anticipation, intentionality and confidence. 

So whether you have the ability to make it this spring or next, here are the steps you should consider when planning the trip of a lifetime you can actually take.

01. Motivate Yourself: Start Pinning, Following, and Visualizing

As mentioned, a huge trap to not traveling—or getting into travel debt—comes from the fact that we don’t think about it as a priority. Visual goals aren’t in front of us, or if they are, they’re interpreted as an abstract, unattainable concept—like that pretty beach we use as our desktop background. Sure, it's idyllic, and it looks like I might go there someday, but do I even know where it is or how much it might cost?

One way I’ve learned to prioritize traveling is to remind myself of all the destinations I want visit—and I utilize one of the most powerfully psychological ways to do this: through visuals.

Years ago, I might have subscribed to travel magazines and making mood boards, but Pinterest has made this infinitely easier. Consider dedicating one Pinterest board solely to your travel pursuits. By looking at destinations, budget-friendly ideas, or clever know-hows, you’ll be reminded why you want to save for travel, thereby viewing it as viable priority rather than a "someday" dream. Plus, it builds anticipation, which studies show can make us savor the traveling experience far more than a tempting and guilt-inducing impulse buy.

02. Identify Your Travel Buddies (or Not)

Secondly, if you want to make this trip happen in the near future, get your fellow travelers on board. There’s a plethora of reasons why traveling with friends or loved ones can transform your venture into the experience of a lifetime. Not only is it a joy to build an adventure with your significant other—or your closest friends—but nothing makes you truly know a person as experiencing a different part of the world with them. Michelle Scaperlanda McWay, who hiked the Camino with her husband, shares what it was like traveling with him and a group, “There was an immediate sense of camaraderie and the desire to nourish the community we were creating. We were all on the journey together.”

Plus, deciding to embark on a trip together makes the plan a little more concrete; you have other explorers counting on you to pull through. And by sharing supplies or renting costs (nice hotel rooms or cute Airbnb cottage space), you can slash expenses.

There’s also something to be said for traveling solo, though. I’ve written an entire article detailing its perks. While it’s a totally different sort of trip—far more meditative for one—going solo should never stop you from seeing the world. It does require more self-reliance which, in the end, is a good thing!

03. Know Thy Spot: Consider Timing and Weather

Decision time. Now that you’ve gotten your partners on board (or have intentionally decided to go stag), identify where exactly you’re going. Go through your boards, talk with your friends, and figure out what timing works best for everyone. Is this something you want to do six months from now? Next year? Once you're set on timing, choose the destinations that work best.

For example, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, is its most beautiful January through March. But that when it’s also most expensive. However, while you'll pay "off-season" prices, visiting in July through September can be sweltering hot. According to U.S. News, April through June is the best compromise. Not only will the temperatures be bearable, but there will also be deals because you’re not going at peak season. Planning ahead for any trip gives you the time to consider all these factors. 

04. Budget, Budget, Budget

There’s an array of ways to do this and my fellow writer and friend, Julia Hogan, outlines how she's budgeting to take her dream vacation. Mint.com makes it easy by showing where you can cut spending and helping you save by category (say, travel). If you’re super serious about traveling soon, consider setting aside an entire account exclusively for your trip (which is what Julia's doing). Before you even see each paycheck, consider putting 15 percent of it aside.

Another tangible way to save is to swap out other luxuries that you indulge in now and then—new outfits for new occasions, eating out, manicures, or that unnecessary (albeit fun) blowout—and put that money directly towards your travel fund instead.

Another brilliant idea one of my friends told me is that she has a side gig as a cake baker, where she makes $250-$300 a month in addition to her day job. “While it’s not exactly a ton of extra money, I dedicate all of it for my travels. Over the months, it can be a nice bonus that goes directly towards our vacations.” Not into baking? Here's some other side gig suggestions for other creatives out there. Maximize the talents you have! We know you've got them. The key is making travel top of mind and a palpable priority.

05. Acknowledge That This Is Worth the Investment

Beside it being so easy to get caught up in our everyday spending, when it comes down to it, the expenses that come with traveling can make us cringe. After all, it’s a large chunk of money going to something that’s not exactly of physical use—say, like a new pair of boots or a car.

But more and more studies are showing that spending our hard-earned money on experiences, not things, is what makes life worth living. Dr. Thomas Gilovich, psychology professor at Cornell University notes, "Our experiences are a bigger part of ourselves than our material goods. You can really like your material stuff. You can even think that part of your identity is connected to those things, but nonetheless they remain separate from you. In contrast, your experiences really are part of you. We are the sum total of our experiences." If experiencing new places, histories, and cultures through travel is important to you, accept that it is worth the sacrifice of saying no to other things.

Travel doesn't have to be aspirational. So, relax, reconsider, and remember that while travel possibilities are endless, time and money are not. How will you plan to spend yours? 

Photo Credit: Manchik Photography