January brings fresh plans for the upcoming new year, and for many people that includes thinking about taking a vacation. Put a little time into planning early and you’ll reap the rewards—whether they’re from a beach or the top of a mountain.
- Create a budget for your vacation.
Use a budget that includes both big and small items related to the trip, like your travel method(s), various accommodations and daily food costs. Also include the costs for attractions like museums or amusement parks, as well as related souvenirs. Don’t forget incidentals like parking, house- and pet-sitters, and a vacation emergency fund. As a bonus, many metropolitan areas offer multiple-attraction tickets for a lower overall cost.
- Include travel in your budget.
Create a “vacation” line item in your household budget for both short- and long-term travel. This year, you might simply have a long weekend planned one state over; but, two years from now you might want to embark on a dream vacation to a foreign country. Either way, the more you plan and start saving a little today the more able you’ll be to afford the trips you want to take later.
- Pick specific travel goals.
Start a list of five simple, inexpensive trips that are within your budget and five “dream big” trips, as well as an ideal timeline for each (e.g., in six months, two years, etc.). Being really specific with your plans will help you create an appropriate savings goal and budget adjustments.
- Plan well in advance of when you want to travel.
Whether you’re driving or flying, planning well in advance of the trip can help you trim a vacation budget. Take airfare, for example. Most experts agree that between seven and eight weeks before you travel is the ideal window for finding the best fare. When it comes to holiday travel, flights booked for Christmas will only begin to rise after the first week in October.  And, if you’re flying, use an online price aggregator that allows you to see flexibility both in location and date. For example, flying on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving could cost more than flying on the Saturday before. And, sign up for email alerts and price watches so you can track the change in cost for flights, too. 
If you’re not flying, planning early for a driving vacation allows you more time to find budget-friendly accommodations. You can also try planning your trip for the optimal season based on weather and popularity, and avoid travel days that may see a hike in pricing.
- Create safe vacation habits.
Make sure that a neighbor, family member or friend checks in on your home, and arrange to have your mail held at the post office and any newspaper subscriptions paused. Set a few lights to timers, too, so that the house doesn’t appear vacant. Consider waiting to post the vacation photos on social media until after you’ve returned.
If you’re driving, have your vehicle serviced and pack an emergency kit, including safety signals, water, and blankets. If you’re flying, be sure to pass along your flight details to family or friends. If you’re traveling international, leave copies of passports and itineraries with the same trusted people in case of an emergency.