Scheduling respite: Planning for the best vacation

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Let’s plan for vacation.

Vacation?! We just cleared the holiday season, we’re almost into February and 2023 has begun in earnest. Why would we be thinking of vacation already?

Everyone needs time away throughout the year, and the beginning of the year is a great time to start. People are filling out planners, structuring their year and looking ahead to tax returns and money to spend (hopefully). So, where do we start?

First, let’s set the parameters.

What is our budget going to look like? The average person or family (especially in this climate) doesn’t have the disposable income to throw at a multiple day vacation without having a budget plan in place. How much do you think you can comfortably spend on meals? How much do you want to put towards your accommodation? These kind of prices can range wildly depending if you’re paying for a camping site in the middle of a state park versus a hotel room in the suburbs of a major city. How much do you want to allocate to entertainment and recreational activities during the day?

While most households have someone who should be able to create a sensible budget on their own, sometimes tools are helpful for doing so. You can create some highly functional budget spreadsheets through applications like Microsoft Excel or Google Sheets. There are also a plethora of both free and paid premade options available online. A quick search will pull up some great options from sites like the Budget Mom Blog or Frugal Confessions.

Be sure to take everything into account. I find it helpful to make a short list before building my formal budget. What is everything I need to cover – from transportation costs to dinner on the town?

Once you have a general budget in place, it’s time to think about location and accommodations. Can you afford a destination vacation – a trip a few states away to visit the beach, see the tourist sites of a big city or take on some other destination you’ve always wanted to see? Or will this be more of a “staycation” – hiking and camping in a state park a short drive away? Again, it’s important to be conscious of the pricing disparity.

For your accommodations, the sky’s the limit! It’s purely dependent on your comfort level and the confines of your budget. You can camp in a tent, sleep in your vehicle or grab a hotel room. If you’re looking to camp, search camping in your state. There are often great resources available. New York’s Parks, Recreation & Historical Preservation team at the Department of Environmental Conservation has some great information about in-state camping at Companies like Kampgrounds of America (KOA) have locations across the country. For a more non-traditional indoor stay, there are companies like Airbnb.

If you are opting for a tried-and-true hotel, arranging your stay through a booking website can save you money. Some great options are Kayak, Priceline or Expedia. If you’re planning on a destination vacation and are planning to fly, these types of booking sites are also the best options for some of the lowest ticket prices. And don’t forget to ask for AAA discounts!

Let’s look into the specifics.

Let’s say you’ve chosen to hike and camp in Upstate New York for a few days this summer. Now that we’ve set the parameters for our trip, we need to set down a list of specifics: what do you want to do that week?

Any regional or state tourism site will be helpful (in our example scenario, that would be is also a great resource for camping information, day pass information and event/venue information. Do some hiking, spend a day on a local lake and set aside your last day to catch some nearby museums and historical sites.

It’s entirely up to what you and your family will enjoy and what is both achievable in the time you’re setting aside for your vacation and what fits within the parameters you have set for yourself and your group.

Let’s make a game plan.

Having a game plan is important. It helps take the potential chaos out of the experience and allows you to enjoy yourself. You can take it easy because you know what to expect. However, it’s important to not be so unbending that you can’t be flexible when necessary.

A plan is a necessity, but we’re human and life happens: if your plan derails don’t let it ruin the experience. The key is to be adaptable and “roll with the punches.” Hopefully that won’t be necessary and you will have a wonderful time that proceeds exactly according to plan.

Keep your plan generalized. You are months away from the planned vacation days in all likelihood. Examples include:

  • “Planning on lake day for day 3 once Bob and Danielle drive up to join us. This day can move in the event of inclement weather.”
  • “David would like to sightsee on the last day. We need to think over the next couple of months about what we would like to see. Figuring most of the tours will take a couple of hours each, so we will probably only get in one or two. As we won’t be too far from Hyde Park, I’d kind of like to see the Roosevelt home.”

See how we’re making some loose plans but leaving some “wiggle room”? This is the best way to plan for a summer vacation this early in the year. We know the basic expectations and we can work on the additional details as we get closer to time.

Ideally, you’ve already set out rough dates when you were doing your initial planning. One of the last steps is to set a timetable for yourself for things like ordering plane tickets (timing can affect your rate –…), making advance restaurant reservations or saving spots at certain tourism destinations. Waiting until the last second could see you miss out on some anticipated events. Advance preparation allows you to enjoy every second.

Whatever you choose and wherever your destination with planning and a little bit of luck, it’s possible to have a great time and count your pennies.

Bon voyage.

by Andy Haman

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