man jumping into water

7 Steps to Your Dream Vacation

We all have dreams—both big and small. Dream jobs, dream dates, dream pets, dream accomplishments, and even dream vacations. Some of us leave our dreams in the clouds, while others run after them with vigor.

If you’ve been fantasizing about your ideal getaway for years, maybe it’s time to take action. And the only way to make any dream a reality is with proper planning. Proper plans fall into place when you ask and answer the right questions.

We’ve compiled a list of seven key questions to help you make your dream vacation a reality.

1. Where is my dream vacation destination?

To some, this may seem like the oddest question ever. After all, you’ve been imagining your ideal destination for the better part of your life. But for others, the answer is next to impossible because you want to go to all the places. So the first step is to narrow down your dreams to one achievable dream at a time.

As you envision your answer, remember the key word “dream.” You’ll work out the financial details later, so don’t limit yourself. And while you’re thinking, realize your answer to this question might be affected by your answer to the next.

2. Who’s coming with me?

Have you been talking about visiting your family roots in Ireland with parents and siblings? Have you and your spouse shared a desire to go on an Alaskan cruise for ages? Has your group of friends been saying “someday” about a week stay at a five-star ski resort? Maybe your dream vacation is a shared dream with loved ones.

Once you know who’s really in, you can do a better job of figuring out timing (based on schedules) and costs (based on dividing expenses).

3. When is the best timing for my dream vacation?

First, let’s be responsible. There’s no problem in dreaming big—especially when you’re ready to work hard saving up to make those big dreams come true. But if you haven’t finished up Baby Step 2 (paying off all your debt), you may want to enjoy a staycation for now. It doesn’t mean you can’t prepare for a huge reward trip after you’re debt-free. That’d be a great way to celebrate!

Next, when we’re talking about timing, there are a few things to factor in:

  • Time of Year

For example, if you’re going to Iceland to see the Northern Lights, don’t go in the summer—you won’t see them! Do some research to make sure you hit your dream spot in the right season for what you’re hoping to see and do.

  • Time Off

Depending on who’s involved, you might need to travel during certain parts of the year. Kids have a naturally obvious break in their school schedule, which makes summer trips easier to coordinate without piles of makeup work.

  • Time to Save

This is a dream vacation, not your typical weekend trip two towns over. You’re going to need time to save! It’s fine if you realize this trip will mean a year or more of stashing away cash. We’ll tell you how to budget and save over time.

4. What will this trip cost me?

Tally all the costs involved—airfare, car rentals, food, hotels or house rentals, attractions and activities, morning coffee runs, souvenirs (for yourselves and others), and so on. Some of these expenses (cars and living space) you’ll be able to divide among the others coming. The rest is up to you and your (perfectly prepared) wallet.

5. How do I budget for my dream vacation?

Once you have a total in mind, divide that cost by the number of months until you leave. This gives you what you’ll need to save each month. For example, let’s say you need $8,000 to take that once-in-a-lifetime European food tour in 15 months. With 15 months to save, that means stashing away $533 a month.

  • What happens if that number seems impossible for your budget? Take a moment to explore these possible solutions:

  • Extend your trips dates out. Using the example above, if you waited an additional year, you’d need to save just $297 each month.

  • Consider making some adjustments. Perhaps you’ll stay just 10 days instead of two weeks or skip out on an activity or two.

  • Stay serious as you save. Buckle down for the next 15 months—working and saving hard now so you can play hard later.

  • Search for thriftier options. Flying coach, renting more economical cars, reserving different living spaces: these are all ways to make the trip more affordable.

When you get to a number you know you can live with each month (even if it means living tighter), you’re ready to set up a fund in your EveryDollar budget. This feature helps you keep track of all the money you’re reserving for trip expenses. Here’s how:

  • Create a new budget line item titled “Dream Vacation.”

  • Choose to “Make this a Fund.”

  • Enter your savings goal of $8,000 and save!

You now have a fund for your trip! Each month, enter the planned amount of $533 (or $297, or whatever you ended up with) in EveryDollar and transfer that amount to a savings account. EveryDollar will keep track of your progress, and you can check in anytime to see how you’re doing.

6. How do I save for my dream vacation?

When you need to find extra money in your budget, the first place you need to go is, well, your budget. Start by looking for any extraneous spending. Can you scale back on buying clothes for a few months, eat out less, or drop a few memberships you no longer want or need? You’ll be surprised how quickly little changes add up—and how much they’ll contribute to a better, even more fantastic getaway.

7. Where do I start my search for great getaway deals and discounts?

Go line by line on each part of your planned trip and see where you can get special deals—from airline tickets to local attractions to lunch at a seaside restaurant. Then sign up for emails and text alerts about discounts.

Check out AirfareWatchdog for plane ticket alerts, Hipmunk for hotel and lodging costs, and GasBuddy for the best gas prices. Who knows? You may come in under budget and have even more to spend on your special getaway adventure!

You can do it. When times get hard, just think about the reward of lying on the beach or sitting at a Parisian café at sunset on a vacation that is already paid for! You’ll bring home all the memories and none of the debt. Now that’s a real dream come true.

Create a dream vacation fund with a free EveryDollar account.