The step-by-step guide on how to achieve your travel goals in 2021. Plus FREE templates for budget, travel planner, pre-travel checklist, and packing lists.
Does the idea of planning an adventure right now seem too overwhelming, expensive, and risky? Like many others, my globetrotting plans went up in smoke in 2020.
However, it didn’t stop me from staycationing, road-tripping, and camping around my home state for over six months. As well as creating well-thought-out travel goals for the next year.
I’m here to show you it CAN still be possible to explore safely and affordably. And there are so many new online tools and resources to help you navigate the next era of tourism.
Whether you want more local adventures, backpacking journeys, or to go abroad – this post will lead the way.
Make sure you’ve got your Budget Travel Starter Kit ready and click on the stage you’re currently in:
- Dreaming – thinking about an adventure
- Designing – researching and trip planning
- Departing – getting organized and packing
- Doing it – traveling and keeping costs low.
Dreaming – thinking about an adventure
Complete this section if you want to:
- Set flexible and achievable travel goals
- Visualize your goal and the potential obstacles
- Create a budget to achieve your travel goal
- Set targets to pay off debt and save money to travel
- Consider how you can make extra income
- Review your progress and adjust your targets.
1. Set flexible and achievable travel goals
Did you know you are 42% more likely to achieve your goals by writing them down? This process can help you get clear on exactly what you want to accomplish and how to make it happen. Start by writing down a list of the destinations you are dreaming about in the travel goals section of the Budget Travel Starter Kit.
Consider your travel style and how long you would want to spend there e.g. one-week vacation in Mexico or a 6-month RV trip across the US? Calculate the approximate amount required for each trip and add it to the “amount needed” column.
Before completing the target date, research current travel restrictions and visa requirements (if you’re hoping to go abroad). For visas, Passport Index will provide an overview but ultimately check and apply directly with that country’s immigration
You can use this information to choose one realistic trip and target date based on your current income and circumstances (travel restrictions, vacation time, visas, distance, cost of flights, etc). It doesn’t mean you won’t eventually get to visit all your bucket list places but for now, focus on the most realistic travel goal.
2. Visualize your goal and the potential obstacles
Positive thinking can actually improve life satisfaction and outcomes according to scientific research. Here are activities to visualize your goals and reinforce your optimistic mindset.
- Create a vision or Pinterest board with images for your dream destination
- Update the wallpaper on your phone and computer with a picture from that place
- Read books and blogs about your dream destination to keep you motivated with saving
- Start saying ‘I’m going to…’ (your dream destination) rather than ‘I want to go’. This will build confidence it’s actually going to happen.
Once you’ve visualized yourself achieving your travel goals, it’s also important to consider what could get in the way. It may sound counterintuitive but NYU psychology professor, Gabriele Oettingen, says understanding the potential obstacles will help you find a way to adapt, reschedule, or move onto another goal.
The WOOP website provides a simple and free way to identify your inner obstacle and plan to overcome it. For example, this could be a plan to request holiday leave from your job, considering how much time off you have available and how much notice you need to give.
3. Create a budget to achieve your travel goal
Until 2020, money was the number one reason stopping Budget Travel Babes from traveling more. It’s still a crucial factor when it comes to planning a trip. If money is an issue for you, there are two ways to beat it – decrease your costs and/or increase your income.
Either path that you choose, it’s still worthwhile to know exactly how much money you have first. Use the budget section of the Budget Travel Starter Kit to write all your incoming payments and outgoing expenses. If you’re not sure where all your money is going, try tracking your expenses for a week on a free app like Trabee Pocket.
Review your expenses and identify unnecessary costs you could cut back on (e.g. eating out, espresso coffee, beauty treatments, etc.) Ultimately, it’s your decision what you are willing to trade for the opportunity to fulfill your wanderlust.
I use zero-based budgeting and credit it for helping me travel to 59 countries and counting. To me, it’s the most complete technique to keep control over my money. If this doesn’t work for you, try:
- The 50/30/20 Financial Guideline by using 50% of income for mandatory expenses, 30% on optional expenses, and 20% on savings or paying down debt
- Reverse budgeting where you put money towards your goals first before your living expenses.
4. Set targets to pay off debt and save money to travel
We believe in financially-responsible travel, which means paying off high-interest debts (like credit cards) and creating an emergency fund before saving for a trip. It’s always a good idea to keep $1,000 or more aside for unexpected costs e.g. car repairs.
Looking at the expenses listed in your budget and the amount needed for your trip, calculate how long it will take after paying off debt and creating an emergency fund. Also, consider opening a flexible, interest-earning account that won’t lock you in for a long period. I have three accounts at the same bank with no monthly account-keeping fees:
- Chequing account: for receiving income and making daily purchases
- Savings account: where I transfer the amount I want to save each month and keep my emergency funds
- Term deposit: interest-earning account for funds I won’t need to access for 3+ months.
Set target dates for each milestone e.g. pay off your credit card by the end of March, save $2,000 by mid-June, etc. It’s better to aim higher than lower – push yourself to reach your goals but don’t be too hard on yourself if you don’t make it each month. Schedule reminders in your calendar for when to make repayments, cancel direct debits, put money aside for the trip, and review your progress (e.g. monthly).
5. Consider how you can make extra income
If you can’t possibly decrease your expenses, then the other option is to consider how you can make more money – whether it’s a paid promotion, higher-paying job, or lucrative side hustle. Or you can reduce both your living costs and increase your income. I have multiple income streams with consulting clients in the US, international marketing clients, and this website.
6. Review your progress and adjust your targets
Each month review your progress against the budget, goals, and target dates in the Budget Travel Starter Kit. If you come in short in some areas, consider whether you need to adjust your budget and then review next month. Repeat this process until you pay off high-interest debt, store away an emergency fund, and have the amount needed.
Designing – researching and trip planning
Complete this section if you want to:
- Create a travel plan
- Compare hotels and airlines for safety and cost
- Organize visas, medication, and travel insurance
- Consider how you will access data and your funds abroad.
1. Create a travel plan
Whether you prefer to wing it or plan carefully, you can use the Budget Travel Starter Kit to record an outline of dates and important information. Travellerspoint is another free tool that allows you to build visual itineraries and maps – perfect for backpacking and road trips. Share it with travel buddies to add ideas and keep updating it as plans become more concrete.
2. Compare hotels and airlines for safety and cost
Planning a budget-friendly trip with cheap flights and accommodation has always been a challenge. Now we also have to worry about staying as safe as possible and adhering to all regulations. The Safe Travel Barometer can help make this easier by comparing safety protocols for travel companies like hotels, airlines, and airports.
Plus, we’ve put together two in-depth guides for you:
- What you need to know if you’re flying soon: 9 tips for safety and sanity
- 5 smart ways to find cheap accommodation (and travel safely) in 2021.
3. Organize visas, medication, and travel insurance
By now, you’re probably already familiar with the visa and quarantine requirements (if any) of the place that you are visiting. However, it’s also worthwhile to check for any compulsory immunizations. If you take medication, make sure it can be taken into that country and whether you need a prescription to purchase more.
Travel insurance is more important than ever before. When making bookings with a credit card, see if it includes any type of insurance. If it doesn’t provide sufficient coverage, look for a travel insurance company that covers COVID-19 like SafetyWing.
4. Consider how you will access data and your funds abroad
Research your destination to see if WiFi will be available in public places and the cost for a local sim card. Whenever I travel to a new country, I purchase a sim card as soon as I arrive and this has been the cheapest and most convenient option. A quick Google search will reveal which is the best option in terms of connectivity and price.
Your existing phone company may provide international data access as part of your plan or for an extra cost. Read the terms and conditions to make sure you don’t exceed the limitations and end up with a nasty bill. And if you have a regular data plan – keep data roaming switched OFF as it can be crazy expensive!
In my experience the most cost-effective options for accessing cash abroad are:
- Withdrawing from an ATM
- Exchanging cash
Contact your banks to check if they have any partner banks in that country. For example, international banks like Citibank or HSBC have ATMs all around the world. If not, find out what the fees will be for withdrawing AND converting cash (some banks charge both). Weigh this up against the risks of carrying cash and exchanging money.
Personally, I use a Transferwise Borderless account and Mastercard debit card which lets me:
- Receive, hold, and withdraw cash in multiple currencies at rates much lower than traditional banks
- Freeze and unfreeze my card through an app on my phone, preventing unauthorized charges
- See a summary of transactions for each currency and overall.
Departing – getting organized and packing
Complete this section if you want to:
- Choose your carry-on bag
- Purchase must-have travel accessories only
- Make copies of all your travel documents
- Pack and then pack again with less.
1. Choose your carry-on bag
No matter what kind of trip you are taking, I guarantee you’ll only need 7-10 days’ worth of clothing. That’s because you can wash your clothes and mix-and-match pieces to keep them fresh. Unless you’re embarking on a cross-seasonal journey and I’ve had friends who’ve still achieved that with a carry-on.
Switching to a carry-on bag can make your trip cheaper and more comfortable by avoiding:
- Unnecessary weight to drag around
- Checked luggage fees
- Wait times at the luggage carousel
- Risk of your bag being lost or damaged by the airline
- Friends and family asking you to bring giant souvenirs home.
2. Purchase must-have travel accessories only
Keep your bag light by only purchasing the travel accessories that you actually need such as a travel scarf/sarong and wallet with a chain that attaches to your bag. Don’t forget your hygiene kit with essentials that can help you reduce your risk of getting sick or spreading it to others.
- Breathable, washable masks with two or more layers
- Hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol
- BPA-free water bottle for personal use
- Food storage containers and reusable ziplock bags
- Contactless credit or debit card.
If you are planning to clean your accommodation, see the CDC’s guidance on how to clean and disinfect (or refer to the advice from your local government advisory).
3. Make copies of all your travel documents
Set up electronic access to all your copies of important documents such as:
- Insurance certificate
- Visa approval
- Bank statement with available funds and account name.
Thanks to technology, you can easily share these with your family as well either by email, Dropbox, or Google Drive. However, as WiFi isn’t always a given – download to your phone and/or make physical copies to have on hand at immigration or in case of emergency.
4. Pack and then pack again with less
Use the packing list section of the Budget Travel Starter Kit to organize what you need to take. Before going on your trip, make a trial-run of packing your bag to make sure everything fits comfortably then remove anything unnecessary.
Doing it – traveling and keeping costs low
Congratulations! You made it. You are living out your travel dreams. Now the focus is on enjoying the adventure – without making any expensive mistakes. I recommend setting a daily budget and keeping track of your expenses on a free travel app like Trabee Pocket.
I’ve also included a few resources below to help keep your trip affordable, responsible, and sustainable.
- 15 ways to make friends while traveling without feeling awkward as f#ck
- 10 truths about backpacking in your 30s (and beyond) as a woman
- 12 smart ideas to save money on food while traveling and at home
- How to choose ethical animal tourism experiences.
Be sure to come back when you’re ready to start thinking about your next travel goal.
Originally written in 2017 and updated in 2020.
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