Make This the Year You Plan Your Dream Trip

Check out our blueprint for bucket-list vacation planning that includes tips about where to go, how to find a travel agent and how pay for it all.

Make This the Year Your Plan Your Dream Trip - Couple Taking A Selfie Together on Front of Brandenburg Gate in Berlin

by NEA Member Benefits


Whether your dream trip is your upcoming honeymoon, your much-awaited retirement adventure or you just want to cross a destination off your bucket list, NEA Member Benefits wants to help you achieve that dream trip this year. Do you want to explore the streets of Tokyo, swim with dolphins in Honolulu, climb Mount Kilimanjaro or hit the streets of Barcelona? Here’s what you need to do to start planning your fantasy trip—TODAY!

What’s your dream trip?

Some people already have a very clear picture of that “once in a lifetime” dream trip. Maybe you’ve always wanted to hike through Costa Rica’s Monteverde Cloud Forest, or explore the museums in Rome, Florence and Venice.

For others, maybe those who haven’t traveled that much in the past, it could be more difficult to determine exactly where you want to go and what you want to see and do. Sit down with a piece of paper and spend five minutes writing down locations off the top of your head that you’ve always wanted to visit or that intrigue you.

If that exercise doesn’t bear fruit, write down everything you love instead: active outdoor adventures, water sports, music, wildlife, etc. You can always turn to a travel agent to help you brainstorm possible dream trip destinations based on your interests. For example, if you love animals, a yacht cruise along Alaska’s Inside Passage or a safari in South Africa’s Kruger National Park could be the stuff from which dreams are made. If your passion is cooking, you may want to travel to the famed cooking schools in Europe, such as Paris’ Ritz Escoffier or the Basque Culinary Center in San Sebastian, Spain.

For anyone wishing for something more far-flung, take out a map and look to some of the world’s far reaches, like Bhutan (formerly Burma), Antarctica, the Arctic, the Galapagos Islands of Ecuador or the Maldives islands in the Indian Ocean.

Look to these resources for other dream destinations: UNESCO World Heritage Sites, the Top 10 Happiest Countries in the World, National Geographic’s Journeys of a Lifetime and Patricia Schultz’s book, 1,000 Places to See Before You Die.

Once you’ve narrowed down your ideas to one dream destination, you’re ready to start planning.

How will you pay for the trip?

Chasing a dream takes money, and that’s certainly the case with trips of a lifetime. African safaris can carry a hefty price tag, as can round-the-world cruises. Of course, there are bargains to be had, and you can look for those if you’re more interested in getting a great value instead of seeing a particular destination. Whenever possible, travel during a destination’s “shoulder” season between peak and offseason. You’ll encounter fewer crowds and book everything from flights to hotels to excursions at a discount.

But, we suggest following your dream and not the bargains. You’ve probably spent your whole life planning budget trips. If there was ever a time to splurge, it’s on a bucket-list vacation.

It’s best to start planning for a trip like this years in advance. Begin contributing each week or paycheck to a savings account so you'll be prepared to cover your vacation expenses. You may be able to set up automatic deductions from your paycheck. You may also decide to forego a few luxuries throughout the year and earmark those savings toward your future dream trip. Do you really need that $5 Starbucks coffee every day? Skip that dose of caffeine and you’ll save nearly $2,000 for that dream trip in just one year. For more ideas about how to save for any trip, see “How to Reach Your Financial Goals Faster.”

Plan your trip with a pro

Once you know where you want to go and you’ve started a savings plan, it’s time to iron out more specific details about the trip itself. You can cut through the overwhelming planning tasks by working with a professional travel agent. Someone who specializes in your dream destination can customize a trip—perhaps arranging a cooking class in Paris, mapping out the best places to buy leather and gold in Venice or advising which safari parks in Africa allow off-road exploration and which don’t.

Most travel agents won’t cost a dime; they earn commissions from the hotels, flights, cruises and tours they book on your behalf. Good travel agents also get you preferential treatment at hotels—the best available rates, plus room upgrades or perks like an in-room welcome gift, daily complimentary breakfast or a spa treatment.

Make memories with fellow travelers on a group tour

If you don’t have experience planning major trips, consider booking a group tour. Expert guides can make any trip more exciting and enjoyable. A typical guided tour does all the planning for you, including selecting the finest hotels and even booking your airfare. You’ll also get an in-depth, insider view. At your destination, bypass lines, get engaging commentary and have unique tour experiences. Plus, you may even make new friends.

Through NEA Travel, you can browse popular tour companies such as Collette, Contiki, G Adventures, Globus and Trafalgar that travel to destinations all over the world. Pay a minimum deposit at the time of booking and then make monthly payments toward your balance to help make the trip fit your budget. Plus, expert tour operators do all the planning for you for a worry-free and complete vacation package.

When to book airline tickets

If you’re not working with a travel agent, you’ll have to make some bookings on your own, including your airline tickets. Whether you book your flights at the airline’s website or through an online travel agency like Expedia or Orbitz, the most optimal times to book airline tickets are Tuesdays and Wednesdays when airlines post fare sales, and 115–21 days (or about four months to three weeks) is one of the best times to snag a deal to a U.S. destination. But airfare depends on many factors, so it’s best to determine what a good deal is for your desired route and track it for your preferred travel dates. Through NEA Travel, you can compare rates from multiple carriers to find the best trip for you.

How to pick a hotel

Seek hotel recommendations from family, friends and colleagues and read reviews from resources like Fodor’s, Frommer’s and TripAdvisor (although, it’s best to take some of those reviews with a grain of salt). Draw up a short list and compare prices.

Select your hotel based on your priorities: price, location and amenities. Finally, prior to booking, call the hotel to ask about any renovations scheduled for your travel dates. Nothing disappoints more than finding the pool closed for repairs when you want to take a dip.

Shop around for the best hotel prices using NEA Travel, where you can save up to 60% at more than 250,000 hotels and resorts worldwide.

Will you need a car?

Planning a road trip through Ireland? Depending on your trip, you may need a vehicle once you arrive. Check out NEA Travel: Car Rental for discounts and other benefits through Alamo, Avis, Dollar, Hertz, National and Enterprise among other national carriers. These companies all have locations at major domestic and international airports in case you need transportation when you arrive. 

Know when NOT to go

Before booking any trip, discern if there’s a time of year to avoid it due to weather, crowds or other negative conditions. Check the destination’s convention and visitor's bureau to find when festivals and special events are happening. Consult Weather Underground for historical weather charts.

When you take these planning steps to heart, it will be easier than you think to plan even the most complicated trip of a lifetime. Start dreaming today and make a plan to see the world!

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