Money can't buy you happiness, but it can buy you a plane ticket. And in some cases, that's pretty much the same thing: According to
a study conducted by researchers in the Netherlands, taking a vacation can boost your levels happiness for eight weeks.
While exploring a new part of the world is always a nice way to treat yourself, the planning process before you actually get there can be trying. There are plenty of things to check off the list before you can even get started with packing.
To make sure that you get all your ducks in a row, we've put together a manual for the perfect vacation. From budgeting tips to the best time to book your tickets, click ahead for all the logistical details you should handle before taking off with your suitcase.
Pick A Place The first step of making concrete travel plans is deciding where you want to go. The amount of time this will take depends on whether you have a specific activity in mind already: Are you determined to check out a certain city or open to a whole region? The more expectations you have, the easier it is to nail down a destination that fits the bill. Looking for inspiration? We've curated bucket lists for solo travelers, people who want to see the world before turning 30, and budget-minded adventurers.
Decide How Long You'll Be Away The length of time you're planning to be away has a huge impact on your budget. Generally speaking, the shorter time you'd spending on the road, the high the average cost-per-day will be. This is also the stage when you should start looking into arrangements for transportation with a departure and return date in mind. Submit your vacation request to your boss now, to make sure you'll get the time off you want.
Research Your Budget Depending on how you'd like to travel, the amount of money you need to set aside will vary. Nonetheless, it's important to figure out a ballpark number to make sure that you don't drain your savings on one trip. Your meals, transportation, and entertainment should also factor into your total costs. The best way to come up with a number is to estimate the amount you'll be spending on the ground per day and add it to the pre-trip costs — the cost of getting to and from the destination, plus accommodation. We've put together a handy guide of actionable tricks to save more a trip.
Check Your Passport and Visa Requirements Believe us: There's nothing worse than finding out that your travel documents have expired right before a trip. Many countries — and to an extent, flight carriers — enforce a strict six month validity passport rule: You need to have at least six months left on your passport to be allowed to travel. Read this useful explainer we have on passport renewal to brush up your knowledge. Also, make sure you check whether you need a visa for where you're going, and apply for them when necessary: The U.S. Department of State will always have the most up-to-date information on country-specific requirements. Visas for some countries are more difficult to come by than others, so make sure to factor that in.
Book Your Travel Armed with knowledge of what you want and how much you can afford, it's time to make things official. "The early bird catches the worm" definitely applies in this scenario: According to a study by Expedia, the cheapest flight prices are usually found 21 days or more in advance of your travel date. The cheapest day to fly out is on a Friday, according to an analysis by Condé Nast Traveler. As for hotels, Expedia has found that making reservations on a Sunday will expose you to the best deals. Keep these golden rules in mind the next time you make a booking.
Buy Travel Insurance & Get Vaxxed Travel insurance may be an afterthought for many people, but you should never go without protection. Plus, with comparison sites like TravelInsurance.com, there's no excuse to not take this simple step. Brush up your knowledge on what a typical insurance policy covers here. Another often overlooked aspect of travel prep is vaccinations. The ideal time to stop by the doctor's is four to six weeks ahead of your trip. The CDC has a detailed breakdown of what shots you need for every country.
Sort Out Your ATM Card and Cash It's always a good idea to carry some cash with you on a trip, since your cards may not be accepted in another country. Many foreign ATMs enable you to withdraw local currency, but to be safe, it's a good idea to get between $100 to $300 USD exchanged ahead of your trip. Make sure you drop by your bank ahead of time — or notify them electronically — that you will be using your credit or debit card abroad. Keep small amounts of cash at different places to prevent pickpockets from gaining access to the whole stash.
Plan Your Itinerary Some people like to map everything out in advance, while others like to do things on the fly. No matter which camp you belong to, it's wise have somewhat of an idea of what you will (or could) be doing on a vacation. Our advice: Keep a loose itinerary of what you want to accomplish every day on the trip on a Google Doc and get it synced on your phone. Whenever you come across something of note — whether it's from a travel site or just something you spotted on Instagram — drop the name of the point of interest into the document. Two weeks before your vacation, take stock of what you have on your list and arrange them according to geographic proximity. If you're planning on hitting up popular sights, this is a good time to book your ticket online: Having an advance reservation will save you tons of time waiting in line.