start planning your vacation early.
like, really planning. pick a location. pick some sort of lodging-you have a million options here, ranging from campgrounds to all-inclusive resorts with everything in between. check out tripadvisor and the location's local chamber of commerce website for some lodging and activity recommendations. think about whether you'd like to drive or fly or take the train or bus or whatever.
will it be a family vacation? a girls' only trip? will you be going solo, or bringing your mate? all of these things factor into the kind of vacation you plan, how much you spend, and what you decide to bring.
make a realistic packing list based on where you want to go, and then give it a good once-over. what do you need that you don't have? wait until it goes on sale or clearance, and then pick it up. most things are seasonal and will be deeply reduced withing a few weeks if you play your cards right. if you have the list in advance and know what you need (like sunscreen, a new scarf, hiking boots, a new tent, a little black dress, whatever you need based on the vacation you plan to take), you can watch the sales and pick the items up on deep discount, saving you loads of cash in the long run. i grab sunscreen and beach towels when they first go on sale around memorial day, and then i don't need to worry about it for the rest of the summer. also i stock up on flip-flops at the old navy $1 sale and then have new pairs for every outfit for the entire year (whenever there's no snow on the ground, i wear them. i used to know a girl who wore hers even in the nj winters when the snow was a foot deep. i never understood that, but to each her own).
then, most importantly, set a budget and start saving. the kind of vacation (and the location) will help inform you as to how much you'll need to spend. think about what you'll spend each and every day on things like food, transportation, lodging, activities, and souvenirs. multiply that by the length of your trip, and then give yourself some wiggle room. it's always better to have too much than not enough, especially in a foreign country where it may be more difficult to exchange currency. also, if you're planning on staying at an all-inclusive resort, you can take out a few variables from the expense category.
then, once you've got a budget planned, start saving. a few dollars a week can really add up. i like to pay for vacations cash (besides the lodging, as most hotels and resorts make you use your plastic), so the hubs and i take money from side jobs, birthdays, and everything else we can scrounge, and literally put it into a piggy bank. no, we never outgrew this method, and it's super effective. if we want extra spending money, we try to put a dollar each into our piggy banks every day, more if we have it (and obviously less if we don't). that way we don't have to worry about where it'll come from the week before we leave.
also be sure to be honest with yourself. if you can't afford a two week tour of the european countryside, you may be able to afford a weekend at a bed and breakfast a state or two over, or a trip to a cabin at a state park for a week. "stay-cations" are becoming increasingly popular, and honestly, they're not bad. if you live in a metropolitan area, there are tons of things withing a half an hour drive that i promise you aren't even aware of. just do a little research and you can always find something. at this stage of the game, sometimes i consider a night at home with take-out a vacation in its own right.
we are planning a couples cooperstown, ny trip in april, and a family seaside park vacation in july (and hopefully another weekend away in october for our anniversary), and we've already started planning. i keep my packing lists and then just update them from year to year to make it easier on myself when the time comes to drag everything out. a little organization saves a ton of aggravation.
so where will you be you be going on vacation this year?