Destination Australia: Planning and Saving for a Trip Down Under
Do you know how to plan and save for a trip? Travel funds and budgets are not something I am terribly good at. However, I have recently been working on them in an effort to prepare myself for a trip to Australia.
As a child, I was obsessed with The Man from Snowy River. My love of Jim Craig runs deep and I still find myself watching the film at least once a year. It is because of this movie that my desire to see Australia was established long before I discovered my love of traveling. And even after I started traveling regularly, Australia remained number one on my bucket list. The only reason it has not been checked off yet is because I want to do it justice. Two weeks and the usual budget are just not good enough for my childhood dream. So I have been biding my time, waiting for the right moment.
That moment is almost finally upon me; I will be flying to Australia this February. While this is all very exciting, there is a lot of planning that goes into a trip like this. I figured I would share a bit of that planning process as well as what I am doing to save up for my time Down Under.
How to plan and save for a trip
Now honestly, although each trip is unique, the planning process for me is relatively the same for either a long weekend out of town or an epic month in Australia. No matter what, I need to do the following:
- Decide where I am going to go and for how long.
- Carefully evaluate my vacation hours and make sure I have enough. Or make the decision to take time off without pay.
- Give my employer notice and make sure it is okay to use vacation hours during a particular time.
- Take a good, hard look at my financial situation to make sure I can afford to go at all.
- Start saving, if necessary.
- Buy that plane ticket, if flying.
- Focus on the details (like where to stay, what to do, etc.).
- Anxiously await the day I get to leave.
Deciding where to go
R and I almost always know where we are headed next. We start wishing and dreaming years in advance. Now sometimes a really good deal or adventure presents itself and we jump on it. Other times a plan might fall through and we have to make an abrupt change in direction. But for the most part, things seem to fall into place and we are continually filling up our schedule with various activities both long and short. However, if you are struggling with deciding where to go, I suggest you read this post about choosing your next travel destination.
Aside from it being number one on my bucket list, I started really considering Australia about two years ago. I knew I wanted to go for at least a month and I finally felt as if I was in a position at work to ask for that much time off. I also thought it would be fun to make the trip over my 35th birthday. So with those thoughts in mind, I started to put the wheels in motion. Luckily, it did not take too much convincing to get R on board.
Make sure to do some research into what it takes to get into a country. Some visas are free and can be “applied” for when you arrive in the country. Some are expensive, a challenge to apply for and must be done ahead of time (looking at you Brazil).
When it comes to vacation hours, I am lucky enough to earn more than two weeks a year (but not as lucky as my brother-in-law who gets five…oh well). Normally, I spread my vacation hours out. Never have I taken a whole month off at one time.
For this trip, I did some math and realized that if I was careful, I could accrue enough vacation hours by the time I leave to cover me for the whole month. Unfortunately, being careful is not easy for me. I very much enjoy taking a little time off here and a little time off there and I don’t usually pay too close attention to the total amount of vacation hours I have available. But that is not an option if I want to get paid the entire time I am in Australia. So careful I will be.
R is in a very different situation. As an independent contractor, she never gets paid for the vacation hours she uses. So the longer she is away from the office, the smaller her paycheck. This definitely needs to be taken into account when she is planning a longer trip. In this case, she will not be joining me for the entire month—just the first 18 days.
Requesting time off
Every employer is different and although mine has always been good about me taking vacation time, being away from the office for more than two weeks is pretty rare. In fact, like many Americans, most of my coworkers hardly ever take a full two weeks off at one time. But I finally reached a point where I felt comfortable requesting more time off.
When I asked my boss if it would be okay if I took a month off to go to Australia, she did not hesitate to tell me yes. Yes! I feel it is important to give your employer as much notice as possible, especially for a longer trip. However, two years may have been a little extreme. My boss even commented that two years was more than enough notification.
Again, R is not quite in the same boat. Although her employer is also good about time off, she is not in a position to take the entire month off. However, given that Australia is my big dream and not hers, I think she is content with a slighter shorter vacation.
Figuring out your finances
I am a little embarrassed to admit that I am not very good at budgeting for a trip. I know about how much I can spend every year on travel given my income and living situation and as long as I stay within that ballpark, I am fine. If flights to a particular destination are more than I am comfortable spending, then I change plans and go somewhere else. If a particular attraction is too much, then I do something else. I am thrifty, but not super conscious of where every penny goes.
But here’s the deal: Australia is expensive. It is expensive to get there and it is expensive to be there. On top of that, I am going to be there for a full month. That’s double my usual travel time. And since I want to make sure I do this country right, I do not want to stay in cheap hostels and forgo certain attractions due to a lack of funds. Taking all of this into account, I knew I would need to approach financing my Australia vacay a little differently than my other trips.
Setting a budget
The first thing I did was estimate how much money I would need per day. This is always a challenge but a simple Google search can help. I like to estimate a little high for me just to be on the safe side. After I settle on a cost per day and times that by the number of days I’ll be gone, I add on the cost of a plane ticket. Then, depending on the location and itinerary, I factor in inter-country transportation, visa fees, etc.
COST PER DAY x NUMBER OF DAYS + COST OF A PLAN TICKET
= ROUGH BUDGET ESTIMATE
Like I mentioned earlier, flights to Australia are not cheap (especially from Boise). Since I regularly check flight prices to all sorts of destinations, I knew what the high and low side of a flight to Sydney costs. When it came to my budget, I picked a number on the high side with the hope that I would find a better deal. I knew that the less I paid for my plane ticket, the more I would have to spend in Australia.
Once official planning begins on a trip, I religiously check flight prices—almost daily. I take note of when prices seem to drop and when they are the most expensive. This can be tedious. But it is worth it when you find a decent price within your budget.
Sign up for alerts…but do not depend solely on them. Alerts are helpful, but I have yet to find a system that covers it all. So for now, I continue to do a lot of legwork myself.
Once I settled on a final number for my budget, I divided it by the number of months I had left before my trip. It turned out to be a number I was comfortable saving each month. However, if that number had been too high, I would have had to rethink my trip. I figured I had a few options:
- Postpone my trip to give myself more months to save.
- Start planning for a different kind of trip—one reminiscent of my hostel days.
- Find a way to make some additional cash.
Luckily, I did not have to employ any of the options above. However, I did decide (just to be on the safe side) that any additional cash I might earn leading up to my trip would go straight into my Australia fund. Below is the budget I set for my trip. Read an updated post what I actually spent on my month-long trip to Australia.
The best piece of advice I have is to make your saving automatic. This has made all of the difference for me. Once I knew what I needed to save each month, the first thing I did was set up a separate savings account. I wanted a specific travel fund. After a little research, I settled on My Savings Direct, an online bank that offers one of the highest interest rates for savings accounts.
I set up an automatic transfer from my regular checking account for the amount I needed to save each month. I knew that if I tried to remember on my own, I would fail more times than I would succeed. Plus, I was also worried that when it came time to make a transfer, I might find a better use for the money in that moment. Having the transfer occur automatically made my life a lot easier and I can honestly say that it was the smartest thing I did to save. I highly encourage you to set up something automatic.
Make some extra cash
There is a plethora of ways to make some extra cash should you need/want to. Don’t believe me? Try Google. Below are a few options I have tried with varying success:
- Sell stuff at a consignment store. You can either sell your own stuff or hunt through thrift stores to find stuff to sell. I have done both with moderate success and have found that stores selling outdoor gear offer the best percentage back to sellers.
- Sell stuff online (Ebay, Craigslist, etc.). I like DYI projects so sometimes I repurpose a piece of furniture and then sell it on Craigslist. Both R and I have made some nice change doing this.
- Hold a garage or yard sale. This is a great way to not only make some cash, but to also get rid of all those treasures (a.k.a junk) you have sitting around collecting dust. If you do not want to hassle with organizing your own yard sale, you can do what I did and join someone else’s. My sister’s neighborhood has an annual summer yard sale and she decided to participate. With her blessing, I hauled a few things over and left later that day with some cash.
- House or pet sit. I have done very well with this and it wasn’t even something I planned on doing. But several coworkers asked and I gladly said yes. It’s usually pretty easy work for a nice little check.
- Make something. I have had an Etsy shop for years now. I mostly use it to fund my crafting hobbies since I buy a lot of modge podge. But after a while, it adds up and turns into a nice little fund that I use for fun activities.
- Get a part-time job. It has actually been a long time since I have had a second job. But if you have a couple of nights a week free, you could get a job serving somewhere and sock those tips away.
- Cut back. Pack your lunches, stop eating out and avoid Starbucks. These little things can really add up after a while.
Regardless of what you decide to do, if you stick to it, then little by little you will see your travel fund start to grow. After that, the next big step is trying to find a good deal on plane ticket.
Book a flight
What you pay for your plane ticket can have a major effect on your budget—for better or for worse. When it comes to finding a good deal, it is crucial to do your research, sign up for alerts and check often. I read a lot of travel articles and blogs and although there is a lot of advice out there about the best time to buy, I have yet to find the magic answer.
A few months ago, I noticed several travel articles talking about the low price of plane tickets to Australia. That was all well and good, but I needed something affordable out of Boise and so far, prices had remained steadily high. I wasn’t particularly worried because my trip was still close to 10 months away and I have never bought a ticket that far in advance. Then one day I did my usual checking and discovered that the cost of flights to anywhere in Australia from Boise were the lowest I had seen them in years. Years! The price was almost half of what I had originally budgeted for. For obvious reasons, I was anxious to jump on it.
One lesson R and I have learned the hard way is that if you see a good deal on a plane ticket, jump on it immediately. Even waiting a couple of hours can be the difference between spending Thanksgiving in Brussels or…not. So my best advice: go for it! If you know your dates and you are comfortable with the price, do not hesitate. Did you know that you have 24 hours to change your mind (assuming you booked with the actual airline)? With that sort of safety net, there is no reason to hesitate.
Do not hesitate
But hesitate I did. The reason: R cannot go for the whole month and we had yet to work out her schedule. But you can bet we started planning frantically to get everything in order. I did not hesitate long because the very next day I noticed that prices had already started to go up on certain days. This time I jumped. And later that evening, R jumped as well. It was so exhilarating to finally buy that ticket and know that I was well on my way to another adventure. (A little fact about B: I have never gotten buyer’s remorse from purchasing a plane ticket. A new purse? Sure. But never something travel related.)
In case you were wondering, the flight I booked was close to $900 cheaper than what I had originally budgeted for. Now I have an additional $900 that can go towards anything I want (e.g. nicer lodging, more shopping, a fancy dinner, etc.).
Focus on the trip details
Now that I am well on my way to saving and the plane ticket has been booked, it is time to plan the nitty-gritty details. Honestly, this is one of the most enjoyable parts of planning a trip and one I feel deserves its own post. So head over to the post I wrote about how to plan a trip.
I like plans and I like lists so the steps discussed above work really well for me. If you are more of a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants kind of Jane, you probably stopped reading a couple of steps in. Regardless of how you like to plan your trips, make sure to enjoy the ride. Planning a trip is not nearly as fun as taking one, but it is a pretty close second.