Your Travel Bucket List: A Guide to Amazing Experiences on a Budget
You've spent years making your travel bucket list and now you have the time to start ticking destinations off the list. To help make the most of your planning, investment, and overall travel experience, a bit of research can help you approach each adventure with as much insight as possible. This guide can help you approach your list of dream destinations with equal parts gusto and financial savvy, keeping your bank account balances and experiences both full and fulfilling.
After all, making progress on your travel bucket list should be the adventure of a lifetime. Let's make sure you can meet every aspect of your international travel goals while also saving time, effort, and money in the process.
Step One: Physical Fitness
Without argument, there are many ways to see the world. The first consideration for the destinations on your travel bucket list is, "How can I explore these destinations in the most comfortable way?"
Consider your overall physical fitness and the duration of your trip. There are plenty of ways to break up a trip so that you're not walking all day or, conversely, stuck on the deck of a cruise ship when you'd rather be moving.
Think about how much time you want to spend on your feet each day and throughout the trip and then plan accordingly. You might even consider adding some longer walks to your usual fitness regimen prior to your trip to get your body acclimated.
Two other aspects to keep in mind when planning travel is altitude and your accommodations. If you're traveling to a destination at a significantly higher altitude than where you live, be sure to add a few restful days on the front side of your trip to acclimate. For your accommodations, don't be shy about asking about elevator access and stairs you'll have to climb to reach your room or rental each day.
Step Two: Your Bucket List on a Budget
While working on your physical fitness regimen, you can also work on your financial fitness with ways to approach your travel bucket list on a budget.
First, consider when you want to travel to your dream destinations. Travel industry insiders tout "shoulder season" as the ideal time to travel, as it's the perfect split between peak and off-peak season. Airfares and accommodation rates are generally lower, saving you a chunk of change on those expenses and lowering the overall cost of your trip.
Secondly, explore all of the options for places to stay as you travel. Vacation rentals can give you the comfort of a whole home or apartment to call your own and at a substantial discount compared to the cost of a hotel and dining out for meals. Choosing a vacation rental with a kitchen can save you money by allowing you to plan and prepare a few simple meals on your own. Hotels provide a different experience and can be smart choices for the beginning and end of your international trip — especially if you've chosen a flight that arrives or departs outside of regular check-in/checkout times. If you're especially adventurous and don't mind the company of younger travelers, hostels are always an option. While you might be sharing a room in a dorm-style setting, you can enjoy serious cost savings for these minimalist accommodations.
Step Three: Getting Around
Every country and city has its unique transportation features. From public transit to rental cars and broad-reaching trains, it pays to do some research on how you plan to explore your dream destinations.
For cities with public transit, explore multiday and weeklong passes that give you access to the city's trains, subways, and buses. Trains can also be a comfortable and economical way to tick several destinations off your list. Rail systems such as VIA Rail Canada, BritRail, Eurostar™, Eurail, and Interrail all offer senior discounts for passengers aged 60 and over. Should you decide to take a taxi or ride-share, ask your driver about local favorites and must-sees.
If you plan to rent a car internationally, you'll want to compare rates and explore if you'll need additional licensing or insurance. You'll also want to make your car reservations before you leave on your trip if possible, simplifying exchange rates, policies, additional insurance, and needs for an International Driving Permit (IDP) at your destination.
Step Four: Insure Your Trip
Some credit cards offer great insurance benefits for travelers — you should consider using this if supplemental insurance is required. However, there's always the option to purchase travel insurance to help protect the investment you've made in seeing the world. This travel insurance would cover everything from an unexpected health issue that requires an ambulance or medical flight for treatment, to cancellation protection depending on what you've purchased. Keep in mind that policies and coverage may vary.
You'll want to do your research and decide what kind of travel insurance you might need. Once you pick, you can use websites like InsureMyTrip® or Squaremouth to instantly compare rates between providers and read reviews from previous customers. Membership groups like AARP® may also offer travel insurance. A bit of research and quote comparison can help you save money on your purchase as well as protect the investment you make in your trip.
Step Five: Smart Currency Conversions
As you travel abroad, there are several ways to access cash and make purchases. Many travelers order currency from their local bank prior to departure to ensure they have cash on hand when they arrive. This can help you avoid the high-fee in-airport currency exchange kiosks and give you the comfort of dealing with your own financial institution. If you need to access additional cash while abroad, ATMs generally have the lowest transaction fees.
To avoid hefty foreign exchange fees on your purchases abroad, be sure to check your credit cards prior to departure and only use cards that have low to no foreign transaction fees.
And before you leave, know the power of the U.S. dollar in your destination country. If the dollar is strong, consider booking experiences like tours and such in-country and using local currency. If the dollar is weaker than local currency, you can explore dream destinations where the dollar is stronger to help your travel funds stretch further.
Step Six: Safe Travel and Smart Packing
As you plan your travel and throughout your trip, you want to ensure that you're traveling to an area that's deemed safe for travel. The State Department keeps travel advisories and alerts up-to-date on their website and offer travel safety tips to help keep you safe during your adventures abroad.
To keep your luggage light and minimal (and avoid pesky baggage fees), explore Rick Steves' guide to packing light. He includes packing lists for both men and women, a guide to international power adapters, and tips for choosing the best bag to meet your travel needs. Odds are you'll find your bucket list trips more enjoyable if you're not juggling luggage and over-packing. Some hotels and vacation homes even come with access to a washer and dryer — having less luggage to lug around may be worth a couple of loads of laundry.
Now, you're ready to pursue your list of dream trips with the above tips that can help you save time and money while seeing the world. Make an appointment to speak with your financial advisor today to create a plan to strategically fund your travel goals. You've saved and dreamed of all of the places you'd love to see. Now, it's time to take flight and add to a life already full of rich experiences.