Our travel planning process has evolved over the years, and we imagine that will be the case for years to come. Neither what we hope to get from travel, nor what we can afford to spend on travel has been constant. It probably won’t be in the future, either.
We knew from the beginning that we enjoyed experiencing new places together. We relish the break from our ordinary routines. Our first major trip together was our honeymoon. We spent about a week in an oceanfront condo in Miami (courtesy of Mr. Vine’s dad’s timeshare) and then the following week on a Caribbean cruise. A two week honeymoon felt incredibly luxurious. It still feels that way. Although our destinations weren’t the most exotic, it was a romantic trip that made us lifelong lovers of South Florida. By the last night of the cruise, I was homesick and missed our dear kitty. Our pets are the only reason I ever want to come home from vacation. A friend calls it “cat gravity.” That same cat is now 16 years old and as much as we love to travel, I don’t like leaving her for long stretches (even though we hire amazing pet sitters to visit).
Anyway, I digress. Obviously, our pets figure into how we plan travel. The first constraint is always scheduling. How long should the trip last? This is equal parts budgetary, personal, and work related. We try to take advantage of holidays off work to unplug more (it’s easier to do that when our offices are closed) and to conserve vacation days. The downside to holiday travel is that flights are often more expensive. We have all sorts of strategies for booking reasonably priced, and sometimes even cheap flights.
Our home is in a place with seasons, where June through October is our unequivocal favorite (early summer to early autumn). We feel the strongest wanderlust from January until April and especially like visiting warm, or at least sunny, destinations during those months. We concentrate most of our travel during the winter.
I’ve always enjoyed travel hacking on some level. We travel large on a small budget, often without using points. We learned that flexibility was a key to getting great deals. Quite often we are highly flexible on destinations. We have a high tolerance for places that are off the beaten path or otherwise not the most popular. As long we vetted the relative safety through reliable sources, which used to include the US State Department’s travel advisories, we felt confident to go. We have some flexibility on dates by not being tied to an academic calendar. Our destination ambivalence is also a reason we’ve ended up in some unusual, but fantastic places. People we know in real life often ask: “How’d you decide to go there?” Our usual answer is: “Plane tickets were cheap.”
Our travel philosophy has always been: Just go!
We rarely say no to an opportunity to travel unless we have a conflict. Until this year, we always made financial room for another trip if the price was right. But once we started rigorously tracking our spending, we realized that a lot of our income funded travel. We wanted to experiment with whether we could maintain our identity as world explorers while cutting back the expense.
We prioritize time of year. The holidays, our wedding anniversary, and the difficult midwestern winter. If a trip falls outside of those seasons, we now try to turn it down. We tend to reserve spontaneous getaways to invitations from friends.
Another cost control measure is to fully use our timeshare. We budget out our stays, particularly using the timeshare at resorts where it is more efficient and for longer stays, typically those week-long trips. We usually plan timeshare stays one to two years in advance, making a reservation request up to a year before the planned stay. This allows us to conserve other forms of travel points, hopefully until our retirement. We fill in any gaps with regular hotel stays. Our timeshare allows us to trade through an exchange network, so this option makes available many worldwide destinations. We value the newness of a destination over its popularity. Thus, a place we’ve never visited will likely prevail over somewhere we’ve seen before, even if the latter has more widespread appeal. Similarly, we like locales that are a little bit under the radar.
Our timeshare points must be used within a certain time period. Other travel points can be hoarded for years to come. To make the most of travel hacking with points, a level of flexibility that our jobs preclude is often required. With some of our trips planned a year in advance, it can be difficult to take advantage of a last minute points redemption special if one of our pre-planned trips falls too close. We use our timeshare points when we have to, but we’re looking to save most of our credit card and hotel points for early retirement. We did redeem a bunch of points to fund our 2017 trip to Japan, though, and that was fun.
We’re not particularly bothered by jet lag, so we don’t let the distance to a destination deter us. This backfired a little bit for our Vietnam trip, when we pushed the limits of how far for the shortest amount of time. Before our first trip to Europe, we fell victim to the belief that it wasn’t worth doing if we couldn’t spend at least two weeks there. Not true. Most places in western Europe are pretty accessible from the eastern half of the United States for 4-5 days or more. See motto: Just go!
One takeaway for finding good deals is to be flexible. There are many types of flexibility (maybe the topic of a future post), and ours is destination ambivalence. You can also be a little bit flexible in many categories, and often we have some flexibility in other areas, too. Mr. Vine is more of a long term planner and I’d be more spontaneous if given the choice. Having no idea where we want to go until we’ve booked something (even if that booking happens months in advance), helps serve both of our personalities.
Are your travel plans flexible? What’s your style of flexibility? How do you choose which destinations to visit?