Ever since I studied French in school, I have dreamed of visiting Paris. I longed to stroll the streets, sit at a café eating a croissant, visit the market to buy ingredients for dinner, and see the famous art in its many museums. So I set a goal: to take this trip to celebrate my 30th birthday. My WWII history-buff husband saw it as a good opportunity to see the Normandy beaches. As I began telling friends about the idea, we found another couple interested in joining us.
After three years of planning and saving, we just returned from our trip last week. Our four days in Paris were everything I dreamed of and more: We ate pain au chocolat, reflected on the beautiful art, gazed at the Eiffel Tower, shopped for clothes and goodies, explored medieval churches, and laughed at our floundering French skills. We walked and walked and walked — I’m pretty sure I hit at least 25,000 steps each day. A late night dinner at a neighborhood bistro — where we waited on the sidewalk for our table drinking wine and people watching, ate a delicious three course meal featuring a large bowl of chocolate mousse we all shared, and winded back through the Paris streets at midnight with the spotlight from the Eiffel Tower guiding us home — seemed like the quintessential Parisian experience.
After four busy Parisian days, we traded our tired feet for a car and headed to France’s northern coast. On the way, we visited Monet’s house and gardens in Giverny. We decided to take life a little slower in Honfleur, taking time to window shop along the cobblestone streets, savor a crepe, gaze longingly at the ocean, and watch the ships at the pier. A D-Day tour gave us a chance to go inside a WWII German bunker, stand on Omaha beach, and explore the American cemetery. We also took a cooking class from a French woman who invited us into her beautiful home for hours of cooking, conversation, and, of course, eating. It was easily one of the highlights of the trip.
As I think back on this trip, I am in awe that we were able to make this dream of mine a reality. But I know that a lot of diligent saving, careful decision-making, and thoughtful planning went in to making this dream possible.
Looking to make your dream trip a reality? Here are six tips from my experience:
1. Do your research: It’s easy to get stuck in fantasy mode. Begin making this goal real by putting the picture of this trip together. Identify where you want to go and what you’d like to do, as well as get a preliminary sense of the cost. This is a great time to purchase travel guides, check out travel blogs, and peruse travel magazines.
Tip: I can’t talk about my trip to Paris without giving a big shout-out to Rick Steves! His guides on Paris and the Normandy region were invaluable to us as we planned. While we were there, his guides to famous sites, cultural tips, and maps were incredibly helpful — plus, they are very affordable.
2. Be honest about your priorities: This isn’t the time to be stingy — after all, this is your dream trip. Determine where you’d like to spend and where you’d like to splurge. We decided to save money by staying in an Airbnb so we could eat in for some meals. But we also gave ourselves plenty of space to splurge on shopping, eating out, and experiences like our cooking class. Need help identifying where to splurge and save? Check out this post! Remember, you don’t have to do everything and see everything. Identify what’s most important to you and stick to it!
Tip: When I budget for a trip, I always try to give myself extra space to splurge. I figure that any money we don’t spend can just go toward our next trip. Even if it takes a few more months of saving to give yourself more breathing room to enjoy your destination, it’s much better than coming back with debt or not letting your dream trip live up to its potential.
3. Check in with your values and goals: Once you’ve got a good sense of how much this trip will cost, it’s time to check in with your other financial priorities. Are there other things, like repaying debt, that need to happen first? Also, don’t forget to check in with your values. Since adventure is a key value my husband and I share, trips tend to be higher up on our list.
Tip: Disappointed that you have some other higher priority financial goals? Don’t let your dream trip fall into the abyss of “someday.” My husband and I have a running list of future goals at the bottom of our annual budget — just in case a windfall comes our way. This list helps us keep these goals top of mind as we create next year’s budget. Also, percentages can be your friend. Maybe your dream trip isn’t a top priority right now, but could you put 5% of your savings money toward it? Little by little you’ll move closer and closer toward your goal.
4. Visualize the end goal: Because saving for such a big dream takes time, it can be easy to get discouraged. Paint a mental picture of what you are most looking forward to. For me, it was eating a croissant at a café with a view of the Eiffel Tower. Whenever I got discouraged, I brought that image to mind.
Tip: Get your family and friends on board. For birthdays and Christmases leading up to this trip, we asked that people give us gifts that helped us to save or plan for our trip — luggage tags, travel books, money. Their investment and support helped make this trip possible.
5. Begin looking for deals early: We began looking for flights about nine months in advance of our trip and bought our tickets about seven months in advance. By then, we knew what a good price was and when to buy. We booked our Airbnb accommodations about six months in advance — though even then, we noticed many of the best homes were already snapped up.
Tip: We used Google Flights to research our options and determine the best times to fly. Once we’d picked our ideal flight, we tracked it for a few weeks so we could get a sense of the range of cost. When the ticket prices dropped, we were able to buy with confidence.
6. Stick to the budget: I get that dream trips and budgets don’t seem to naturally go together, but why blow through all of the money you diligently saved and come home in debt? That’s why it’s important to be realistic from the outset and give yourself some space to splurge.
Tip: Make sure to adjust your budget along the way. As you begin to buy tickets and accommodations, some things will cost more than expected, others will cost less. Finding that costs are higher than you anticipated? This is a great time to trim the corners on your regular budget so you can put more money toward your trip. Living frugally before you leave will only make your dream trip all the sweeter.
Finally, I encourage you to consider bringing friends along. Our trip was twice as much fun because we didn’t travel alone. We were able to combine our knowledge of the places we were visiting, share some of the costs, and make dinners out even more lively.
Need some help making your dream trip a reality? Join me in-person or virtually for a Big Goal Strategy Session. In this 1-hour session, we’ll break down your goal into manageable steps, identify barriers to achieving your goals, and develop a realistic plan.
I’d love to know what destination you’re dreaming of. Let me know in the comments below!