How to Make Realistic Travel Goals

Knowing how much money you have and where it’s going, makes things fall into place. Sure, things may look bleak in the beginning, but pretty soon you’ll see where you can make adjustments. You’ll know how much surplus income (I like to think of surplus income as strictly travel money. I don’t use it for anything else) you have, and you can make a plan as to how you want to use it.

*cough* Travel! *cough*

Travel Foreplay

Having a budget, and following it is an important key to saving money for travel, but it’s not the only one. Simply saving money is too general. Too broad. You need to have a realistic travel goal.

Believe it or not, coming up with a realistic travel goal [read: the monetary figure for your travels] can be a lot of fun. Why? You get to do travel planning! Travel planning is like having hours of torturously detailed foreplay! Think about it. Your skin tingles. Your adrenaline rushes. Your body vibrates with excitement. Travel planning is a crazy awesome aphrodisiac. Embrace it. Love it. Relish in it.

Making a Realistic Travel Goal

In order to make realistic travel goals (that fit within your budget), you need to sit down and make a list of the places you want to visit. Knowing – roughly – where you’d like to travel to is the first step in the process. Now don’t get your panties in a bunch yet. I’m not telling you to plan all of your travels now. No, no, I’m not. In order to make a realistic travel goal, you need a rough idea as to how much your travel dream will cost. So, think of this is the 1st draft – with the final draft not taking place until you’re actually on the road.

Here are a couple tips on how to make a realistic 1st draft plan:

  • Define your travel dream. Do you want to spend a few years travelling around the world? Do you want to travel for several months in Asia, or another continent? Perhaps you want to backpack around Europe for three months. Whatever it is, you need to define it (and don’t panic, you can totally change your mind later on).
  • Once your travel dream is defined, figure out (roughly), where you want to go.
  • Research! Read travel guides, travel blogs, hostel/guesthouse/hotel booking sites, check into flight costs, train passes etc.
  • Write down how much things cost. Food. Accommodations. Transportation. FUN stuff.
  • Think DREAM. When you’re doing your research, pick things you would LOVE to do/experience, and work those costs into your travel goal.
  • Look at your figures, and then pad them by about 15-25%. Sure, some guy says you can live on $10/day in Cambodia, but don’t base your budget on that. He could be crazy. You may discover you have slightly higher standards once you arrive. Look at your research figures, and pad them.
Elephant Nature Park

Visiting Elephant Nature Park was my dream activities for 2012

Let’s use me as an example (just to give you an idea of what I’m talking about).

  • My plan is to live in Thailand (using Chiang Mai as my homebase), and travel throughout Asia.
  • My country list is as follows: Cambodia, Vietnam, China, Mongolia, Brunei, Borneo, Malaysia, and possibly India, and Nepal. I know I may not get to all these places, but they’re still on my list.
  • I’ve travelled to Chiang Mai a few times, I know how much food costs (I can eat on $10/day, and then splurge once a week and spend $20), as well as local transportation (60¢ per ride). I’ve looked into apartments, and emailed for current rates (I can rent a studio apartment for about $250/mth). Using those figures, I’ve decided I can probably live in Chiang Mai for about $500/mth – and I’ll be quite comfortable.
  • I’ve talked about travelling through Asia. I know that there are budget airlines with crazy awesome sales (like $25 fares). Travelling within Asia can be cheap (think bus, plane, train, boat). I’ve looked at costs for traveling from Chiang Mai to various countries, and I’ve decided to budget an extra $500 a month for travel.
  • Part of my plan is to do freelance writing while I’m in Thailandand possibly teach English. I know how much I’ll be paid for the majority of my articles, and I’ve made a decision on how many I want to sell each month in order to keep me in Thailand as long as possible.
  • I don’t want to deal with money pressure as soon as I arrive in Thailand. Keeping this in mind I have decided to save six months worth of living and travel expenses ($6,000) before leaving for Thailand.

The big thing with making realistic travel goals is… DON’T BE A HERO! You don’t have anything to prove to anyone. It’s not a competition to see who can spend the least amount of money (or the most). Think about your comfort zone. Pad your estimated figures, and then make adjustments on the road. Don’t undercut yourself. That can lead to you being a very unhappy traveller.

Courting Realism

Making realistic travel goals may mean cutting back on your travel list. That part sucks. In the beginning, I’d say, “I’m going to be in Asia, so that means I need to go______”, and then I’d name pretty much every country in Asia. Then I’d do a bunch of research, write down figures, and get depressed.

“It’s going to cost me $15,000?!?! It will take me FOREVER to save that money!”

I was working an okay paying job, but I had debts and bad spending habits. And I wasn’t willing to wait 5 years to make my travel dreams a reality. I was bogged down. My travel dreams started crushing me. It sucked balls.

Until I sat down and said “Screw it. I’m going”, and let my stubborn nature take over. I looked at flight booking sites, then hunted for flights that were under $1,000. When I found a flight (Bangkok, Thailand), I booked it, then looked at my plan and readjusted everything. I feverishly scratched countries off my list. My initial plan was to travel for a year, but when I arrived I discovered that I had undercut myself. I had a higher standard than the people I took advice from, and I cut my list even more and started looking for ways to make money on the road. I had to sit down and be realistic about my goals, my budget, and how far I could go – and still love what I was doing.

Start with a mid-level goal. Pick countries you know you can afford, and throw in a few that you’re not sure about. Use that as your initial goal, then as time progresses, change your goal. What do you think you can realistically do? Remember…

Travel planning is like having hours of torturously detailed foreplay!

Make it fun! Think of the possibilities. Find ways to stay inspired (I’ll talk more about this on Sunday).

About The Author

I'm a travel writer and photographer who specializes in bespoke travel experiences. I write about boutique, savvy and cultural travel. My writing has been featured in Outpost Magazine, Travel + Escape, and UP! Magazine.

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25 Responses

  1. Diane Chehab

    Looking forward to reading more of this blog! My dream for years has been to travel to Japan… I am always pulled in another direction for personal/business reasons. No family members in Japan! I hope I get there one day!

    Reply
  2. Kristen - Hopscotch the Globe

    My travel goals are to live with different tribes and communities around the world that are completely different then what I know. I also want to challenge myself and do the most adventurous things this world has to offer. I want to eat the weirdest foods, meet the craziest people and just embrace every way of life in as many countries as possible. All the while, I want to give back and help as many people as I can along the way.

    Reply
    • Lyn Midnight

      OMG, it’s like you’ve read my mind. I want those things! Well said. 🙂

      Reply
    • Lindsay

      I don’t think enough people understand the value of living “with different tribes and communities around the world that are completely different then what I know”. I completely agree and can’t wait to get back out there to do so myself!

      Reply
      • Pamela

        Ladies, I am sincerely privileged to have fantabulous readers like yourselves. Truly. Thank-you for sharing your travel goals!!

  3. TerryTheTrsvelolic

    My travel goals for 2013 are:
    Visit Machu Pichu
    Jamaica
    Hawaii
    Australia
    Thailand
    Cambodia
    Vietnam
    Singapore
    Philippines
    Malaysia
    Finland
    Russia
    Denmark
    Holland
    Germany
    Iceland
    British Columbia
    Alaska

    Reply
  4. Megan

    My travel goal for 2013 is to visit Jasper and go back home (Toronto area) for a couple of weeks. I want to do another trip somewhere but undecided. Right now, the top choice is Tofino for a week. I’m already working on accomplishing 2013 goals, I just bought a flight to Toronto and booked a B & B in Jasper.

    In 2014, I would like to do a bigger, international trip but I’m working on researching now and figuring out where would be best for my passion and cost. I have a long list.

    Reply
  5. Lyn Midnight

    If you’d asked me a couple of months ago what my travel plans were, I would’ve said… after spending the first half of 2013 in Rome, I’m going back to London. But you’re asking me today so… here is my CRAZY AWESOME PLAN for 2013: First, I finish my work in Rome, then use the money I have saved to do a quick Europe trip. I’ll use couchsurfing and go to festivals, just like a good friend of mine does. I’ll meet crazy people and take crazy photos on the way. Finally, I’ll find a new aupair gig for the fall/winter period. Phew, crazy enough? 🙂

    Reply
  6. Lindsay

    For 2013 my travel goal is simple: I’m saving for an extended trip to South America and so travel will be very minimal in the meantime. In planning my trip I’ve gone through many of the stages you mention above. It started out wanting to delve deeper into South America following a trip to Ecuador. Then it evolved. I thought maybe I’d do South America, Australia, and some of Asia on a Circle Pacific fare. Then I thought, “Why not an actual RTW?” Then realized I’m not made of money! My “live comfortably” budget for South America would take enough time to save up, so I reworked my dreams to suit reality. I’ll likely live and travel for about a year in South America and then head off on another adventure (like teaching English in Asia) afterword. Thanks for the call for comments – just writing/thinking about it is giving me a rush!

    Reply
    • Pamela

      Love it. I SO know what it is like to have BIG travel dreams, then realize that I need to tone them down a wee bit. I think an intensive trip through South America would be fascinating. I’d love to do the same, once I’ve had my fill of Asia. 🙂

      Reply
      • Lindsay

        I definitely feel the pull towards Asia as well but more and more feel that slow travel in different regions is really the way to go. I honestly cannot wait to hear about your adventures. Living vicariously is essential during the planning stages – especially if saving is a long-term process.

  7. JRinAsia

    I loved your advice! Having lived in Asia now for almost 3 years, I can attest to the fact that what you say is right on. As for my travel goals? My goal is to explore the Philippines, the country of my father’s birth, more in depth! Currently, I’ve only managed to see Manila, which is a shame since I live in Kaohsiung, Taiwan, only an hour and a half away by plane. But this is my goal, mainly because I have never really known much about this side of my family, as I was raised as a Hawaiian in my mother’s culture. So it will be like tracing back my history. I plan to take time this whole upcoming year to explore and discover my “father”land more fully!

    Reply
  8. Sherrie Beaver

    My goal for 2013 is to finalise my itinerary for Europe by July. Like you said – travel planning is like having hours of tortuously detailed foreplay. The worst bit of it is buying your flight tickets months before and having to wait for the day you fly out… I am seriously itching to get on a plane!!!

    Reply
    • Pamela

      I swear, every time I read that line about travel planning and foreplay I crack up. OMG. Okay… calming down…

      I totally know what you’re saying.

      Reply
  9. Rachel - Guide and Dive

    My travel goals for 2013 are almost what you described above, but not quite. My goal is to backpack 8-12 months starting in New Zealand, East Coast Aus, Indo (Bali), and work my way up to SE Asia (Thailand, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia). I plan to do as many dives and adventure activities as I can manage. Also, because I have been tour guiding backpackers for the last few years, I’d like to reconnect with as many of them as l can… maybe discover their home like they discovered mine. Finding tour or dive work along the way so I can extend my travels is big part of the goal too. 🙂

    Reply
  10. Our Dear Lady Expatriate

    LOVE this article so much that I included it in my Loveliest Links roundup for the week!

    My travel goals for the next year are to keep living a beautiful life in Cambodia, to finally get to host my parents on their first big trip abroad, to take them to Vietnam, and to take more weekend trips to places in Cambodia like Kep, Kampot, and Battambang. Woohoo: it’s gonna be a good year!

    Reply
  11. Priya

    I kept saying to myself, whether I have the money or not , I’m leaving Chicago sometime in 2013 ( probably near the end). I’ve been thinking about going to Australia for a while now, and getting a working visa and all that jazz but the more and more I think about it, the more confused I am. I don’t know what I want to do or where I want to go. This post really helped me realized I need to sit down and really think and plan and research. There are many places I would like to go. I just don’t know where to start. But, how can I cure my travel bug right now? Can I do a cheap ( like, really cheap) trip somewhere in the States for a couple of days?

    Reply
    • Pamela

      Definitely! Staycations are a fab way to keep you from feeling bogged down. I’d look for hot deals (try websites like kayak.com) and plan small trips that are low budget. Allow yourself a splurge night, but also look for free things to do.

      Reply
  12. 2012: My Year in Travel - Spunkygirl Monologues

    […] Have YOU shared your travel goals for 2013 and entered to WIN a copy of Dream Save Do?! You need to do that! I’ll be choosing the winner Dec 31st!! […]

    Reply
  13. Meghan Johnson

    What a surprisingly funny read! I love the foreplay metaphor. 😉 It’s so true though, anticipating/daydreaming about travel is one its most pleasurable gifts.

    2013 is going to be a landmark year for me, as my long-term travel winds down and I relocate for work on a somewhat permanent basis. I’m really looking forward to diving into work projects again though. And hopefully I’ll get to explore a good chunk of Eastern Europe in the process (yay statue walks!).

    Happy New Year, Spunkygirl!

    Reply

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