7 Crucial Steps to Plan a Vacation You Probably Didn’t Know

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I think you’ll agree with me that our lives get complicated and busy.

We mean to save up for vacations and book them well in advance to get the best deals only to wait until the last minute anyway.

Where to go that isn’t already booked?  How to pay for everything??  Where can we go that won’t be super crowded??

But there’s a better way.

You don’t have to start a year in advance to have a great vacation, you just need a plan.

In this post, we’re diving deep into all the best tips and strategies for planning an amazing vacation.

Specifically, we’ll review the best steps to plan a vacation so you can truly relax, recharge and unwind.

steps to plan a vacation Middle Class Dad photoshopped guy multitasking and overwhelmed

Check out all my best travel resources and recommendations which can save you time and money on your next vacation!

The best time for summer vacation planning

Believe it or not, but to make your summer vacation the best ever, start your steps to plan a vacation at least 6 months ahead, if not more.

Not only are you more likely to ensure you get in where you want to go.  But you’ll also likely get better prices.

Airlines, hotels and rental car places love to charge the maximum rate when it’s last minute and they are close to capacity.

Booking early when they are unsure if they’ll sell out, is much more likely to get you the best deal out there.

Consumer expert Clark Howard recommends booking airfare about 120 days (4 months) in advance.  He has an excellent Travel & Planning guide, which is well worth checking out.

The busiest places for summer vacation to avoid

steps to plan a vacation Middle Class Dad extremely crowded summer beach

Some places may well be amazing, but when you go on vacation somewhere with 50,000 other people it can be anything but relaxing.

When you’re young, single and childless these places may be a lot of fun.  But for most of us middle class dads, we need something a bit more low key and family friendly.

Travel & Leisure has a list of America’s Most Crowded Beaches.  These should be at the top of the list to avoid if you’re looking for some nice downtime and RnR.

Places like:

  • Venice Beach, CA
  • Miami Beach, FL
  • Daytona Beach, FL
  • Waikiki Beach, HI

Moving beyond that list I would also add Cancún, Mexico, Nassau, Bahamas & Key West, FL.  Unless crowds, college kids drinking all night, noise and traffic are what you’re looking for; keep looking.

The best summer vacation spots no one goes to

TripAdvisor ranked what they call Destinations on the Rise.

Basically, these are somewhat unknown gems around the world that won’t be over-crowded during peak summer vacation times.

Take a look at some of these surprisingly affordable summer vacation destinations worthy of considering in your steps to plan a vacation!

In addition, I would also suggest some of the following spots which will be both more affordable and less crowded!

  1. New Orleans, LA
    • Yes it will be a bit steamy and on the warmer side
    • True, the crowds on Bourbon Street will be out to party
    • But there’s cemeteries, museums, ghost tours and food festivals galore!
  2. Vail, CO
    • Our RV broke down in Vail once and it became an unintended destination while we waited for repairs.  We ended up LOVING Vail.
    • Picture a quaint German-esque mountain town; delicious food, beautiful scenery and friendly people
    • Since it’s a ski destination in winter, summer is the off season (ie; inexpensive!)
    • Art, dance and jazz festivals happen during summer so there’s always something to do (and you’re less than 100 miles from Denver)
  3. Palm Springs, CA
    • Another favorite of ours from the years we attended the Coachella Music Festival
    • This will be a HOT time of year to visit (but it’s a dry swelter)
    • Swank mid-century modern stylings abound in this quaint and fun town
    • Think swimming, golf, good food and museums all for a killer price!

The worst days to travel on your summer vacation

One of the most crucial steps to plan a vacation is to know the right times to go!

Orbitz, the renown travel site, conducted a survey and they found the worst days to travel during the summer months.

  1. The last week of May
  2. The first week of June
  3. 4th of July weekend

In general they also found that, not surprisingly, the worst travel days of any week were Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

Thus, if you can do it, try and leave and/or return on a Sunday or early in the week.

Crucial steps to plan a vacation for less!

Clark Howard says “My FIRST RULE OF TRAVEL: Find a great airfare deal or affordable destination — then figure out a reason to go there! Eventually you’ll see the world at a fraction of the normal price!”

Finding great deals is easy to do.  It just takes a little planning and patience.  Shopping around definitely pays off.

There are a million ways to book airfare, but I almost always use Travelocity and have for over a decade.

Vital steps to plan a vacation without debt!

If you’re like most people you have credit cards; probably a few of them.

You know what else most people have?  A lot of debt!  The average household in the US carries almost $10,000 in credit card debt according to creditcard.com.

I don’t know about you, but if I’m $10k in the hole and I just charged up another 4 grand for my family’s summer vacation, the last thing I’ll be able to do is relax.

Thus, at least in my household, the steps to plan a vacation definitely don’t include debt!

So is paying for a summer vacation impossible without credit cards?

steps to plan a vacation Middle Class Dad credit cards fanned out on a desk

Absolutely not!

As with anything else, it’s just a matter of doing the steps to plan a vacation correctly.  Summer is at the same place on the calendar every year.

You may already know where you want to go and how much that will cost.

And you probably also have a good idea of what your family usually spends on a nice vacation.  For my family, if we’re doing a really nice (for a middle class dad) vacation, that’s about $3,500 to $4,000.

So if you start saving in January and you have to have the money in full by July, that gives us 6 months to save up.  So we’re talking a little over $600/month to save between those 2 dates.

If that’s too much you have 2 options:

  1. Start saving earlier
  2. Downsize your summer vacation

Related: Paycheck to Paycheck – 7 ways to stop being broke!

One misnomer out there is that we somehow have to have a credit card to book hotels and rental cars.

My wife and I haven’t had a credit card in years (at least 5) and we’ve booked all kinds of stuff with just our debit card.

If one provider claims you have to have one, just move on to the next one; we’ve never had a problem.

How to connect as a family on a summer vacation

Let’s go back to my above comment about possibly downsizing your summer vacation for a moment.

What I mean is that while it’s great to go to Disneyland (really great for us!), a great summer vacation is about connection!

The best times my family has had weren’t necessarily tied to how much we were spending.

No; the best times we’ve had are when we truly connect.  When my wife and I connect as husband and wife.  Then when our daughters connect as sisters and us as parents.

You can connect ANYWHERE.  Connection doesn’t require being on the beach at the Caymans (although that doesn’t hurt either).  You just have to be present.  To listen; to focus.

A funny thing happens when we step away from our daily lives.

When we take a break from work and especially electronic devices and social media we begin to really connect with each other.

When we focus more on being with each other instead of tagging one another or just seeing them through an Instagram filter it becomes different.

My family’s favorite summer vacation spots

My family loves to travel.  We like the mountains.  But we also like the beach.  We love Disney theme parks!  So many places, so little time and money!

We’ve been to Disneyland (California) and Walt Disney World (Florida) twice each.  We spent this past Christmas in Santa Fe and the Christmas before that in Costa Rica.

I also love Yellowstone National Park

I first went there as a kid and vowed to return every 7 years.

For the most part, I’ve stuck to that although I am currently a little overdue.

I have been a total of 7 times.  I would love to go there in winter, but thus far all my trips have been in summer (although depending on where you are you could see snow in summer).

Yellowstone does get crowded, but it’s so large at almost 3,500 square miles, it’s easy to feel like you’re away from the crowds.

Plus most people just hang around Old Faithful despite the fact that the park has about 10,000 other thermal areas.

If we had to pick one place we could go, most likely it would be a tie between a Disney park and Costa Rica.

However, Costa Rica is where my wife and I would love to eventually move to.  I have been 5 times and with the exception of my youngest daughter, our family has been 4 times.

Costa Rica really has it all; mountains, beaches, jungles, abundant wildlife, friendly people, fresh food and clean water and air.

It is truly a tropical paradise and while it has certainly gained popularity in the past 15 or so years, it’s still surprisingly affordable.

If you are thinking, “I wonder if he’s posted about this before too”, you’d be correct.  So check out Why YOU Should Visit Costa Rica if that sounds appealing.

In truth, if you do your steps to plan a vacation right, you can go just about anywhere!

So what are my . . .

7 Crucial Steps to Plan a Vacation You Probably Didn’t Know?


Ideally plan your summer vacation 6 months ahead of time (or more).  Figure out where to go and how much it will cost


Once you know where and when and how much, divide that by the number of months you have to pay and begin to save that amount each month.  Transfer to a savings account so it’s out of sight and out of reach!


You don’t need to add debt to have a great trip and when we charge it, it often doesn’t feel real.  But when you get the bill while lounging on the beach it becomes very real.  With a little planning, budgeting and maybe some household cutbacks, you can do it!


Don’t just blindly go with the first site you visit or what a travel agent tells you.  Don’t get frozen by fear either, but check at least 3 sights for lodging, airfare and rental car before you buy.


Traveling on the busiest days of the year adds time, frustration, increases the odds for missing connecting flights or getting bumped.  A summer vacation is supposed to be relaxing, right?  Skip the holiday weekends and fly Sunday to Sunday if you can.


If everyone and their dog is going to be in Playa del Carmen or Miami on the 4th of July, do yourself a favor and stay away.  If you’re young and childless maybe that sounds like a good time.  But for the rest of us looking to relax and connect with our family, those over-crowded destinations just make us feel less relaxed by the time we get home.


Along the same lines, seeking out places a little off the radar not only give you peace and quiet but also can save you money!  The best of both!  Plus you’ll get to explore destinations on your summer vacation that many others haven’t seen yet.

steps to plan a vacation Middle Class Dad Playa Conchal Costa Rica

Did I cover all the steps to plan a vacation you were hoping for?

In this post, we took an in-depth look at some of the best tips and strategies for planning your next vacation.

Vacations aren’t exactly rocket science, but it can get complicated; especially if we want until the last minute.

Specifically, today, we reviewed the most crucial steps to plan a vacation so you cabn have the vacation of a lifetime without the stress, headaches or debt that can often come with them.

Check out all my best travel resources and recommendations which can save you time and money on your next vacation!

steps to plan a vacation Jeff Campbell Middle Class Dad bio

Photo credits (that aren’t mine):
Overwhelmed guy – https://www.flickr.com/photos/anieto2k/
crowded beach – https://www.flickr.com/photos/georgenaf/

Jeff Campbell

4 thoughts on “7 Crucial Steps to Plan a Vacation You Probably Didn’t Know”

    • Thank you Celesta!

      I’m glad you enjoyed it! If you ever struggle with something let me know and I’ll see if I can help.

      Thanks for being here.


  1. Great post! We’re already planning a big summer getaway for next year. I’ll take this into consideration. We love Hawaii and have been to Kihei, but I wanted to see Oahu next time…maybe not if it’s that busy…

    • Thanks Mike!

      I’ve only been to Hawaii once (Oahu) but would love to explore some of the more remote places.

      Costa Rica is still my favorite though!

      I’d love to hear about your trip when you go.



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