Vacations are a way to get away from the daily hustle and bustle of life, but planning a vacation can be stressful. There’s so much to do—you have to book flights, set up lodging, plan an itinerary, get passports in order, and save money for the trip. Any complications can throw a wrench in your plans, so it’s essential to plan ahead.
When planning a vacation, book flights at least three months in advance and book lodging at least a few months out. Book cruises as early as six months before the trip for the best selection and deals. If you’re booking last minute, use travel newsletters to find good deals or consider hiring a travel agent.
Knowing how and when to book a vacation can save you a lot of time, stress, and money. Read on to learn more about how far in advance you should plan a vacation.
When to Start Planning Your Vacation
When you should start planning a vacation depends on the type of vacation you plan to take.
Shorter, less expensive trips do not require the same level of planning as an extravagant, week-long getaway.
When planning a brief vacation to a less expensive destination, you don’t need to plan and book a year or more in advance. One month may be adequate to get you a good deal on lodging and airfare. If you need to obtain or renew passports, plan at least six months in advance. The current wait time for passports can be up to 6-8 weeks (5-7 for expedited – be sure to check current estimated wait times).
For long, lavish trips, especially those to a foreign country, start planning at least six months early, but a year out is best. This way, you’ll have ample time to compare prices on airfare, lodging, and nearby attractions. You’ll also have enough of a head start to get your passport and currencies in order.
For tips on saving money on airfare, visit this article.
Cruises, on the other hand, are different from other trips. You should always book cruises early since they’re popular and have minimal space. It’ll help if you book cruises at least six months in advance. But, earlier is best, even up to 18 months before the trip, for a better selection and a reasonable price. It’s also important to pre-book cruise ship activities since they fill up fast.
If you book an all-inclusive cruise (which most ocean cruises are), you do not have to plan for food, lodging, and itinerary since the cruise line includes this in your purchase. You’ll just have to plan for airfare to the port and look into any excursions.
Book Airfare at Least 3 Months in Advance
Regular travelers know that the cost of airfare never remains consistent. Estimating the cost of plane tickets is impossible on a day-to-day basis, let alone months out.
Start your search for airfare around six months in advance. But you don’t need to book the flight until around two to three months before the trip, especially for flights out of the country. If you book later, you may miss out on the best value.
Starting your airfare search six months out allows you to compare prices and better grasp typical flight costs to your vacation destination. By the time you’re ready to book, you’ll know whether the price is worth it.
Book Lodging as Early as Possible
Depending on when and where you’re vacationing, you need to book lodging as early as 18 months ahead.
This is especially true during the spring break months and for popular tourist destinations like Disney World. It’s best to book early if you want an affordable hotel in a prime location. These lodging facilities sell out quickly, so plan accordingly.
Before booking a hotel that far in advance, be sure to read the company’s cancelation policy carefully. Many hotels and lodging facilities require a guest to cancel a certain number of days before the trip to be eligible for a full refund. Keep note of the date on your calendar in case you need to cancel.
Advice for Booking Late Vacations
Sometimes it’s just not possible to plan in advance. But fortunately, there are still ways to get a good deal when you’re booking late.
Travelers often get the best deals on airfare three months in advance, but sometimes better deals may pop up a few weeks before the date of the trip.
To take advantage of these deals, sign up for travel and airline newsletters. These companies often send out weekly emails targeted toward late vacationers.
Some airline companies offer better deals on different days of the week. For example, Sundays and Tuesdays are good days to check for discounts on flights for the following week. In addition, sign up for flight alerts to get notifications when airfare prices go up or down.
Planning a cruise late is a little more complicated. The later you book, the fewer options you have. Therefore, you may have to settle for less, such as an interior cabin instead of one with an ocean view.
If you’re lucky, you may get a good deal on an “unsold” cabin on a cruise ship. When people cancel their cruises or do not pay their deposit on time, a cruise line may offer these rooms at a discounted rate.
The law requires cruise lines to submit their passenger lists to Homeland Security 72 hours before the ship sets sail. So, you cannot get these deals later than three days before the cruise.
If you’re planning a trip late and are having trouble finding a hotel in the area you’re staying, consider alternative lodging options such as:
- Private vacation rentals
- RV Parks
- Small bed and breakfast facilities
Private vacation rentals can be a bit pricey (though not always), but they offer more spacious accommodations than hotel rooms. When traveling with others, consider dividing the price between guests to reduce lodging costs. As a bonus, most private rentals offer full kitchens, saving a ton of money on food.
A cabin may not sound as luxurious as a private beachfront vacation rental, but not all cabins are rundown shacks in the middle of nowhere.
There are thousands of luxury cabins worldwide, and unlike camping, they keep you out of the elements. These cabins often boast amenities such as hot tubs, full kitchens, and gorgeous views.
Some people find camping to be too much work for a vacation. You have to cook outdoors, wash your clothes by hand, and walk to showering facilities.
However, if you’re trying to save money and don’t mind living the rugged life for a few days, consider giving your tent a chance. Outdoor camping can be a magical experience.
If you’re not traveling far and have an RV, consider using it for your trip. RV parks are just like campgrounds, except they’re equipped with electricity.
When all else fails, consider looking for a small bed and breakfast facility. These quaint lodging options are hidden gems, and they tend to be less expensive and cozier than hotels. Since they have fewer rooms, it’s still essential to book your stay as soon as possible.
To See a Travel Advisor or Not
Travel advisors are experts in their field. That means they have spent years planning vacations, airfare, and lodging in addition to investing in specialization programs and certifications. They know where to look, how to find the best rates and all of the little logistics that make a vacation amazing.
That being said, you don’t always need a travel advisor to book your vacation. Advisors such as Crafted Travel Company offer resources and training so you can learn their tips and tricks and plan your own vacations. However, some people still prefer to utilize their expertise because they are experienced with the ins and outs of traveling.
You might think that booking a cruise doesn’t require a travel advisor, but that’s not true! Many travel advisors have special relationships with cruise lines that allow them to offer discounted rates, extra perks and amenities, and better reservation and booking processes. It is always better to book cruises through a professional advisor.
Going on vacation is supposed to allow you to unwind and relax wherever your heart desires—on a sandy beach, in the mountains, or on a gondola in Italy. Knowing when to plan and getting everything set up as early as possible can make the planning process easier on your wallet and stress levels.
- Erasmus Student Network: A Few Tips for Short Trips
- AARP: 10 Tips For First-Time Cruisers
- Sky Scanner: Why and When Do Flight Prices Drop?
- USA Today: 10 Hotel Booking Mistakes and How To Avoid Them
- USA Today: 5 Ways to Find Last-Minute Flight Deals Online and On The Phone
- Phocus Wire: Travel Spending in the U.S. Ticks Up, Led By Alternative Lodging