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6 Tips for Planning a DIY Vacation

Smart tricks for pulling off an affordable, hassle-free trip on your own.

U.S. News & World Report

6 Tips for Planning a DIY Vacation

Shot of a young woman holding a map while touring abroad

Creating a travel budget, conducting plenty of research and factoring in transportation costs and other practicalities can help you maximize savings on your getaway.(iStockphoto)

So, you've decided to plan your next trip on your own. You've picked your destination, you've saved up your vacation days and you're ready to go. But now, even after laying the groundwork for your perfect getaway, taking care of the remaining logistical details seems like a daunting task. With so many practicalities to take into account, from knowing when to fly to get the best deals to selecting the right lodging choice and determining how to get around and what to do once you arrive, there are many things to consider. To help guide you in the right direction, we rounded up six handy tips to help you ace your DIY vacation.

Research Your Desired Destination

One of the most important parts of planning a vacation is ensuring you pick the right location. And when it comes to choosing an ideal setting for your needs, conducting plenty of research is key. Educate yourself on your desired destination to maximize safety, and select your accommodations and craft your itinerary wisely. Also, rely on trusted travel books, websites, user reviews and official tourism board websites to get to know the ins and outs of the destination you're visiting. And if you are planning to go overseas, brushing up on the local language, the national currency and typical cultural norms will help make your journey smoother.

Create a Realistic Budget and Start Your Flight Search Early

Two major things that will eat into your travel budget are transportation and accommodation costs. So, it is critically important to establish how much you are willing to spend before your trip to help keep your budget on track. And as you search for the best flight deals, make sure to compare flights across different deal-focused websites and begin the search months ahead of your desired travel dates. Also, make sure to sign up for airfare alerts, so you never miss out on a good deal. While discount sites are useful, sometimes you can secure better deals booking directly with the airline, rather than an online travel agency, such as KAYAK or Expedia. Some airlines also offer special promotional codes that are only applicable on their websites, so make sure to keep an eye out for exclusive offers to land the best rates.

Consider Transportation Costs

Another factor to consider is how you will get around once you reach your desired destination. You should take into account whether you will be located in an urban area with pedestrian- or bike-friendly streets or if you will need to rely on public transportation. And if you're staying in a rural area, remember to factor in whether you will need to rent a car or bring your own car, and budget accordingly for gas expenses and daily rental rates. If you're headed to a metropolitan area, also consider purchasing a CityPASS (available in Chicago, Boston, New York City and Philadelphia, among other destinations), which offers unlimited transportation and discounts or free entry to museums and other attractions. And if you're planning to pick up a set of wheels once you arrive, consider renting a car with unlimited mileage, an included GPS system and full insurance coverage to minimize hassles.

Find the Right Accommodations 

Selecting a place to stay is often the most difficult part of planning a vacation on your own. Are you seeking an upscale property or a more low-key and budget-friendly lodging option? There are many websites out there that aim to help you find hotel deals depending on your needs and interests. Consider turning to third-party booking sites, such as Expedia, Orbitz and to search for hotel deals as well as home rentals. Showcasing the lowest prices for hotels, hostels, and private homes, along with plenty of user reviews and filter options depending on your interests, makes it easy to secure an ideal property at a reasonable rate. If you aren't sure where you want to go, also has a unique feature called "Seek and Go." With this function, you can type in your interests and desired region (i.e. North America, United Kingdom) and get results based on your preferences. Plus, your results will also feature information about nearby neighborhoods, tips from locals, transportation advice, dining information, accommodation suggestions and a list of similar towns.

Plan Activities

Organizing your vacation itinerary may seem like a tricky task, but it shouldn't be. With legions of resources available to vacationers, especially official tourism board websites, it's easy to pinpoint cultural points of interest, shopping suggestions, dining recommendations, suggested walks and special events. If you're still undecided about the top attractions to hit after browsing reputable guidebooks and tourism board sites, consider purchasing tickets for a hop-on, hop-off bus service, which serves as a reliable form of transportation and will allow you to get a lay of the land. Hop-on, hop-off buses also offer a detailed description of attractions and neighborhoods in multiple languages, and sometimes include discounts to local attractions.

Prepare For the Unexpected

One of the best tips for planning a DIY vacation is staying flexible and embracing unexpected twists and turns that come up along the way. After all, the mantra that “anything that can go wrong, will go wrong” often applies to travel. Investing in travel insurance can be a smart option, depending on your travel plans, itinerary and personal health history. It's also important to stay vigilant of your surroundings and keep an eye on your belongings at all times. And make sure to stay prepared by considering where you will store valuables and important documents throughout your trip to dodge unnecessary stress later on. Unsuspecting tourists are often the target of thieves, so stay savvy by traveling with only a little cash on hand, keeping credit cards in hard to reach areas and staying alert.


About En Route

Practical advice on the art of traveling smarter with tips, tricks and intel from En Route's panel of experts.

Contributors have experience in areas ranging from family travel, adventure travel, experiential travel and budget travel to hotels, cruises and travel rewards and include Amy Whitley, Claire Volkman, Holly Johnson, Marsha Dubrow, Lyn Mettler, Sery Kim, Kyle McCarthy, Erica Lamberg, Jess Moss, Sheryl Nance-Nash, Sherry Laskin, Katie Jackson, Erin Gifford, Roger Sands, Steve Larese, Gwen Pratesi, Erin Block, Dave Parfitt, Kacey Mya, Kimberly Wilson, Susan Portnoy, Donna Tabbert Long and Kitty Bean Yancey.

Edited by Liz Weiss.

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