2013 is going to rock. That’s because it’s YOUR year to travel. Yesterday, I talked travel motivation and making travel your priority. And how you should take one step TODAY to make your dream trip happen. But what if you don’t know what that one step should be?

Welllll, without further ado, here’s your 7-step travel action plan. No more excuses. Let’s go!

1. Get a passport

If you don’t have one already, getting a passport takes time and money. In my opinion, it’s the most important book you’ll ever own. Start the application process NOW to avoid panic and extra fees.

2. Pick a destination

If you dream of traveling, you probably already have a place in mind. If you don’t, think about what type of trip you want to have. Are you interested in culture? Beaches? Trekking? Unless you’re some kind of royalty, money is probably a concern. (If you are royalty, call me, maybe?)

Girl eating Thai food from a banana leaf
Thai food!

So, you should stick to places that will eat up less of your budget. Dreaming of Italy? Try Croatia instead. Southeast Asia is a great destination for first-time travelers that’s also really cheap. And the food is amazing. South America is beautiful and inexpensive, and it offers great opportunities to practice Spanish.

3. Figure out a time to visit

Once you’ve settled on your destination, do a little research into the seasons there. Are there particular festivals you want to attend? Is it going to be super cold when you go? Lonely Planet has great information on this.

Keep in mind, however, that traveling in the off-season is often cheaper. I’ve been to Central America and Thailand in the rainy season; prices were much lower, and the rain was rarely an issue. Consider these factors, your work/life schedule, and how much time you think you’ll need to save, and create a target date for your trip.

Jewelry seller in Istanbul, Turkey
If this guy has anything to do with it, you will most definitely be buying puzzle rings in Istanbul. Be sure to factor those into your budget.

4. Define your budget

This is a really important step, and one that you absolutely cannot skip. You don’t want costs to come as a surprise. If you’ve never backpacked before, however, this research may pleasantly surprise you. A week in Central America, for example, will likely be cheaper than a weekend in Miami — flight included!

Budget Your Trip is an incredible free resource that lists daily costs depending on your travel style. You can also just Google “cost of travel in X,” which will usually render some helpful results.

In your calculations, include accommodation, food, transportation, and entertainment. Then, multiply that by the number of days you’d like to  stay. If there are any big activities that you want to do (scuba diving, for example), don’t forget to factor that in, as well. To make it easy, here’s a Travel Budget Calculator.

Now it’s time to check flight prices. Without question, my favorite site for international flights is ITA Flight Matrix, which allows you to search very flexible dates and lots of nearby cities. It takes a little getting used to, but is far more powerful than other search engines. (Bonus: For most carriers, there are no checked baggage fees on international flights!)

View of American Airlines plane wing
Flying is fun.

Add it all up, and you’ve got your budget. To be safe, add in an extra 15-20% for emergencies or unexpected costs. You’d rather come home with a few extra bucks than run out of money, wouldn’t you? Now you know how much money you need to make your travel goal a reality. How exciting!

5. Make moves to reach your goal

You’ve got your financial goal. Sweet. Remember your target date? Divide your financial goal by the amount of months you have until then, and that’s your monthly savings goal. If it seems like way too much, you may have to re-adjust your target date, or find a less-expensive destination. Now it’s time to make a budget that will let you save that amount each month. (If you need help creating a budget, try this one from LearnVest.) Figure out what expenses you can cut, or start a side-hustle or second job to earn extra cash.

6. Stay motivated

Tell people about your goal! It may sound unimportant, but it’s not. If you’ve got the support of your friends, it’ll be much easier to maintain motivation. They’ll also understand why you’re skipping nice dinners or nights on the town. If you have really cool friends, they’ll start planning more movie nights and free activities to help you. And who knows, maybe you can even get them to join you!

Print photos of where you’re going, or make your computer wallpaper a beautiful image of your destination. Read guidebooks. Join the CouchSurfing group for where you’re going, and start reading about all the exciting happenings. Get stoked!

Eiffel Tower lit up at night
If Paris is your dream destination, keep a photo like this somewhere you can see it every day.

7. Buy your ticket

Buying your airplane ticket is that final step. Once you do that, you’re on your way. I always feel a sense of relief and excitement as soon as I click “Purchase.” If it’s your first time in the country, book a hostel for at least the night that you arrive (search for one with free airport pickup). You can also research cheap hotels by using Trivago.

You’ll obviously want to do more research, but don’t over-plan. Leave some flexibility in your itinerary, so you can adjust once you’re there. Also, don’t forget to look into travel immunizations, travel insurance, and a great travel debit card.

There you have it, your action plan for travel in 2013. What did I miss? Where are YOU going?

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