Now that the excitement of our Alaska vacation has settled, I thought about things that I did to help make planning this trip easier. Although I originally imagined we’d take a cruise, a simple comment from my husband got me to thinking that we should plan the trip ourselves, making it truly unique. Couple that with sticker shock on the base price for three adults and I nixed the idea of a cruise, real quick! Below you’ll find the basic steps I followed to plan and save for our dream trip to Alaska!
1. Research costs
I had never been to Alaska before, but with a few quick searches, I was able to estimate our airfare costs. I also checked out the prices on some of the excursions that we were interested in. Lastly, I talked to some people who had cruised to Alaska, just to get an idea of what they spent. Obviously, this doesn’t provide you with concrete numbers, but just doing this bit of legwork helped me immensely with the next step.
Booking your own independent trip to Alaska? I highly recommend checking out the many resources on Alaska.org. They even have a trip calculator, though I found it to be a bit on the high side in terms of overall budget. (If you compare their 14 day trip to ours, you’ll see major differences among category spending.)
2. Set a budget
Given the various amounts I found during my initial research, I was able to establish a reasonable budget. I always recommend saving a bit more because it never hurts to have too much money saved. Also, let’s talk about that “reasonable” part. Though you could eat off the dollar menu at McDonald’s, do you really want to pinch pennies like that on a trip of a lifetime? I’m not sure about you, but I’d rather give up some things at home before my trip so that I could have more money to spend once I’m on vacation. But that’s me. You do you, boo.
Having a hard time saying no to yourself while at home? Try my simple trick! Anytime I’m thinking about buying something I ask myself, “Do I really need this? Would I rather have _____ or have that money to spend on my trip to _____?” I’m guessing you know what my answer is. 😉
3. Save, save, save
I cannot stress this enough — make savings a priority. The last thing you want to do is take this epic vacation and then come home to piles of credit card bills that you cannot pay off in full. That’s a surefire way to kill all the happy memories from your trip.
I recommend having a separate account specifically for travel. My credit union lets me have numerous subaccounts — all housed under my regular bank account number — but the subaccounts are not tied to my debit card. When it’s harder to get your money, you’ll be less tempted to “borrow” from it. I also have a line item in my monthly budget specifically for travel. Shockingly, when you have a plan for your money and you follow through with it, good things happen. 😉
I divide my savings amount out over a period of several months. I wanted all of the trip expenses saved by March since we would be leaving in July. This allowed me to book airfare, accommodations, and excursions, as I planned the trip, but didn’t leave me wiping out my entire savings account all at once. Some companies even have an option to pay half of your bill up front and the remaining balance a week or so before travel. I elected to do this for several expenses and it worked out just fine.
4. Spend wisely
Everyone has different values and standards for travel. Some people only stay in luxury hotels, while others opt for more budget-friendly accommodations. Maybe you only fly business class or you have miles to redeem towards an upgrade. The point here is not to judge anyone for their choices, but rather to feel confident in the choices that you make for your vacation. As long as you’re happy, then who cares what others may think!
For us, this meant things like:
- Flying coach both ways
- Using an Uber in Anchorage, as opposed to having our rental car a day earlier
- Not upgrading to Gold Class on the Alaska Railroad train (which included meals)
- Forgoing a pricey bear-viewing trip in Katmai National Park
Don’t forget that there are always free things to do, no matter where you go. Stroll through a downtown festival, hike out to a glacier, watch a free movie at the park visitor center. Spending money isn’t a requirement to truly experience an area.
Hopefully, you found these tips helpful to start planning your dream trip. If you’re curious about my non-stop, adventurous time in Alaska, then head over here to see our itinerary. Wonder how much we actually spent for two weeks in Alaska, but you’re too shy to ask? Then check out our complete budget breakdown.