We’ve already covered the reality that the world refuses to stand still for us. It is our responsibility to find a way to be happy now and not actively decide to wait for a better future that may never come. So, in the spirit of making the most of the day you have right in front of you, let’s “carpe diem” and jump right in.
The first rule of planning your adventure is: don’t go looking for the magic, let the magic find you. By all means, go and download a copy of the planning video, they help you to get in the mood, but don’t be guided by what you think you should be doing, pay attention to the interests of each individual in your group and find activities that suit each person. The sparks happen when you least expect them. You do not need to have the perfectly themed, over-the-top hotel room with non-stop expensive meals at every break. Disney vacations can be planned on a surprisingly small budget and still retain all the magic you are hoping for.
Let’s break out your notebook, a computer and make some plans.
Your two main expenses are going to be travel and accommodation, so let’s start with the logistics of getting where you want to go. Open to a new page of your notebook and utilize the power of the internet to work out how far away you are geographically from your destination. You are going to make notes of the following questions and answers in your book:
- How far away is your destination?
- Does your journey require a flight?
- Which airlines fly to your destination from where you are located?
- Are you willing to make a stopover to get a cheaper flight or is a direct flight worth the additional cost?
- Are you a part of a frequent flyer program? If so, what airlines are affiliated with your program? Are there blackout dates where you can not use your points?
If you have never booked airfares before, it can be helpful to use a search engine like Expedia to compare multiple airlines at once. These comparison websites will give you a good idea of which airlines can accommodate where you want to go and the pricing involved. Don’t book anything without reading the fine print. Some airlines love to throw in a clause here or there to say no cancellation, seat allocation or any other fundamental human right they can find a way to deny you.
Use this information to decide how you are going to pay for your travel expenses. You might choose to use reward points you already have, commit to a reward system and use it for daily expenses with the intention to save enough reward points, or you may decide to find the cheapest airfares available and spend the money. When using reward points, be aware that most don’t include duties and taxes which are generally paid separately. If you are opting to purchase the flights, do some research online about the airline you are choosing and see if they have any birthday or annual sales where flights can be purchased at a discounted rate; these are often worth hanging out for.
If your destination is international, you will need to take a few more steps to make sure you are prepared to cross the borders. We will broach this subject next time, so stay tuned for those details.
Next up is your accommodation. If you are staying on Disney property, the Disney websites make it easy to compare pricing and packages; however, the best options for cheaper accommodation are often the neighboring hotels. If you are planning a trip to Disneyland in California, note that there are no planning disadvantages for booking a non-Disney hotel. Unlike in Walt Disney World, there are no 60-day FastPass+ or advance dining reservations offered as an incentive to stay at the park hotels. On top of that, many of the alternative hotels along S. Harbour Blvd provide a shorter walk to the parks than Disney property.
Do some digging and again, use a search engine like Expedia or Hotels.com to see what is available for your intended dates. If you are sticking to a strict budget, look outside of your planned dates as sometimes a week or two in either direction can half the cost of your stay. Another tip when using these websites, even once your accommodation is booked, keep checking as sales are continuously offered, and you can re-book at a cheaper rate if you have chosen a refundable rate option.
If you are staying on property and want to use Disney to book your entire package, that is a good time to contact an agent like Dreams Unlimited Travel* as they don’t cost any additional money but they can do all the legwork for you. If you prefer to control your own destiny and make the bookings yourself, you can still pass the baton to them and they will check the availability for all special rates and offers as the months tick over between your original booking and your time to stay.
When booking your accommodation, it is essential to read reviews; however, be wary of people who enjoy a good whine. Take notice of the specific comments that might be relevant to you and be sure to look at the others objectively. After all, people are far less likely to take the time to write about a positive experience rather than complain about a bad one.
If you are a research freak like me and want to cover all of your bases, look up any scheduled maintenance or refurbishments for the time you are staying. If you are headed to a hot destination and the pool is scheduled to be closed for maintenance while you are there, you may prefer to change your dates or your hotel to avoid the disappointment.
Once you have scoped out the situation with your travel and accommodation arrangements, now it is time to create that budget goal to make these two important aspects of your planning come to life.
Here are six new house rules to implement at home that will help save for your adventures. Even if you are not ready to book yet, you have already hit the go button on travel mode the moment you decided to make a start, so be sure to implement these changes now and save up faster.
- Bank Your Alcohol Money – Stop drinking whenever you go out and send that cash over to your Adventure Fund. You won’t believe how quickly this can add up and it might even be good for you as well.
- Bank Your Coupon Savings – If you are the sort of person that seeks out a coupon or discount wherever possible, take that savings you made and bank it. Hopefully, you didn’t buy the item solely because of this discount, so taking the money you saved and adding it to your travel savings is a win-win.
- Buy Less Convenient Groceries – The shredded cheese I like to buy for my family costs $16.50 AUD per kilo. (It doesn’t matter if you don’t follow the currency or conversion, the point is in the comparison.) However, a block of the very same cheese costs $9.50 AUD per kilo. This means that by grating the cheese myself, I save $7 per kilo. Doesn’t sound like much until you apply it to everything you can, and all of a sudden you are paying $50 less at the grocery store that can go straight into your Adventure Account every week. Buy carrots instead of pre-cut carrot sticks, a large tub of yogurt instead of smaller individual ones. Forget the pre-cut mixed salads and chop your own. Every little bit matters. A large bottle of juice instead of several juice boxes. You get the idea.
- Break-up with a Streaming Service – Do you subscribe to more than one streaming service for your entertainment at home? Let’s commit to a relationship with one service at a time. Since most streaming services work on a month-to-month billing service, take your time with one and then switch to another without stringing along four different accounts at once. You are paying for something you don’t physically have time to take advantage of. Take the money you would have spent on them and bank it.
- Stop Buying Snacks and Drinks On-the-Go – I know it is a lot easier and more fun to just grab snacks while you are out and about but if you add it up, it is costing you an unnecessary fortune. Keep a few granola or snack bars in your purse or the car. Bring a drink bottle with you to carry water wherever you go. These are simple things, but if you take all the money you would have spent on grabbing these things while you are out and throw it into the account, you can watch it grow even faster. Tea and coffee? Make it at home.
- Make Lunches for School & Work – It’s boring and it takes longer but making everyone a sandwich for lunch and some fruit is much healthier and cheaper than handing out money. Even if you only commit to it every second day. Take the money you saved, come on, you know what to do with it.
Next up we look at what to do once you have the basics booked and in place, and how to lay out your notebook for each day to create a budget for the trip to take away with you. We will also touch on international visas, insurance, passports and other documentation you may need to have in place before you travel.
*Dreams Unlimited Travel is an official sponsor of The DIS.
Zoë Wood is a travel writer from Sydney, Australia. Since her first visit to Disneyland at the age of 6, she has spent her years frequently visiting Disney Parks and traveling around the world.
Join Zoë as she lets you in on all the tips, tricks, anecdotes, and embarrassments that arise from her family adventures.