How To Plan A Vacation During A Pandemic

Michael Loren

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A recent study conducted in the Netherlands measured how much vacations affect our happiness. This study found a positive correlation between vacations and happiness, stress level, and energy. But they also found something else interesting. While the positive mental benefits of a vacation only lasted a few weeks after the vacation, the study showed that the simple act of planning the vacation made folks even happier. The study indicated heightened levels of happiness up to eight weeks prior to the date of departure.

I definitely am one of the folks that loves planning a vacation. I love looking at pictures of aquamarine-colored reefs, lavish dinners, and surprisingly clean-looking kayaking trips down exotic rivers. The catch, though, is that most sane individuals will not go on a lavish vacation to a faraway land during a global pandemic. Most of us, in the interest of not infecting our parents and grandparents, are currently and for the near future . . . landlocked. (And a lot of us are homelocked as well).

So, in the interest of the happiness it will bring us BEFORE the actual vacation, I will teach you how I plan and save for the most luxurious vacations on the most thrifty budget. I’ve done it for years and years of vacations and it gives me great joy. I hope it will help cheer you up as well.

Decide where you want to go.

First things first, you need to decide where you want to go. Reykjavík, Sao Paolo, Toronto, or Antarctica. Whatever your passion, go big or stay home. Go with your gut and just see how much it will cost you. You can always course correct later.

Additionally, I don’t generally decide where I want to go based on the exchange rate of the country, but it does inform my decision for how long to stay in the country. For instance, I stayed a lot longer in Peru than we did in Sydney simply because my money lasted longer (and also Machu Picchu is bitchin’).

So, after you decide where you want to go, google the country’s currency (if you don’t already know), and then find an exchange rate calculator to see how your currency translates to theirs.

I, personally, will be planning to go to the Belmond Napasai resort in Thailand. (By the way, y’all, these Belmond folks do it RIGHT — just in case you need any recommendations for where to stay). Currently, one American dollar is worth 31.52 Thai Baht, so I think I’m going to stay for a full seven days (not inclusive of travel days to and from).

Calculate Costs.

I generally calculate airfare, hotel costs, a personal per diem for meals (if it’s not an all-inclusive resort) and then any special adventure expenses I plan to incur. And then I add 10%. Because nobody wants to be pinching pennies when choosing a zipline company in Hawaii.

Now, here’s where we’ll run into problems nowadays. Pricing for everything travel-related is CORONAVIRUS CRAZY, so you won’t know exactly what things will cost you. You can’t. Nobody can predict whether, after this whole pandemic things is over, airlines will vastly diminish their fleets and charge exorbitant prices or if they’ll drop prices to get people to hop on planes again.

Don’t worry. You can always course correct later. If a vacation ends up being significantly more expensive, well, delay it another six months or take a few days off your stay. We’ll talk about that later. But, for now, I’ll be calculating based on current airfare costs and a 30% increase in hotel costs.

For per diem (food and activity costs), I generally look up a popular restaurant in the area, check out their menu costs online, and then go from there. Tripadvisor is an easy search and then you can click on a menu page of a restaurant or two. Again, these are ESTIMATES. So, for my vacation to Thailand, here are my cost calculations:

Round trip flight to Thailand from Los Angeles = $1395

Oceanfront Hotel room (9,259 Thai Baht per night) = $293.75 *130% = $381.88/night x 6 nights = $2,291.28

Per diem for 7 days = 3,000 Thai Baht per day (a dinner main course is around 550) = $700

TOTAL COST = $4,386.28*1.1 (remember — no pinching pennies on the vacation of a lifetime) = $4,824.91

Save For The Vacation Of A Lifetime.

Now that you know what your dream vacation will cost you (approximately), here’s how to save for it. For this part, you get to choose your own adventure. There are two good ways to start saving for a costly vacation. You can either choose when you want to go or how much you want to put away per month. Either way, any vacation is attainable.

So, for my fabulous vacation in Thailand, if I decide that I want to put away $200 per month, I just divide the $4,824.91 by 200 and I get 24 (ish). That means that I will have saved for my vacation 24 months from now. August 2022, I will be hopping a plane to Mae Nam to live my best life. (And things may actually cheaper in monsoon season). Yes, two years is a long time to wait for a vacation, but remember that a lot of the joy of a vacation comes from anticipating the vacation. So, for the next two years, I’ll be dreaming of my ocean view room and fantabulous Thai food.

If I decide to choose a date, then, I can just divide the total amount of the vacation by the number of months from now until when I want to leave. So, if I want to head out in January of 2022, that’s 14 months away. So, I divide the $4,824.91 by 14 and I’ll need to sock away $344 per month to leave sooner than later. If that’s a little rich for my blood, well, then I just push it back to March. Or May. You get the idea.

Once you decide how much you’ll be putting away for the vacation of your dreams, make sure the dough goes where you want it to go. I like to set up a vacation savings account and have funds directly deposited the day after I get paid. That way there’s no question as to whether or not I’ll put the money away. By the time your vacation is a few months out, you’ll have enough money to prepay for the flight and hotel and then you’ll keep saving for your per diem.

Here’s The Point.

The whole point of this exercise is to make you (and me) a little happier. These times are tough and I don’t know about you, but sometimes I feel like I will never ever leave my house again. Whether you go to Thailand or to a bed and breakfast in a neighboring town, planning a vacation boosts your mood and will help you cope with things in the present.

If you put away $25/month for a weekend in Ojai or $1,000/month for a trip around the world, the result is the same. You get a little happier. Knowing that there is a future that is brighter than today is so important for your mental health today.

Why plan now? Well, looking forward to exciting things is hard without some structure around it. If you dream about the vacation that you’ll take someday when you win the lottery, it’s not as effective as picturing the exact vacation that you will take a year or two or three from today. And if times get tough and you need that money for something else? That’s fine. You just push back your vacation date a little bit.

I encourage you to take a little time this week to make some plans and look forward with me to a brighter future. Thailand 2022 or bust!

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Writer, dad, entrepreneur, observer, cautious optimist

Burbank, CA
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