How to Plan Your Vacation

Get a step-by-step guide to planning your next vacation and get some ideas for your next travel destination.

As you gather around your dinner table, you can only imagine where your 7-year-old daughter’s dream vacation may be: a visit to Disney World in Florida? Or perhaps a trip to Legoland or the San Diego Zoo in southern California?

She stands up to make her pitch during your family’s annual game of Travelopoly. “Dear ladies and gentlemen of my family: In 2017, I propose we go to Orlando, Florida, because Mom and Dad can tour the world at Disney World’s Epcot, and I can meet Cinderella. Plus, my brother Bobby will like seeing the Star Wars Launch Bay at Hollywood Studios.” Her logic is sound. Next up? Dad. He proposes Palm Springs.

Why not play your own version of Travelopoly with your family the last Tuesday of every January in honor of National Plan for Vacation Day? As each family member makes a case for his or her chosen vacation destination, you’ll realize everyone’s a winner when planning for vacation.

This guide explains why you shouldn’t wait to plan your time off, and provides step-by-step instructions to assist in your planning process.


The Facts: Why Should You Plan for Vacation Now?

With Americans leaving 658 million vacation days on the table each year, you can’t afford not to plan your time off. Research conducted by Project: Time Off, an initiative to encourage Americans to use all of their vacation days, shows taking time off is associated with not only increased happiness in general and at home, but also less stress and higher productivity and performance levels at work. Additionally, time off is linked to improved mental and physical health and better relationships.

The first step to reaping these benefits may seem obvious: make time to plan how you’ll use your vacation time. According to Project: Time Off, 51 percent of Americans who planned their vacations took all of their allotted time off work, whereas only 39 percent of non-planners did the same.

To get you started, here’s a guide to help you plan the most important days of this year — your vacation days!

How to Plan a Vacation: Your Step-by-Step Guide

1. Determine Your Vacation Benefits

First, confirm your paid time off or vacation benefits with your manager or human resources department. Vacation benefits can change each year, so double-check and plan accordingly.

2. Skim Your Calendar

Determine office holidays. You may want to consider adding a few days off right before or after to turn a long weekend into a full-on vacation.

Then take note of any big office projects or personal commitments you know will be coming down the pike later in the year. Whether it’s a must-attend office retreat or your niece’s first birthday party, planning ahead will ensure that you won’t miss any special moments or use previous commitments as an excuse to forgo taking vacations.

Tip: Can’t review your calendar right now? Set a 30-minute appointment for later this week to sit down and determine what days/weeks look best for taking vacation.

3. Brainstorm and Select Your Destination

Ask yourself: Where do I see myself on vacation in 2017? Think about the type of experience you want — whether it’s a beach escape, an urban tour or an outdoor adventure.

Also, consider your travel companions and trip duration. Who you travel with will affect the type of vacation you take as well as your budget. Families may want to find an affordable destination that offers something for everyone, whereas couples seeking a romantic escape may be more willing to splurge on an all-inclusive package at a high-end resort.

Select Your Destination

Finally, determine which destinations accomplish your vacation goals and make the most sense during the time of year you will be traveling.

Did You Know … Vacation planners are nearly 10 percent more likely to report happy relationships with their children than non-planners.

4. Alert Your Office

You’ve figured out where and when you’ll vacation, so make it official. Run it by your boss and send a vacation calendar invite, or post on your office’s PTO calendar, so colleagues know exactly when you’ll be gone.

Did You Know … Employees who took 11 days off or more per year are more likely to have received a raise in the past three years than those who took 10 days or fewer.

5. Book Your Trip

Research and compare airfare and hotel costs by using search engines like or Google Flights, which aggregate from many sources to help pull in the lowest fare options.

Tip: Some airlines, like Southwest, aren’t included on aggregator travel sites, so be sure to check those fares separately.

Consider when to book. Research by Momondo, a global search engine, suggests the best time to reserve airfares is 53 days -- between seven and eight weeks -- before your departure.

Tip: Create a calendar reminder to start looking for flights eight weeks before you plan to travel.

Last but not least, book your trip. Remember, you don’t have to book everything at the same time. Remind yourself a month ahead of time to book your rental car, or two months in advance if you plan to travel over a holiday.

The important part is that now you’ve got your vacation plan on the books, and in your mind. Here’s to your upcoming adventures!

6. Find Inspiration in Our Vacation Toolkit

Want more guidance on how to plan a vacation? Take a look at our toolkit full of budget-friendly suggestions, one-way routes and destination guides. Happy travels!

Vacation How-tos

Vacation Destinations

Vacation Stories

More Travel Hacks & Tips 


10 Ways to include Children in Vacation Planning

10 Ways to include Children in Vacation Planning
Savvy parents are increasingly including their kids in family vacation planning.

Vacation Planning Activity: Vacranium

Vacation Planning Activity: Vacranium
Make vacation planning part of family game night! Play Vacranium with your family to give everyone a chance to say, draw or even act out their vacation wish list and favorite memories.

10 Bucket-List Vacations to Take Before Your Kids Grow Up

10 Bucket-List Vacations to Take Before Your Kids Grow Up
Kids grow up fast – in the blink of an eye, they’re heading off to college. Take the time now to get away with your family. Make lasting memories by going on a trip to these spectacular bucket-list destinations across the United States.