The beginning of the new year is the perfect time to plan a vacation. So, I figured I’d write a post to help you all accomplish your travel goals. Personally, I’ve been traveling since I was a baby. I often joke with people that I was the kid who dreamt of “being normal” and going to summer camp every summer, but ended up traveling to different countries the entire time. Now that I’m an adult, I appreciate my summers of travel so much more! The travel bug has never left me and I’ve learned plenty of tips along the way.

I enjoy immersing myself in different cultures—becoming one with the people, places and things around me. Whether it’s exploring a rainforest in Costa Rica, laying on Baby Beach all day in Aruba or riding in a tuk-tuk in Thailand. However, traveling isn’t always glamorous. I’ve dealt with water and electricity outages, bug bites, sickness, language barriers, and I’ve been lost plenty of times! I’m grateful for these experiences because they have shaped my character and have made me a confident traveler. I’ve learned to not be afraid to travel somewhere outside my comfort zone, adjust to cultural differences, and to get my hands dirty if I need too.

If you plan ahead, you’ll save money, get first dibs on vacation days at work, and you’ll have something to look forward to when you’re grinding everyday. This advice will include high level tips on airlines, budgeting, picking a place, and doing your due diligence.

1. You don’t need to be “rich” to travel.

Creating a budget is critical. Aim for a comfortable middle between what you think you’ll spend versus what you’ll realistically spend. Pick the date you’d like to travel and plan a budget backwards from there. That way you’ll know how much you need to save each month to pay for your vacation. Also, please don’t splurge on hotels and other amenities to show off on social media. Opt for an affordable and comfortable vacation.

Another great way to save is to apply for a travel credit card. Most travel cards give you cash back towards a trip. If you travel often, a travel credit card is spectacular. I used my points to stay at a beautiful all-inclusive hotel in Mexico. I paid $1,500 for 5 nights including two people, airfare, food, and liquor. Some wonderful travel cards that’d I’d recommend researching are the Capital One Venture Card, Delta SkyMiles card (if  you don’t frequent Delta then apply for an airline that you do), Chase Sapphire Preferred, and the Amex Platinum Card. If you’d like more information on these cards, check out nerdwallet.com and uscreditcardguide.com.

2. Utilize your network.

I visited three friends in Dallas for only $200. I accomplished this by staying for free at each of my friends homes. Also, I saved while I was there by only eating one meal out a day.  We also indulged in a bunch of free activities. Make sure to reach out to your network for free accommodation or a free meal while you’re vacationing. You’ll say money and explore a new place—it’s a win, win.

3. Get a travel group together.

Reach out to friends and family to see who’s interested in traveling with you. Traveling with a group is very cost effective. If you can’t find a group to go with, join a travel group, or be bold and do a solo trip. Don’t let others stop you from going on your dream trip. With social media and infinite online resources, it’s easier now than ever to find a travel companion.

4. Research, research, research!

I love researching for trips. There’s so much to learn about wherever you’re looking to go. I always start with a simple Google search to learn about the specific place’s landmarks and must sees. Next, I check out some of my favorite sites for resorts, hotels, and general advice which are tripadvisor.com, travelnoire.com, travelocity.com, expedia.com, airbnb.com, cheapcarribean.com and hostels.com. For flights, I’m always looking for a deal on skiplagged.com, kayak.com, skyscanner.com or hopper.com.

5. Check the local activities.

Make sure to research the weather conditions and popular activities that are occurring when you are deciding to travel. Certain places tend to be pricier if there is a convention or festival going on, during a holiday weekend or during it’s peak season. Traveling during off season can save you lots of money but make sure to find out why it’s a countries off season. Such as it may be wet season, monsoon season, winter, etc. We can’t foresee all potential weather conditions but you can do your due diligence to ensure you are increasing your odds of sunny days.

6. Create an itinerary.

There are PLENTY of free travel itineraries online that you can use for your own trip. If you aim to avoid tourist attractions and expensive tours, you can really maximize your funds wherever you are. Ask locals for the best deals and use forums to learn more about things to do. I like to use quora.com, tripadvisor.com, YouTube and travel bloggers for itinerary tips. Once you’ve found an itinerary that you like, modify it to fit your needs.

7. Wrap up all the logistics.

When I went to Ghana, I had to apply for a visa, get a yellow fever vaccination, get proof of the vaccination to enter the country, get a note from my host in Ghana, and take malaria pills. While this isn’t the case for every where you go, research the countries requirements beforehand, and pack accordingly. You can check out travel.state.gov for each countries requirements. Lastly, gather all your documents in a cute passport holder like I do and you’re off!

I hope your 2019 is full of exciting adventures!