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Chasing the Dream: Making a dream trip happen

Sarah Caron is a Connecticut-based freelance writer and editor. She lives with her wonderful husband, two adorable kids and two funny beagles. Check out her food blog at Sarah's Cucina Bella.

Family travel can be fabulous

Do you dream of touring Europe? Or maybe an amazing African voyage? Here’s how real families made dream travel plans a reality.

Dreaming of a dream vacation? You aren’t alone. And over the last few years of frightful economic conditions, the family vacation has gotten leaner and leaner for many (if not disappeared altogether). But guess what? With careful planning, you can still head off on that dream trip with the kids.

To Europe, we go

For Michelle "Mike" Ochonicky, the artist/owner of Stone Hollow Studio and arts editor for The Healthy Planet magazine, the dream trip was to go to Europe with her husband and son. Though the family vacationed, they had stuck to the U.S. When the opportunity arose to do something bigger they carefully planned their dream trip. “I inherited a little money, and decided to save half and spend the other half on something that our entire family would enjoy — our first European vacation,” says Ochonicky.

The family spent less than $3,000 on their 1999 trip and each got to choose one thing they wanted to do.

To save money, the family centered their trip in Germany where they could stay with family. “Staying with family made things so much easier for our first trip: Being picked up from the airport in Frankfurt and getting anywhere was not a concern,” says Ochonicky.

Road trip

Donna Bozzo and her “best friend since college” wanted to take a trip around the United States together with their kids. Dubbing it the “Road Less Traveled,” the pair started saving and looked for ways to keep the trip wallet-friendly. “We split gas costs, we booked our rooms through Priceline, we stayed at more interesting little known places like the Amish farm and [a] horse farm, we visited places like Blackwater Falls which is free (also the state park lodge is very affordable),” says Bozzo, the writer behind the blog TheLadyWithTheAlligatorPurse.com.

They also visited many free attractions around Washington, D.C.  “We took the train everywhere in Washington and had a few picnics along the way. Ordering pizza for the group by the pool seemed to be the most economical (and fun) dinner,” says Bozzo.

“It was a fantastic adventure no one will ever forget,” she says.

Planning your own dream trip

Linda Descano, president and CEO of Women & Co. offers this three-step plan for getting started:

Start a fund

Your vacation fund should be separate from your other money so you don’t dig into it, says Descano. “To get started, ask yourself what you can give up to add a little extra money to the vacation coffers — can you skip your weekly manicure or bring lunch to work instead of eating out?” asks Descano.

Set a budget

Yes, you need a budget (let’s face it… your family probably isn’t on an unlimited budget, right?). Descano suggests setting this so that you can help with planning. “Make sure to factor in local transportation costs; pet care if you’ll be traveling with a pet or kenneling an animal while you’re gone; and an emergency fund that’s at least 20 percent of your entire vacation budget,” says Descano.

Check your cards

Believe it or not, your credit cards could be a help — well, their benefits could be at least. Descano says to review the travel benefits offered by your cards. “The Citi AAdvantage card, for example, lets you redeem points for travel on over 20 different airlines and 35 different hotel chains,” says Descano.

More ways to save

Descano suggests trying these tactics to spend less while you are away:

  • To avoid peak season hotel prices, look into an apartment or house swap.
  • Don’t be intimidated by public transportation.
  • Shop flea markets and street fairs for souvenirs.
  • Search local publications and websites for free event listings before you go.
  • Be a lunchtime gourmand.
  • Embrace street food.

But, can you really afford it?

Are you in debt? If so, that’s not an automatic reason to skip the trip. But it should be something you consider when deciding to go. “Before you book your vacation, ask yourself if you can really afford it. If you buy those plane tickets, can you still afford what you had planned to pay off on your credit card bill each month?” asks Descano. “Be honest with yourself, and if you genuinely can’t afford it without incurring some kind of debt or foregoing a very important payment, it might not be worth the purchase.”

The bottom line is that it's OK to take vacations while you are paying off your debt — as long as it doesn't derail you from paying whatever you've committed to pay.

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