My 12 trips in 12 months campaign started in 2015, and ever since, I have had a schedule packed with travel, completing 12 trips or more each calendar year. This adventure has been exciting, exhausting and rewarding all at once. I have learned A LOT about what it takes to make travel a regular part of your routine. I am a planner by nature but with some practical tips, anyone can turn their year into a year filled with short and long trips.
Planning one trip in one year is hard enough, but consider planning 12 trips in 12 months. It’s a lot to keep organized and prepare for. I understand why it is a daunting and overwhelming task for people. I am a little bananas for doing this much travel, so it’s understandable if you want to set your goal of annual trips a little bit lower than 12 to start off with. I was chatting with a friend a few days ago and she had planned 7 trips in 2017. I was so proud of her! That’s a great goal! By applying a few of these steps and principles, you can be more methodical and thoughtful about your travel planning, which in the end, will help you travel more often and more comfortably.
Regardless of how many trips you want to take this year, below are practical tips for what goes into planning 12 trips in 12 months.
My destination bucket-list is ever growing, and looking at my calendar, I tend to get a little over ambitious. But hey, you can never attain something that you don’t dream of, so let your imagination run wild. Spend some time daydreaming about those trips you’ve always wanted to go on and see if you can make them a reality this year. Is Antarctica your last continent? Have you always dreamed of seeing the Great Wall of China? Why not make it happen this year! A little bit of wanderlust inspiration goes a long way to fueling your inspiration to travel. I find a great way to daydream about new destinations is by looking through my favorite travel bloggers on Instagram and see what destinations spark my interest.
I would also recommend dreaming about places that might be considered “random”. Is there a nearby city like Detroit or Kansas City that you’ve always been interested in? What about that national park that people always recommend? Let the destination choose itself based on what is cheapest. Sometimes the cheapest trips turn out to be your favorites!
… But Tailor Your Expectations
When I originally thought up this idea of 12 trips in 12 months in 2015, I honestly wasn’t sure I could actually follow through on it. I only had half of the trips already planned when I decided to set it as my goal, so I was concerned about where the other destinations would be and how I would afford them. If I didn’t achieve a goal I had made so publicly, I was worried that I would feel like a failure. I continued working towards my goal continually adding new destinations to the list and sure enough, I managed to achieve all 12 trips.
Having “learned” from my overambitious mistakes of 2015 + 2016, I vowed to myself that in 2017 I would not schedule back-to-back travel weekends because they get exhausting. I have a tendency to prioritize travel and work above my own personal health, and that is something I continue to struggle with. It’s all a learning process, and I would encourage anyone thinking about making frequent travel a part of their routine to understand the realities of stretching yourself thin.
You may learn more about your own limits than you thought. For me, I noticed that my energy levels and mental health really took a hit and I was constantly distracted or creatively uninspired. I lost sight of a lot of the things that made me happy like blogging or exercising. While having lots of new adventures is really fun & exciting, giving yourself time for relaxing weekends at home or on a beach can be much needed restoration periods.
Take Time to Plan
Whenever I am working on travel planning, it is important for me to sit down and take time to map everything out early in the year. I usually spend a weekend in January to look at my calendar and think about where and what I want to accomplish. I like to look at all the elements—time off, budget, flight options, dates—before I even put anything on my schedule. These are some of the key things I consider when planning my 12 trips in 12 months:
- Block of Time for Mandatory Trips: I start by blocking off dates of any “must complete” trips, such as weddings or pre-planned work trips. Those tend to be non-negotiable and you’ll need to make sure you have those dates locked in before planning anything else to avoid any scheduling conflicts.
- Utilize Holiday Weekends: I like to think about long-weekend trips that can line up with national holidays so that I can conserve my precious vacation days. US holidays like Labor Day, President’s Day and MLK Day are the perfect opportunities to take long weekend trips because they fall on Mondays. If you plan for those to be travel weekends ahead of time, you can really optimize limited vacation time. If you wait until last minute to plan holiday weekends, you typically won’t do anything because prices will be too expensive.
- Coordinate with your calendar: Another very important tool for my planning process is a calendar. I like to have a physical calendar on hand because it helps me to visualize the months and lengths of stay a little bit better than doing it online. Once my travel details are finalized, I will translate the final plans onto my Google calendar where I can input the exact dates and locations. What I love about Google Calendar is it syncs up with your email to add on any flights you reserve, hotels booked, etc. You’ve got all your logistics in one mobile cloud based location! Plus it is easily sharable with family and friends who might want to know what you’re up to.
- Leave your schedule a little open to last-minute trips: You never know when an amazing flight detail might show up or a last-minute work trip will present itself. Having a few open weekends on your calendar over the course of the year allows you to be spontaneous when you want. I think these open weekends are perfect for trips with friends or a weekend away with a partner.
Plan Your Budget
Traveling can be incredibly expensive but that doesn’t mean that it is always unattainable. It is absolutely possible to make travel part of your annual routine, even for people who have limited vacation time off or limited budgets. It is all about planning and anticipating. For years, I worked for a non-profit on a small salary while also managing to travel on more than 12 trips a year. I understand that I am in a privileged position because my job allows me to travel professionally and I am not burdened with student loan debt. My husband Sam is limited in his travel abilities as well—he has the US standard 10 vacation days and 5 holidays—and yet we still make traveling a big part of our lives and marriage.
By listing out as many of your trips as you can ahead of time, you are able to anticipate certain expenses and create a budget for each. In order to make this work, you have to commit yourself to your travel plans and stick to your decision.
Taking 12 trips in 12 month doesn’t come without some sacrifice in other areas of your life. I don’t go to concerts, I eat at home most nights, and I don’t go out to the bars. My “home” life is pretty boring, spending most nights pretty quietly at home, but this conserves my money (and energy) for travel, the thing that I am truly passionate about. By making a few minor adjustments to your routine such as making coffee at home, dropping a gym membership in favor of free exercise like running and bodyweight exercises, or packing a lunch instead of going out, you can save hundreds of dollars per month. I, for example, stopped buying newly produced clothing completely and only shop at thrift stores, especially ones where I can sell clothes for credit. I looked at my spending this year over last year, and I saved $1450 from my clothes budget this year. All of this has been reallocated to travel expenses, covering the cost of several of my trips.
Another step you can take to make travel a little more affordable is signing up for airline and hotel reward programs. Many companies offer credit cards with bonus miles or frequent user programs that give you cheap benefits and ways to take free trips. You can make traveling a lot cheaper by strategically planning your spending based on the timing of your trips, sign ups and rewards programs.Take this example. Last year Sam and I planned our honeymoon to Portugal and about 2 months before departing for our trip, we ordered a Chase Sapphire credit card. By getting this new line of credit ahead of our trip—a time when we already knew we’d be spending money on travel—we were able to book all our hotels, tours, etc on that card. This helped us automatically qualify for the new user bonus threshold of $2,000 spent in 3 months. We also signed up for the free frequent flier miles program on United Airlines which we flew to Portugal, so we could log points while we were on the trip. Then when we came back home, we were able to use the miles we had accrued from our honeymoon spending to book free 3 flights to different US destinations.
Once you’ve dreamed up a few locations, organized your calendar and planned for the costs, it’s time to start thinking about the logistics of making your 12 trips happen. You’ll need to research flight itineraries, accommodation options, restaurants, and things to do. In this process, you’ll discover that there are good days/times and routes to use your frequent flier miles on. Each airline is different so it will require a little bit of research, but Southwest for example always has the cheapest flights in the early morning or late evening. I’ve learned to love scouring through airlines terms + conditions and searching on their reward programs to find the best deals for mile redemption. You’ll need a few hours to research all the different options, and Google Flight Matrix is a huge help.
There are certain times of the year that are “off-peak” or “shoulder” seasons for travel, which are perfect for keeping on a budget. Checking off-peak schedules is a perfect way to plan your long weekend trips, since they are usually at obscure times like February or October. Typically rates are discounted since demand is low, and you can score some good deals!
Create an Excel Sheet & Custom Google Map
When you’ve got lots of trips going on, all of a sudden you’ll find that you have 15 tabs of internet searches open on your computer and it’s overwhelming. Sometimes you might lose track of a URL or accidentally close a browser window that was particularly useful. To keep everything organized, I like to use Excel spreadsheets. Before you snooze off in boredom, hear me out! Spreadsheets are a great and widely available tool for listing all the necessary information for trips in one convenient format. Plus with Google Drive, you can easily share your findings with other people. On my excel sheet, I like to put information such as:
- Actual days (Monday, Tuesday, etc)
- What the purpose of travel is?
- Who will be going on the trip?
- How much time off (if any) is required
- How you plan to pay for it?*
- Estimated costs & types
- Actual Costs & types (to be added afterwards)
Below, you can see an example of the excel sheet I used to plan my 2015 trips. This is a great way to get all the really important information in one place, and then you can add additional details as the trips firm up.
As many of my readers already know, I can’t sing the praises for Google Maps enough. It is one of my favorite travel planning resources because it is really simple. Before taking off for any trip, I make use of Google’s custom “My Map” feature by creating a customized map of the activities, restaurants and neighborhoods to explore. Because researching tends to take a few hours and often utilizes multiple websites, I like to save all the information I discover on my Google map by pinning my favorite finds to my map. Once you pin something to your map, you can add personalized notes about it by clicking on the little pencil icon you see in the info box. This allows you to take notes on restaurants, for example, to remind you what the food is or what their best dish is.
This post was originally published in April 2017 and edited in January 2020.