Creating SMART Travel Goals

(This is an update of a post that originally appeared on July 24, 2017)

Both Brett and I have always been big fans of setting goals and then working to achieve them, whether that’s downsizing or moving to Hawai’i or saving for travel.

We create our travel goals using the SMART criteria, and it’s worked especially well for travel planning. The SMART acronym stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-bound. Long before we ever travel, Brett and I sit down, talk about what we want to do, what we can afford, and then make our travel goal the SMART way. We’ve been using this method for many years, and it’s led us to success over and over again, no matter what we want to achieve.

Here’s how we use the SMART criteria when creating a travel goal:

  • Specific: Being specific means knowing exactly what we want to do. Instead of saying We want to travel or We’d like to visit xxx, both of which are vague, we spell out exactly where we want to go, when we want to go, and who will be going. We want to visit Japan with our daughter for a week in March during her spring break is very specific while We’d like to go to Japan is not. The first example has a where, when and who will be traveling, while the second example is just an idea.
  • Measurable: This means creating a precise way to quantify our goal. A travel goal contains both time- and money-related aspects, and both require some research. Instead of We want to stay 10 days and spend less than $10,000, a measurable goal is We want to spend 10 days and nine nights. We want to pay less than $700 each for airline tickets, no more than $1500 for lodging and our total budget can be no more than $8,000 (or whatever we decide our top limit is). The top limit of our budget is the number we will be working toward, and the time aspect is making sure we can take vacation at that time or that there’s nothing else that might make it difficult to travel.
  • Achievable: The travel goal needs to be what we know we can attain and complete in a specific amount of time. Giving ourselves a goal of saving $8,000 in a year for our trip is not achievable if we know that will be impossible, or that we’ll need to raid our savings or use credit cards or borrow money (and we don’t want to do those things). A specific SMART goal would be: We need to save $8,000 in the next 12 months (~$670/month) in order to make this trip during spring break. We’ll set up a monthly savings allotment, save all our refunds and gifts, save all change and $1 bills, and find other ways to save as much as possible. If we are sure we can achieve our goal, then we go for it; otherwise, we start over or reset our parameters with what we know we can achieve.
  • Realistic: This part of the goal is tied very closely to achievable, and allows us to visualize the results of our efforts. Besides just getting to our destination and knowing where we’ll stay, we also need to think about what we can afford or will have time to do when we’re at our destination. Realistic means that while we may dream of flying first class or staying at the Four Seasons, there’s no point in doing so if it will consume all or most of our budget, and not allow us to do anything else at our destination. However, if flying first class and staying at the Four Seasons is our dream, then we’ll have to reset our original time parameters or figure out a way to earn or save more within our original time constraints.
  • Time-bound: We make sure we have a timeline for achievement. Setting a SMART goal for travel not only requires that we set the actual date for travel that we work toward, but that we also research and set specific time-goals along the way. So, while we’ve figured out that we can save $8000 in a year to cover all our expenses, we also need to know time-sensitive issues that will arise while we’re saving. For example, We will need to have $2500 of our $8000 by such-and-such date to purchase airfare and reserve our lodging (because we don’t want to leave these until the last minute). Besides air fare and lodging, our trip may also involve several other time-related issues that arise before actually traveling, things like booking tours, or getting restaurant reservations, so those may need specific time deadlines as well. Once again, research is our friend.

Because Brett and I can’t just whip our checkbook and cover any trip whenever we feel like it, using the SMART criteria has meant we’ve been able to make most of our travel dreams a reality without using credit cards or dipping into our regular savings, or putting ourselves into debt. Setting up a SMART goal can take a little more time, but almost always ups the chances for success.

4 thoughts on “Creating SMART Travel Goals

  1. I’ve set similar goals in the past. Not able to do it at present. Not only are our borders shut to overseas travel but our state borders frequently close too. Yesterday, others states shut to people from Sydney as we appear to have a delta variant outbreak.

    Looking forward to reading some more of your smart goals!

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    1. My biggest headache right now is trying to figure out a budget. It’s hard to do with COVID still raging on, prices going up, and no idea what the future holds for travel. For now, we’re just throwing as much as possible into the bank and hope it will be enough when it’s time to go. The only thing I’ve been able to get started is our trip back east for our daughter’s graduation next year, and that is going well although I have an awful feeling the cost of air fare is going to push the entire cost for the trip into the stratosphere. Same for a trip to Japan.

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  2. Thank you for explaining your system in such detail! I am certain that many people reading your post will find inspiration and practical things to implement into their own travel (or life in general) planning.

    My approach has been to always add 15-20% to the initial budget to cover unexpected circumstances. However, with the pandemic still raging on, I’d bump that to 50%. Between the increased cost of airfares, food, and other services, one needs to have a hefty cushion to offset the extra expenses without feeling stressed out. Hopefully will be seeing a dramatic drop in cases by the time you’ll be actually traveling. Vaccinations around the world will be catching up by 2023 IMHO.

    Right now one has no control over what’s happening, so calm and hope is all one has. And aggressive saving. You’re doing all you can do, stay the course and have patience. You know what they say, any muddy water eventually clears out when all sediments go to the bottom.

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    1. I agree that for now we still have no control over anything really as far as the virus and travel is concerned. The best we can do is hope and continue to save like crazy. I think bumping up our savings goal is a very good idea; we’ve already increased it but should probably reexamine it and see if we can do better. I honestly think by the time we get ready to make reservations, etc. prices will be much worse than they are now.

      One of the things I like about using the SMART criteria to set goals is that it allows you to change and adjust as you work toward achieving them and discover new information.

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