If you want to spend two weeks traveling or experience a 2-year Mini-Retirement, creating an a la carte price list for that experience is the perfect way to start planning. It provides the motivation you need to increase your income or saving rates. As well as the clarity that will help you start preparing.
How to Create an A La Carte Price List
On a breakfast menu, you have meals listed, like the Big Breakfast Special: 2 eggs with 2 slices of toast, 2 pieces of bacon and hash browns.
But you can also order A La Carte. This is how I almost always order breakfast because I don’t eat eggs, and every darn meal comes with eggs. A side of hash browns. A side of ham. A side of grilled onions. A side with one biscuit and gravy.
Same thing with travel or large experiences, like hiking 3 months in Europe. You can think about 3 months in Europe as a $15,000 experience. Or a 4 week US road trip as $3000. Or you can break down the price with an A La Carte Dream Price List. Not only will it help you plan better and create a more accurate budget, but you will find loads of motivation knowing each small step you make is making tangible progress towards your dream.
There are 3 steps to create this list
1. Plan: First you need to pin down what exactly you want to do. As you do your research and create your budget, you can come back and make adjustments to this. But you need to start with a basic plan. After we had traveled all around Europe, I knew I wanted to do a big US road trip with our kids while they were young enough to think it was still really cool. So about 5 years ago I started putting together my US road trip price list. I had no idea we would add another 4 kids to our plan between now and then. =) But I started with the basic plan.
2. Research: Start researching each individual cost of your trip or experiences. This is something you can do while you watch TV at night. Or are on a break at work. I started a word document and would just add elements and notes as I found the price options. You can research and compile your list over the course of 6 months (in this case 5 years!). I have added to my word doc as I learned new things. Places you would want to see, or stay. Routes you might want to take. You might find out you can get a one-way flight from Rome to Barcelona for under $100. Or that there are great campsites with cabins in Croatia for under $50 a night.
3. Put the list together: List out each element and the price or price range. I like to list a range of price points, for single items or daily cost as well as monthly cost. So, as I am able to stash the cash in a separate checking account named “Dream Fund”, I know exactly what that amount of cash will pay for.
For example, here is what my US road trip price list looks like:
- 1 night of camping (state/national park/military base): $15
- 1 night of camping (simple campground): $30
- 1 night of camping (deluxe campground): $50
- 1 month of camping (15 state park, 10 simple, 5 deluxe): $775
- 1 year of National Park Pass: $80
- 1 year of science museum family pass: $70 (free entrance into over 300+ museums in the ASTC network)
- 1 fun activity ($7 per person x 7 people): $49
- 1 fun treat (ice cream, or specialty treat) $3 per person x 7: $21
- Monthly fun budget with the park and museum pass ( 2 additional fun activities a month and one tasty treat a week): $184 month
- 1000 miles (20 mpg @ $3 a gallon) $150
- 2000 miles (20 mpg @ $3 a gallon) $300
- Tank of propane: $8
- Load of laundry: $3
- A week of travel beverages (we buy ice tea and sodas when we travel): $10
- Travel books: $15 each
- Day at a theme park: $300
- McDonald’s stop: $15
The Power of the Dream A La Carte Price List
When you have a dream that is incredibly important to you, and you can see how your actions get you closer to that dream, it makes motivation easy. In a way, you are just choosing between two things you want to buy. You can have that take out lunch now for $7, or use that money to buy the parking pass to see Mount Rushmore. You aren’t just “saving”, you are “buying” items for your dream. You won’t pay for them now, but you are buying them in your mind. Instead of ordering a take out pizza this weekend, you stash that money away to buy a pizza in Rome. This motivation also applies to earning extra income. You might decide to take some extra weekend work (yard work, baby sitting, moving) for $80 knowing that is a yearly pass to national parks.
You see your progress:
If you want to travel around the world for a year, your total budget might feel like a vague, big, scary number. But because you have done your price list, you know you need about $45,000. As you break that down into smaller costs, you can see the progress you are making! Your tax return buys the plane tickets. Your side hustle earned you $900 which will cover a month in a resort in the Philippines. You switch your cell phone plan and each month that savings pay for another fun travel experience. The first month it paid for your admission into the Louvre. The next month it buys your admission to the Ann Frank house. The third month the savings was enough to take in Phantom of the Opera in London.
You see new opportunities:
Knowing exactly what you need, you see new ways to go about getting that. You find a credit card rewards program that will give you great travel miles. You start talking to people who have done something similar and you find out about an amazing museum pass for $70. You start noticing the right time of year to find good deals on campers. You sign up for the Travel Zoo emails and see what kinds of deals you could piece together.
Others can support you:
It’s hard for your friends and family to rally around, “I would like to travel someday.” But if they know exactly what you need, those become awesome birthday and Christmas gifts. From buying travel books, donating some airline miles or gift cards to restaurants you can use on your trip. If you have kids, you can buy things they would like for the trip for holiday gifts. It might be no fun to give $50 towards a $30,000 travel fund goal, but maybe your mom would love to buy a new travel suitcase for your trip as a Christmas gift.
You will have time to prepare:
The sooner you start to flesh out what you want to do, the better you can prepare. Because we have been planning a big US road trip for 5 years, we have had time to test out a few details. We bought a pop-up camper and did a 6-week trip last summer. We did a 2-week trip this summer. We have a better idea on all of the costs of traveling. We have learned how we like to travel (how many miles on drive days, how long we stay places, how many activities to fit into a week). I’ve had time to get to know other people who travel with kids. We have a better idea if we want to travel in a pop-up or buy a hard sided camper.
We realized that we can rent out our house for about the same amount as it would cost us to travel full time.
Until we started writing out our Dream A La Carte price list, we had no idea how much something like this would cost, how to get started or ways to test and learn about it. It was just a big dream that felt a bit impossible.
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