Create Your Own Dream A La Carte Price List

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.

create a travel budget

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

Gas Cost:

  • 1000 miles (20 mpg @ $3 a gallon) $150
  • 2000 miles (20 mpg @ $3 a gallon) $300

Misc Costs:

  • 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.

If you sign up for my weekly email, I will send you a free copy of my guide to taking a year off every decade to help get you started.


I’m working on a beta course in September to help people take a Mini-Retirement sooner, accomplish more of the dreams that matter during that time, stretch the amount of time they can take, and either get a better job when they are done or create a lifestyle business. Make sure you are getting my emails if that sounds interesting to you!

For Conversation:

Traveling with kids: when is the best time?

Do you plan your destinations based on the kid’s age and interest?

Do you do any planning for those “someday” dreams?


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24 thoughts on “Create Your Own Dream A La Carte Price List

  1. I sent this in reply to your email, but I really want all your readers to know about the current (fingers crossed it stays around) program to offer *every fourth grader and their family* free admission to the National Parks. It is our dream to take a 3-6 month sabbatical when our son hits fourth grade and enjoy seeing as much as we can of this wonderful country. Please visit for more information!

    • 4th grade is an awesome age for it! And those free passes are so cool! We literally just bought a new yearly pass last weekend. =( Thankfully we have a few 4th graders coming up in the next few years. =) That will be a great trip. I’m so thankful for the smaller trips we have been able to do so far. Just the most precious memories with our kids.

  2. Very interesting post! When you talk about renting out your house, do you mean like an AirBNB situation or turn it into a full but temporary rental? If so, will you move out all of your stuff into storage for the year or rent it furnished? Thanks!

    • We could do it either way. It would probably earn more as a weekly or short term rental in our area but would be a hassle while we are traveling. We would probably move our things into storage, and rent it out long term. When we returned, we might do a house switch and move into one of our rentals that has a little bit better of a layout for our family. Our current house would rent in the $1200-$1350 range, which would cover our camping fees, plus the extra gas money. We also wouldn’t be paying for water, electric or gas so that should cover our storage space. Our internet and phone bill would roll over into a travel option. We are considering an 8-week trip next summer (West coast) followed by a 9-month trip (East coast) the year after. =)

  3. Oh boy. This makes my mind start running. So many travel dreams. My list must get more a la carte I think. It will make it more real.
    Traveling with kids is something that is easy to put off. Yeah, it’s not as easy as just the two of us or of older kids. But it is so fun to see things through their eyes that it’s worth the trouble. So the best time to travel w kids is now. Not to put it off.
    Also, I’m super interested in the beta testing you mentioned…. Would love to be involved!

    • I love seeing things through their eyes! They keep the traveling fresh and fascinating. Last year when our honey badger was 3.5 we spent a week in Yellowstone and she was obsessed with the geysers. She kept referring to them like they were living things, that might reach out and tackle her. It was a mix of fear and wonder. As adults, we have done a lot of traveling to bucket list kinds of places, but with my kids, each little thing is a small wonder. It keeps me from getting travel jaded. Honey badgers favorite part of our last trip was the dinosaur at Wall Drug, SD. And it was AWESOME. The poor girl was sure it was a real T-rex and when it turned on, she lost it, fully convinced a real T-rex was about to eat her. That ended up being a favorite stop for all of us because of it.

      • Exactly! We want to the Parthenon with our kids and they couldn’t stop laughing at a statue. It was nude and they kept saying (very loudly) “butt! Butt!” Using their best Minions voice. It was hilarious and one of our favorite parts of the trip!

  4. Your plan sounds awesome and the expense data that you’ve gathered is impressive and very thorough! Your kids are so lucky. :0)

    We’re planning to launch our long-term bicycle touring next year. We’ve gotten a lot of great information from bike touring blogs. Most valuable was the 10-day bike trip we took last month. We took detailed notes about packing, expenses, etc. We also met 3 people that were wrapping up a ride from Virginia to Oregon. They were a wealth of great information.

    Look forward to hearing more about your plans. Would love to hear what your kids think about the plans, too. They must be so excited!

    • I think once you have a good idea of what you want to do, then it’s easier to test that idea in little ways. Like you said, you learn a ton, get new ideas, and in the end it makes your final trip much better. So far the kids love traveling. With the science museum pass, we try to hit every museum we come across. My oldest loves science, so that is by far the best parts of the trips. Or in the national parks, he loves the information areas. It’s great when we are traveling because it’s something new every day or week. New places to hike, new treats to eat, new museums, new national parks, new playgrounds, new adventures each day.

  5. Wow, you’re organized! I’ve taken a somewhat similar approach, but on a higher level. I maintain a spreadsheet in Google where I capture things I want to do after we retire, when my wife and I plan to spend time traveling the country by RV. I’ve built a list by State, and add lines under a State whenever I see something that looks interesting. Heading into Montana? Stop by and see Ms. Montana, drive around Flathead Lake, maybe even spend a few days on a rented sailboat. It’s on the list. I haven’t added the pricing piece, but the concept is similar. Good luck on your Road Trip Across America, can’t wait to read about it!

    • Well, I have about 20 more things you can add to that Flathead Valley stop! =) Renting a sail boat is actually a great idea! And in GNP they rent paddle boards on lake McDonald. That’s on my list. =) Google docs is actually a great place to organize it! I should start one by state. =) Thanks for the pro tip!

  6. Such great ideas – thank you! We’ve just started planning a dream trip for two years from now and this really helps. People look at us funny when we talk about planning a trip in two years, but I kinda like being weird!

    Your kiddos are so fortunate. You guys are making memories that will last a lifetime and that is awesome. My baby girl is going into 7th grade – they grow up waaay too fast! She has a serious travel bug too, so I see lots of Word docs in our future! 🙂

    • It’s great that she loves to travel! I’m really hoping all this travel will help my kids grow into life long travelers. It will be fun when my toddlers become teenage or twenty-something traveling partners with us. =) But right now I just want to stop the clock and enjoy this season before it passes us by. =)

  7. I like the a la carte method for bigger projects. It gives you something to shoot for.
    We’re planning to travel around the world and we’re starting with our current annual expense. We’d sell our condo so we don’t have to maintain it. I’m really looking forward to it.

    For smaller items, it just comes out of our normal budget.

    • Yes, I totally agree that it works best for bigger, more intimidating goals. A round the world trip is a perfect example! =) It’s great to start breaking those down into smaller, more manageable dollar amounts. And it’s probably great timing to sell your condo, the markets are so strong right now. =)

  8. We do the weekly and weekend rentals at my husband’s house he owned before we got married. It is in an association on a lake so the nightly rate is $200 and we get regular bookings. But we need to be there to give them keys to check them in and then check them out doing a walk through to check for any damages, so that requires us to be around. We also just bought a new place last summer with a good size piece of land and we have put a lot of time into doing the garden with vegetables in raised beds, fruit trees, berry bushes, have several bee hives and are planning to do chickens next year. So I would hate to leave hundreds of dollars worth of fruits and vegetables rotting on the vine. So trips will be a week or less during the off season from the rentals and garden. I also have my home business starting so I can leave my current job and do what I enjoy. Hubby mentioned camping, but I told him no way, I want a room with a real bed as my back would be killing me on a cot. Hubby is retired from the military, so we were thinking about space A hops to some place warm with blue water. I love the picture you have by the water and mountains. It is so beautiful. Oh and I love your hair. Mine is almost as long as yours, it has taken me 5 years to get mine to the current length just past my elbows. The next time my husband does my hair with henna, I want mine to be a darker brown as well.

    • I struggle with leaving in the summer for the same reason. We have used a house sitter in the past just to make sure we were able to keep our garden. =) We had ducks for years, but they made it so hard to travel and we opted to wait till the kids are older and we take shorter trips.

  9. Great strategy! We haven’t approached our trips this way in the past, but it makes a ton of sense. We are getting closer to our “big” trips as we finish the 50 states and each will probably require a bit bigger and more time to save for them. Having a method like this could really help us get there!

    • It’s great for bigger trips or experiences, especially when the budget seems hazy and intimidatingly large. It’s also a great way to keep track of bigger experiences in the budget. Like Mr. Mt really wants to hit Disney while the kids are young, so we can add a small fortune into that line item. =) With road trips, once people get a sense of their pacing (how many miles per day, how long at each stop, how many activities in each place) the budget can start to be really accurate.

  10. I love this so much! We already took 2 breaks – once for our MAs (we rented our condo while abroad) and once to be with our kids when they were little for 2 years (again rented our condo and moved to a low COL country to make this work and even have my second child at a fraction of the cost and much better standard of living). Now we are working through FIRE in about 10 years but have come back to the possibility of breaking it up once more so that we can take once year off and ‘world school’ when they are about 12-14 years old..then come back and work a little longer to make up for it.

    We shall see.

    For now, we have a bucket list and are exposing them to as many ideas as possible (I just wrote about something related here today – and our bucket list here

    What I particularly liked (loved!) about your post is the bucketing idea of a-la-carte pricing, which ironically did not occur to me even through that is sort of what we are doing with our products/services at work. I am totally going to get on that soon!

    Thank you so much for sharing!

    • It would be great for planning a year of travel. Anything that has a lot of moving parts and expenses. =) And we are also opting to take more of the time off when are younger. When they are older and moved out, I think it will be nice to have work to fill our time. But right now, they take SO much time. =)

  11. I completely agree with this approach and have used it many times to enjoy the saving and planning for trips. I use an envelope system to start the saving and list similar things including camping fees, groceries, showers if not free, motel for last night before flying out, along with the biggies of flights and car rental, etc. It’s more fun to knock out the smaller things but the flights being covered mark the start of the mind saying, “oh, yes!” I love the idea of adding in the treats as well…we invariably will indulge in ice cream at some point or a meal or two out. We currently have envelopes started for another return trip to Glacier NP (we kept a camping fee envelope and use that to tuck in our camping savings), one for the Tetons, one for Christmas fun.

    • Yeah for stopping back in GNP. =) And the envelope system is similar to starting a trip savings account. Although for the bigger trips, a savings account might be safer. But I like the idea of a small pile of cash for smaller trips. =)

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