2020 Is the Perfect Time to Plan Your Bucket-List Trip. Here’s How to Save For It.

Brian Kelly, The Points Guy Image courtesy of The Points Guy
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Sadly, travel—especially outside the borders of the United States—is off the table for many this year. 

The emergence of the coronavirus pandemic earlier has caused millions of us to cancel or postpone trips. And the pandemic’s endurance and the uncertainty that comes with that has made looking forward with perfect clarity difficult, if not impossible.

Over the last decade, I got used to traveling multiple times per month as CEO of travel news site The Points Guy, but this year I went over three months without setting foot on an airplane. That would have been unfathomable to me at the beginning of this year. 

I’ve taken weekend trips to California and a short vacation to Antigua and Barbuda in the Caribbean, but with cases of COVID-19 surging once again in the United States, I’m not sure how feasible international travel will be for the remainder of 2020. 

Naturally, I’m anxious to get back out into the world. But, with so much uncertainty, one of the best things we can all do right now is to sit down and start planning a bucket-list trip for next year or beyond, one that requires time—and money—to pull off.

By looking two or three years into the future, you can put in the appropriate time and effort into planning a trip you wouldn’t typically go on. And, you can make a safer bet that in the future, the world will look normal again—or at least less abnormal than it does right now.

Most importantly, you’ll give yourself ample time to save enough money to ensure that you do it right. You definitely don’t want to skimp on a once-in-a-lifetime trip!

Pro Tip

We’ve all been forced to reevaluate our travel plans for the foreseeable future. However, instead of lamenting the cancellation or delaying of some trips, use this time to reset your travel schedule and look to the future.

So, where should you go on your bucket-list trip? Assuming that the world is once again open to travelers next year, there are so many places that could be considered, but here are a few suggestions to give your trip planning a jumpstart:

South Africa

Having been to the country numerous times, I can say with confidence that it belongs on everyone’s bucket list. From wineries and beaches filled with penguins around Cape Town to exciting urban exploration in Johannesburg and unforgettable safaris in Kruger National Park, South Africa has a multitude of experiences to offer travelers. 

To fully experience the beauty of this country, the warmth of its people and the richness of its culture, you’ll want to stay more than a week. And, since it takes so long to get there from the U.S., you’ll want to make sure you have enough time to really make the journey count. 

For a trip that includes round-trip economy flights for two from the U.S., four nights at a hotel in Cape Town, three nights in a home rental in Stellenbosch (South African wine country), three nights at a lodge at Sabi Sands in Kruger National Park and a domestic flight between Cape Town and Johannesburg, you can expect to pay around $9,000, based on prices in March 2021.


If you want to immerse yourself in a culture totally different from our own, consider Japan. This East Asian nation has a proud history with a culture that has endured through centuries. Japanese cuisine is also some of the best you’ll find on the planet, the nation’s cities including Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka are bustling, cosmopolitan and efficiently run, and you’ll find everything from snow-capped mountains to white-sand beaches when you venture outside the population centers. 

You can expect to pay around $6,000 for a “greatest hits of Japan” trip, including round-trip economy flights for two, four nights in Tokyo, three nights in Kyoto and three in Osaka as well as train fares between each city, based on prices for April 2021. April also happens to be the best month to experience Hanami, which refers to the Japanese custom of enjoying the blooming cherry blossoms.


Australia also belongs on every traveler’s bucket list. A far-flung island nation, it’s known for its cosmopolitan coastal cities, stunning natural beauty (you won’t want to miss the Great Barrier Reef!), a rich indigenous history, and so much more. 

You’ll want to set aside around $9,000 for an 11-night trip Down Under including economy flights for two to and from Australia as well as within the country, four nights in the Sydney area (three at the Park Hyatt Sydney and one at the magical Emirates One&Only Wolgan Valley), three nights in Melbourne and four nights on Hamilton Island, where you can experience some of the best scuba diving of your life—based on prices for April 2021. 

How to Save for a Bucket-List Trip

Once you’ve settled on a destination and a timeline for your vacation, it’s time to make a plan for saving up enough money to enable yourself to go all out on the trip. 

The first step is to set up a dedicated “bucket-list account” that you contribute to at least once a month and don’t touch until it’s time to pay for your trip. 

Determine how much money you’ll need to divert from each paycheck based on the budget you’ve worked out and the timeline for your trip. Then, set up automatic payments to that account from each paycheck you receive. 

You’ll want to make sure that these funds are deposited in a high-yield savings account, and not the stock market, as there’s a chance it could go down between now and your trip, and you certainly don’t want to lose the money you’re putting away. 

Make sure you choose a high-yield savings account that best fits your vacation-savings needs. Look for a competitive interest rate, no monthly maintenance fees, and low or no minimum deposit or balance requirements. You won’t earn large amounts of cash on your savings in today’s rate environment, but you can typically find the best APY offers and flexible terms through online banks with fewer overhead costs than traditional institutions.

If you already have some money set aside, your bucket-list trip won’t happen for two to three years, and you don’t need to touch that money in the meantime, you may want to consider a CD account, or certificate of deposit, instead.

You could also deposit any money that you’ve received as refunds from canceling or changing previously planned trips into your special travel account. It’s already been earmarked for travel, and it’ll help you reach your vacation savings goal sooner. 

Finally, as tempting as booking a bucket-list trip may be, it should be funded after you have a sufficient amount of money in an emergency fund, have contributed to a retirement account and gotten out of any debt you may have. Of course, if you’re committed to your financial goals, you can work toward all of these goals simultaneously.

With so many people still largely stuck at home, it’s a perfect time to be intentional about the places you truly want to visit and to save the money necessary to have a dream trip once we are finally able to travel freely once again.

Brian Kelly is the founder and CEO of The Points Guy, which is owned by the same parent company as NextAdvisor.