Worried your magical Disney vacation has ruined other trips for you? Think again! We’ll show you how to plan for the alternatives.

Ready to learn how to plan a trip that is fun, affordable and a vacation your family will love – Disney fees not included? Many people save for years for a trip to the nation’s most beloved parks, but with quality falling and demand rising, it might not be worth the expense. Whether you’ve been there before or its on your bucket list, we’ll help you pick an alternative that will fill your vacation with fun, adventure and a chance to relax!

What’s the deal with Disney?

Disney vacations are big business, and it doesn’t all come down to marvelous marketing or bucket lists. The “Disney bubble” is real. Staying on property is like being transported to another country where things are cleaner, people are nicer and everyone is trying to keep your life as happy as possible. 

At least that’s how it used to feel in the off-season. These days, there aren’t any off-seasons. Even in January, lines can last for hours, meaning that big price tag you pay for tickets and staying on property might not seem like a worthwhile investment by the end of your trip. 

It’s one thing to leave disappointed after dropping a few hundred dollars. A few thousand? That might be your traveling budget for a few years. You deserve a vacation worth every penny, so let’s look at some Disney alternatives.

Step One: Figure out Why You Really Like visiting Disney

Most travelers have a goal in mind, be it:

  • Relaxation
  • Adventure
  • Learning
  • Personal growth
  • Family/friend time

Disney properties are big enough and offer enough variety for practically any traveler to have their needs met within the parks. But chances are, you’re not as interested in some things as others, and don’t really need them to feel satisfied with a trip.

Make a list of what you liked about your last Disney vacation. My personal favorites?

  • Luxury – Expertly themed styling and high-quality furnishings paired with helpful staff? YES!
  • Convenience – Watching fireworks from our room was so much nicer than facing park crowds.
  • Family time – Seeing our kids have so much fun and see so many new things was a thrill.
  • Sights – I’m amazed by rides with theatrical elements and complicated design.
  • Weather – It was especially nice to get a warm, sunny break from the doldrums of winter in the Midwest. 

Now, what did I like the most?

Family time and Luxury. 

These are my must-haves. I could have fun on a vacation without them, but I wouldn’t have as much fun. (This theory has been tested. We took a trip to Disney and stayed in a moderate resort. While some of our family had just as good of a time, I was a little disappointed.)

This doesn’t mean your vacation is limited to your must-haves. There are plenty of things that interest you and are important to you beyond what you experience in The House of the Mouse.

Step Two: Identify Your Other Travel Interests

The good thing about other interests are they might be things you haven’t had the chance to experience yet. I’ve always wanted to visit the mountains. Maybe you’ve wanted to stay in a castle? Put these interests on your list. 

Then add in things you make time in your life to do already. Choir. Foosball tournaments. Volunteering. 

I make time to take my kids to the library and to the park. I also go for long meandering nature walks. Those aren’t things you typically do at Walt Disney World, so this is the perfect chance to include them in a family vacation. 

Interest lists should be very long, because unlike your Disney Must Haves, there’s a chance your interests might conflict with someone else’s. It’d be difficult to get scuba diving and skiing in at the same destination (though not impossible!)

Step Three: Set Boundaries for Your Trip

Just as though there are things you enjoy, there are things that you don’t. What didn’t you like about your trip to Disney? (The bland, basic food at Cosmic Ray’s, per chance?) The constant consumerism? The crowds? 

What about things that put you off in real life? No offense to anyone else, but modern jazz instantly puts me in a bad mood. So do overtly sexual settings. Regardless of how luxurious the rooms are, I just wouldn’t be comfortable at Hedonism II. 

Having a list of boundaries helps you avoid planning a trip that makes members of your traveling party unhappy. 

Step Four: Compare and Combine Your Travel Preferences

At this point, you should have three lists for every member of your traveling party: Must Haves, Interests and Boundaries. Combine all of the Must Haves on one sheet of paper or in a single spreadsheet. Combine all the Interests. If there are entries that match two or more travelers, be sure to make them a priority. Now combine your Boundaries.

Cross reference your Boundaries and Interests, and cross any conflicts off your Interest list. 

This information provides the backbone for your travel plans. Start looking for locations and attractions that cover your Must Haves. Search for ways to include people’s Interests while avoiding Boundaries. 

What happens if someone’s Must Have crosses someone else’s Boundaries? 

Sometimes, especially in large groups, you run into travelers with distinctly different tastes. One loves camping while another hates it. One loves shopping and it’s the last thing someone else wants to do. 

How do you handle mismatched travel partners?

  1. Split up – You don’t have to take separate trips in order to avoid conflict. Travelers can do their own things and regroup throughout the day for activities and meals. (This works especially well during family reunions.) 
  2. Prioritize one vacation style – Flip a coin. Draw straws. Go in alphabetical order, but prioritize one person’s experience. Just make sure the next vacation is tailored toward the other person. 
  3. Compromise – Warning: This may lead to everyone having a lackluster experience.

What do you do with a traveling partner who is determined to be miserable?

Sometimes, you head out on vacation only to realize a member of your traveling party is in a perma-bad mood. Too often this comes down to someone who didn’t speak their mind early on. They didn’t want to be a problem or didn’t want to take the time to weigh in during planning, and now they hate the itinerary. Or maybe there are issues going on at home, health problems (physical or otherwise) or a problem with someone else in the group.

It’s important for everyone to come together and talk about things. Try to find out why the person is upset, and emphasize it will help you find a solution. If they won’t tell you or don’t seem to be telling you the truth, make it clear their behavior is hurting the experience of everyone else and you expect them to stop. If that means staying in the room or going home early, when possible, that’s what it means. 

When that isn’t possible, the only option is for others to do their best to ignore the negativity. 

This is not a magic solution that will instantly make everyone get along and act respectfully. There are certain people who shouldn’t travel because they truly dislike the experience. Fortunately, they’re the exception to the rule. More often than not, if you focus on having fun, everyone’s attitudes will improve by the last day of your vacation.  

Step Five: How to Plan a Trip Budget 

Financial experts recommend spending no more than 4% of your take-home pay each year on vacation. Don’t know how to plan around that amount? Most people won’t get very far, so they boost it up to 10%. The one thing you don’t want to do is go into debt. Nothing is worse than scrimping and saving to pay off last year’s trip. 

What can you do if 10% of your pay isn’t enough for a vacation?

  1. Save for more than one year. 
  2. Use travel reward credit cards and rebate programs to lower costs.
  3. Have a dedicated income stream to fund your vacations.

Second jobs, side hustles, coupon campaigns – there are endless ways to earn enough money for the trip of your dreams. 

Figure out how much things will cost before you start saving. Just make sure once it’s set, you stick to that budget. Keep an eye out for travel deals to make sure every dollar you spend counts.

Check Agoda while learning how to plan a trip that’s Disney-worthy for less.