One year ahead
Create a budget. Figure out, realistically, what you'll need per day for room, food, sightseeing, entertainment.
Start saving furiously. Open a savings account just for your vacation.
Consult a calendar of events to see whether there are places you want to be — or avoid — on your trip.
If you're going abroad, consider taking a foreign language course.
Six months ahead
Check your passport if you are traveling outside the U.S. Make sure it is still valid. (Some countries require a passport that's valid for at least six months from dates of travel.) Apply for a new one or renew it, if necessary. (For information, see Page 6.)
Buy hiking or walking shoes, so you have enough time to break them in.
Do you need shots? Check with a doctor or a travel medicine specialist early, because some vaccines require several shots over a period of several months.
Contact destinations from lists in this section (see Pages 19-22) to get information and maps.
Take a look at your camera equipment and consider what else you might need to record your memories.
Request time off from work (Some workplaces may require longer lead times.)
Three months ahead
Visit a travel agent and book tickets. Or use the Web to book tickets and hotel. (Do this earlier if you're going during a peak travel time.)
At work, make sure you've requested time off and begin trying to accumulate information that will help your replacement do your job.
Apply for visas, if needed.