How exactly do you plan a trip?

I always have a trip planned.  And I’m not talking about those that I know for sure I’m going on, but ones that I’ve planned for the future.  There are a lot of places I want to visit, and I like to keep a running list.  I also like to have the itinerary, budget and number of days needed all figured out so I can simply look at the list and pick a place based on a number of factors.

Believe it or not, this enables me to be “spontaneous” and also satisfies my need to be planned and organized.  I already have many well-thought out trips, so when we find a time to go somewhere, I just pull up that list and pick a place.  Maybe we only have 4 days, so I can see what I’ve already planned for four days.  Maybe we only have $1,000, so I can see what I have planned for $1,000.  Maybe the time of year is a factor, and I want to see what I have planned for a winter destination.  This makes things a lot simpler.  Depending on how detailed I got in my trip planning, I may have already found restaurants and hotels (or Airbnbs) for places to make booking things even simpler.

One of the main reasons I started this blog was to empower others to plan trips for themselves.  I thought maybe I’d want to plan trips for others, but I actually don’t enjoy that.  The reason being is because I am not sure what type of traveler each person is, what they want, how they function best on a trip or what types of hotels they’d like.  Each person knows that about themselves.  They know if they’re a camper or a luxury hotel dweller.  They know they would never wake up at 4 a.m. to catch a 6 a.m. flight, even if it meant saving $500.  They know they hate road trips.  Whatever it is, you know what kind of traveling you want to do.  And that differs so much from person to person.  The best thing I can do, is give others practical advice on how to do that for themselves.  I love being able to give tips and advice to others so they can feel like they’re capable of doing that themselves.  It may seem daunting, or frustrating, or complicated, but it really isn’t.  One of my proudest moments was when a friend sent me their planned itinerary for a trip.  They were so excited, they used my tips, and were able to do it all on their own.  I felt that I have empowered her to do it for herself.  Turns out, she didn’t need a whole lot of help!  Just a few nudges in the right direction, and bam, her dream trip all thought out the way she wanted it to go.  You don’t need a travel agent or a tour guide, you are capable of doing this on your own!

I’ve written a lot of tips on how to actually plan the trip, because this is the most practical part.  It’s all well and good to say, plan a trip!  But, HOW do you plan a trip?  I’ll try to walk you through how I do it, and hopefully this will help you to do it as well!

So how do I do it?

I start by selecting destinations I want to go.

I do research.  I find inspiration from other travelers through Instagram, Twitter and their blogs.  I read travel books from the library.  I look at TripAdvisor for popular destinations or “destinations on the rise.”  I Google search things I’m interested in to see where in the world I could view those things.  Such as beaches with a lot of shells, art museums that feature a lot of impressionist paintings, treks with some of the best views in the world.  You’ll be surprised the things that you’ll find, and as I find these places, I write them down.  If you want more advice on how to pick a destination (whether you’re going by yourself or with a group) this post may help: How to pick a travel destination as a group.

I think through the itinerary 

Once you have the destination picked, you’ll want to write down the things you want to do.  Estimate how many days you think you’ll need to accomplish those things.  Write up an itinerary.  Start by looking at flights to see how long it’s going to take.  Will it be a full day of travel or half a day of travel?  Are you renting a car and driving somewhere?  Write down driving times.  Will you need to break up some of that travel for an overnight stay?  Consider how you travel best.  If you’re getting in at 9 p.m., and you want to drive to another town, you may want to stay near the hotel that night and avoid having to get the rental car and drive for another 3 hours.  Think through what activities you want to do.  Is there a place you want to hike?  How long will that take?  How many things do you want to squeeze in one day?  Will you want to spread out the activities?  This is my thought process.  After I do this, I realize if the trip will be 5 days, 6 days, or 12 days.  Europe is always longer because you have to account for two full travel days and jet lag.  So you can’t just go from one thing to another, it’s just not realistic.  Think these things through in your planning.

I create my budget

I include everything I think I will spend.  Creating an accurate budget takes a lot of trial and error, but details specifically on how to do this can be found on my post: How to plan a budget for a trip.  The budget is a compilation of costs for flights, hotels, car rentals, food, sightseeing and miscellaneous items depending on the destination.  If you’ve planned the trip and it seems like a crazy amount of money, maybe there are ways you can cut that down. Some of those ways include cutting out a few days from the trip, finding a cheaper airport to fly in or out of, and more of those tips can be found on this post: Ways I’ve cut down my travel expense budget.  (For specific ways to save money on airfare, check out this post here.  For more specific ways to save money on accommodations, check out these posts here and here.)

I organize my destinations in folders

I have a folder for each geographic region that I have trips planned, such as Canada, Asia, South America, Caribbean, etc.  I then keep a running list of all the destinations I’ve planned and include on there: destination, number of days/nights, cost and time of year best to go.  Then I can just pull up the master list and see what I have planned.  The more specific trips are held in folders on my computer.

There you have it.  Trips planned and ready to be booked.  The more I talk about this, the more anal retentive I sound, but it really has been immensely helpful for a number of reasons.  What can I say?  I’m a practical person.

For real destination examples of how I’ve planned a trip, what I budgeted for, etc., check out my “A little bit goes a long way” article series:

A little bit goes a long way

A little bit goes a long way (couples edition)

A little bit goes a long way (international edition)

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