I know some people can get overwhelmed by the idea of planning a trip by themselves. You feel like there’s so much to think about and so much to do! You can be tempted to book an organized trip and then you have to follow a schedule you’re not always comfortable with, do activities you are not interested in, and talk to people you don’t know but have to deal with for all your trip.
Planning a trip is easier than you may think.
Organization is part of my day job and I’m here to give you the best tips I use when I plan my trip.
1. Decide where you want to go
Maybe you already know where you want to go, or maybe you need inspiration.
Find the reason why you want to travel. Do you want to escape from winter? Do you want to discover a new culture? Do you want to learn something new? (That last one is often my reason to travel.)
Maybe you need to choose a destination that fits your budget. Research the average cost per day for a destination to find one you can afford. Some places have an average cost as low as 30$ per day!
2. Check the travel advice and advisories
Once you have chosen your destination, visit your government’s site to see the information on security, entry and exit requirements, health conditions, local laws and culture, natural disasters and climate, and how to find help when you are there.
For example, some places require to get a tourist visa and the delay to get it can be several weeks. You need to plan it in advance.
This is also where you’ll learn about the mandatory or recommended vaccinations.
After, it is your call to decide to travel there, or to choose another destination.
3. Book your flight
And this is where you all want to know how to get cheap flights, yeah?
I will be completely honest with you here: I don’t know. Well… I know half of the answer.
The trick is to research, research, research. The more time you have to research, the more chance you have to find a good deal, but there is no magic formula. People used to say that booking last-minute makes you save money, but I don’t find it to be true anymore. The only tip that really works each time is to travel off-season…
Set an alarm on a few booking sites and you’ll be informed of the variation of prices. That will give you an idea of when to book.
The best sites I use to find cheap flight:
Don’t book your flight with travel agents because, obviously, they take a mark up. Don’t book your flight on a booking site, contact the airlines directly.
Be sure to ask about luggage included in the price so you won’t have a surprise at the airport.
Be aware that, unless you pay an extra, you rarely can cancel or change a flight.
4. Take care of your health
I rarely travel without visiting a travel clinic prior my departure.
Unless you travel to North America or Europe, you should visit a travel clinic before travelling to get your vaccines, a general antibiotic, and an anti-malaria (if needed).
Also very important: take a travel insurance!
I know some people travel without it. It is never mandatory to get one, but I highly recommend it. Having to pay for an hospitalization can cost a lot of money! Even more than you can imagine! In United States, it can cost you up to 100 000US$!! You don’t want to pay that.
I don’t want to advertise one insurance company in particular so I won’t link any, but do your research and ask if you are covered with you credit card. Sometimes, they cover you for a few of days if you book your flight using your card.
5. Research your destination
Now my favorite part begin: sketching the itinerary! Yay!
Personally, I use a mix of guide books and travel blogs to decide what I want to see. I like Lonely Planet and Ulysse particularly, but it is really up to you.
Read guide-books and search on the internet. Make a list of all the places you would like to see, even if you know that you don’t have time to see all of them. It’s a first draft so you need to have a general idea of what activities you want to do and where you want to go.
You can take a look at Trip Advisor to see what other travelers liked in a specific destination.
When googling your destination, make sure to include « travel blog » to your research. For example: « California Travel Blog », so you’ll have more chance to find bloggers and not just tour companies.
At this point, be creative and don’t limit yourself. Just list everything you like and take notes.
6. Pick your must-do
Pick the « non-negotiable » places and activities on your list. Choose what makes you excited, curious, enthusiastic.
Don’t necessarily pick the must-see attractions mention in guide-books. Choose YOUR must-see. You don’t have to go to the Statue of Liberty in New York if you just don’t care about it. It is not because a place is the most touristic place in a town that YOU have to see it.
Choose places that will make you feel alive.
7. Plan your itinerary
Plan your transportation between your « must-see ». How long is it to go from a town to another? How long do you need to do this activities? How much time do you need to spend in this town to have enough time to see all your favorite places?
It can be a puzzle to understand public transportation in a foreign country, Rome2Rio and guide books will help you to figure it out.
Now, it’s time to evaluate if your itinerary is realistic.
Don’t plan too much things and left time for creativity or unexpected situations. If needed, go back to your list and cut some activities.
On the other side, you have plenty of time? Great! You can refer to your list and add some other activities you have listed.
8. Book your accommodation (or not)
Personally, when I plan my trip, I like to book my accommodation for the first night, because I don’t like to worry about it after an X hours long flight… But I know a lot of backpackers who find their accommodation once they arrive at destination. It is up to you.
If you don’t want to book your accommodation in advance, just be sure to check if there’s a special event in the town where you’re going. We almost get in trouble in Porto, Portugal, last year, when we arrived during a big music festival without knowing. All the hostels and cheap rooms were full and we had to pay more than our budget for our room.
9. Book your activities (or not)
You generally don’t have to buy your tickets in advance, but sometimes, you can have reduction if you do. It is always a good idea to visit the website.
Another good idea is to visit the website of the Tourism Board and see if they offer a city pass including activities you already want to do. It can be a good way to save money.
Finally, just make sure to check with the very popular attraction if you need to book in advance to make sure you have a spot. I’m thinking about Alcatraz if you go to San Francisco, as an example. You need to book several weeks in advance!
10. Pack your bag
Oh my…. I don’t even know where to start with this one! I guess I will have to write a whole post about it. Ahaha!
General advice could be:
- No more then 3 pairs of shoes! – One pair of sandals, one pair of casual shoes, one pair of hiking boots. (Of course, depending of your travel plan…)
- You need less than what you think. – Remove one kit from your bag.
- Think « Layers ». – Even if you go to a warm country.
Take a look at this to help you pack your bag:
What are your best tips to plan a perfect trip?