Planning the trip is one of my favorite parts about travel. There are so many pieces to consider and the excitement of piecing everything together is stirring and uplifting.
The possibilities are endless.
You can visit a beach town, old town, modern city, jungle, desert, ancient ruins, etc.
There is so much to experience and when you plan a trip- you get a taste of it all.
Researching the culture in different destinations, exploring possible flight options, reading accommodations reviews, and of course admiring photos on instagram & pinterest all inspire me to make my travel dreams happen.
But though all this is exciting, collecting that information can be overwhelming.
There are a lot of moving pieces in the travel planning process and that pressure is on to make the most of your trip… so if you’re in the midst of planning and feeling overwhelmed, grab a beverage and keep reading!
I’ve put together a list of helpful travel planning tips, a step by step checklist that you can reference next time you’re entertaining your wanderlust.
First things first…
Choose Your Destination
*Photo Credit: She Bold Stock Images
So you’ve decided it’s time for a wander. Dreams of Thailand, Bali, Peru or Paris may be ready to actualize. Where ever it may be, consider these things.
- What time of year are you traveling? This could have a huge impact on the destination you choose. If you’re only able to travel in one particular month, or prefer one type of weather, check out this site to determine what works for you. It has all the info you need to determine the best places to visit each month. (and its color coded! anyone else a fangirl for visually friendly material?) Globotreks: Best Places to Visit Each Month
- What’s your priority for travel experiences? Are you seeking some time on the tropical beach? Exploring the blocks of a bustling city? Getting lost in medieval history? Escaping in luxury relaxation? Boosting your adrenaline in adventure? Give this some thought then research what your preferred experience may look like in the country you’re interested in visiting.
- How long are you traveling for? Will it be one stop or multiple destinations? Which do you prefer? I usually like to see at least two different cities if not countries when I fly overseas. It all depends but good to consider your preference. Sometimes taking a train to a nearby city or neighboring country, then staying a night there and flying home from that place can save you money. This is how we ended up visiting Amsterdam a few years ago. It ended up being cheaper to head there from Greece, stay two nights in Amsterdam, then fly home from there. All for less money than the price a flight ticket from Greece to California would have been. Travel hacks and discoveries like that are the reason I love travel planning… never know what you’re gonna find! (anyone else love puzzles?)
- Is it tourist season? This one kind of piggy-backs on the first bullet point here, but important to consider separately. We’ve travelled quite a bit during peak time in various countries and were still able to enjoy ourselves. But it is definitely more enjoyable (and cheaper) to travel in the off season. That globotreks link above is a good resource for finding this out as well.
Decide If It’s a Solo Trip, with Friends, or Coupled Up!
All of my trips so far have been either with my partner (coupled-up!) or with friends. I haven’t done much solo travel, though I would absolutely love to experience that some day. Just hasn’t been in the plans so far! Plus I love traveling with my honey.
That being said- traveling solo, in a couple or in a group is definitely something that will impact your trip in a huge way.
You might also want to read:
Once you decide, you can figure out your budget. Traveling with a partner will usually split the costs on accommodations, taxis and ubers so it’s helpful to know before setting your budget.
That being said…
Choose your budget
*Photo Credit: She Bold Stock Images
This is one of the most important parts! Know how much you’re willing to spend before you get there. Set a daily allowance and categorize your cash amounts separately for food, spending and so on.
Budget Your Trip is a great resource for getting an idea of how much it costs to visit a particular place. Average food costs, transportation, entertainment, food/water, basically the cost of everything you’d need to know the price of in your destination. Plus it has the option to chose your travel style from luxury to budget so you can get a specialized idea. One of the most convenient resources I would recommend for researching budget stuff!
*Be sure to check out the conversion rates for your destination, this could make a huge difference in planning your travel budget.
Another good resource is Savvy Backpacker they have a lot of info daily costs and what to budget in European cities. They also have a ton of good packing tips.
Find a Flight
This part can be the hardest, but funnest part of travel planning. With so many different routes available, you could spend hours shopping for the best flight deals and smartest itineraries.
Skyscanner and Momondo are two flight searching resources I always use. So grateful for both! I find the best deals on there, then go and book directly from the airline.
Google Flights is great too, you can get insight on which days and months are cheapest to travel this way.
Tip: Play around with different airports and dates. Being flexible with travel dates is one of the best ways to save money!
And though it’s not always convenient, you can try flying out of different airports too. We live two hours from San Francisco International airport so sometimes if a flight deal is worth it, we will opt to make the drive and save some money. (We’ll either park our car at a surrounding hotel and pay for weekly parking which is usually fairly cheap, or bribe a family member to drive us!)
Figure Out Your Travel Style
What type of traveler are you? Are you someone who prefers to plan out an itinerary for every day? Or more spontaneous?
We’re somewhere in the middle. We like to plan our destinations and our accommodations in advance but when it comes to the daily activities we leave it up to the wind!
I like to research ideas for what to do in each place we visit so I have an idea of what I want to experience. But after that it just depends on what we feel like doing each day.
Figure out your preferences then it’ll be smooth sailin’ from there.
Note: I highly suggest NOT planning every aspect or every day of your trip. You don’t want to get burned out or fatigued from trying to keep up with a schedule! Go with the flow.
Find a Place to Stay
Finding a place to stay for your travels is another one of the fun parts! I love reading reviews, researching the best area to stay in, and finding good deals.
It is time consuming to read through reviews, but worth it.
- Booking.com is one of my favorite sites to use, and actually tend to use most often. It’s full of detailed reviews to go through and get a good idea of the places I’m looking at. They also always include city guides and information on what’s near the accommodations. Tons of useful information that will make planning for your arrival super clear. I love finding boutique hotels and even hostels that are adorable, budget friendly, and support the local economy!
- Hotels Combined is another great option for booking hotels and hostels. With this one you can get access to price comparisons across different hotel search engines, sort of like Skyscanner for hotels. Great way to find deals!
- AirBnB is another great option and has tons of budget friendly listings. Same as above- reading the reviews are a huge help, mandatory for me. You can get information about the area, the host, and the apartment/house itself. Never book without scouring the reviews (this goes for ANY place, hotels included!) You’ll save yourself lots of time and trouble… and money.
*Another important thing to keep in mind before you book an AirBnb is you should find out if the area you’re searching in is super impacted or experiencing the effects of over tourism and housing issues.
If so, it may be better to stay in a hotel. The reason for that is there has been some conversation and info shared about rent prices going up and locals struggling to find a place to rent, among other issues. Apartments in some areas are being bought out and used solely for AirBnb, making life for locals a bit challenging. I’m not saying don’t use it, just do your research first.
Barcelona, Venice, Dubrovnik, and Rome are just a few examples of cities that have locals fighting against some practices occurring under Airbnb rentals.
On the contrary, AirBnb can be a great way to support the local economy and put your money in the pocket of an actual person who is from there, and not some rich hotel developer. Just food for thought.
Highly suggest doing your own research. Sometimes it’s a great choice (I use Airbnb for about 50% of my travel accommodations), but sometimes it’s not. Here’s a few articles that provide some great insight!
- Is there an ethical problem with using Airbnb?
- Airbnb Issues You Didn’t Know
- Is it time to break up with Airbnb?
- 3 Ways Airbnb Creates Value for Local Economies
It can be a great way to support local economies, but look into it first.
That was a long tangent, but necessary. Just want to encourage others to be informed travelers.
Plan Your Arrival
This is the golden nugget of travel planning advice. Be prepared to arrive.
- Have the address to your hotel printed out (most booking confirmations will include this which is a double whammy since you’ll have it ready for check-in), and keep a screenshot on your phone. If you’re an overachiever save this info in a google docs sheet so you could access it from anywhere as a back-up plan. It’s always good to have a back-up plan. All your documents and information should be accessible online in case things get lost!
- Do some research on the best way to get from the airport to where you’re staying. If its an airbnb, ask the host what they suggest in advance. If its a hotel/hostel, their website or your booking will usually provide this information. I also like to google the distance from the airport to our accommodations, just to know what to expect before we start the journey. Some places are 10 mins from the airport, some are 45+ minutes. That’s good info to have so you’re not surprised by an additional hour of travel.
Public transport is always cheapest, but sometimes taxi is more convenient. I’m always willing to pay a few extra dollars for convenience but decide what works best for you.
- Research the Airport. You’ll want to know if you’re flying into the hub of a particular area. For example, we flew into Bangkok with little knowledge of it meant to be flying into the hub of southeast Asia. We were surprised to learn that we have to wait in a huge hour-long line for a taxi.
Research Your Destination
Researching destinations when I’m planning a trip is my favorite part. I love getting familiar with cultural norms, traditional food, history of main attractions and all of that.
Wikitravel is an incredible resource for travel planning. It’s a free travel guide thats full of crowdsourced information on nearly every destination you could think of! Get info on common phrases, travel alerts, political affairs, and more. Seriously A to Z. It’s the wikipedia of traveling… browse wikitravel during a layover or before you go. Arrive informed. I’m such a travel nerd.
Summary of Things You Should Research Before You Go
- Cultural Norms: What’s their view on tipping at restaurants, important social etiquette cues, state of political affairs. All that good stuff.
- Are the activities you’re interested in ethical? Some examples you should research before include:
- Riding Elephants (don’t! Visit a sanctuary instead.)
- Swimming with captive dolphins/ sea animals
- Visiting Luwak coffee plantations in Bali: reasons you shouldn’t here.
- Karen tribe in thailand/visiting hill tribes: Is it exploitation or supporting local economies? Another good article on this here.
- Food! Know what you wanna try, maybe look up some of the best restaurants and food stands, figure out what the region is known for
- Historical sites / main attractions… get an understanding of the history before you arrive, though you’ll probably learn more once you’re there than you could from a month of research at home!
Make a List
Another thing you should add to a google doc or the notes in your phone is a list of everything you want to see, eat and do there. Basically everything that’s important to you during your trip.
If you have this list to reference, you can just go with the flow and when you have a free day during your travels, look over the list to be reminded of some possible things to explore!
How to Budget
Check out these articles first:
- 10 Quick Tips for Traveling Cheap
- How to Make a Travel Budget
- Ultimate Guide Travel: Budgeting, Planning, & Packing
After reading over those articles, hopefully they’ve helped to share an idea of how to budget your travels… before and during.
Main takeaways are to research, compare pricing, categorize your spending, and understand how much things will cost to get there, stay there and be there!
Cover Your Health and Safety Bases
For American readers, head over to the cdc website to see what vaccines you need for your destination! This will vary depending on not only the country but the region that you’re visiting.
Prep your immune system! I have a complete guide to remedies for boosting your immune system and staying healthy while traveling.
Should you get travel insurance? Absolutely!
Things happen, and when you’re away from your home country, you want to make sure all your bases are covered no matter what happens.
World Nomads is a reputable travel insurance company that has all kinds of options! Choose the coverage that best suits your needs.
I usually opt for a plan that covers trip cancellation (like if a flight gets cancelled or you can no longer travel for what you have booked) and emergency services so if something were to happen, my care and journey back home would be covered.
They even have options to cover delayed baggage!
Get a quote here:
Prepare Your Finances
Make sure all your finances are in order before you travel. Talk to your bank and all that fun stuff.
Some tips to keep in mind when getting your finances ready for travel:
- Order some local currency from your bank. We always like to do this ahead of time because it makes the arrival much easier. You won’t have to worry about any issues popping up with your bank card and you’ll avoid some of the ATM fees. It takes a few business days to process, depending on your bank, but you can either pick it up there or have it delivered to your home. Then you’ll be ready! (Just to be clear, we don’t order cash for our entire trips spending, just for the first few days).
While you’re there,
- Inform your bank about your travels. Give them all the details like where your layovers are, which cities your visiting, countries you’ll be in, etc. This will help to avoid any financial troubles while you’re traveling. Plus, banks are nosy AF so they’ll put a little gold star by your name for telling them all your business. (kidding, obviously. I don’t have a grudge against my bank or anything *reminisces on the time I had to call and dispute an overdraft fee*
- Automate or Pre-pay bills. I forgot to drop off the rent check before one of our trips and had to call my mommy to do it for me. Yikes. I’m trying to get better at adulting, really. So that’s why I included this one. Not ALL bills can be paid online, plus who wants to worry about handling bills while they’re travellling? Don’t be like me, handle all your bills before you go. Automate the ones you can!
Don’t forget about your passport!
Maybe having a cute passport holder will help you with this!
Be sure to have your passport ready and in order well in advance. Also, super important to research visa requirements in the country you’re visiting! (Lonely Planet always has good guides on this!)
So, now you have it. My complete process and all the resources I use for travel planning. Hopefully you found some of it helpful and are inspired to plan your next trip!
Questions or comments? Always welcome below!
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