Beginning the process of planning a trip can seem daunting, especially if it’s your first time. As an experienced traveler, I have come up with a trip-planning routine that has worked for every destination I have been to. Here is the outline to plan a trip anywhere:
- Pick a location.
- Determine the length of your stay.
- Find out what you want to do there.
- Plan a route.
- Decide method of transportation.
- Plan hotels.
- Book any experiences you can ahead of time.
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1 – Pick a Location
This may seem so obvious that I should not have included this step on the guide at all but determining EXACTLY where you want to go is key to trip planning. You want to go to France? Great! But where in France? What town or city do you want to visit? Do you want to visit more than one town? Are you going to spend a say or two in a neighboring country? Write down every country, state, town, or city you want to visit. When I say pick A location, I really mean pick ALL the locations you want to go to.
2 – Determine the Length of Your Stay
When you are thinking about the length of your stay, you often think about how many days you want to be in the location. You should also consider the travel time going to and from your destination, especially if anyone you are traveling with has a limited number of vacation days available. At this point in the planning process, begin looking at flights. Sometimes flights may determine which days you can arrive or leave as there may not be ones on the exact day you are hoping for. Remember there is likely going to be a time change, so keep that in mind when looking at departure and arrival times. This difference may also alter the dates you had in mind. I would not recommend booking flights yet, but keep looking at them as times and dates change regularly.
3 – Find Out What You Want to do There
My family always says we “travel in a pack” because there are at least six of us traveling together. With that many people, it can be difficult to plan a trip and make sure everyone is doing what they want on vacation. With this big of a group, we have everyone pick the top one or two things they really want to do while we are gone. If you have a smaller group or are traveling alone, you can obviously pick more things to do. This part of planning takes some research. Go pick up a book on the destination, watch videos, and read blog posts to learn about all the things you can do there. Once you have an idea of what everyone wants to do, mark some “must do” items that you can’t miss while you are gone!
4 – Plan a Route
Now you have a list of what you want to do and where you want to go. I recommend organizing the things you want to do by location (country, city, etc.). What things are near each other that you could do in one day? Once you have the activities grouped by location, plan a route. Which city are you staying in first? Second? Third? How many nights are you going to stay in each city? The more activities you want to do in a location, the longer you want to stay there.
Also consider activities you want to do that are only open or available on certain days. Want to go on a snorkeling tour, but the tours are only on the weekends? Make sure you are at that location on the weekend. I even go as far as to plan which “big activities” I want to do each day. If you are doing something such as a snorkeling tour that can change plans due to weather, you may want to plan for an extra day there. This exact scenario happened to me on my most recent vacation. Our snorkeling tour was postponed a day due to bad weather, and we were so thankful we thought to book an extra day.
5 – Plan a Method of Transportation
If you are staying in one place your entire trip, I recommend thinking about how you will get to and from the airport. I would also consider how far away from your hotel you plan on going to determine if renting a car is necessary or if you can get by with public transportation. If you are staying in multiple cities, think about how you are getting to each place. Car? Train? Plane? Bus? Look up the prices and times for each of these options. Some options may be quicker than others, but likely more expensive as well. In some places (countries that drive on the opposite side of the road or places know for crazy traffic) you may want to consider hiring a driver. Your method of transportation may alter your planned route, so go back and make necessary adjustments.
6 – Plan Hotels
When considering where to stay, you have a lot of different options. Commonly people stay in hotels, but Air BNB and other rentals have become increasingly popular. These rentals are especially nice for larger parties and people who want a more authentic cultural experience. Want a unique place to stay? Check out my other post: Places to Stay on Vacation Besides a Hotel. You have so many options, so do your research! I always check online reviews – good and bad – before booking anything.
7 – Book Any Experiences You Can Ahead of Time
Now that you have your plan nailed down, you can start booking those “big activities” you don’t want to miss! Some tours and attractions sell out months in advance, so pay attention to availability and make sure you get a spot. Keeping a 3-ring folder with fasteners for the vacation is a must. I print out my airline tickets, hotel confirmations, car rental confirmations, train tickets, and tickets for any activity I book in advance and hole-punch them and put them in this folder. To be even more organized, put things in the order you will need them. This folder keeps everything I need in one place and makes me confident I won’t lose any important documents.
I hope this guide helps you plan your next vacation! Keep in mind this guide is not linear. This is the order I being planning things but I always have to go back and make adjustments as I find out flight schedules, tour times, etc. What would you add to this guide? Let me know in the comments!