Updated: Aug 14, 2020
Let's face it... although it is fun, planning a trip is hard and stressful. Where do I even start? What if I make a mistake in planning? Where do I go? What about money? Should I get travel insurance? These are all things you will and probably have already asked yourself. Here are steps you should follow when planning and questions you should ask yourself:
To be honest, steps 1, 2, and 3 depend on each other and the order may change based on certain subjective things. If you're willing to travel anywhere and don't have a preference on destinations, first consider your budget. What's the total amount you are willing to spend? This includes transportation, accommodations, food, activities, travel insurance, phone service/SIM card (if you're going out of the country), extra fees (baggage fees, taxes, etc.). I cannot stress this enough, ALWAYS add extra in your budget. There are things that will happen on your trip that'll cost you extra money. Maybe you miss your flight and have to buy a new ticket or you have to buy an extra suitcase because yours broke. Basically, just be realistic with your budget!
What is my budget?
Is my budget reasonable?
Does my budget include money for emergencies?
You've figured out your budget, now you need to figure out where you're going. If you'd rather go somewhere that's more expensive, your money won't go as far and, therefore, you won't be able to stay as long as you could in a less expensive destination. Research destinations and the average price from accommodations, transportation, food, and activities. Figure out where you want to go! Also figure out if you'll be flying or driving there. Once you decide on that, decide if you will stay in one place the entire time or hop around to other places.
Where would I like to go?
How far am I willing to go?
How expensive is ________?
Is it easy as an English (or other language) speaker to get around ______?
What have others said about _____?
Is ______ safe?
Will I need a visa to visit ______? (Some countries require visas for certain visitors. If you don't have a visa when one is required, you will not be able to enter that country.)
Your destination depends on your time frame, which brings us to step three.
When determining your destination, you also have to set a time frame for your trip. First, which season/month are you traveling in? Off-peak times are cheaper, but it is harder to travel for some people during those times. Also consider what season it is where you are traveling. While it may be summer where you are, places in the other hemisphere are experiencing winter.
Another thing to consider is how long you're able to stay there while staying within your budget (again, this also depends on how you spend your money and your destination). Remember that you'll want to have a longer trip if you are flying long distance. Flying long distance isn't exactly super fun for everyone or really easy, so make sure you give yourself enough time to recoup and enjoy your trip.
In which season will I be traveling?
Am I planning this trip around work/school?
Am I traveling in an off-peak time?
How long do I want to travel?
Will I be able to travel for X amount of time given my budget?
Am I giving myself enough/too much time in ______?
Am I giving myself enough time to recoup from the long distance flight/long drive?
#4 Map It Out
(This step is mostly for trips that include multiple destinations.)
Now you have your budget, your destination(s), and your time frame. If you are traveling to multiple places on one trip, map out the best way to travel and how many days you will be in each place. The best way to do this: print off a map of the area you are traveling around and a calendar that includes the entire time you will be away. Draw a line from destination to destination on the map and write down each city you'll be staying in for each day you stay there (example below). To do both of these, you will need to research time it takes to get to each place and how long you should stay in each city.
Does my planned route flow?
Which days of the week will I be in ____? (In some cities, especially in Europe, there are certain days of the week that a lot of museums are closed.)
Which days of the week would I like to take transportation (fly/drive/take train/ferry)?
Am I arriving in one city and departing from another?
#5 Book Flight
(Skip this step if you're doing a road trip from home)
Now that you know when you'd like to go, where you'd like to go, your budget, and your route, it's time to research flights. If you're on a tight budget with a flexible schedule, you may have to alter your flight time to match your budget. For example, you may have planned to leave on a Sunday but found out flights to your destination are expensive on the day you chose. Check out websites/apps like Skyscanner, Hopper, Student Universe, and Scott's Cheap Flights to find cheaper flights around the time you'd like to go. Finding less expensive flights through apps like these helps you stay within budget and have more money to spend on accommodations, food, and activities.
While multi-stop flights may be cheaper than nonstop or one stop flights, you should take time constraints into consideration. Multi-stop flights take longer and can cut into your time in a destination. Also, check if the airline requires baggage fees (some airlines, especially budget airlines, charge baggage fees). Last thing to consider when booking flights: arrival and departure locations. Some cities have multiple airports, so check which airport you will be arriving at/departing from. If you're flying into one city and flying out of a different city, don't forget to search for one-way flights!
How much are flights to ____?
Did I check Skyscanner, Hopper, or other apps to find cheaper flights?
Which city am I flying into/out of?
Does ____ have several airports?
Which airport is it cheaper to fly into/out of?
Does X airline have baggage fees?
Unless you are staying in the center of a city and walking everywhere, you will have to figure out how you will get from point A to point B (whether it is around the same city or city to city).
For transportation within a city, research their public transportation. Larger cities usually have some form of public transportation, like buses or trains. If you'd rather travel around by car, check typical taxi or Uber fares for that city.
Renting a car and driving yourself is also an option (if you are brave enough to drive in certain cities). Depending on the city, renting a car can be fairly expensive and time consuming. In some places rental cars are expensive and so are gas prices. In addition, there may not be a lot of parking available in the city. Research rental car/gas prices and the commonality of available parking. Not only can you use a rental car to get around a certain city, but you can also use it to travel from city to city.
Another option for transportation= trains! Trains are so convenient and easy to use. I highly recommend taking advantage of them when traveling. Trains that run between larger cities are often faster than driving. In my opinion, one of the best parts of intercity train travel is enjoying the scenery. You are able to enjoy views of cities and landscapes while someone else worries about "traffic" (haha). Although there aren't usually incredible views on train rides within a city, you still don't have to worry about traffic. You can get passes for train travel around most European countries through Eurail. For train travel around the UK check out BritRail and for the US check out Amtrak.
What transportation is available around ______?
Do I need to rent a car?
Are there trains?
Can I walk to everything I want to see?
How will I get from point A to point B?
What is the best/cheapest/quickest option for transportation?
#7 Book Accommodations
Now, choose your accommodation: hotel, hostel, bed and breakfast, vacation rental (Airbnb, Vrbo, Vacasa, local vacation rental websites). In larger cities you can often find vacation rentals on Airbnb, Vrbo, and Vacasa that are cheaper than hotels and bed and breakfasts.
Accommodations that are close to attractions and restaurants are typically more expensive. Also, larger accommodations and ones with more amenities tend to be more expensive. There are, however, options for every budget.
Here's a little chart of positives and negative of each type of accommodation:
How close would I like to be to the center of town?
What would I like to stay near/what accommodations are near x, y, z?
What amenities must I have?
How many people do my accommodations need to fit?
What type of accommodations would I like to stay in?
How many nights will I be staying at each accommodation?
#8 Buy Travel Insurance
Ah travel insurance. The thing that no one wants to pay for, but at the same time everyone knows they would regret not getting it if something happened. Here is how travel insurance works:
Let's say you become ill right before your transatlantic flight and the plane ticket is nonrefundable. If you don't have travel insurance, you may regret not purchasing it. If you have travel insurance, you can collect required documents and file a claim with the travel insurance company. Let's try another scenario. If you're in a different country and you need emergency medical treatment, the travel insurance may pay the expenses up front. Travel insurance doesn't only cover expenses if you become ill or require emergency treatment, but it can also cover certain trip cancellations or delays (for domestic and international travel).
Travel insurance is not considered something you must do before you travel, but I believe it is important to buy travel insurance, especially before big/long trips. There are so many different insurance options. It's better to be safe than sorry!
Which travel insurance am I going to buy?
What does my travel insurance cover?
#9 Do a Little Research & Pack Your Bags
Your trip is getting closer and it's the only thing you can think about. Do some research on the places you're going. Figure out if you should buy tickets for certain attractions ahead of time. Some people like to book everything completely for each day and create a schedule. Personally, I like to purchase tickets for popular attractions that are a must on my list before arriving or upon arrival. This ensures that I will see/do things that are at the top of my list. For other attractions that aren't as popular or ones that are lower on my list, I don't worry about tickets until I am ready to visit the attractions.
Check the weather for where you are going before you pack! Another thing to note while packing is that some places you visit may require you to wear certain items of clothing. For example, some religious establishments in Europe require women to wear bottoms that cover their knees and tops (or a scarf) that cover their shoulders. Note that some items of clothing are also not acceptable in certain cultures. Just be mindful and respectful of clothing decisions while traveling.
Lastly, don't forget to pack your essentials. Don't forget your driver's license, money, phone, medications, etc. (Three essential things that I ALWAYS make sure I have are contacts, glasses, and my retainer 😂 in addition to the other essentials, of course)! If you're traveling internationally, don't forget to pack your passport and an extra printed copy of your passport (when you arrive in the other country, put your passport and printed copy in different locations for emergency purposes... the same goes for money, put some in different places- luggage, a secure place on yourself, and in your carry on/purse/backpack).
If you're going somewhere that has toiletries or other accessories you need (and you aren't partial to certain brands or items), don't overpack on those items. Overpacking can lead to extra baggage fees. If you are in France and run out of something like toothpaste (and you don't care what brand you use), know that you will be able to get toothpaste there. If you're going to pack too much of something, overpack on your essential items.
What do I want to do/see while I am in ________?
Do I need to buy some tickets or book things ahead of time?
What do I need to pack (based on weather/dress codes/cultural differences)?
Have I packed the essentials?
Did I overpack on anything that I can find where I am going?
#10 Go See the World!!
You are all booked and packed; now you are ready for your adventure! Go out, explore the world, experience other cultures, soak in the beauty, and eat some good food!
Am I ready? YES!