A few things are as exciting in life as planning a trip.
You start doing your research on a new destination, figuring out places that you want to see, restaurants that you want to visit, and so much more! To me, it’s the kind of exhilaration that very few other things in life can bring.
But to plan a trip, you need to do far more than just get some inspiration from social media and buy a couple of travel guidebooks. Planning a trip also involves less fun tasks such as looking for flights, hotels, and even travel insurance. Oh, and what about checking the weather? Because it can make or break your entire experience!
While I can’t say that I have a detailed itinerary for every trip (I’m more of a spontaneous person who likes to plan things on the go), I always have a rough idea of what places I want to visit, and how much time I need for everything.
I think staying flexible is always a good idea, as your travel plans could be affected by weather, other people’s availability, and events well outside of your control.
But also recognize that despite the plethora of information about how to plan a trip that’s available through blogs, social media, and guidebooks, there’s still a lot of confusion, as the sheer volume of advice, tips, and expertise could be simply overwhelming to someone who never had to plan a trip.
So, after traveling for quite a while, I came up with a step-by-step process that will hopefully help you to plan a trip from scratch and organize everything the next time you are ready to hit the road.
My checklist outlines some f the most common questions I receive from fellow travelers whether they plan a road trip, an adventure of a lifetime, or a short weekend getaway.
1. Ask yourself why you want to travel
People travel for all sorts of reasons.
Sometimes, you might travel for adventure, other times you just might want to relax at the beach. The reason for your trip determines many things such as duration of stay, what you want to do and how much money you will need for your trip.
I encourage you to dig a bit deeper and ask yourself why you want to take a trip. Do you want to do cultural travel, do you want to explore and see nature, or maybe you want to just kick back and relax at an all-inclusive hotel. Nothing wrong with that either.
PRO TIP: If you are like me and like to plan a road trip from time to time, you should check my article about the best West Coast National Parks in America. West Coast USA is home to amazing vistas and towns that make for some of the best road trip itineraries.
2. Come up with the list of destinations
Now you know why you want to take a trip and it’s time to come up with the list of destinations that correspond with your reason for travel. You can start with geographic regions, and then narrow down your list to countries and later decide on specific cities, scenic areas, national parks, and so on.
For example, if you want to enjoy the unspoiled landscapes, and explore less-visited destinations, Central America could be a good option.
But Central America is a vast region that spans from Mexico to Colombia and includes several countries, some of which, like Costa Rica are touristy and more developed, neighboring Nicaragua that is relatively undiscovered, or Belize that is one of the best places in the world for diving.
Once you figure out what country and what region you want to visit, you can begin mapping out your itinerary, planning tours, looking at hotels, and so on.
3. Take a close look at your budget
Your budget determines A LOT of things.
From your accommodations to daily activities, the amount of money you have available has a huge role in how your trip is going to go.
Set aside a specific amount of money that you can afford to spend on your trip and go from there. Trust me, there’s nothing worse than coming back from the trip buried in credit card debt. Think about how much money you can spend on accommodations, activities, transportation, airfare, and plan from there.
4. Research your travel costs
Depending on where you want to travel, your travel costs could differ drastically. For example, if you are traveling to an expensive country like Japan or Switzerland, your travel costs might look a lot different than if you travel to a cheaper destination like Mexico or Guatemala, for example.
Additionally, your travel costs depend on what activities you want to do. My advice is to research prices for everything you want to do, especially if you plan on scuba diving, hot air balloon riding, bungee jumping or any other activity that carries a high price tag.
On the opposite side, a typical guided city tour might not be as expensive, and some cities like Merida, Mexico even offer free guided tours, so make sure to explore all of the options.
5. Consider the timing of your trip
Different destinations have different high and low seasons.
For example, in Mexico’s Caribbean, the high season is from November through April when travelers from colder climates come to escape winter in their home countries.
To be perfectly honest, this is my least favorite time in the region because of the high crowd galore. In many European countries and the United States, July through early August is the busiest time of the year because that’s when many people take their vacation before the school year begins.
If you plan to travel during the high season, there’s a good chance that you will have to pay a premium for airfare and accommodations, among other things. And that’s on top of bracing the crowds, standing in super long lines to visit popular landmarks, and having to eat at packed restaurants.
I don’t know about you, but that’s exactly why I LOVE traveling during the low season. The beaches are empty, restaurants are nice and spacious and the crowds are gone.
Still, I understand that not everyone can take off at a moment’s notice. That’s why making your reservations ahead of time will help you to avoid paying high costs, so keep it in mind when planning your dream trip to Europe in the middle of the summer.
6. Ask your friends if they want to travel with you
Having friends with you not only fun, but it also helps you to save a good chunk of change!
If you are going to travel for a couple of weeks, ask your friends if they would like to join you for some time. Not only you will avoid feeling lonely, but you could also split costs on accommodations and food, among other things.
Whether you decide to travel solo or with friends can have an impact on what activities you will do, how much money you will spend, and what experiences you will get out of it.
I’m a big fan of solo travel because it helps you grow as a person, but I also like traveling with other people as it often makes for the most fun adventures. Decide what works for you, and whether it makes more sense to travel in a group, or vice versa.
For example, traveling to a place like Manchester with your friends will always be more fun than going alone. You can go to football games together, hand out in pubs and go to concerts.
Figure out what works for you and if it makes more sense to go alone or with a group of friends.
7. Start setting money aside
Planning a trip also means you might have to come up with some extra income.
The sooner you begin saving, the more money you will have for your trip. Get creative and think about some of the ways you could earn extra money. Perhaps you could start selling your old stuff like clothing, furniture, or electronics, or take a job on the side that could help you get extra income.
Can’t think of anything? Begin cutting your daily expenses!
They might seem small and not create an immediate impact, but trust me, if you begin making these adjustments to your spending ahead of time, it can add up to a significant amount of money and help you pay for that dream trip.
Think about whether you need that coffee? And what about the pair of shoes that you are thinking about. Analyze your non-essential expenses, and begin trimming down unnecessary purchases to save money on travel.
If you are new to travel planning, you could also do some research to see how fellow travelers come up with extra cash for all those trips.
8. Take advantage of travel perks
Today, there are TONS of travel resources that could help you to save up.
For example, Hotels.com offers free accommodations to its members after every 10 completed reservations. If you plan on traveling for at least a couple of weeks, you could easily earn a free stay. Hotels.com also has awesome discounts for its gold members where prices could be slashed up to 50 percent.
Another great option is Agoda.com, a great website for budget accommodations such as hostels, small boutique hotels, and bed and breakfast-type properties; as well as Hostelworld.com where you can find a good variety of … hostels in just about any country!
Finally, if you have to cut your accommodations to zero, you could consider Couchsurfing.com that allow you to stay at other people’s houses (and make friends) at the same time.
9. Book hotels and airfare
Although I already touched on hotels, I will say that the earlier you book your accommodations, the more likely you are to save money. Although this is especially true for high seasons, this works for just about any situation.
Dollar Flight Club is my favorite place for finding great deals on international flights. This membership-based website sends you suggestions for flights from your home airport helping you to save an average of $300 per trip. Dollar Flight Club offers a free trial as well as different types of membership.
If you have never heard about Dollar Flight Club, check out my article!
Other great websites for finding airfare are Skyscanner.com, Momondo.com, and Google flights.
10. Book your transportation
Depending on your destination, it might be wise to look into how you are going to get around. Some countries have a good public transportation system, while others don’t. Make sure to figure out how you are going to get from place to place and if necessary, book your tickets ahead of time.
Or, if you plan a road trip, you will need to rent a vehicle. My favorite go-to source for planning a road trip is discovercars.com. They have a great selection of cars from super compact ones to big SUV’s.
11. Get insurance
Traveling without insurance could be dicey.
Nobody goes on a trip thinking that something bad will happen to them, and yet if a situation arises, your insurance could mean the difference between being stuck with thousands of dollars in medical bills and having your insurance cover them. And that’s just one case.
But good insurance like World Nomads should cover far more than hospital visits.
Stolen and damaged luggage, missed and delayed flights, and other unforeseen circumstances that could negatively affect your trip should all be covered by your travel insurance. It’s a good idea to look into getting it especially if you are planning to travel for weeks in a row.
12. Come up with an itinerary
While I’m not going to encourage you to have an itinerary for every single day of your trip, I would like to say that you should have a rough plan with all of the places you would like to visit.
Before you begin drafting your plan, ask yourself how much time you have. This is super important because the amount of time you have available will dictate how many places you can visit.
I know it’s easy to get carried away when you start thinking about all of the cool places you will visit, but you need to be realistic about how much you can do in a given amount of time.
My favorite way of traveling is to have the exact itinerary of places I want to visit but play it by ear. This means I can modify my itinerary based on how long I’d like to stay in a given place and how much time I have left. Flexibility always goes a long way while traveling!
13. Create a daily budget for your trip
Let’s talk about the budget.
I know you like this word just as little as I do, and yet, it’s important to have a concept of how much money you can spend. Having a budget doesn’t mean that you will have to eat canned soup every day and stay at $10 hostels (although some travelers are certainly willing to do that to travel).
A solid budget will help you to save yourself from blowing through all your money in the first couple of days of traveling. Do you need that coffee every morning? And I’m sure you can live without going on a shopping spree in your free time.
Wait, did someone say credit cards? 🙂
Jokes aside, you should enjoy your trip, but keep in mind that you have a certain amount of money allocated for all that fun. You don’t want to come back home broke as a joke, and buried in the credit card debt.
Make your trip fun and memorable, and don’t spend money where you don’t have to.
14. Find a remote gig
Are going to travel for an extended time? Backpack through Central America?
Or maybe you are planning a road trip along with West Coast USA? If it looks like you will be traveling for a while, it might be wise to look for remote work online.
If your skillset allows, you could pick up a couple of gigs here and there, while traveling to put some extra money in your pocket. Websites like Fiverr, and We Work Remotely have dozens of listings in fields like marketing, editing, web design, and others.
Remote work is a great way to add extra income to your budget and help your financial situation while you are on the road.
15. Pack only necessities
I’m a light traveler.
Hauling suitcases full of clothes, shoes, and other random stuff across the airport, then to a hotel sounds like a nightmare to me.
While I understand that not everyone can fit everything in a small suitcase and a backpack, you can always downsize to reduce the weight you have to carry around. You will feel so much lighter, and … happier. No extra burden hindering your adventures.
And hey, what about traveling green? Remember that lighter suitcases also help to reduce airplane emissions and help you to avoid unnecessary baggage fees. Win-win for everyone!
16. Last minute preparations
Language – Make sure to learn at least a few phrases before your trip. Common courtesy goes a long way, and you will have a better chance at winning people over, if you make an effort to speak their language. Apps like Babbel and Duolingo could be helpful if you want to pick up some language skills on the go.
Culture – Knowing local cultural norms can make a big difference on your overall experience. Research the culture, manners and appropriate versus inappropriate things to do before you take a trip.
Currency – Check on what’s going on with the local currency, what the exchange rate is like and where you can exchange your money. Last thing you want to do is start exchanging money without knowing anything about the local currency.
Finally: Don’t forget to have fun!
You have spent time, effort, and most likely money getting ready for your trip, and now it’s your time to enjoy it!
Pack up, let your friends and family know where you are going (especially a good idea if you are planning a solo trip), make sure to take your passport, and head to the airport.
Travel is a huge privilege and you should be able to enjoy every little second of it!
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