Last week I talked a little about how to achieve your New Year Travel goals and I mentioned in one of my steps that I make a plan. My plan is there to guide me, keep me on track, and break up all the work to achieve my goal into bite size pieces that I can tackle bits at a time. By spreading out the tasks that need to be done, I not only give myself plenty of time to get them accomplished, but it also prolongs the excitement of the trip for me. A great trip to me isn’t just from the moment I land at my destination until I board the plane to come home- for me it begins with the decision to go and lasts until long after the trip as I recount my stories with my friends, family, and on this blog. Today I’d like to share those steps of my plan with you.
Decide where you want to go
Seems simple doesn’t it? Yet sometimes this is the one thing that gets overlooked as we dream about a million different places we’d like to go. I’m certainly guilty of pinning tons of beautiful photos on Pinterest and thinking about all the possible places I could visit but if you’re going to achieve your travel goals you need to pick one choice and stick to it. That choice doesn’t have to be one city, maybe it’s a particular tour around a country or several countries. Ideally you’ll pick a place that really gets you excited, maybe one you’ve thought about for years. If the place doesn’t excite you then you won’t really put forth the effort to reach your goal. So where are you going?
Still trying to make your final decision? Here are a few sites that might help…
- National Geographic Top 10 – The World’s Best Trips, Adventures, and Places to Visit
- Trip Advisor 2014 Travelers’ Choice Top 25 Destinations in the World
- Frommer’s Best Places to Go in 2015
- My ‘Dreaming of Far Away Lands’ board on Pinterest... especially if you’re looking for some really neat places to stay like mirrored tree houses, glass igloos, or underwater rooms.
Work out your travel timetable
When can you travel and how long can you be gone? Most of us have a certain number of vacation days allotted to us each year so we need to think about how we’re going to get the most out of them. Traveling around company holidays can squeeze an extra day or two out. Flying on a Friday night to get overseas means not having to take a vacation day on Friday. Or if choosing a tour or cruise, look at their departure options and find the one that uses the least amount of vacation days especially if it works in other ways for you (e.g. fits in your budget). Also think about the time of year you’ll be traveling if you wish to miss things like extra crowds, very hot weather, or higher prices.
Not sure when to go? These sites can give you tips…
- Best Time to Go says it will ‘find you the best time to go to the most traveled places on earth’ (The “Tourist’s Daily Cost of Living” seems to be a bit high for the cities I’ve looked at, although they do specify it’s for the high season)
- If warm holiday weather is what you’re after then The Best Time to Visit’s search engines can help you with that.
- Kiplinger Personal Finance has put together an article on the “Cheapest Times to Visit Vacation Hotspots in 2015” if you are looking for ways to stretch your travel budget. I can personally agree with their recommendation to visit Paris in February as I did just that in 2005. The flights and hotels were much cheaper (only $670 for flight + 7 nights hotel- although this was in 2005) and no waiting in long lines, even at the big attractions like the Louvre, Eiffel Tower, and Versailles.
Determine your budget
When determining a trip budget it’s important to make it realistic. It is one thing to say you can spend $1000 on your trip but if that will only buy your flight then you’ll be out of luck. It’ll be important at this step to do some research on the destination to determine what a realistic budget is for it so you can do the type of traveling you like to (e.g. budget, mid-level, luxury). Once the trip budget has been determined then you can put a tentative date range to your trip and start saving for the fun!
Here are a few sites to start with as you research your costs, though it would be best to research your specific destination…
- Lonely Planet offers information for different countries under the “Essential Information” tab for the particular country. The one I’ve linked to is for China but you can search for many other countries once on their site.
- Looking to visit Europe? Dream Euro Trip has created a Euro Trip Budget Calculator to help estimate your costs based on length of trip, which region you’ll be visiting, what type of traveler you are, and how often you’ll go out to party.
- Once you have your estimated costs and want the grand total, here are a couple of simple travel budget calculators from Practical Money Skills and Independent Traveler.
Trip preparation … or obsession?
To me this part is almost as enjoyable as the trip itself and it makes the pleasure of travel last longer. Obsession might be a strong word but this is when I really start to research, learn about, read about, and just generally think about all parts of my upcoming trip. This is when the trip really starts to become a reality for me. The destination becomes more than just the name of a city on a map. It starts to become a destination full of interesting buildings, history, and stories that I can’t wait to experience.
I start scouring the internet for the “must-see” things to see and do in my destination, but also keeping an eye out for some lesser known things that would be really cool things to see too. I also start looking for ways to save money once there, like city passes, and possible alternatives to pricey hotels, like Airbnb or B&B’s and unique boutique hotels. When researching all these things I also start to watch flight prices and check to see if using my air miles will be possible and cost effective. Once I find my flight price ‘sweet spot’ (aka the price I’m willing to pay) I book it and then don’t look at airfares again! If they happen to have any fare sales I’ll just be disappointed that I missed them.
This is also when I start putting together a list of all the things that need to be done before my trip like renewing my passport, applying for visas, setting up a house/pet sitter etc. Each of these things might seem like a chore but checking each one off means I’m that much closer to my trip! Plus I balance all these ‘chores’ with fun things like reading a book or two set in the country I’m visiting, watching some movies that take place where I’m going, setting my countdown app so I see how many sleeps are left until departure, and just generally absorbing all I can about this neat new place I’m going to visit.
Tons of online resources are used during this part of my plan. Here are some of my favourites…
- Kayak compares prices for oodles of travel sites or use their Explore feature where you can choose your home airport and time you’d like to travel and they’ll show you a map of the world with airfares all over the place.
- Skyscanner compares prices for various airlines, much the same as Kayak does, along with giving you the prices from other travel sites like Orbitz.
- Rome2Rio has an added benefit in that it will give you flights and alternate modes of transportation (and their prices) if they are available, like train, ferry, bus, or automobile.
- TripAdvisor is also one of my first stops because I like to read the reviews and see the photos from people who stayed there (not just the hotel’s professional photos). If you put your dates in it’ll also give you rates from various sites that you can compare and it’s always a good idea to check the rates with the hotel directly too.
- Airbnb has recently become another go to site to look for a place to stay. After our recent trip to Canada where we stayed in four Airbnb options, we’ve now booked two more for France in March. I can definitely see us using this site a lot on future trips too.
Fun Stuff to Get you Totally Pumped!
- Visiting Europe? To me Rick Steves is THE man for Europe. I love watching his travel show on PBS and online, listening to his podcasts and walking tours on his Audio Europe app, and reading his travel guides. He also has travel lectures on his YouTube channel. You know how starstruck many people would be if they met Brad Pitt? Yeah, that’s how I’d be with Rick Steves. I love his travel suggestions and advice that much. *UPDATE: In January 2016 I MET Rick Steves!! Well I went to a travel show and he autographed my book and we spoke to each other so I’m calling that “meeting” him. :-) I can’t even describe how excited I as driving the several hours to Dallas to go to this show and the kiddo will attest to me being “star-struck” when Rick came on stage for his lecture. It was awesome.
- If you’re not sure what to put on your ‘trip preparation’ list here are a couple of good examples that will get you started- REI Travel Preparation Checklist (with timeline) or this printable version from Go International or this Travel Planning Checklist.
- A couple of useful apps to download are World Mate to keep up with all your booking information electronically and XE Currency converter app.
Final Prep and Pack
You’re on the homestretch now and almost ready to take off on a great adventure! In the remaining week or two leading up to a big trip I take care of the following things:
- Packing my suitcase. I have been known to have my suitcase out and open in my room a good two weeks before a trip. While I don’t do it quite that far in advance now I do still like to have it out to start collecting those things I don’t want to forget, but I won’t need until I leave. I also make a packing list, or download one like this, so I don’t forget anything. If you’re a female reader I also recently found the blog Her Packing List which offers some very specific packing lists, along with other travel tips for women.
- Start a new trip journal. A couple of years ago I finally found the solution to all my bags full of ticket stubs, napkins, brochures, etc. that I pick up on my travels when I brought along a little notebook and some scotch tape. Each day as I accumulate these things I try to get them taped in to my book along with making some brief notes about the day. In the beginning of the book I put things like flight and hotel confirmations, copies of important documents (e.g. passports and travel insurance), phone numbers and addresses, and tickets I’ve bought in advance. The book itself is about 8″ by 5″ so it will fit in my purse and it works absolutely brilliantly. And at the end of my trip I have a nice little scrapbook of memories.
- Money stuff. At this point I make sure bills are set to pay while I’m gone, if they aren’t already automated, and I call my credit and debit card companies to let them know I’ll be traveling so they don’t put any holds on my card while I’m away (and if you live in the US they will!). This is also a good time to exchange some currency if you’d like some when you arrive.
- Charge everything. Now is the time I make sure all my devices are charged to the max, especially those I don’t charge daily like my Kindle and my camera. This is also when I discover that I still have photos on my SD cards that need to be cleared off to make room for the new ones, so I take care of that too. I can’t have full memory cards when I travel because then where would I put the hundreds (and sometimes thousands!) of photos I take?
Have Fun and Make Memories!
And that’s it! See that wasn’t so bad and now you’re ready to go and have tons of fun, relax in the sun, and make all kinds of wonderful memories. You’ve achieved your travel goal!
What about you guys? Are there any other things you do to help prepare for a trip that I could add to my plan? Do you agree that planning it out like this helps the excitement of the trip last longer?