Planning your big trip overseas is daunting at first glance. Before I really got knee deep into travel blogging, I can’t even tell you how many times I searched for a step by step baby steps approach to planning travel. But guess what? Somehow this beginners approach to planning has fallen through the cracks on the interwebz. I can totally remember the feeling of complete confusion that I had before I booked my first big trip. Where do I begin? How do I decide what’s best?
I think in a past life, I was one of those vacation travel planners. You know, the old school places that have pamphlets on every destination imaginable. I love planning for travel. I miiiiight even plan hypothetical trips for myself for the future (and for my girlfriends). Okay. No shame. I love this stuff. Planning is fun for me because I really enjoy learning about the cultures, foods, sights and experiences unique to the millions of destinations there are in the world. I feel like I learn more about the world when I plan for trips abroad. Rest assured… if following the seven simple steps for planning your perfect travel itinerary is still too complicated, I could definitely help you out. I got your back on this one!
With our departure to Asia in about a month (!!!!), it’s safe to say that I’m completely invested in figuring out the dirty details of organization the absolutely perfect travel itinerary. Here is a beginner’s guide to planning the perfect travel itinerary…
1. Dream, Dream, Dream!
This is the best part of planning the perfect travel itinerary. Soak this first step in. Go ham. Search for beautiful travel photographs on Instagram. Go on Pinterest and make a board specifically for your wanderlust filled dream destinations (*cough* I might have to completely reorganize my overflowing board of travel pins *cough*). Make lists of the far off places you want to cross off of your bucket list. What sights are you dying to get to? What experiences do you want more than anything? Do you have a prolonged crush on a location? Dream, dream, dream!
2. Determine Your Dates
Are you going a week? A couple of weeks? A month? A year? Figure out your total number of days and go from there. In general, I’m someone who prefers less bouncing around. Slow travel is my chosen style of travel because I prefer really spending time in one area to get a feel for its culture and people. But that’s just me! Planning the perfect travel itinerary really comes down to knowing yourself. Once you’ve figured out what type of travel you prefer… it all sort of falls into place.
If your job only allows you a window of ten days or so, it’s important to embrace that short amount of time and fill it with the rich experiences you crave. Just remember that the quicker you bounce around between cities, the more your expenses will be and the more stress you’ll probably run into.
There are specific busy travel seasons, known as “high seasons” on most accommodation sights, where prices are hiked up a lot. If you’re wise you’ll choose to avoid this time of the year. Obviously, that flexibility is not possible for all of us… but if at all possible, try to set dates that are during “low season” or “shoulder season” (the in between weeks smooshed outside of low and high seasons). If it just so happens that your timeline for a trip fits within these two, you and your wallet are in luck! P.S. most of the time you can find out when these seasons are through a simple Google search.
3. Do Your Research.
This is where my blog’s resource post comes in handy! The secret to planning the perfect travel itinerary is digging deep into the many online resources out there! Google away. Check out travel blogs and magazines, talk to friends who have ventured around where you’re headed, get recommendations from locals by sending bloggers a quick email. Do what you need to do. Half the time, “researching” for me is more like “okay-I’m-totally-getting-amped-up-to-go-here” time!
4. Consider Your Budget Vs. Your Experiences
Ah, the dreaded budget talk. Unfortunately money is something us travelers simply cannot avoid. Thankfully, travel does not have to be expensive. Travel can be very inexpensive if, and only if, you’re willing to put a little bit of leg work in initially.
Ask yourself if there a particular area that is WAY hella expensive for what you’re willing to pay? This is where the battle of budget vs. experience comes in. Unfortunately, some adventures (like sky diving in New Zealand or scuba diving in Iceland) might over-exceed the amount of money you have in your pocket. When going back and forth, remember to ask yourself if there something you literally would go crazy regretting if you didn’t go do it if you had the chance. If choosing to save money by not going to your grandfather’s hometown would keep you up at night, maybe it’s worth penny pinching elsewhere.
5. Book Flights
Get like Nike and JUST DO IT. Plus, I mean c’mon, pressing that purchase button might be one of the best feelings ever. If you’re interested in cutting a lot of expenses on flights, check out Extra Pack Of Peanut’s flight resources. This website is a wealth of knowledge for gaining those precious frequent flier miles! If you’re feeling flexible with your timeline, I’m also a huge fan of sites like The Flight Deal and Skyscanner’s search engine for finding cheap flights. Plugging in your destination and a monthly view of flight costs is awesome for comparing cheap airfare. Remember, many airlines charge extra fees for checked bags. So traveling in just a carry-on (like I’m doing this time around) is one way to cut another silly cost!
6. Book Accommodations
AirBnb is awesome, but so are a lot of hostels, guest houses and hotels. It really depends on where you’re going! So once you’ve determined your city/country, look into what areas are more tourist friendly (i.e. they have public transportation accessible and ready for your use, they’re centrally located to historic sights or local watering pools). Once you’ve determined a rough location, search away on the list on that handy dandy resource post I have here on the blog to find a ton of online accommodations sights to dig through.
For me, location is everything when it comes to accommodations. Sure, you can have a super, duper cheap four star hotel room further away, but ask yourself if the extra leg work of coordinating going back and forth is worth it. Maybe you don’t mind spending a little bit on your cab fare to return to your place. Or maybe you’d rather spend a tad more but have the luxury of being in walking distance to the downtown or historic era.
Oh yeah, and if you’re totally budget oriented and don’t want to pay a penny for accommodations, look into house sitting. Many amazing, locally owned homes are looking for trusted people to take care of their apartments and pets!
7. Look Into Day Trips/ Experiences From Your “Main Hub”
Is there a palace an hour away by train? Is there an elephant park a few bus stops away? This is where you can really get a bang from your buck from planning your perfect travel itinerary! Most of the time it only takes a quick Google search for “day trips from _____” or a look through your city’s Lonely Planet page to find some serious goodies. Don’t hesitate to search for bloggers recommendations too! Lots and lots and lots of travel bloggers (find a bunch here) have first hand experience with planning little excursions. Day trips are a stupid fun way to get a deeper appreciation for a new country!
Simple pimple really. Although it seems like a daunting task, planning the perfect travel itinerary really comes down to being self aware. Once you learn your style of travel (slow vs. quick, luxury vs. midrange vs. budget) and set a few things in motion, planning becomes an adventure all on its own!