I’m a weirdo. I LOVE planning vacations and trips. Even if they aren’t my trips, I love researching places worldwide. In fact, the perfect weekend for me is browsing online and planning my next dream vacation (even if that vacation never happens). While travel planning can be very stressful, with this 10-step plan, you will have a fantastic adventure.
Travel planning #1: Determine the type of vacation you want
Recently my husband turned 30. I asked him a few months before his birthday where he wanted to go and he said he didn’t care. Wives out there know – don’t listen to a man that says, “I don’t know.” We would have had a romantic getaway somewhere near if it were up to me, but I knew that was not what he really wanted. So I rephrased the question: What type of vacation do you want?
After rephrasing the question, he still seemed a bit confused. When thinking about vacation, 4 things come to mind:
- What type of atmosphere do I want on my vacation?
- What kind of food do I want to eat?
- What type of activities do I want to do?
- What kind of landscape do I want to wake up to every day?
I made a graphic for him and filled in different things I was interested in. Then, I asked him to circle something from each column.
Okay, now I know we will go on a relaxing beach vacation with great hiking and walking paths and Tapas style food. But, before deciding where we can go, we must get to the next step: the all-dreaded budget.
Travel planning #2: Know your budget
To travel, you must know how much you can spend. I am not very good at knowing how much I spend on every vacation, but I know my max for that trip. For example, this year, we took a spontaneous trip to London for our 4th anniversary. I knew I didn’t want to spend more than $500, so I made sure that flights + accommodation didn’t exceed $350, so we had enough money to spend on food, drinks, etc. Unfortunately, I did not realise London’s expensive (poor planning) before arriving, and one night out to dinner cost about $75. The following day we went to the grocery store and bought lots of snacks to get us through the rest of the trip. Again, this was poor planning, and I should have done more research on the destination before booking our ridiculously cheap airline tickets from Ireland.
Once you know your budget, as you start to research potential destinations, think about the big-ticket items:
- Airline tickets
- Car hire and/or public transit
Now that you have those items in mind, time for the fun part of travel planning!
Travel planning #3: Macro-Research (Big Picture)
In step 1, we decided what type of vacation my hubby wanted for his special day. I know our budget thanks to step 2. Now, where can we go? I go to two websites to figure out where we can go.
- Kayak Explore (for the Americans)
You can put in your airport, the month you are interested in, and your airline budget; the map will produce all the different places you can go for that price.
- Skyscanner (for the Europeans)
Same idea as Kayak Explore (except with better pricing if you are based out of Europe).
Because I’ve already gone through step 2, I know we can afford a $150 round-trip ticket. Based on the fact that we are looking for a relaxing beach vacation with Tapas style food and great hiking, I can narrow it down to Portugal and Spain. After browsing through Pinterest and some of my favourite travel bloggers, I have narrowed it down to Lisbon and Faro in Portugal and the northern coast of Spain.
Now time for accommodation. I am not a fan of hotels. I only stay in hotels on business trips or in areas I’m not comfortable with (south-east Asia, for example). So to truly live like a local, I use these three websites to find some of the most unique places to stay:
iEscape is the perfect place to start looking at some unique, hip places to stay in your location of interest. They also have excellent travel guides and reviews of each location that will help you get a feel for each location. Once I have a general idea of the locations of interest and potential places to stay, I pop over to Agoda to check out the best deals. But, before that, I explore some more via Air Bnb.
- Air BnB
Air BnB and Pinterest are my two favourite websites. One of my guiltiest pleasures is lying in bed till noon on a Sunday, making various wish lists of places to stay around the world.
Agoda has some of the best deals around. It’s a little overwhelming, though (like TripAdvisor) so make sure you have a good idea of where you want to stay before heading over here.
Now, I’ve saved some fantastic places to stay and know I can afford flights to either Portugal or Spain. So how do I go about deciding where we are actually going to go? By finding some extra cool things in each place, of course!
Travel planning #4: Micro-Research (What makes your trip unique?) and make a decision!
Before I nail down the decision of where we are going, I first research what there is to do in the two different areas. At this point, I have found a few places to stay in two different Portugal regions with beach views, a few in northern Spain and a few in southern Spain.
I start by putting in the place I want to go and creating boards for each destination. This could take as long or as short of time as you please. Like I said earlier, I could (and do) spend hours on Pinterest when I am planning a trip.
After spending a few hours going through each destination, I narrowed our choice to Portugal! The serene beaches, hiking, and relaxing nature fit the bill perfectly.
Some of my favourite ways to find cool things in a city is to do hashtag searches of those areas on Twitter. With a quick search of #spanishbeaches on Twitter, the very first result seemed like a perfect start if I were ready to explore Spain.
We have narrowed it down to the Sintra and Algarve regions for one week in Portugal. Phew!
Travel planning #5: Make a list of “must-dos”, “want-to-dos”, “No, thank you”
As you start to read through blogs, TripAdvisor, and maybe even a Lonely Planet guide, start making lists of “must-dos”, “want-to-dos”, and “No, thank you.” This includes activities, food, museums, castles, sunsets you can’t miss, etc. Make sure you don’t have more than 1-2 must-dos for each day that you will be at your destination. Otherwise, you might end up having too packed of a schedule to enjoy your vacation.
Travel planning #6: Book your flights and accommodation
Note that I wait a while before I book my flights and accommodation. This is because I want to make sure I know how many days I really need. So take a look at your must-dos and situate your accommodation in a place that makes these activities more accessible.
Travel planning #7: Lay out a rough itinerary for each day
I’m still a fan of GoogleDocs for this. Having a loose itinerary will help relieve a ton of stress once you are actually on vacation. Of course, we never have a strict itinerary, but we always have a general idea of what we would like to do daily.
Travel planning #8: Book a car if needed and any tours/excursions/cooking classes/etc.
This one is pretty self-explanatory, but don’t wait until the last minute to book stuff! If you’ve done step 7 correctly, then step 8 will be done for you already. Word to the wise – many great attractions will likely be booked up. We made the mistake of not booking early for the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam and had to miss it as a result (no way was I standing in a 3-hour line).
Travel planning #9: Make a packing list and pack your bags!
I’m awful at this step. This step sucks, but trust the person who has over 10 toothbrushes from various trips in her bathroom cupboard. Not packing correctly is never a good plan.
Travel planning #10: Print everything out and go on vacation. You deserve it!
I always print all our boarding passes, event tickets, and room reservations before heading out just in case our mobile devices can’t get connected to the internet.
So now, go and enjoy your vacation!