Planning Your Next Trip
Updated: Apr 7, 2020
When you start to travel a considerable amount, or in my case, spend a year traveling, people tend to ask you for advice about their own next adventure. One of the most common things I’m asked is, “How do you plan your trip?” or some variation of that question.
So, if you’re seeking tips for planning a trip, look no further. Once, I’ve picked a state, region, or country to visit but before I book my plane tickets...I start the process below.
1. Research - Old School
Okay, before you go pulling out your AAA Triptiks (don’t get me wrong, these were great before they migrated to the app) I’m talking about guidebooks, maps (more on these below), and tourism offices of destinations you’re interested in. All of these resources are great starting points. There are SO many guidebooks out there now. You can most likely find one that meets your needs - traveling with family, on a budget, on no budget, hostels and camping, food-based, and so on. I’m personally a fan of Lonely Planet and Rough Guides depending on the trip. Lonely Planet was great for my Ireland tour while I used Rough Guides for my Iceland camping trip. Now, a piece of sage advice about buying used guide books. That 2008 Fodor’s Thailand guide might be calling to you from the shelf of a used book sale or thrift shop, “It’s only $1 and they’re so expensive new!” I get it. I’ve been there. Outdated guide books can be useful for giving you an overview of an area and most natural features tend to stay put BUT, prices change, hours change, bus routes change, new places open, even more places close, areas once non-visited become popular and vice versa. I’ve heard numerous horror stories of people using outdated information to plan a trip. Don’t be that guy! Please don’t plan your trip on a guide book older than two years old.
Bonus help: While guidebooks are a great planning tool, take them with you! They come in handy on your trip too. When we’re traveling to an area where there is no or limited access to the internet, I love having a guide book. Something that doesn’t require a connection or batteries and can still help me find the bus schedule, a reasonably priced restaurant or place to spend the evening. Double bonus tip: When you take your guide book with you don’t leave it in plain sight in your rental car. This indicates to unsavory opportunists that your car is more likely to have laptops, cameras, etc. and therefore a good target to break-in.
2. Research - New School
Pinterest and Instagram -
If you can focus on the task at hand and not get sucked into “15 Tips to Teach your House to Clean Itself” Pinterest is SUCH a great tool for planning a trip. Once I’ve decided where and I’m starting to think about an itinerary I start searching for pins like, “10 places you must eat in Dublin” or “15 Free Things to Do in Ireland,” “The 3 Bars Worth Visiting in Galway” and so on. I usually start a board for each trip I’m planning. Sort of an electronic binder of inspiration and tips. To me, this is such a helpful tool, especially for trips where it’s valuable to know important customs ahead of time, basic conversation in the language(s) of the area, and the extra important, “What should I eat there?”
Instagram is for so much more than pictures of puppies, children, and your post-work-out smile (or scowl in my case). Follow the Instagram pages of area(s) you’ll be visiting. Not only will it keep the excitement high leading up to your trip but you’ll be surprised the places you come across on these profiles that you wouldn’t have otherwise found. I’ve discovered bars, parks, beaches, restaurants, vistas, and shops that made my trip. Share your adventure, make sure that as you’re posting photos of your trip to tag those accounts you followed!
3. Get a Map(s)!
If I had to choose between packing underwear or a map for a trip…. I’d chose the map. Clean underwear won’t save me if I’m lost in the wilds of Ireland or if my GPS is doling out questionable advice in the middle of the desert. Here is my advice about maps….
Make it a good reputable one. I’m not talking about printing a google image of a map. National Geographic makes some fantastic travel maps and atlases. Many companies make great city walking maps.
Knowing accurate distances, elevations, and overviews of a region is so helpful. It wasn’t until I looked at a map that I realized that while my hotel was a mere 7 miles from the airport in Hawaii, it would take me an hour to get there as a result of the mountains between the two.
Take it with you. It can’t help you from your desk at home.
4. Ask Around and Read Reviews!
Chances are, you're not the first person to visit a place. If you are, skip this ahead to #5. In a world where everyone has an opinion, let’s harness that power for good. Trip Advisor, Yelp, Facebook pages, and Google Reviews can help you select the perfect restaurant for a special celebratory dinner, find the right company for a guided tour, the roadside attraction worth your time and more. This becomes even more helpful if you have dietary restrictions that influence your meal choices. Furthermore, the reviews are coming from other travelers. A hotel can stage a great picture of a room, but a fellow traveler will show you what will really await you after check-in….good or bad. One word of advice though, practically every place I’ve ever reviewed, no matter how good it is, has a bad review. Don’t waste your time looking for a place with only five-star reviews. They are like unicorns and you’ll never be able to fill a trip with them. Someone will always have a bad time… and feel like they need to share it with the world. Bad reviews only deter me when they overwhelm the positive reviews.
Don’t forget to contribute your own reviews after your trip!
5. Record All Your Research
Early on in my planning, I do two things to record plans. I created an Itinerary document and a Budget spreadsheet.
My Itinerary document is where I start listing all of the places I might want to go/see/eat at and their location in the region.
My Budget spreadsheet lists each day in the first column. The following columns are accommodations, price, breakfast, price, lunch, price, dinner, price, transportation, price, activities, and price. And then, of course, rows totaling each. Example document here.
The itinerary document starts as a brainstorming space and running list of all the places I’m interested in. Over time and as I check reviews I start to prioritize what I MUST do, what I’d love to do, and what I’d like to do if time/weather/conditions permit. Again over time, I begin to group the “What I MUST do” by area. I’ll then stack things into days.
I generally have a daily budget. This budget sheet helps me keep my trip on track and account for where I’m spending more or less. If I find a cheaper room that includes breakfast, it might mean I can add on horseback riding that afternoon. Of course, for me, the budget is only a guide for the trip. If a surprise once-in-a-lifetime-opportunity pops up, I’m not going to let my budget solely dictate if it happens or not. No one knows your financial situation better than you, planning ahead will help keep you feeling stress-free on vacation.
Bonus tip: Share your final itinerary with someone you trust before you leave. If something goes wrong or you need stateside help, it'll be easier if someone else knows where you are or should be.
6. Plan Unplanned Time
If you remember only one of these tips, let it be this one. Don’t plan every moment of your trip. Time spent wandering a city, strolling along without a plan, sitting on the beach or watching the world go by are some thee best parts of a trip. Your brain relaxes, you smell new smells, hear conversations in new languages, strangers become friends, and your world becomes a little richer.
How do you plan your trips? What steps are the most helpful? Let me know by dropping a comment below!