Are you ready for a journey that will level up your trip planning skills? Looking to save big on travel and make the most of your adventures? Whether you’re a seasoned globetrotter or a novice traveler, this article will show you how to plan a trip like a pro.
Traveling is one of life’s greatest pleasures. It offers us the opportunity to explore new places, immerse ourselves in diverse cultures, and create memories that last a lifetime. However, the key to a successful and stress-free trip lies in diligent trip planning.
I remember my very first solo trip like it was yesterday. I was a study abroad student in Barcelona and had no idea what I was doing. Up until that point in my life, I had only traveled with my parents – so I didn’t know how to plan a trip. I didn’t have a working phone or data plan, which made traveling even trickier. However, I quickly adapted to the challenge before me and through trial and error, figured out some strategies for trip planning.
Now, many years (and mistakes) later, I’ve figured out how to make traveling less stressful and overwhelming. As a travel blogger, I have visited over 55 countries around the world, and I’ve somehow survived to tell the tale. To help you save time, energy, and money, here’s my guide on how I plan a trip.
So fasten your seatbelts and prepare for a thrilling adventure. The world awaits your exploration, and it’s time to plan your vacation like a pro.
Why trip planning matters
Before diving into my step-by-step guide on how to plan trips, I want to share why trip planning is important in the first place.
So why does trip planning matter? While it’s important to be spontaneous and go with the flow, it’s also a good idea to set yourself up for success with a well-crafted plan. After all, traveling can be quite stressful, so you’ll want to plan your trip in a way that makes it easier on you.
Here are some ways trip planning is a game changer:
Embrace the spirit of exploration: Planning your trip lets you dig deep into the essence of a place. It gives you a taste of its history, culture, and local vibes. When you’ve got the inside scoop, you’ll feel a stronger connection and unlock experiences that’ll blow your mind.
Make every minute count: Time’s a precious resource. And by planning ahead, you’ll make the most of every minute. You can hit up all the must-see spots, discover hidden gems, and soak in authentic experiences that match your travel goals. No FOMO here!
Save some money: Who doesn’t love stretching their travel budget? From finding affordable places to crash and snagging deals on transportation to seeking out budget-friendly eats and free activities, you’ll be ballin’ on a budget without sacrificing the fun.
Dodge the crowds: We all know those popular destinations can get cray-cray during peak times. But with a little planning prowess, you can dodge the masses like a ninja. Find alternative routes, hit up places off the beaten path, and visit during quieter times. It’s all about enjoying a more intimate and authentic experience, my friend.
Peace of mind: Stress and uncertainty? Ain’t nobody got time for that! By planning ahead, you’ll rock that peace of mind vibe. Sort out your travel documents, suss out safety tips, and have all your essentials in check. You’ll breeze through your trip knowing you’ve got it all under control.
In the next sections, we’ll unravel how to craft the perfect itinerary. We’ll also show you how to uncover the hidden gems only the locals know, find the best accommodations, and seek out immersive cultural experiences. Together, we’ll discover the tools to plan a journey beyond your wildest dreams.
Quick trip planning hack
Before sharing the A-Z on how to plan a vacation, I first want to share my #1 tip that saves me THOUSANDS of dollars on travel each year.
For the past 3 years, I’ve used Scott’s Cheap Flights (now called Going) to find cheap flight deals. It’s free and easy to use. All you have to do is enter in your home airport and where you want to go, and they’ll send you mistake fares and other cheap flight deals.
In 2022 alone, I saved $5,000 thanks to their email alerts. This includes most recently, a $225 roundtrip fare from Boston to Barcelona. On average, I save about $400 roundtrip on transatlantic flights. So, I’m a huge fan and couldn’t recommend them more!
If you’re a frequent flier, consider getting their premium version. It costs $49 per year, but it will easily save you hundreds (or thousands) of dollars if you fly just 1-2 times. I recommend signing up for the free trial (which you can cancel at any time) to test it out for yourself. And if you like it, use my coupon code JON20 to save 20%!
10 tips for planning a trip in 2023
Gone are the days of haphazard itineraries and missed opportunities. It’s time to unveil the secrets of savvy travelers who effortlessly navigate destinations, accommodations, and unforgettable experiences. Brace yourself for insider tips, expert advice, and inspiring tales that will leave you craving discovery.
Here are my top tips on how to plan a trip in 2023.
1. Decide on your travel budget
Before you start dreaming about exotic destinations and exciting activities, it’s crucial to establish your travel budget. Your budget is a roadmap for your trip planning, guiding your decisions on where to go, how long to stay, and what to do.
Estimate Your Total Budget: Start by determining how much money you’re willing and able to spend on the trip. Consider all your income sources and savings, and decide on a total amount that won’t strain your finances or lead to post-vacation debt.
Break Down Your Budget: Once you have a total figure, break it down into categories such as flights, accommodation, meals, transportation, activities, and souvenirs. Remember to set aside a contingency fund for unexpected expenses.
Prioritize Your Spending: Decide what aspects of the trip are most important to you. If you’re a foodie, you might allocate a larger portion of your budget to dining experiences. If you’re an adventure seeker, you might prioritize activities and excursions.
Research Costs: Use online resources to research the costs associated with your chosen destination. Look up the average costs for accommodations, meals, and activities to ensure your budget aligns with the reality of the location.
Save Up: Once you’ve set your budget, start saving money specifically for your trip. Consider setting up a separate savings account or using a budgeting app to track your progress.
Remember, a well-planned budget is the foundation of a successful trip. It allows you to enjoy your vacation without worrying about overspending or dealing with financial stress upon your return.
2. Choose your destination
When planning a trip, get clear on where you actually want to go. A lot of people like to talk about travel, but committing to a specific destination is what will ultimately turn your dreams into a reality.
So don’t be vague. Instead of saying that you “want to visit Europe this summer” or are planning to “visit somewhere warm,” get specific with your travel plans. The more detailed and concrete they are (i.e. “I’m going to Spain this summer”), the easier they are to execute.
Here are some considerations to keep in mind when deciding on where to go:
Personal interests: Your destination should align with your interests. Are you a history buff, a nature lover, or a food enthusiast? Do you prefer a relaxing beach holiday, an adventurous mountain trek, or a cultural city tour? Identifying what you love will help narrow down your destination choices.
Season and weather: The time of year you plan to travel can significantly impact your destination choice. Research the best times to visit your potential destinations, considering factors like weather, tourist crowds, and local events or festivals.
Safety: Safety should always be a priority when choosing a destination. Check travel advisories for potential destinations and read up on the local customs and regulations.
Accessibility: Consider how easy it is to get to your chosen destination. Look at flight connections, visa requirements, and the local transportation system.
Budget: Your destination must fit within your budget. Some destinations are more expensive than others, so consider the cost of travel, accommodation, meals, and activities in each potential destination.
Seek inspiration: Flip through travel magazines, read travel blogs, and browse Instagram feeds. This will ignite your imagination and unveil destinations that may have eluded your radar.
Connect with fellow travelers: Join travel communities and social media groups where you can seek recommendations and gather insights from those who have explored your potential destinations.
Listen to your intuition: Sometimes, your gut feeling knows best. Trust your instincts and listen to your intuition. Pay attention to the destinations that keep calling out to you, tugging at your heartstrings.
3. Consider the length of your trip
The duration of your trip can significantly impact your travel experience and budget. Here’s how to determine the ideal duration for your trip:
Consider your destination: The size and nature of your destination can influence the length of your stay. A small island getaway might only require a few days to explore, while a bustling city or a country with diverse attractions might warrant a longer stay.
Reflect on your interests: Your interests and the purpose of your trip should also guide your decision. If you’re looking to relax and unwind, a longer stay might be beneficial. If you’re aiming to sightsee and explore, you might prefer a shorter, more activity-packed trip.
Factor in travel time: Don’t forget to consider travel time. If you’re spending a significant amount of time in transit, you’ll want to ensure you have enough time at your destination to make the travel worthwhile.
Balance activities and downtime: While it’s tempting to pack your itinerary with activities, remember to schedule some downtime. Vacations are also about relaxation and rejuvenation, so ensure you have some free time to rest or explore spontaneously.
Keep your budget in mind: Lastly, remember that the length of your trip will impact your budget. Longer trips will require more spending on accommodation, meals, and possibly activities.
4. Get a travel rewards credit card
If you’re a frequent traveler (or planning to be one), a travel rewards credit card can be your best friend. These cards allow you to earn points or miles that can be redeemed for free flights, hotel stays, or even cash back, depending on the card.
Here are my favorite travel credit cards that I use:
Nowadays, most travel cards offer between 75,000-100,000 points as a sign-up bonus. This can easily cover a free flight (or two) around the world!
Here’s how to make the most of a travel rewards credit card:
Choose the Right Card: There are many travel rewards credit cards out there, each with its own set of benefits and drawbacks. Some offer huge sign-up bonuses, others offer extra points for certain types of purchases, and some offer travel perks like free checked bags or airport lounge access.
Understand the Sign-up Bonus: Many travel rewards credit cards offer a sign-up bonus if you spend a certain amount within the first few months of opening the account. This bonus can often be worth hundreds of dollars in travel, so it’s important to understand the terms and make sure you can meet the spending requirement.
Use Your Card Regularly: The more you use your travel rewards credit card, the more points or miles you’ll earn. Consider using your card for everyday purchases to maximize your rewards. But remember to pay off your balance in full each month to avoid interest charges.
Pay Attention to Point Values: Not all points and miles are created equal. The value of your rewards can vary depending on how you use them. Some redemption options, like flights or hotel stays, may offer a higher value than others, like gift cards or merchandise.
Consider Annual Fees: Many travel rewards credit cards charge an annual fee. In some cases, the benefits and rewards you can earn are worth more than the fee. But if you’re not a frequent traveler, or if you’re not taking full advantage of your card’s benefits, the annual fee might not be worth it.
Remember, the key to maximizing a travel rewards credit card is to use it wisely. Always pay off your balance in full each month, and make sure the benefits outweigh any fees. With the right travel planning strategy, a travel credit card can help you travel more for less.
5. Book your travel and accommodation
Once you’ve chosen your destination and decided on the duration of your trip, it’s time to book your travel and accommodation. This step is crucial as it can significantly impact your travel experience and budget. Here are some tips to guide you with your travel plans:
Book in advance: Booking your flights and accommodation well in advance can help you secure the best deals and avoid the stress of last-minute arrangements.
Compare prices: Use travel comparison websites to compare prices for flights and accommodations. These platforms can help you find the best deals and save money.
Consider your comfort and convenience: While price is an important factor, don’t compromise on your comfort and convenience. Consider factors like flight duration, layovers, hotel location, and amenities when making your bookings.
Read reviews: Before booking a hotel or a vacation rental, read reviews from previous guests. This can give you a better idea of what to expect and help you avoid unpleasant surprises.
Check cancellation policies: Travel plans can change, and it’s important to understand the cancellation policies of your flights and accommodation. Look for options that offer flexibility in case you need to change or cancel your bookings.
Consider travel insurance: Travel insurance can provide coverage for unexpected incidents, such as trip cancellation, medical emergencies, or lost baggage. Consider whether this would be beneficial for your trip.
Remember, travel hacking is about more than just finding the cheapest deal. It’s about finding value for your money and ensuring a comfortable and stress-free travel experience.
6. Plan your activities
For many, this is one of the most exciting traveling plans you’ll get to focus on.
Planning your activities in advance can help you make the most of your trip. It ensures that you don’t miss out on must-see attractions and can help you manage your time and budget effectively. Here’s how to go about it:
Research your destination: Start by researching your destination. Look up the top attractions, activities, and experiences it offers. Read travel blogs, watch travel vlogs, and use travel guides to gather information.
Create a bucket list of activities: Based on your research, create a list of activities and attractions you don’t want to miss. These could include historical sites, natural wonders, local experiences, or food and drink adventures.
Consider booking in advance: For popular attractions or experiences, consider booking in advance. This can help you avoid long lines, secure a spot, and sometimes even save money.
Plan for downtime: While it’s great to have an action-packed itinerary, remember to schedule some downtime. This can help you relax, recharge, and truly soak in the atmosphere of your destination.
Stay flexible: While planning is important, stay flexible. Allow room for spontaneous adventures, changes in weather, or simply the desire to spend an extra day relaxing at the beach or exploring a local market.
Remember, the goal of your trip plan is to enjoy yourself. So, plan activities that align with your interests and preferences, but don’t feel pressured to do everything. Travel is as much about the journey as it is the destination.
7. Save for your vacation
Traveling is an enriching experience, but it can also be a costly one. Saving for your trip is an essential part of travel planning that can help you manage your finances effectively and avoid debt. Here’s how to go about it:
Set a savings goal: Based on your travel budget, set a savings goal. This should cover all your estimated travel costs, including flights, accommodation, meals, activities, and a contingency for unexpected expenses.
Create a savings plan: Break down your savings goal into manageable chunks. For example, if you’re planning to travel in a year, divide your savings goal by 12 to find out how much you need to save each month.
Cut back on non-essential expenses: Look for areas in your daily life where you can cut back on spending. This could be anything from dining out less to cutting back on entertainment or shopping expenses.
Find ways to increase your income: Consider ways to earn extra money to boost your travel savings. This could be through a part-time job, selling unused items, or freelancing.
Open a dedicated savings account: Consider opening a savings account specifically for your travel fund. This can help you separate your travel savings from your everyday funds and make it easier to track your progress.
Automate your savings: Set up automatic transfers to your travel savings account. This ensures you regularly contribute to your travel fund and reduces the temptation to spend the money on other things.
Every little bit helps when it comes to saving for travel. Even small changes in your spending habits can add up over time, bringing you one step closer to your dream trip. Is this one of the top ways to plan for a trip? Absolutely!
8. Create your travel itinerary
Okay so you’ve got most of the trip planning down, including the upfront research. Now it’s time to put together a game plan on what you want to do.
Creating an itinerary for your trip can help you maximize your time and ensure you don’t miss out on any must-see attractions or must-do activities. Here’s how to create an effective itinerary:
Start with your must-do activities: These are the activities you identified during your planning phase. Schedule them first to ensure you have time to do them.
Fill in the gaps: Once you’ve scheduled your must-do activities, fill in the gaps with other attractions or activities. Be realistic about how much you can do in a day to avoid overpacking your schedule.
Consider travel time: Don’t forget to account for travel time between activities and attractions. Use maps to plan your route and schedule activities that are near each other on the same day to save time.
Schedule downtime: It’s important to schedule downtime in your itinerary. This could be time for relaxation, spontaneous exploration, or simply to rest and recharge.
Check opening hours and days: Check the opening hours and days for attractions and activities to avoid disappointment. Some attractions may be closed on certain days or have seasonal opening hours.
Be flexible: While it’s good to have a plan, stay flexible. Things might not always go according to plan, and that’s okay. Be prepared to adjust your itinerary as needed.
Keep in mind: an itinerary is a guide, not a strict schedule. It’s there to help you make the most of your trip, not to add stress. So plan wisely, but be flexible and open to new experiences.
9. Pack for your trip
Packing for a trip can be a daunting task, but with a little organization, you can ensure you have everything you need for your journey. Here’s how to pack like a pro:
Check the weather: Look up the weather forecast for your destination during your travel dates. This will help you pack appropriate clothing and accessories.
Make a packing list: Write down everything you think you’ll need, from clothing and toiletries to travel documents and electronics. This will help ensure you don’t forget anything important.
Consider your activities: What you plan to do will influence what you need to pack. For example, if you plan to hike, you’ll need appropriate gear. If you’re going to a fancy dinner, you’ll need suitable attire.
Pack versatile clothing: Choose clothing that can be mixed and matched to create different outfits, and that can be layered to accommodate different weather conditions.
Follow airline baggage rules: Check your airline’s baggage rules to avoid any surprises at the airport. This includes weight and size limits for luggage, as well as restrictions on what you can bring.
Pack essential items in your carry-on: Pack essential items like travel documents, medications, a change of clothes, and any valuable items in your carry-on bag in case your checked luggage gets lost or delayed.
Roll, don’t fold: Rolling your clothes can save space and prevent wrinkles. You can also use packing cubes to organize your items and save even more space.
Remember the essentials: Don’t forget essentials like chargers, adapters, travel-sized toiletries, and any prescription medications.
In this stage of travel planning, the goal is to pack as light as possible while still bringing everything you need. With smart packing techniques, you can avoid overpacking and make your travel experience more enjoyable.
10. Enjoy your trip
After all the planning and preparation, it’s finally time to enjoy your trip! Here are some tips to help you make the most of your travel experience:
Stay present: Travel is about more than just seeing new places; it’s about experiencing them. Take the time to soak in your surroundings, engage with the local culture, and truly be present in each moment.
Try new things: Whether it’s trying a local dish, learning a few words in the local language, or participating in a local tradition, be open to trying new things. These experiences can often be the most memorable parts of your trip.
Take care of yourself: While it’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of travel, don’t forget to take care of yourself. Stay hydrated, eat well, get plenty of rest, and listen to your body.
Document your trip: Take photos, keep a travel journal, or collect mementos to help you remember your trip. But remember, don’t view your entire trip through a lens or a screen. Make sure you’re taking the time to enjoy the experience firsthand.
Be respectful: Remember that you’re a guest in the places you visit. Be respectful of local customs and traditions, be mindful of the environment, and be considerate of the people who live there.
Stay flexible: Even the best-laid plans can go awry. Stay flexible and be prepared to adapt your plans as needed. Sometimes, these unexpected changes can lead to the best experiences.
As always, remember that the goal of your trip is to enjoy yourself. Ultimately, what would be the point of all the travel planning if you didn’t have a good time? So embrace the adventure, savor each moment, and make memories that will last a lifetime.
Frequently asked questions (FAQs) about trip planning
Looking to go even deeper into travel planning in 2023? Here are some popular questions that I get a lot about how to plan trips:
How early should you plan a trip?
In the world of travel, the early bird truly does catch the worm! The sweet spot for planning your trip largely depends on your destination, the time of year, and your personal preferences.
For most trips, a good rule of thumb is to start planning about three to six months in advance. This gives you ample time to research your destination, find the best deals on flights and accommodations, and plan out your activities.
If you’re eyeing a popular destination during peak season, you might want to start planning even earlier, say 6-9 months ahead. This is especially true for places that have limited accommodations or for events that sell out quickly.
On the other hand, if you’re a fan of spontaneous travel or if you’re flexible with your destination and dates, you could score some fantastic last-minute deals. Just remember, this approach requires a bit of flexibility and a taste for adventure!
In the end, the best time to plan a trip is when you’re ready to dive into the exciting process of turning your travel dreams into reality. Happy planning!
What 4 things do you need to consider when planning a trip?
Planning a vacation is like piecing together a puzzle, and there are four key pieces you need to consider to see the whole picture:
Destination: This is where your journey begins. Your destination sets the tone for your entire trip. Are you craving the tranquility of a secluded beach, the thrill of a bustling city, or the adventure of a rugged hiking trail? Your interests, travel goals, and even the time of year can help guide your choice.
Budget: Your budget is the framework within which your trip takes shape. It determines how far you can go, how long you can stay, and what you can do. Remember, more expensive doesn’t always mean better. With a bit of creativity and flexibility, you can have an unforgettable trip on any budget.
Timing: Timing is everything in travel. The duration of your trip, the season, even the days of the week you choose to travel can impact your experience. Consider factors like weather, local holidays, and peak tourist seasons when planning your trip.
Activities: What you do on your trip is just as important as where you go. Whether you’re a history buff, a foodie, an adrenaline junkie, or a nature lover, plan activities that align with your interests and make your heart sing.
Note: the joy of travel is as much in the planning as it is in the journey itself. So, embrace the process, let your imagination soar, and start piecing together your perfect trip.
Where do I start when planning a trip?
Planning a trip can feel like standing at the foot of a mountain, but don’t worry. In the words of one of my favorite travel quotes, every journey begins with a single step. Here’s where to place your foot first:
Dream: Start by letting your imagination run wild. Picture yourself exploring a bustling city, relaxing on a tropical beach, hiking through a lush forest, or tasting exotic foods. What images excite you the most? That’s your travel dream starting to take shape.
Budget: Next, take a realistic look at your finances. Your budget is the compass that will guide your travel planning. It will help you determine how far you can go, how long you can stay, and what you can do.
Research: Now that you have a dream and a budget, it’s time to start researching. Look into destinations that fit your dream and your budget. Read travel blogs, watch travel vlogs, and browse travel guides. Immerse yourself in the possibilities.
Plan: With your research in hand, you can start to plan. Choose your destination, decide on the best time to go, book your flights and accommodation, and start building an itinerary of activities and experiences that excite you.
How long does the average person spend planning a trip?
The time spent planning travels can vary wildly from person to person. It depends on factors like the complexity of the trip, personal planning habits, and how much of a thrill one gets from the planning process itself.
On average, though, most travelers spend between 15 to 20 hours spread out over several weeks to plan a trip. This includes everything from daydreaming about potential destinations, deep-diving into research, comparing flight and accommodation options, and crafting the perfect itinerary.
For some, planning is a quick process done in a few sittings. For others, it’s a slow, enjoyable journey filled with anticipation, spread out over several weeks or even months.
There’s no right or wrong amount of time to spend planning your trip. The goal is to create a travel experience that brings you joy, and sometimes, the planning process can be just as enjoyable as the trip itself! So, whether you’re a speedy planner or a slow and steady one, embrace your style and enjoy the ride.
What should you try to avoid when planning your trip?
When planning your trip, it’s just as important to know what to avoid as it is to know what to do. Here are a few common pitfalls to steer clear of:
Overpacking your itinerary: While it’s tempting to squeeze in every recommended sight and activity, an overpacked schedule can leave you feeling rushed and exhausted. Travel is about quality, not quantity. Leave room for relaxation, spontaneity, and the simple joy of soaking in a new place.
Ignoring your budget: It’s easy to get carried away with exciting plans and end up overspending. Remember to keep your budget in mind throughout the planning process. A trip that leaves you in debt is no vacation at all.
Not researching enough: Don’t just rely on the first source you find. Dig deeper, read reviews, compare prices, and look for local insights. The more you know, the better your decisions will be.
Forgetting to check travel advisories: Always check travel advisories for your destination. They can provide important information about safety, health risks, and any required travel documents.
Neglecting travel insurance: It might seem like an unnecessary expense, but travel insurance can be a lifesaver in case of unexpected incidents like trip cancellations, medical emergencies, or lost baggage.
Keep in mind: a well-planned trip is the foundation of a great travel experience. Avoid these common mistakes, and you’re well on your way to an incredible adventure.
How much should I save for a trip?
The amount you should save for a trip is like a piece of string – it can be as long or as short as you need it to be. It depends on a multitude of factors including your destination, the length of your trip, your travel style, and what you plan to do.
A budget traveler might spend $50 a day in Southeast Asia, while a luxury traveler could easily spend $500 a day or more in the same location. A week-long trip to Europe will likely cost significantly more than a weekend getaway to a nearby city.
Start by outlining your major expenses: flights, accommodation, meals, transportation, and activities. Research the costs in your chosen destination to estimate how much you’ll need for each category. Don’t forget to factor in smaller expenses like tips, souvenirs, and incidental costs, and always add a buffer for unexpected expenses.
Remember, the goal isn’t to spend as little as possible, but to spend your money on what gives you the most joy. Maybe that’s a luxury hotel, a guided tour, a fancy meal, or a skydiving adventure. Save accordingly, and you’ll be able to enjoy your trip without financial stress.
Recap on how to plan a trip
Planning the trip can seem like a daunting task, but with careful preparation, it can be an amazing part of the journey. From setting a budget and choosing a destination to booking travel and accommodation, planning activities, and packing, each step brings you closer to your adventure.
Remember, the goal of travel is not just to see new places, but to experience them. To immerse yourself in different cultures, meet new people, try new foods, and create memories. So while the vacation planning process is important, don’t forget to enjoy the journey.
With the tips and insights shared in this article, you’re now equipped to plan your trip like a pro. So, go ahead and start planning your dream trip. The world is waiting for you!
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