Since I started traveling a lot more in the last few years, a lot of people have asked me
A. “how do you afford to travel so much?” I answer with a quick trip to some of my posts to see my budget for each trip as well as happily explain I get a lot of time off from my company. (and leverage the time off the best way that I can)
B. “how do you PLAN where to go and what to do?” The question I’ll answer with this post.
So with that…
Step 1: GET FARE ALERTS FROM YOUR HOME AIRPORT
I don’t generally know where I’m going before a fare deal pops up. Once I see a flight for dates that work for me, to somewhere I’ve wanted to go (which is pretty much everywhere) for $400 and under I BOOK it. In some cases I’ll put fare alerts out for specific places that I’m DYING to go to *cough* New Zealand… but generally I just book where the fare is cheap.
Top sites I like: Travel Pirates, Faredealalert.com, and Travelandleisure.com, but best of all… Google Flights.
Step 2: BOOK YOUR FLIGHT
Ok this is partially part of step 1, but before you can really plan anything, you have to start with DATES. Since the dates you are there can really affect your trip. Ie. is there a festival happening? what is the weather like? do you have enough time to see everything? Don’t book anything else until you have this locked down.
Step 3: MAKE A LIST OF THE THINGS YOU WANT TO DO/SEE
One of the hardest parts… determining what all you have the time and budget for. For example, I booked a 10 day trip to France initially thinking I could see most of the country. WRONG. We were barely able to scratch the surface since there is SO much to do and see there. (10 days in another smaller country would maybe be enough) So I had to narrow my trip down by things I wanted to do in each zone, Paris, Normandy, Loire Valley. Once you have a list of achievable things to do and see…
Step 4: OUTLINE A ROUGH ITINERARY
This is crucial to maximizing your trip and the rest of your planning! You can better plan where to look for lodging so that you are closer to certain places as well as book tours. One of the most important things to consider here is the hours of operations for places you want to see. Don’t only plan on seeing X museum on the one day it is closed. This step helps avoid extra time on public transport or in the car as well. For example if you go to Iceland and want to see the Glacier lagoon, Jökulsárlón don’t plan on spending that night in Reykjavik because it is 4.5 hours one way drive. You’ll need to decide what day you will want to visit the lagoon on, and pencil it in an itinerary so you can book lodging closer to that area.
*Note: when planning things to do and your itinerary, travel blogs (like this one!) are a HUGE resource! Not only can they give you fun pictures for inspiration, but (the best ones) will give you an idea of how much time you need in each place and how much money you’ll need to budget for it. If you aren’t very familiar with a place, spend some time reading blogs about it and I guarantee you will be much more familiar with how to travel somewhere than if you just looked at the museum’s website or only used Lonely Planet/travel books.
Step 5: BOOK YOUR LODGING
This part can either be the most fun ever or the most tedious. For me… it is kind of both. I peruse sites like Hotels.com, Airbnb, and hostelworld looking for the most UNIQUE places to spend the night. After that I decide which website gives me cheaper options and I go ahead and focus more on that one site. Then comes review reading. I lose track of how many places I actually look at but I read hundreds of reviews before finally deciding on a place. Hence the fun but also tedious. I have yet to pick a bad place though so it pays off!