Travel planning can be a daunting task. Where do you begin? What’s step one? What’s step two? What’s step three? It’s easy to get overwhelmed, especially when you haven’t done something like this before.
I’ve planned countless trips and vacations for over the years (for myself, friends, and even group tours) and I’ve developed an efficient checklist that ensures I don’t miss anything important (I like lists) during the trip planning process. I don’t want to get to my next destination and then realise I forgot something.
In a continuing effort to help you get out the door and into the world, I’ve created this step-by-step guide on how to plan a trip. It works for any kind of trip and no matter how long you’re going for! Just follow this checklist and you’ll be off in no time!
Travel Planning Step 1: Decide Where You Want To Go
Defining where you want to go sets a goal to work toward. A lot of people talk vaguely about travel. They never say where they are going, just that they are going. Picking a destination is immensely important, as it gives you a definite goal. It’s a lot easier to mentally get behind “I am going to Paris” than “I’m going to Europe” or “I’m going somewhere.” Not only will your trip become more concrete for you and easier to commit to, but it will make planning easier as well…because you know what to work towards.
Travel Planning Step 2: Decide the Length of Your Trip
How much does it cost to travel? I have no idea without knowing for how long you’re going away. You can’t figure out how much you need to save if you haven’t decided on how long you’ll be in your destination. After you say “I’m going to Paris,” add “for 10 days.”
Now, you have a concrete plan to work from. “I am going to Paris for 10 days” is a trip that you can plan for.
Travel Planning Step 3: Research Your Costs
So you know where you’re going and how long you’ll be there, but to really nail down how much money you need, your next task is to research the costs in your destination at the style of travel you want. Do you want to backpack, or would you rather stay in luxury hotels? How much are hostels, hotels, restaurants, and attractions? Knowing will allow you to estimate how much money you’ll need for your trip.
You don’t need to do more than that. There’s so much information on the web that if you go down the rabbit hole of over planning, you’ll get lost and confused by the firehouse of information. Stick to those four things and you’ll be set!
In our example, if you are going to Paris for 10 days and need $75 a day (not including your flight), you know you need to save $750 (though round up to $800 since it’s good to have extra) for your trip. If you were to travel around the world for a year, you’d need $50 a day.
Get excellent deals on hotels:
Travel Planning Step 4: Start Saving Money
Write down all your current expenses so you can determine where you are spending money and how you can cut back. People bleed a lot of money every day through small purchases: that bottle of water, the dollar for that snack, that extra coffee. All of that adds up and creating this breakdown can let you know where you need to cut and save.
For example, if you need $2,000 USD for the trip you’re taking in eight months, that means you only have to save $8.33 per day. Couldn’t you find a way to save $8 per day? Heck, your daily coffee is most of that!
Travel Planning Step 5: Get a Travels Rewards Credit Card
While you’re working to save money, get a travel credit card so you can earn sign-up bonuses to redeem miles and points for free flights and hotel stays. Most cards have bonuses of up to 50,000 points when you meet their minimum spending requirement (often $1,000 within a three-month period). That’s enough miles for a free flight almost anywhere in the world!
If you want a free flight, use the cards that help with that. If you want free hotel rooms, get a hotel card. You don’t need to sign up for very many cards; pick one or two and focus on those. Do this the moment you decide you want to travel. Don’t wait — waiting equals lost miles, which means less free travel.
Collecting points and miles (which is called “travel hacking”) is what all the experts do to cut their costs and travel longer. It’s what has kept my costs down and me on the road for so many years.
Travel Planning Step 6: Check for Last-Minute Deals
Okay, you’re inspired, prepared, and on your way to saving money for your trip. But before you go buy that flight or book that hotel, check for deals you might have missed. You may dream of Paris but maybe there are great deals to Berlin right now. Maybe you can get a seven-day cruise for 70% off, a package deal to Hawaii for the price of your flight to Paris, or 50% off sailing trips around Greece.
It’s a big world, and there are lots of places I want to see, so if I end up choosing B over A, I’m happy! If you’re flexible too, make sure you look for any money-saving deals.
Get excellent deals on hotels:
Travel Planning Step 7: Book Your Accommodation
If you have a set schedule, feel free to book accommodation for the duration of your trip, but if you are going to be traveling long-term, book just the first few days. Once you know the dates you’ll be in your destination, there is no real reason not to find a place to stay. My view is that waiting will just lead to you losing your top picks.
Love hotels? They won’t save you money, but you can sign up for some hotel credit cards and get free rooms, too. Marriott has a great rewards card whose sign-up bonus is equal to one week’s free stay. Starwood’s AMEX card is wonderful too, but the spending threshold in order to get the points bonus is higher.
The following booking sites offer the best rates for accommodation:
- Agoda – Agoda has the best results if you’re heading to Asia and the widest section of properties in the region.
- Booking.com – Booking.com is the best overall platform for finding budget hotels and guesthouses. They have the biggest inventory and best deals.
Travel Planning Step 8: Plan Your Activities
Outline the major activities you want to enjoy and how much they cost. Make any last-minute adjustments to your savings so you can ensure you have enough money. This will also help you figure out if you need any reservations for your chosen tours or activities
Travel Planning Step 9: Sell Your Stuff
If you are going on a long-term trip (six months or more), sell your stuff in order to earn extra money for your trip. Start doing this about 60 days before you leave. If you aren’t going to be gone that long, skip this step. If you are going away long-term but want to keep your stuff, move it to a friend’s house or keep it in storage.
Travel Planning Step 10: Tell Your Card Companies You’re Travelling
No matter how long you’ll be gone, it’s a good idea to let your credit card companies know you will be overseas; that way any transactions that you make aren’t flagged as fraudulent and your card is less likely to be blocked. There’s nothing worse than having to sit on the phone with your credit card company instead of enjoying your vacation.
Travel Planning Step 11: Buy Travel Insurance
While a lot of people think, “I’m healthy, I don’t need travel insurance. I won’t get sick,” travel insurance is much more than just medical protection. It covers you when your camera breaks, your flight is cancelled, a family member dies and you have to come home, or if something gets stolen.
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Travel insurance is something you will need on the road. You never know what might happen, and most health plans won’t cover you overseas. I never thought I would pop my eardrum while I was scuba diving or break my camera in Italy. My friend never thought he would break his leg hiking; another friend certainly didn’t expect her father would die and she would have to fly back home. Travel insurance is only a few dollars a day and only a fool doesn’t buy it.
Travel Planning Step 12: Enjoy Your Trip
Go on your trip and have fun! Head to the airport, board your plane (don’t forget your passport!), and enjoy the fruits of your labor. You’ve worked hard to get here. If you’re feeling nervous, don’t worry — that’s perfectly normal! You’re about to embark on an amazing adventure. Trust your planning, follow your instincts, and you’ll have the trip of a lifetime. I guarantee it.