Trip Planning 101

How to plan for a vacation

While planning an adventure is the beginning of your journey and a very exciting peek into your travel possibilities, it can be stressful. The very first step of figuring out where to go can be a whole process in and of itself and then, once you have picked a place, you have to go through the daunting process of choosing flights, hotels, excursions, and booking everything… all of which can take a while. To save you time and some tension, I have put together some tips to make your travel planning process easier!

Step 1: Figuring out where to go!

  • First, figure out how many days you have to play with. If you only have a 3-5 days, consider places within a 1-5 hour flight-time radius (non-stop) so you do not spend the majority of your vacation time in airports or on a plane. The further you go, the longer you should stay. For me personally, I try to have at least 1.5 – 2 weeks anywhere with flight times +15 hours so I can overcome any jet lag and really make the most of the high dollar flight amounts.
  • Once you know how far you can go, determine what locations are good during the time of year you can travel. I had fully planned an Iceland adventure before I realized the ice-hotel we wanted to stay at in September couldn’t be built until December when they had ice! If there are must-do’s in a location you want to go to, make sure they are available at the time you can go. Also, tropical locations have monsoon seasons you will want to watch out for.
  • Next, determine your budget. Compare your budget to the travel costs involved in the general location you want to go. Make sure the flight is less than half your total budget so you have money left for hotels, food, and experiences.
  • Once you have done all of these things, you should have a pretty good idea of where you should go!

Hiking to the top of Acatenango in Antigua, Guatemala

Step 2: Booking

There are two ways to book your trip. The first is to take the easy way and find a travel service that will book all of those things for you. The second is to book yourself. I will go through each option below as both have their pros and cons.

Travel Services:

  • Travel services are great. I had AMAZING trips to both Italy and Peru and all I had to do was show up to the airport with my passport and luggage in had. Everything from flights, tours, transportation, some meals, and hotels were booked for us. The Italy trip was good because I was a solo traveler and the EF College Break tour group I went with provided me travel buddies and new friends. Peru took all of the stress off of my shoulders for our family trip. However, when looking for a booking service for our Thailand trip, the average cost was $3K per person without the $800 international flights. That seemed high, so I researched on my own and got better hotels, flights, and excursions for $2.1K per person – that’s over $3.4K in savings for the both of us! Overall, if you go through a booking agent, make sure you do your research so you don’t pay too much.
  • Once you find some tour agencies that service your destination, check reviews on those agencies. People love to talk about their trips, good and bad, so do your homework on your agency options to make sure they are trustworthy and will provide the best experience possible.
  • Another option is to look at sites like Groupon Getaways and Apple Vacations which have great deals on hotels and hotels + flights as well. The sites help you easily book the shell of your trip but the details are up to you so its more flexible. Just be careful to check blackout dates and participating airports that the deals fly from to ensure the details work for you.

Hanging with some alpacas in Peru

Booking yourself:

  • The best place I can lead you is to TripAdvisor.com. It has every excursion idea, hotel option, and restaurant suggestion you could need on your trip, all with thousands of peer reviews and ratings. Other people’s experiences will really help you shape the best trip possible.
  • Once you start Googling and looking at TripAdvisor, you probably open multiple tabs with all of the things you like and want to save as options. I suggest logging all of your options in an excel document categorized by flight, hotel, and excursions with pricing and the URL to each thing. That way, you have an organized list of options that you can pick from once you are done exploring the web. An example of my Thailand trip plan is below:

Trip Planning Guide

  • Check your credit card companies rewards platform for deals. Cards like Amex and Chase Sapphire will give you get double points, travel insurance, trip / baggage protection, and other travel benefits by booking through the credit card. Amex even has a Hotel Collection program that gives you guaranteed best rates, a $75 hotel credit, and an upgrade (if available) when you book 2+ nights through Amex. You don’t want to miss out on those perks – not to mention all of the points you will rack up!
  • Booking flights always scares me – mainly because I am impatient. Once I find one, that annoying “only 2 seats left” sign in the corner of the booking site always makes me paranoid that I am going to miss out on my ideal flight! The truth is, that is not the case. For the most part, I have waited on flights, the cost went down, and my seats were still there. Flights are typically cheapest to buy on Tuesdays and you can save your flights in programs like Hopper to compare relative flight prices from your airport to destinations or Airfare Watchdog which will monitor your preferred flights and alert you when the price drops.

Overall, take a deep breath and relax! Your journey to your perfect trip within your budget and time frame is calling you and will be here before you know it! Don’t forget to check out my packing tips, road trip prep list, Alaska cruise guide and more to get additional ideas for your get-away.

Soaking up the sun on the beach in El Salvador

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