Become your own vacation planner
For most people, one of the most dreadful things of going on a trip is PLANNING and just figuring out where to even start. And I totally get it— going into a different country to try to experience all it has to offer in such a short period of time can sound pretty stressful. Trip planning, I can totally say is one of my favorite things to do! Weird, I know. Researching and finding inspiration as to why we booked the place in the first place is what I love love love about creating our itineraries for our trips.
To ease a little bit of that anxiety, I'd like to share with you how I plan my own trips so you can become your own vacation planner. Whether you're planning your vacation to Hawaii, a road trip, or even planning a trip to Disney World, this guide will be of use to you. So sit down, and relax...we’re getting down to the nitty gritty.
Step 1: Research
Obvious, I know, but this is the most important part because you've probably done this part, and what you’ve learned is the reason why you want to go to places anyway.
As I do my research, I think about the main reasons I want to go to a certain place, the things that I can do, and the best times to go for the activities I plan to do.
Need help on how to plan a trip? Here are some tools that I like to use:
- Lonely Planet
- Conde Nast Traveler
- Trip Advisor
- Travel and Leisure
- Local bloggers
I also love watching Anthony Bourdain, RIP :( and Andrew Zimmern for inspiration. I absolutely love these two, as they not only showcase a country’s most sought after sights and cuisine, but also reveal the truths of life outside of their comfort zone, and how to adapt.
Most importantly, they teach us to travel more mindfully, to be aware that when we travel to other countries, we ourselves become ambassadors to our own countries.
In a way, I have these two to thank for inspiring me to open my eyes not only to the sights to see, food to eat, but to also be aware of the reality of life in different parts of the world, and to learn how to break those social barriers.
Step 2: Budget
To us budget-conscious travelers, this is the most important part on vacation planning for any kind of trip. This can sometimes be a bit discouraging for many people. I mean, seriously, if I could give you a number, I would. But unfortunately, it’s not THAT easy.
However, research enough, you will find that there are ways to be able to travel on a budget! Knowing your tools will be your best bet for this.
Budgetyourtrip.com is a great tool to help you have an idea of average daily costs based on your travel style for each destination (budget, mid-level, and luxury).
It even breaks it down to how much water, tips, food, entertainment are!
Also AirBnB experiences has made your research easier and budget-friendly! They not only cater for those looking for accommodations, but also for experiences such as food tours, and other fun experiences ran by locals. We did this in Naples and did an amazing afternoon food tour as we only had about 2 nights in this city. And it did not disappoint!
Cash vs. card
Cash is king, especially in underdeveloped countries.
If you are planning to bring cash, I highly suggest exchanging at your home bank before leaving. By doing this, you will avoid higher transaction fees than at the airport and ATMs. Thus, getting more bang for your buck.
However, having a great travel credit card that does not charge international fees will be your best friend, if you are not wanting to carry large sums of cash. When you do so though, you will be asked to either pay in local currency or your home currency. ALWAYS chose to pay in local currency. Why? If you pay in your home currency, you will be charged a conversion fee.
So, for places that are mostly developed, and take card, we usually will only pull enough cash to get by each day in case of an emergency.
Step 3: Book your flights
One of the most discouraging aspects of trip planning for most people is the airfare. And I totally get it. I am not rich, nor do I have an income that allows me to travel whenever and wherever. Therefore, I am always on the hunt for deals.
I wish I had an answer to finding exactly when to book your flights, but I do have suggestions! :D
In the beginning of the year, I set travel goals.
With these travel goals, I take into consideration:
Google flights, if it isn’t already, will be your best friend. I am ALWAYS on it, looking at deals, trends, and deciding if my expectations for my budget are realistic.
Sign up for air fare tracking websites such as Hopper or Sky Scanner. I love these sites because they will send you alerts if a certain flight is expensive at that time, and will tell you its trend predictions.
This is great, but it is also important to have the money on hand when these flights are at the point of being affordable. This is why we have a “travel envelope.”
Every paycheck, we put a certain amount in our travel envelope to allow us to have enough money for trips when deals show up for short periods of time.
Step 4: find your accommodations
Air B&B or hotel?
AirBNB plus also is awesome. I can be quite picky on our accommodations and tend to only book those who are super hosts, and every time, it has been an amazing experience.
With AirBnB plus, listed places are homes where Airbnb ensures top quality standards, by showcasing only the highest rated (verified) homes for quality of service, design, and comfort. And I love that these are not necessarily expensive!
I also love using Expedia for my hotel bookings because each booking will allow you to accumulate points that you can later on use towards future bookings. It's also a pretty great one-stop-shop (flights, car rentals, hotels, etc), if you're into that type of ease.
Step 5: Landmarks/attractions
We are early risers, so being out and about by 6:30am, is our norm. This way, we can see attractions in it’s raw, natural, unobstructed by tourist buses, tour guide flags, selfie sticks, beauty.
Pro-tip: getting photos done by this time will make it all less stressful :) After this, we will then go out for breakfast and go about our day without the stress of having to find a quiet spot to take photos. Sunrise lighting is also PERFECT for photos.
Researching how far apart your landmarks are to your accommodation will save you largely on time and money. I usually will find accommodations fairly close to the attractions (but not too close, as it will get busy/noisy!).
I prefer ones that will be easier for transportation (train stations, etc) that will allow us to have a good local vibe.
Definitely have Google maps downloaded on your phone before you leave! It’ll make life much much easier, as it will help you save time in planning your next steps.
Step 6: Transportation
If you are on a budget, a great way to see a city is by public transportation. This is something we always opt to use, as it allows us to immerse ourselves in the culture. Most places in Europe have very good public transportation systems, and I say TAKE ADVANTAGE!
Warning: there will be a big learning curve, if you are not used to this mode of transportation. But there is nothing more exhilarating than weaving your way through a busy underground station, with a million different colored lines, and finally making it to your destination. :)
Also, if all else fails, ASK. Whenever we have exhausted our resources, I will usually find the closest coffee shop/ establishment to ask for instructions on how to find local landmarks.
Step 7: FOOD/DRINK!
As much as I love to do my prior research before heading to destinations on the best restaurants, we almost always will find ourselves in a hole-in-in the wall restaurant. I am all for saving time, and knowing where to go right away, but after years of traveling, I’ve found that the best meals I’ve had are ones that have been pointed out by the locals we meet at coffee shops, fruit stands, or our local tour guides.
Sometimes, when researching, I will go on instagram (to a destination’s page) and watch their stories to see what people’s live reactions are to the food they are having. Nothing like an honest opinion by the consumer on live camera, huh? :)
Step 8: Packing
Making the Itinerary:
The biggest thing about making an itinerary is FLEXIBILITY...both by you, and those you are traveling with. Itineraries are supposed be rough ideas... not a step by step. If you stress so much on sticking with it, step by step, you will find yourself stressing out. Give yourself ample time between activities, in case you get lost.
Here’s a sample of one of our itineraries that we share on Notes on our iPhones:
Of course, these are just rough ideas. These are very much subject to change, depending on situations, when we get there. There are just to ensure that we do not miss any of the things we plan to see. To see what our trips look like and how you can plan your vacation read some of our guides such as Joshua Tree, Milos, and Florence.
So THERE YOU GO... You now know how to be your own vacation planner! With all the technology and resources out there today there is no need to waste money on someone else planning your vacation. Vacations themselves are already expensive, why not put that money towards your trip.
If you've made it all the way down to this portion of this post, KUDOS to you! Hahaha.
It can be quite overwhelming to be bombarded with all this information. But it is the reality of it. Can you imagine doing this back in the day, when Google wasn't a thing? No wonder why everyone relied on travel agents, and that traveling was much more expensive and time consuming!
I am so happy to be living in this age of such ease... to be able to plan trips with just a few (or more, lol) clicks :)
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If you have questions, comments, or anything you'd like to add..please, I'd love to hear! :)