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How to Plan a Solo Trip 2024: Trends, Checklist & Budget Spreadsheet

Janice Waugh

January 23, 2024 by Janice Waugh

image, map, how to plan a solo trip

You may be the ultimate travel planner. Perhaps you prefer an organized tour. Maybe you just like to go , wander, and see what happens. Regardless of your travel style, some solo travel planning is a good idea.

Planning a solo trip may require more attention than any other kind. After all, it's all up to you. So, for your own safety  and peace of mind, it's good to have some planning done in advance.

This is why we update this post every year with current information on travel trends, a solo trip planning checklist, and some of our favorite tips that we've learned along the way.

image, plane, travel trends 2024

Table of Contents

2024 Travel Tends and Pro Tips for Solo Travel

Negative travel trends to watch out for:.

  • Increase in shoulder season travel . This was once a go-to solution for budget solo travelers looking for deals. Traveling on the shoulder season, spring and fall, could save money on hotels, flights, and more. Now, with more people turning to the shoulder season to keep costs down, the difference in price is not as substantial as it once was. Demand drives prices up.
  • Extra fees on flights . Tracey found this with a recent flight purchase. For the first time, she had to pay a hefty fee for selecting her Premium Economy seat in advance. Yes, “ Travelers feel the pinch as airlines cash in on added fees. “
  • Delayed flights. Flight delays are expected to continue into 2024 due to staff shortages for the airlines and airport security. It's best to have a tracker on your luggage. Read our luggage trackers review.

Positive travel trends to get on board with:

  • Airfares are dropping. After 2023 being the year of revenge travel and high fare rates, there's good news from NerdWallet which reports that airfares have been dropping over the last 3 months and are even down a small percentage below 2019 fares. However, who knows what will happen to the cost of oil? That could change this trend. See above for how airlines are making up for lower fares with pricing for add-ons.
  • Home swaps on the rise. This is becoming more popular as people choose to settle into a place for longer. I did it in the spring of 2023 and stayed a month in Bordeaux, France without any cost for accommodation. You can read about my experience here: Home Exchange for Free Accommodation Around the World .
  • Tour companies seeing rise in solo travelers. As this trend continues, more companies should enter the solo travel market and put downward pressure on pricing models and the single supplement. Let's hope this materializes.

Pro Tips for Travel Planning Tools and Resources

  • Chat GPT . How to plan a solo trip using the latest technology? See below for how to use ChatGPT for trip planning.
  • Sketch your trip with Rome2Rio . Use Rome2Rio to see if the trip you're considering is logistically possible. This helps me with the transitions from one place to another, which are always the most difficult parts of travel. It also makes it easy to see whether I'm building too much into a trip.
  • Ubigi . Inexpensive data access for your phone using an app within your phone and not requiring an extra device. Here's how it works .
  • Hopper for knowing what dates to fly . When you're looking to book a flight, use Hopper to see when you are most likely to get a better deal on flying. Their calendar shows dates in red (most expensive) yellow, (medium expensive) and green (your best bets for good fares). Start checking 3 to 4 months in advance of your travels. I also suggest booking with the airline directly if the pricing makes sense.
  • Be flexible with your dates . Traveling Tuesday to Tuesday may not be the norm but it is still traveling for a week. You may find that you save money by being flexible with your dates.
  • Hold on to dream destinations . If you have many destinations that are of interest, develop a simple spreadsheet with the following information for each: destination name, time needed to explore it, best time of year to visit, and, if possible, the expected budget required.
  • Use International Greeters . Local greeters are amazing resources and, essentially, free. I have used  International Greeters in New York City, Chicago, Tokyo, Paris, and more.

Image travel sticky notes, When planning a solo trip, organize all of your research in one place

Solo Trip Planning Checklist PLUS Bonus Spreadsheet

As you go through the solo travel planning process, I suggest that you  use this Excel spreadsheet as you plan your trip to see if you're over or under budget.

  • Set your budget . Travel can require a lot of money or a little. It's important to know what is realistic for you to manage financially so that you don't continue paying for your trip long after you've enjoyed it.
  • Create a destination shortlist . You likely have more than one destination that you'd love to visit. Given the current cost of travel, one may be better than another. Do a quick check on each to see which is more within your budget. You can do this by selecting one hotel chain and checking the rates in each destination. This will give you an idea of which destinations are most and least expensive.
  • Choose your destination   and research . With your shortlist, you may want to have a look at your home country's travel advisories for any safety issues at your destination options. Decide on your destination and research it in more detail with the following questions in mind: What do you want from your trip? What do you want to do there? What do you want to see, eat, experience? Jump to our section on organizing your travel research.
  • Check for your country's travel advisories . Do this before you book anything as it may affect your decision to go to a country or where you go within a country. It may also affect the validity of your travel insurance so both need to be considered together.
  • Research travel options . Given your goals for the trip, decide whether it is best to go with an  organized tour  or travel independently. Jump to our section on the various travel styles, both independent and guided.
  • Book your flights or tour . If your budget is not affected badly, book with as few companies as possible. For example, if you're going with a tour company, I suggest that you get your flights through them as well. If you're booking flights, get them all with one airline. The goal is to have as few companies to deal with as possible should a problem arise. And, of course, read the terms for cancellation and changes very carefully. Jump to our section on booking a tour . Jump to our section on booking flights, trains, and cars .
  • Book your accommodation . Where you stay definitely affects your safety. Before booking a hotel, read the reviews on a site like  Booking.com . Also, look at the map for the hotel's location. Take the address and look at the location in  streetview . Finally, plan to arrive during daylight as everything looks better then. Jump to our section on accommodation for more details .
  • Book excursions and restaurants . This is the point at which you plan activities to ensure that you're not lonely. Cooking or art classes, group day trips, dinner clubs, and the like all inject connections with other people into your travels. Jump to more information on planning your itinerary.

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  • Plan to keep money and personal information safe . First, get a  VPN for travel so that you can access your bank accounts online safely. Ensure that you have two credit cards, with one being a Visa. Always travel with some American currency tucked away just in case.
  • Start working your personal departure checklist . Get your vaccinations (this is about more than just the COVID vaccine) and documentation required for your destination organized as soon as possible to reduce the stress at the time of departure. Plan how you will get to the airport or train station. Get your car prepared for your trip. Get everything organized.
  • Pack . But don't over-pack. Read  Bare Minimum Packing: Here’s Your Packing List .
  • Smile and travel . At this point, you've done all you can. If you're flying, get to the airport early. Have all required documentation at hand. Go and enjoy.

And I really like this one from Susan Heller: “When preparing to travel, lay out all your clothes and all your money, then take half the clothes and twice the money.”

image, hikers Group travel can be a good option when planning a solo trip

Solo Travel Planning: Pick Your Travel Style

There are two main ways to travel solo: independently and on an organized tour. Ah, but within those categories there are many options as well.

Independent travel can be placed in many categories. Here are a few for you to consider.

  • On the Move, Short-term . My rule of thumb is a minimum of three nights per location. Any less and it’s just too rushed. Longer is better. For example, on a 10-day trip you can cover three destinations. With more time you can cover more.
  • On the Move, Long-term . Long-term travel can be anywhere between 3 months to forever. The pace of long-term travel needs to be somewhat slower than short-term travel. Otherwise, it can be exhausting rather than exhilarating.
  • Hub & Spoke Travel . In this style of travel, you settle into one place for your accommodation and use it as a base from which to explore. Your accommodation is your hub, all the places you want to visit from your hub are your spokes.
  • Slow Travel . With slow travel, you really sink into a location. You get to know the rhythm of a place and visit the same stores and coffee shops on a regular basis. People start to recognize you and take time for a chat. It’s deep dive travel.

Organized Travel  comes in many forms. The caveat with all organized travel is the single supplement. To avoid the single supplement, when you're engaging in solo travel planning, use our  Deals  page and read  No Single Supplement: How to Find Trips without a Solo Penalty .

  • Escorted tours . On an escorted tour, you and 10-30 other travelers follow a guide and a pre-planned itinerary. It’s an efficient way to travel and see a lot and ensures that you have companions along the way. Read  how to choose a solo tour.
  • Resorts . Relaxation is what resorts are known for, however, they can also be used as a base for exploring an area in a similar manner as Hub and Spoke travel. Read  Going to a Resort Alone: How to Enjoy an All-Inclusive Solo .
  • Self-guided . On a self-guided tour, everything will have been organized for you but you still travel independently. These are great for walking or cycling tours as not only will everything be booked for you but your luggage will be moved for you as well. Read  Travel Solo on a Self-Guided Walking Tour: Seeing France Slowly .
  • River cruises . River ships tend to be smaller than ocean cruise ships and, as a result, somewhat more friendly to solo travelers. It’s easy to get to know people and have alone time. Read 12 River Cruise Tips for Solo Travelers: How to Make the Most of Your Journey .
  • Ocean cruises . The ocean cruise companies have turned their attention to the solo market in recent years. While the norm is to charge 100% single supplement, if you play with your dates you can usually get a very good deal.
  • Untours . This is a more recent entry into the organized travel market. The untour is planned for you–hotels are booked, pick up and drop off at airports are organized, an introductory tour is given, and optional tours are available– but you travel on your own.

Your solo travel planning might include a road trip

Solo Trip Itinerary Planning: Old School

Now, here's how you focus in on your actual travel itinerary.

  • Review the itineraries of a number of tour companies . Doing so may entice you to go with a tour company. If so, read No Single Supplement: How to Find Trips without a Solo Penalty  and check out our Deals  page. If you want to travel solo independently, use tour sites as part of your research. You will learn what route most companies take, how much ground they cover in a day or a week, and what your destination costs are at the high and low end. But remember, as an independent traveler you won't be able to cover as much ground as you do with a tour company.
  • Decide what you must see . The itineraries of tour companies will usually hit the highlights but reading websites and blogs will help you find the less common must-see sites, restaurants, and activities at your destination. Have a look at the  destinations section of Solo Traveler . Most of these posts were written by readers excited to share their experience with you.
  • Use Rome2Rio.com . This is a fabulous site for determining how to get from one place to another. Whether you're hopping to a different country or just want to get to the center of a city from the airport, it has the information for you in terms of time, money, and all possible modes of transportation. I use this resource all the time.
  • Study maps . Whether you’re planning to walk in one direction for five days or take on a city like New York, study a good map to develop a workable plan for the time you have available and what you want to do.
  • Set your own pace. Whether I’m traveling by train or car, I like to plan at least three nights in every location. This gives me at least two full days to explore. Even if travel time is only a half-day, less than three nights just makes trips too rushed for my liking. Consider what pace feels right for you. Then you’ll be able to begin to sketch an itinerary.
  • Consider a hub and spoke itinerary . This is where you stay in one location for your entire trip and take day trips from there. This is what I did in Bologna, Italy. It's a great city and was the perfect place from which to visit small villages, as well as Florence and Venice.
  • Integrate your priorities . Once you have a general itinerary, integrate the must-see sites you’ve already identified. Then see whether it still makes sense.
  • Take advantage of freebies such as greeter programs, free walking tours, and backpacker tours.
  • Get to and from the airport . If you’re flying in you’ll have to get yourself to and then from the airport. I usually take local transit and do very well – everywhere, that is, except my hometown. Toronto’s transit to the airport is terrible, unless you're right downtown. But, in London, England and in Santiago, Chile, in Nashville, Tennessee and New York City, I’ve found local transit great for getting me into and out of the city.
  • Travel within a city . How does the local transit system work? What does it cost? Should you use it at night or should you budget for taxis or Uber? How expensive are the taxis? I usually save a lot of money by using local transit.
  • Travel between towns/cities . Intercity transport is often buses or trains.
  • Plan to pack light . I’ve met many a traveler with luggage regrets because they packed too much. If you have a lot of bus-to-train-to-plane logistics, a backpack is likely a better choice than a roller bag, which suits me on most trips. A backpack lets you have your hands free. Whichever you choose, packing light is important. Here's a link to  Bare Minimum Packing  that includes a packing list and  Bare Minimum Packing: Urban and Luxury Travel . Also, about a week before leaving, I add my destination to my weather app on my phone and track the forecast so I can pack the appropriate clothing.

Solo trip planning can be almost as much fun as taking the trip. Put your heart into it for extraordinary results.

plan a trip yourself

How to Use ChatGPT to Plan a Solo Trip

ChatGPT hit the scene late last year and it's been interesting to see what it can be used for. One thing we really liked was their response to the question, “What's the best solo travel website?” They placed us #1.

It is also being used for trip planning. I went through the process below for a friend planning a 90-day trip through Europe. The results were impressive. Here's how to plan a solo trip with a little help from AI.

  • Create a ChatGPT account . It's free.
  • Add the parameters of your trip . Enter the number of days and places you want to visit.
  • Review and renew if desired . Read through the itinerary that was created in seconds. If you like it, click the clipboard image to copy it and place it in a document. If you don't like it at all, click the thumbs down image and the system will try again. If you would simply like to see what else it might suggest, click the regenerate icon.
  • Dig deeper . Copy your general itinerary into a word document. In the upper left, click new chat, and start the process of asking for specific things to do in each location.

You can get hotel listings from ChatGPT but it is a very short list and, if it is providing the same suggestions to everyone, those hotels could get expensive due to demand. I'd do a separate search on Booking.com so that you can see the ratings, rates, and reviews all at the same time.

Organize Your Solo Travel Planning Research

The research stage of trip planning can be a lot of fun but you can also become swamped with information.

Whether you like to work on a computer, on paper, or use an app, find one place where you’ll keep all the information you gather on the trip you’re planning. See an interesting article on the web? Add it to your file so that you’re able to find it when you’re ready. There’s nothing more frustrating than knowing you’ve seen exactly the information you want and not being able to find it again. So, Step 1, set up a place to store your research in whatever format works for you.

  • When you rip articles out of a magazine, you may put them in a file or pin them on a bulletin board. Pinterest is like a pin board for saving articles you find online.
  • Create a free Pinterest account.
  • Create a board for your destination.
  • Search Pinterest using the name of your destination and perhaps the time of year, the type of things you want to do, or places you may want to stay. If you come across an interesting article, pin it to your board.
  • Create a second board for your destination and call it “Destination other possibilities,” or something to that effect.
  • Go through your first board and move anything that is not really valuable or high on your list to that second board.

Your desktop

  • Open a bookmarks folder in your web browser and a file folder on your desktop for storing all online information you find on your destination.
  • Make subfolders if necessary for things like accommodation, things to do, restaurants, clubs, etc.
  • Get a portfolio or actual paper file folder where you can keep hard copies of the most important information you find online as well as articles and brochures you’ve collected.

plan a trip yourself

Solo Travel Planning: How to Get There

How to select a flight.

Everyone has their favorite OTA site (Online Travel Agent) for booking flights. I use Skyscanner and Flightnetwork. Here's my optimal booking process.

  • I check Skyscanner and Flightnetwork for the best deals I can find.
  • I choose the option that best suits my schedule and involves only one airline, unless, of course, the price difference is more than I'm willing to endure.
  • I then check with that airline for the same price or sometimes better and book directly with them

There are two reasons for giving preference to booking with the airline directly .

  • If there's any issue after booking, it's much easier to deal directly with the airline than with an OTA website that is an intermediary. The OTA may have additional fees as well.
  • If getting to your destination involves more than one flight, the airline takes more responsibility for delays and missed connections than if you're connecting with another airline.

If there's a significantly better deal that involves a number of airlines, I will book with Flightnetwork.

How To Book a Train

Trains and how they are booked varies greatly from country to country. The number one tip is to book in advance. Booking early can usually save you quite a bit when taking the train. Depending on the country you're in, there may be standard savings for booking 7 or 30 days in advance. They will sometimes have sales as well. However, if you're not under time constraints, local trains may be a cost-saving option.

Automobiles

Oh, how I love a road trip! But taking a road trip alone does require some planning.  Road Trip Alone with Confidence: 10 Tips for a Great Trip is consistently one of our most popular posts on Solo Traveler. Check it out for details.

plan a trip yourself

Accommodation Advice for Solo Travelers

When you're not sharing a hotel room, the price can seem very high. Accommodation can be a big-ticket item for solo travelers. Here's some advice.

  • It beats the competition in terms of the number of city-center lodgings, especially for under $200.
  • Reviews are only by people who have booked and completed a stay.
  • Taxes and fees are included in prices shown with the exception of North America. This minimizes surprise expenses.
  • A note about Booking.com: most hotels on booking.com give you the option to cancel a number of days before your arrival. I always check the cancellation policy as a few hotels don't offer this service. I've never been caught but I don't want you to be either. Also, if you book through our  Booking.com  link, you'll be supporting Solo Traveler. You'll pay the same but we'll receive a small commission.
  • Hostels are definitely worth considering . Hostels offer a social environment, affordable rates, and great information. Read The Hostel Experience for Solo Travelers: What to Expect. How to Stay Safe.
  • Home Exchange is my new favorite . Not everyone can nor wants to do this, but it suits me. As you complete each aspect of becoming a member of HomeExchange.com you earn points. I earned enough points for 4 nights in mid-town Manhattan for the $175 cost of joining. That's great value!
  • Consider a resort, apartment, or home rental through VRBO or Airbnb . I have found some great options on  VRBO.com  and Airbnb. You can read about it in the post about Kauai .

We have put together posts on the best places for solo travelers to stay in some of the most expensive cities in the world.

  • Best Places to Stay in London: Accommodation for Solo Travelers
  • Best Places to Stay in New York City for Solo Travelers
  • Best Hotels in Paris for Solo Travelers: Reader Recommendations

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A Passion and A Passport

Proving Travel is Possible with a Full-Time 9-5

How to Plan a Trip Like a Pro: The Only Trip Planning Resource You’ll Ever Need

last Updated: December 8, 2022 travel tips

FYI: Affiliate links may be sprinkled throughout the awesome, free content you see below. I’ll receive a small commission when you purchase from my links (at no extra cost to you), which I’ll totally blow on adult things like boba tea and avocado toast. As always, thanks for the support.

Wondering how to plan a trip without all the headaches? Yeah, travel planning can be quite the doozy.

It’s time-consuming, overwhelming, and downright confusing; there’s flights to book, currencies to convert, time to take off, and activities to plan. And that’s not even considering all the getting around once you actually arrive!

Don’t let the stresses of travel planning get in the way of heading to your dream destination. I get it, though, I really do, there’s a lot to do. Planning a trip can seem like a daunting task. But I’m here to help with my travel planning tips! 

plan a trip yourself

Luckily, I’ve planned dozens (and dozens) of trips, from quick weekend jaunts to Napa Valley and Lassen Volcanic National Park , to faraway exotic destinations like Bali and Morocco (with ridiculously detailed itineraries).

After lots of trial and error (and making tons of mistakes on my part) I’ve figured out a way to ease the travel planning process. I’ve narrowed it down to an easy 18 steps on how to plan a trip, so you, too, can take the trip of your dreams. Whether it’s a 5-day beach break or a culturally diverse 2-week trip to Thailand , follow my advice below and you’ll be off before you know it.

I’m kinda known for my crazy-detailed itineraries, and get lots of people asking me for help on others. I haven’t been everywhere, so wanted to provide this trip planning resource so you can plan epic trips of your own!

This is my exact trip planning method – it’s kinda ingrained in me now, but after getting it all down on paper, I realized I actually prefer doing things in a set step-by-step basis! Perfect for you because you can copy how I plan my trips!

plan a trip yourself

So if you’re looking for a STEP-BY-STEP guide (made for busy professionals like you), continue reading, because this trip itinerary planner is juuuust the thing you’re looking for. Don’t blame me if you plan too many vacations. :p

→ Read Next: How to Travel More (with a full time 9-5 job)

How to Plan a Trip: Actionable steps to planning a trip of your dreams

Step 1: inspiration + fun/general research.

Before we get started on the specifics of how to plan a trip, start with some travel inspo! And sometimes, just getting inspired is half the fun of actually booking the trip (at least it is for me). 

I like to use Pinterest , Instagram , good old fashioned travel mags (at the dentist/doctor or when strolling through my favorite store Target), and of course, travel blogs.  I constantly find myself swooning over photos I see, and sometimes even book a trip based off of one photo alone, like that time I begged my sister to head off to Chefchaoen with me (I’m a highly visual person if you haven’t noticed). 

plan a trip yourself

Since my mind goes into overload during the inspiration phase, I make sure to organize what I find right away as efficiently as humanly possible.

Enter, Google Maps. As soon as I find a spot I wanna visit (whether it be as specific as a restaurant in a little town or a country as a whole), I type it into Google Maps and hit Save → Want to Go. This way, all my finds are kept neatly in one place, and already plotted on a map to see general locations. You should see my Google Maps – it’s covered in those little green pin markers.

A few posts for some inspiration right over here:

  • My Life-Long Bucket List
  • Most Beautiful Places in California
  • 25 Perfect Week-Long USA Itineraries
  • Where I went in 2013 , 2014 , 2015 , 2016 , 2017 , and 2018
  • 35+ Winter Weekend Getaways in the USA (snowy and warm)
  • My Travel Bucket List: USA Edition
  • 14 Adventurous Places to Travel 
  • The Best Beaches Around the World
  • The Ultimate South East Asia Bucket List

plan a trip yourself

Specific Bucket-list worthy experiences:

  • Meeting the Dragons in Komodo
  • Bobsledding in Park City, Utah
  • Sailing the Greek Islands
  • Staying in an Overwater Bungalow
  • Beach bumming Hawaii

Once you’ve narrowed down your list to a few places you wanna go, figure out how much time you’ll need and the best time of year to visit. Make this quick – no need to do intense research just yet. We’re still in the beginning phases of how to plan your trip. They’ll be time later for lots and lots of googling, reading, and finalizing.

Jot it down on paper in 3 columns: Places I Want to See, Time Needed, and Best Time of Year to Visit (based off of weather). I quickly google “best time to go to ____”. Example here:

How to plan a trip like a pro

Step 2: Decide on your Destination and Trip Length

How much time are you allocating to this trip? Are you able to use a bunch of PTO and make it an epic adventure? When can you travel? Before you even begin to plan your trip, you’ve gotta know where you’re going and for how long!

Be as specific as possible. Instead of saying “I want to go to Europe”, specify the exact country, and then cities within. “I’m headed to Barcelona and Valencia!” sounds much more real, and you’ve got a much more specific goal to work towards. 

Think about the type of trip you want – are you a “see-as-much-as-possible” and “cross-it-off-the-list” type of traveler, or do you want to take a few days to really get to know a place inside and out? I’m more of the first type (hey, yolo, right?), but I’m starting to appreciate spending ample time in destinations I really love.

What kind of weather do you want? Are you looking for a frozen, ice-filled fantasy or longing for a few days basking in the sun ? How do cultural and foodie experiences sound? Are you looking to stay close-ish to home or are you prepared to travel far? All questions you gotta ask yourself when choosing a destination.

TIPS FOR SHORTER TRIPS (up to 7 days)

plan a trip yourself

If you know you’ll only have a few days, don’t pick a place that’ll take you 2 days to get to. We want to maximize the amount of time you’ll actually have in your destination.

And Psst – don’t think there’s much around you? Think again. There’s likely loads within a few hours.

  • For example, from NYC, you can get to London in just under 7 hours, the Caribbean/Central America in 3/4 hours (depending on where), Iceland in just 5 ½, and the other side of the country in 6.
  • From San Francisco, you can get to Japan in 10 hours, Mexico City in 4 ½, and Hawaii in 5.  Cliche, I know, but the world really is your oyster.

Only have a few days? Check out these sample itineraries I’ve created to see exactly how much I’m able to fit in in just a few days!

Coming from the States:

  • Long Weekend Trips from San Francisco
  • Long Weekend Trips from New York City
  • 5 Days in Maui / 3 Days in Kauai
  • 3 Days in Mexico City 
  • 3 Days in Las Vegas
  • 3 Days in Washington DC
  • 3 Days in Portland, Oregon

Coming from Europe:

  • 3 Days in Vienna
  • 3 Days in Barcelona
  • 2 Days in Venice
  • 3 Days in Santorini
  • 2 Days in Athens

Coming from Asia:

  • 3 Days in Ubud
  • 3 Days in Tokyo
  • 3 Days in Taipei
  • 2 Days in Bangkok
  • 3 Days in Singapore
  • 3 Days in Hong Kong

TIPS FOR LONGER TRIPS (1 week+)

Longer trips are undeniably much harder to plan, since there’s a bunch of logistics involved in getting from place to place. You probably won’t be staying in the same exact spot for all 7+ days. But as long as you start your research early and follow my itinerary planning advice below, you’ll be a step above everyone else blindly crafting their schedules. P

ractice really does make perfect, so the first long, multi-destination trip you plan will be the hardest. Expect a few hiccups, but just go along with it; that’s just part of traveling!

plan a trip yourself

If you’ve got a longer amount of time, check out these bucket-list worthy destinations for inspiration (and plus, I already planned out the bulk of these itineraries = less leg work/heavy research for you):

  • 2 Weeks in Thailand
  • 10 Days in Japan
  • California Coast Road Trip
  • 10 Days in Norway
  • 2 Weeks in Croatia (+Bosnia)
  • 10 days in Panama
  • 2 Weeks in Spain and Portugal
  • 10 days in Bali + Komodo National Park
  • A Week in Iceland
  • 10 days in Greece

And right after I decide on a destination, I always research to see if a visa is involved. Some you can get upon arrival at the airport, while others you need to apply and wait for.

Don’t book a ticket without knowing the visa situation, as airlines don’t check for proper documentation before you book your flight (and it’s possible you’ll get turned away at the airport and need to go back home just as soon as you arrive into the country which requires a visa – not fun!).

Step 3: Choose your Approximate Travel Dates

If you’ve done your due diligence and filled out your own travel planning worksheet above, you already know the best time to visit your dream destination. However, when considering the best time to travel, there’s quite a few factors to think about. 

No one wants to get to their destination after planning for months only to realize they forgot to look into the weather patterns. Will it be rainy season? Hurricane season? Ridiculously over-the-top blazing hot (sweating profusely is no fun for anyone). I’ve had friends visit Bora Bora (a wildly-expensive once-in-a-lifetime trip) in the rainy season and I crossed my fingers for sun for them.

I always like to visit a destination in either the high season or shoulder season, for the best chance of perfect or near-perfect weather. I’m someone who despises rain with a passion (some may like it, but just think about if your activities will be dampered because of some precipitation). This is extra important to me, and I’d rather pay a bit more money for higher possibilities of sun and no rain/clouds.

Of course, you cannot predict the weather months from now, but I always look at the expected weather trends in my intended travel month and stay away from the rainy/hurricane season.

plan a trip yourself

For the best combo of pleasant weather and minimal crowds, it’s wise to travel in the shoulder season (weeks/months outside of high season). This will of course change from destination to destination, but in general, late April-early June and September-October is shoulder season in many parts of both Europe and the USA.

Think about when kids are back in school – if you visit when school is in attendance, you’ll have less families traveling and therefore fewer overall people.

Three days in Rome is the perfect amount of time for site seeing, lots of eating, and city strolling. Check out what to do in Rome in three days, what to eat, and where to sleep.

Note that high season typically sees higher costs (but hey, it’s high season for a reason!). If you can visit when kids are back in school, you’ll have higher chances of finding a good deal. Visiting during a holiday? If you can plan your travels bypassing Christmas and New Years, you’ll automatically save a whole bunch, as this is the most expensive time to travel to most places.

Headed to Las Vegas and looking for the best 3 day Las Vegas itinerary? Keep on reading for opulent hotels, sugary snacks, and luxurious spa treatments. See, it’s not all kitschy casinos and high-cash table games!

Attending a Specific Event

Is there a specific festival/event/animal migration you want to attend/witness? For example, Oktoberfest in Germany, whale watching in Monterey, safari in Africa, and Burning Man in Nevada. Full Moon Party in Thailand and the Day of the Dead in Mexico are two other examples.

You’ll need to obviously plan your trip around these dates/months. Do note that it’ll most likely be one of the most costliest times to visit, so plan to book flights and accommodations way in advance.

plan a trip yourself

No need to plan exact dates just yet, just know the general timeframe of when you want to go. For example, this could be 1) early June 2021, 2) between Thanksgiving and Christmas, 3) birthday month, etc.

Step 4: Decide on your Travel Partners

Are you planning on traveling solo or with friends/family/significant other? 

Traveling with Friends/Family/Children?

Traveling with other people can be a bit more difficult to plan (you’ve got other people’s interests and budgets to cater to), but the memories will be even sweeter when you can reminisce about your fantastic trip together in a few months.

Planning a trip with family? You’ll likely be deciding on your destination together. Remember – it’s all a compromise. If I want a few days of running around a major city, we always make sure to head to smaller towns/spend a day or two relaxing on the beach for my husband later on in the trip. Everyone should be part of the decision-making process.

plan a trip yourself

When I’m traveling with friends, I like to have my desired destination in mind as well as approximate dates. Don’t go to your friend and say “wanna travel next year?”. It’s way too open-ended, especially if you have a general idea of where you wanna go. I just started planning a trip for Spring Break, so asked my friend if she wants to accompany me on a trip to Jordan in late March. See, much more specific.

Always know the type of accommodation you both prefer, if this will be a budget/mid-range/luxury trip, and how the other person feels about spending some time solo (if one person wants to do something but the other really doesn’t want to). Your bestest of friends may make the worst travel buddies – be upfront about as much as possible and you’ll have the greatest chance of a smooth trip.

Traveling Solo?

Never traveled solo before? Don’t fret – I just started traveling solo a few years ago and fell in love with the whole concept ! It’s all so freeing! You can pick and choose all your activities, have cupcakes for breakfast (guilty!), and take as many photos as you want (64597 or 0)! Things do end up being a bit more expensive because you’ve got no one to split the bill with, so I typically stay in hostels and eat tons of street food to help with costs. 

plan a trip yourself

When traveling solo for the first time, I recommend heading to a country that speaks your language, has an easy currency conversion, and is known for being safe and with a good tourist infrastructure. I loved traveling solo in Iceland , London, and Croatia solo, and would highly recommend these countries for first-time solo travelers! 

→  All my female solo travel tips over here (useful for you men as well, but it’s catered towards women, just FYI). 🙂

Step 5: Research Trip Costs

Before you can you do research on trip costs, you’ve gotta know where you’re going (obviously, because places all cost a different amount of money), how long you plan to travel for (more days = more money, usually), and when you aim to go (high season vs. low season can be wildly different in terms of financials). 

See, this is why you need to figure out how long you’re planning to travel for before you do your research on trip costs. Every night at a hotel, plus food and activities per day, will add up quickly. 

But it’s true – a vacation is only as expensive as you make it. Don’t expect baller champagne on a beer budget. That being said, you still can have a hell-of-a-time without spending a fortune.

Everyone told us that Japan would be over-the-top expensive, and we found it pretty in line with other trips we’ve taken. Must have been those inexpensive AirBnBs we found and eating cheap street food everyday.

plan a trip yourself

If you’re traveling solo you won’t have many opportunities to cut these costs down (hostels are great for solo travelers), but if you’ve got a travel partner and are planning on sharing accommodation, you can automatically save 50% on hotels, car rentals, some activities, etc. 

Make a rough outline of how much you think the trip will cost, approximations of course. Be sure to note flight, hotel, meals, activities, transportation, and any possible extras. The more research you do, the fewer surprises you’ll have later on.

How to plan a trip like a pro

In addition, when thinking about your budget, think about areas in which you could save some money, and what hotels/activities/experiences you feel comfortable splurging on. Would you rather stay at that posh 5 star resort for 2 nights or take a helicopter ride in Maui ? Do you prefer a fancy spa treatment or a night out at the opera? It’s wise to pick and choose a few things you know you can’t live without, and try and cut corners in other areas. 

For example, we sometimes stay at airport hotels if we’re arriving late into our destination, which saves us money as they are typically less expensive than hotels in downtown. The next morning we check into the more expensive hotel, but have already saved a bunch of money by spending a night at the less expensive hotel, without impacting our travel plans at all!

plan a trip yourself

Make sure to think about transportation costs too, as these can vary greatly depending on where you’re going. I’m not talking about transportation to your first destination, but how you’ll actually get around once you’re there. You can get anywhere in NYC for $2.75 (which I miss greatly), but if you wanna take day trips outta the city it’s a whole other ball game.

Think about if you’ll be traveling to different cities/places during your trip – be sure to account for a car rental, trains, buses, public transit, Uber, taxis, domestic flights, etc.

*** Always overestimate the cost of travel. There are lots of unexpected and unforeseen costs involved (unfortunately).  It’s always best to over over prepared, especially when it comes to finances!!! And if you don’t use all the money you save, you can always allocate the funds to your next trip. Boom!

And once you’ve figured all this out, you can set a rough budget for yourself. I say rough, because things are gonna change. Travel can be wildly unpredictable (especially if you haven’t done enough research).

Step 6: SAVE, SAVE, SAVE!

Time to get saving, my soon-to-be world-traveling friends. Because, well, hate to break it to ya, but you need a large chunk of change to pay for all your fun. You don’t need to save up enough cash for your entire trip all at once, but make sure you have a plan as to how you’ll do so before your trip arrives.

As you’re booking flights, hotels, activities, and as other trip-related expenses come up, you’ll want to have a sufficient amount of money to cover these things straight away.

NEVER go into credit card debt to travel. Just please don’t. Wait an extra few months/year to travel if you need to. The world ain’t going anywhere, but the credit card companies will charge you a hell of a beast of interest, that’s for sure.  

plan a trip yourself

To make your finances black and white, write down all the things you spend money on each month (rent/mortgage, car payment/insurance, groceries, gym memberships, etc). Then look at your credit card and write down all the miscellaneous stuff. You may be surprised to see that you’ve spent ~300/month on coffees or ~$80/month on that pilates membership you haven’t used since February.

See if you can split the cost of Amazon Prime/Spotify/Netflix with a friend/family member, as even saving an extra $40 per month can get you a few nights in some places.

Think about ways you can slightly alter your everyday life to save for your trip. Every time you forgo that expensive morning latte or night out at the club/bar, you’re a few dollars closer to your dream trip.

Your friends don’t understand? Get new friends. Haha – but really, explain to them that a night out can cost as much as entry to the Vatican or a few days bumming around in Belize.

Get rid of those weekly/monthly subscription boxes, make your morning coffee at home, and save dinners out for special occasions. There are a billion ways to save money, you just gotta be creative sometimes.

And if you’re lucky, you’ll already have some extra cash lying around to plan your trip- but just remember, never take money out of your emergency fund to go off traveling. Set up a different bank account, with the sole purpose being money saved for travel.

Step 7: Apply for a no-fee ATM card

And since we’re talking cash, now’s the time to apply for a no-fee ATM card.

If you want to avoid those pesky ATM fees every time you take out cash while away, simply look into a no-fee debit/ATM card, such as one through Charles Schwab (which I have and love). You can use the card at any ATM in the world, and Schwab will reimburse you all the ATM fees at the end of the month. Pretty neat, right?

It’s by far the best debit card for traveling Americans. We transfer some money into our Schwab account before a trip, and use that as our spending money (do note that it takes a few days for money to transfer between banks, so do this a few days before jetting off).

More info on Charles Schwab here.

plan a trip yourself

ATM fees quickly add up, with many banks charging around $5 or so per transaction. When traveling, I don’t like to keep a whole lotta cash on me at hand, so rely on local ATMs to take out small amounts when need be. Why shell out money when you don’t have to, right?

Step 8: Apply for a travel rewards credit card

Not all credit cards are created equal. I repeat. Not all credit cards are created equal. If you plan on traveling quite a bit (or even just once), it’s wise to look into a travel rewards credit card for the bonus miles and perks that come along with it.

There are many to choose from, including more general travel cards as well as airline/hotel/brand specific. 

We currently use and love the Chase Sapphire Reserve®, which not only gives us $300 a year statement credit for travel, but grants us access into Priority Pass airport lounges worldwide, provides free auto insurance when renting cars, lost luggage reimbursement, and even a concierge service, (and oh so much more).

Don’t let the $450 annual fee scare you; it’s actually only $150 once you spend $300 on travel. Chase typically has great promotions, so be on the lookout for ones providing ~50k+ bonus miles (good for a roundtrip flight to almost anywhere in the world). There’s also the Chase Sapphire, which still comes with heaps of benefits, but you don’t get lounge access and other perks.

plan a trip yourself

In addition, we also use an airline specific credit card, the Delta American Express, since my husband’s airline of choice is Delta. Whenever we book Delta flights using this card, we get extra bonus miles, which we can put to use for future free flights. I wouldn’t recommend only traveling with AMEX though, as many places around the world only take VISA/Mastercard. Hence our need for both.

Other recommended cards include Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card, The Platinum Card® from American Express, and the Chase Ink Business Preferred Card. 

When looking for a travel credit card to apply for, check to make sure it has no international ATM withdrawal fees, no currency conversion fees, and reward points for travel (airlines/hotels/cars/etc).

And just FYI, Travelers Checks are kiiiinda a thing of the past, so be sure to have a credit card ok for international use.

Step 9: Book Flights

Booking flights is one of the most nerve-wracking parts of the travel planning process for me. And why? Because not only do flight prices fluctuate daily, but once you book, you only have 24 hours to cancel (as long as you’re booking from the USA). I find it incredibly intimidating, especially because I’m always trying to get the best possible price. And all those options! So confusing!

I rely on Skyscanner and Google Flights when looking for the cheapest possible flights, and sometimes also look on Kiwi . I tend to sway towards Skyscanner the most because it allows you to search an entire month (or time of year) to find the absolute cheapest flight available.

plan a trip yourself

If I ever purchase a flight through a third-party, I make sure to call the airline and confirm my reservation number. 

However, 99.99% of the time I book directly through the airlines themselves. Once you find a good deal on Skyscanner or Google Flights, go directly to the airline website to book the flight. And don’t forget to input any airline numbers you are a partner of to rack up those skymiles for later use!

→ Psst – check out Skyscanner and set up price alerts to snag the best deal.

However, always be sure to check low-cost airlines, as they are not always included in third-party sites.  A good list can be found here . Southwest and Frontier Air are good options in the USA.  More tips on getting the best price on airfare here . 

Don’t be that person who paid the most on a flight → be flexible, use miles if you can, and sign up for email notifications (I like to use Skyscanner and Google Flights for this). If you’re a bit more flexible with your destination, make sure to sign up for Scott’s Cheap Flights and The Flight Deal, as you’ll receive insane flight deals. The more flexibility you have, the better your chances of scoring a great price. Be willing to fly midweek and off-hours, at the least, if you can.

Search for low airfares and hit BUY when you feel comfortable (don’t wait as flight prices can drastically change within hours)! Here are some additional tips on finding cheap airfare ! I’m a serial advanced planner when it comes to expensive, long-haul flights, but some of my friends score good deals by waiting until a month or two before. It all depends on your comfort level. 

Before booking, you’ll want to have a general idea of your travel route, as this may impact your flights. Will you be flying into one city and out of another? Are you booking a round trip ticket? 

plan a trip yourself

An important note on Passports : Traveling internationally? Can’t leave the country without a valid passport, am I right?! Many countries require at least 6 remaining months on passports before you leave or in order to even enter the country.

If you need to order a new passport, you can check out this passport guide for help, and if you’re traveling within 6-8 weeks (amount of time it usually takes to process passports), you’ll need to get an expedited passport which you’ll receive in approximately 3 weeks for an extra $60. Well worth the money if you find yourself in a pinch and desperately need that passport ASAP.

Step 10: Book Hotels/Accommodations

I like to book hotels relatively early on in my planning process. Why? If you’re traveling during high season (which happens to be me more often than not), there’s a chance your desired hotels could be all booked up! We tend to book hotels that we can cancel, just in case our travel itinerary changes or we find accommodation that suits us better. Most of the time refundable rooms cost a bit more, so just something to keep in mind.

When searching for rooms, I typically do a quick check on HotelsCombined , since they find the best price by checking dozens of booking sites.

→ Search for the best hotel prices on HotelsCombined 

When booking accommodation, think about how far the hotel/apartment is from the city center and the activities you want to do. Sometimes, booking a hotel that’s way cheaper will end up costing more than a slightly-more-expensive hotel if you need to shell out extra dough to get yourself places.

Think about how much time you’ll be spending in the hotel. If you’re planning to be out and about all day, why book a fancy room when all you’ll be doing is sleeping and showering there?

We book over-the-top resorts/hotels when we know for a fact that we’ll be able to enjoy all the amenities. Like that time in Bali we stayed at a resort with our own private pool, lush jungle views, and multiple infinity pools. But we were planning on spending an entire day taking advantage of the hotel so it made sense. In Tokyo when we’re out stuffing our faces all day? Not so much. 

plan a trip yourself

A few additional places we look for accommodation:

Hotel Tonight : My go-to for last minute deals.  Think road-tripping and spontaneous weekend trips.  We once paid $23 for a (really nice) hotel in Reno, Nevada.  You can now check and book up to seven days in advance. Top tip: download the app in advance in case you’re stuck without wifi for a bit.  Use my promo code JKLEINER for a free $25 towards your first booking.

AirBnB : In some cases, we find ourselves wanting a more local experience, so we look to AirBnB for an apartment or condo. With AirBnB, you can rent out private rooms, entire apartments, and even full houses! We’ve had some fantastic experiences and wonderful hosts, and saved a ton of money!  Save an additional $40 off your first stay here !

My number 1 tip: heavily research where you are staying – read all the reviews and make sure the property owner is readily available to contact. Always check the cancellation policy. 

→ New to AirBnB? We’re giving you a coupon of $40 off your first stay of $75 or more !

Expedia : So great for package deals, as you can literally saves 100’s by purchasing flight and hotel together.  Plus, with their rewards program, you can store your points for even greater savings down the line.

Step 11: Get Vaccinated/Medications if Needed

It’s always wise to schedule a travel appointment with your doctor so you can decide what’s best when it comes to vaccinations and precautionary medications with trained medical staff. In addition, I always check the CDC website for recommendations on the such.

Some are more standard vaccines you can get with your primary care doctor, but others (like Yellow Fever for our upcoming trip to Africa), you’ll need to arrange for in advance.

plan a trip yourself

It’s wise to know which vaccines you’ll need early-ish on in the travel planning process, as some need to be specifically ordered and other vaccinations you’ll need multiple, specifically timed spaced-out appointments. Some vaccines are only recommended if you’re visiting particular parts of a country, so don’t feel like you need to get them all if you aren’t even visiting the infected areas.

In addition, research if you need to show proof of vaccines upon arrival into a particular country (they may not let you in without the proper documentation). Ack! 

It’s also a wise time to talk to your doctor about any medications (like Malaria pills we took in Thailand and Bali) you may want to bring along.

Step 12: Decide on WiFi/cell service

Some like to be away from it all and go wifi-free, while others will feel more safe and secure knowing they can use their phones. It all comes down to personal preference. I rely on my phone way too much to go completely data-free, so always make sure I have a set plan in place before leaving on any international trip.

Personal Wifi Hotspot

Although you will most likely have wifi at your accommodation, it’s a good idea to bring along a pocket-sized personal WiFi hotspot , to keep you connected during your time abroad. WiFi hotspots are a cost effective option to ensure you can use GPS apps like Google Maps, check your emails, and catch up with friends and family while away.

With this portable device , you’ll have WiFi wherever you go (even if your phone doesn’t have service), unlimited internet (on up to five devices at a time!!!), and it’s fast and reliable. At less than $9 a day, this device can’t really be beat.

Note that some cell phone plans allow for international use, but many of these are costly. I accidentally turned on my phone service for LESS THAN 2 MINUTES once and got charged $150 by my phone carrier! I desperately wished I had a personal WiFi hotspot with me then!

Find more information and plan options here . HIGHLY RECOMMENDED especially when you don’t speak the native language of the country you’re visiting. A true life saver.

plan a trip yourself

Other Options

Other options include bringing along an unlocked phone so you can use local SIM cards, and looking for plans which include international data.

If you’re thinking about doing a bunch of international travel over the next few years, it may be worth switching to T-Mobile if the service is decent in your home area. My husband and I currently use T-Mobile, and get access to free data in over 210 countries (excluding the one country I was charged an obscene amount of money in – but that was my fault).

Some teched-out cities even have free wifi throughout the city – need to check beforehand (don’t count on this as it’s a relatively new thing, and I wouldn’t rely on the free wifi in case an emergency occurs).

Psst: I always bring a portable battery charger to recharge throughout the day since I rely on my phone heavily for directions!

Step 13: Research + Map Out Activities/Restaurants

Ohhhh, this is where it gets really fun in my eyes. Activities are the bulk of your trip, and probably the main reason you’re visiting the area (besides the food, of course).

Here’s how I like to do it:

1. First, I do some research on things to do in the area (this includes food tours, beaches, museums, popular attractions, hikes, etc), day trips which peak my interest, and anything else I find exciting on Get Your Guide , Viator , and AirBnB Experiences (use this promo code for $15 off your first AirBnB experience). 

I’m a BIG FAN of Get Your Guide and Viator when it comes to perusing activities and signing up for tours (they have SO many options). I’ve been using both of these sites for years, and can honestly say 99% of the time the tours are downright AWESOME and a good bang for your buck. I like to plan in advance (sometimes too far in advance), and being able to book specific activities (with the ability to cancel if need be) is something I love about Get Your Guide and Viator.

plan a trip yourself

I recently started using AirBnB Experiences , as they offer some more local-type experiences, such as cooking classes in chef’s homes (I learned how to make macarons in Paris this way!), photography sessions, and more niche city walks.

I also like to use travel blogs from those writers I trust (not all travel bloggers have the same credibility unfortunately, so if something sounds odd/wacky, I do further research/cross reference facts). In order to do this, I usually google  destination + “blog”, and pick them out one by one in the search results. You tend to get additional tips and insights you normally wouldn’t have on other large-party sites.  

plan a trip yourself

Depending on the destination, I’ll peruse Lonely Planet for even more must-do’s. I used to rely on TripAdvisor, but after I learned that many reviews are fake/bought, I stopped using them entirely. 

2. Plot each “attraction/museum/beach/restaurant” on a map → I’ve been using Google Maps lately and love it! If you prefer to use paper maps, get a large one so you can easily see all the spots! But why waste paper and money?

3. Look at the map, and take note as to where these activities fall. I then separate the activities into different areas. This helps figure out which attractions you should see together on a particular day. You don’t wanna be running back and forth across the city/town/destination out of stupidity silliness. Group attractions together that are in the same proximity/close distance.

4. Think about how much time each activity will take. Some attractions will only take a few minutes, while others you may want to devote entire hours. Don’t aim to see a whole bunch of super-intensive things in the same day; try and space them out if you can.

plan a trip yourself

5. Star your top “things to do” in each location. These are the things you’ll aim to see on your trip, while the others will be extra bonuses. Because, lets face it, if you only have 3 days in Paris, you probably won’t have time to see all 235232 museums.

At the end of this process, you should have a handful of main activities you wanna check out, as well as a bunch more less time-intensive ones, listed out by location/proximity to each other. 

Depending on the type of traveler you are, you may want to book a few guided tours of the city/area you’re visiting. When I travel (especially on my solo jaunts), I tend to book a few guided tours and day trips. I always meet a few chatty people and end up hanging with them the entire day!

It’s also nice to have someone guide me around for a bit (solo travel gets exhausting). Guided day trips are great if you don’t wanna worry about getting lost on public transport and/or don’t wanna rent a car.

Inspiration for Things to Do/Tours/Day Trips

  • Get Your Guide 
  • Viator  
  • Airbnb experiences
  • Travel Blogs (like mine !)

If there’s a particular + popular restaurant/dining experience your longing after, it’s wise to make a reservation in advance. When we went to Mexico City , we had to book our table a few months ahead of time, and there still wasn’t much availability! 

Step 14: Plan Your Day-to-Day Itinerary

Don’t overplan , but definitely keep track of the tours you booked and other sites on your wishlist. I tend to make exceptionally long Google Docs (for easy access without wifi), and roughly plan out my days. This makes sure I don’t forget what’s going on each day; especially helpful if your trip consists of a few different towns/cities/etc.

I always put the date, day of week, and location in the left column, then details about my day in the right.

Planning your trip and looking for the best Mexico City itinerary?! Whether you’ve got a full week or just 3 days in Mexico City, you can be sure you’ll never be left bored.

Some tours are only offered on certain days, so you may need to play around with your day-to-day itinerary until it works out. 

The example below (a random few days during my two weeks in Croatia ) is not as crazily detailed as my normal ones, but you get the picture:

how to plan a trip itinerary

Once the itinerary is all set, I then go ahead and book all tours and skip-the-line tickets for popular attractions (imagine not booking a ticket in advance for Frida Khalo’s House in Mexico City, the Louvre in Paris, or the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona). Don’t waste your time waiting in line. Spend 3 minutes booking your tickets now and you’ll be thanking yourself later on during your trip.

Step 15: Book a Car Rental (if need be)

Heading off on a road trip (one of my favorite types of trips)? Don’t forget to book a car rental for the duration of your stay! 

In order to save some money, think about if you’ll actually need the car for your entire trip. Are you staying put in your first destination for a few days? Can you get around on foot or inexpensive public transport? Will you really need a car then? Book the car rental for the night before/morning of your first real road trip day.

→ Search for the cheapest car rentals over here !

plan a trip yourself

And if you’re primarily visiting one city and doing a few day trips, can you move all your day trips to the beginning/end of your trip to only book the car for 3 days, instead of say 7? It’s silly to pay for an extra day if the car will just sit there all day.

But always check how much a weekly car will cost – sometimes there are deals, and a rental may end up being cheaper in total if you book for longer (crazy, huh?)! It’s wise to think about parking fees and such before getting too excited though.

Additional Reading: Tips and Tricks for your Next Roadtrip

Step 16: Buy travel insurance

Confession time:  I was always that girl who never really understood the value of travel insurance.  Honestly, I thought it was a complete waste of money. After checking out the highly recommended Safety Wing , I finally came to the realization that it really is worth the (small) extra cost, and it’s just plain stupid to travel without. 

Safety Wing is not just for medical insurance, but also helps when luggage is lost, you need to cancel a trip, or when your gear is stolen or damaged when traveling. 

Norway Road Trip Itinerary: All the stops you'll want to make if you've got 10 days in Norway!

Even better, you can purchase at home or overseas (while already traveling) & make claims online from anywhere in the world. There’s really no excuse, especially since the insurance only costs a few dollars a day. You’ll be kicking yourself mid-trip if something goes wrong and you’ve got to pay tons out of pocket.

They say if you can’t afford travel insurance, you can’t afford to travel.  Now I won’t travel without it. Get a FREE quote . Planning a trip abroad? Just get the insurance. No excuses.

Step 17: Before you go action items

Thought you were done? So close, just a few more things to do when planning a trip! These last-minute items can literally be done in the few days leading up to your trip. Some only take a minute, but are oh-so-important.

  • Tell your credit card companies you’re traveling (you don’t want any cards to get denied because of suspected fraud/theft)
  • Arrange for pets to be watched and plants to be watered.
  • Get familiar with currency rates. They obviously vary from country to country, and can sometimes be as easy as moving the decimal point a few spots, or as confusing as dividing everything by 7.3. Download a currency converter for your phone for easy conversions on the road (I like Currency XE).
  • Learn a few important words/phrases in the local language. I find Duolingo quite fun!
  • Do some research on safety, common scams, and any areas to avoid in the destinations you’re visiting. It’s also wise to check out any cultural norms/basic manners in your destination.
  • Let friends and family know you’re traveling. Be safe – someone at home should always know exactly where you are, especially if you’re traveling solo.
  • Transfer money into Schwab account: remember, this takes a few days, so be sure to transfer as much cash as you think you’ll need for the beginning of your trip. I like to make it easy and just do one bulk transfer before we leave. Remember, using Schwab saves you all those precious ATM fees!

plan a trip yourself

  • Buy necessary items: Depending on where you’re going, you may need to pack something specific. Traveling internationally? You’ll most likely need a plug adaptor ( this one works in all countries ) and possibly a converter for voltage. You’ll probably wanna pack a wide-brimmed hat and reef-safe sunscreen for warm-weather destinations. A sarong to cover up with for visiting temples in Asia. 
  • Credit cards you are bringing
  • Travel insurance documents
  • Rough itinerary
  • Flight/Hotel/Activity reservations 

I also like to print out a copy (or 2) of my passport and keep in a separate place. If I’m keeping my passport in my purse with me, I also put a copy in my suitcase/husband’s carryon just in case.

plan a trip yourself

A REALLY IMPORTANT EXTRA TIP: Figure out how you’ll get to your accommodation/into the city from the airport before you take off. The last thing you wanna do when you’re completely drained from sitting on the plane for 10 hours (with potential jet lag) is to figure out how to get to your first stop.

Be kind to yourself and at least write it down (on your handy-dandy Google Doc) beforehand. Consider the time you’re arriving, as public transport may not work all hours of the night.

Step 18: Start Packing!

Phew – so close! I suggest starting to take things out a few days before your trip so you don’t forget anything important. Make sure you’ve got your passport, additional form of ID, copies of credit cards and other documents, and your itinerary. You’ll also want to check the plug/socket type and make sure you have one/a few which fit.

plan a trip yourself

A few of my top packing tips:

  • Know your airline’s baggage fee policy. Don’t wanna show up at the airport expecting to get 2 huge suitcases for free and end up having to pay $$$ for them. A great list can be found here , but it’s always wise to triple check on the actual airline website.
  • Pack light. Most people take way more than they actually need. Think about the activities you planned earlier, and pack according to that. Put everything on your bed and take out half of the clothing you think you need (yes, half). Not only will this reduce potential fees at the airport, but it’ll make it easier to get around with less baggage.
  • Keep all your absolute essentials and one change of clothes in a carry-on. Lost baggage happens; don’t let it ruin your trip. Always keep medications and expensive electronics on your body, as well as a toothbrush!
  • Come prepared. We always take along something for motion sickness, altitude sickness, stomach bugs (anti-diarrheal), and other general over-the-counter meds including fever-reducers, pain reliever (Tylenol or motrin), an antihistamine, and antibiotic ointment. Throw a bunch of band aids in your bag as well. You just never know what’ll happen and if you’ll have access to these quickly and easily on the road.
  • Use packing cubes. I don’t know how I managed to travel before packing cubes came into my life. They are oh so helpful for organization and to keep my bag from exploding. And if you haven’t ordered packing cubes in time, you can always use large plastic bags. Better yet, roll your clothes into packing cubes and you’ll be golden.

Step 19: And you’re off!

You did it! You planned your trip! Now go enjoy the fruits of your labor and have the time of your life! Just remember to stay safe and take lots of photos! Be sure to read how to stay entertained on long flights before you leave so you’re first 3, 7, or 10 hours of travel isn’t a complete bore!

Hope this ridiculously detailed guide on how to plan a trip helped! Where are you hoping to travel soon?! Now, go help a friend plan a trip, pronto!

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June 15, 2020 at 5:27 am

This is so so so helpful! I am a hyper planner as well so this is pretty much exactly what I do. Love this!

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June 16, 2020 at 9:15 pm

Yassss! Planners unite! Everyone thinks I'm crazy, but then I go ahead and plan the best trips!

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August 5, 2020 at 12:33 pm

Planners unite! Everyone thinks I’m crazy!

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September 22, 2020 at 5:24 am

Hi jess, Amazing post! You share some useful blog every time. I appreciate your planning and Your planning always working for me. Thank you for sharing your travel plan.

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January 24, 2021 at 4:18 am

An informative read Jess. You’ll have to visit Tenerife one day and do a review of the island.

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March 21, 2021 at 9:55 am

I plan to travel to Croatia in 2022. Yes it is more than a year upfront. I like your blogs a lot and will definitely use them. Any suggestions for traveling the Croatian coastline. Want to fly to Rome and travel per train to Venice and from there with a bus/train to a destination in Croatia where I can rent a car. Preferably Poreč then Pula and all along the coast to Rijeka to Zadar, Split and all the way to Dubrovnik.

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December 29, 2023 at 6:34 pm

Hi Jessica! Thank you so much for this article – it was very informative! My husband and I are planning on taking a trip to Japan in Spring of 2025. Do you speak Japanese? If not, did you find it difficult navigating the county? I am trying to figure out if I should book a tour group, or if we would be okay just going by ourselves. 🙂 Thanks so much for your help!

December 29, 2023 at 6:36 pm

Sorry! This comment was supposed to be on your Japan article! I don’t know how to fix it. LOL.

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Where Tiana Travels

How To Plan A Solo Trip 101: A Step-by-Step Guide for Booking That First Trip

By: Author Tiana Thompson

Posted on Last updated: April 3, 2024

Categories Solo travel , Travel Guides

Home » How To Plan A Solo Trip 101: A Step-by-Step Guide for Booking That First Trip

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If you’re reading this, you’ve already taken the first step towards taking your first solo trip and embarking on a life-changing adventure.

Congratulations! Get ready to embrace the thrill of traveling in your own company and discovering the best places the world has to offer.

I know that planning a trip, (especially when you’re flying solo for the first time), can feel like a daunting task.

That’s why I’ve put together this comprehensive guide to help you navigate the world of solo travel like a pro!

Whether it’s learning the language barrier basics or mastering the art of using credit cards overseas, this guide is packed with great tips and essential information for every solo traveler. 

In this post, you'll find...

1. Set Your Travel Goals

First things first, what are your interests?

Before you can hit the road, you need to figure out what kind of trip you’re dreaming of:

  • Are you seeking serenity on a secluded beach, or looking to make new friends in a bustling city?
  • Perhaps you’re more passionate about history, art, or food?
  • If you’re looking for a nature-centered trip or a backpacking experience, you’ll want to check out locations like  Thailand  or  Mexico .
  • Want those “instaworthy” photos with some of the world’s most famous monuments? A trip through  Western Europe  might be more your style.
  • Are you traveling with a baby ? Research kid-friendly cities and attractions in advance to best plan your route.

Whatever it may be, make a list of your interests and use this as your North Star when choosing your destination.

… You’ll also want to determine your travel style.

Are you a “go with the flow” kind of traveler, or do you prefer to have every detail planned out?

Knowing your travel style will help you strike the right balance between spontaneity and structure. 

The truth is, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to travel.

And guess what? You might be unaware of your own travel style, especially if you haven’t explored the world extensively. And you know what? That’s entirely normal.

me in marrakech

As you embark on more adventures, you’ll gradually uncover your unique travel preferences. But for now, just go with what feels best!

2. Set your budget

Let’s talk dollars and cents, my friends. Setting a realistic budget is  crucial  for a stress-free trip. 

Determine how much you’re willing to spend on accommodations, food, and activities. Remember, a penny saved is a penny you can spend on gelato in Italy! 

Or tacos in Mexico.

Tuk Tuks in Thailand… 

You get the idea.

Don’t forget to factor in miscellaneous expenses like souvenirs, tipping, and emergency funds. With a clear budget in mind, you’ll be able to make informed decisions while on the road.

Keep in mind that even the most frugal adventurers may exceed their intended budget from time to time!

To be on the safe side, I’d suggest padding your budget with an extra 10% as a contingency plan. This way, you’ll be ready for any surprises or emergencies that might arise while exploring the world.

3. Choose Your Destination

Now for the fun part! Let’s start researching potential destinations .

The world is your oyster, but some destinations are particularly solo traveler-friendly.

Check out this list   of top solo travel spots to help narrow down your choices. These places offer a mix of safety, affordability, and opportunities to connect with fellow travelers.

Be mindful of safety considerations

As a solo traveler, safety should be a top priority. Do your homework by checking out government travel advisories (such as the  U.S. Department of State  or the  UK Foreign Office ) for the destination you have in mind.

These two sites will always give you the most real-time information about the current safety situation in your chosen destination.

travel advisories

Consulting these travel advisory websites can offer valuable insights on:

  • Potential risks
  • Local laws and customs
  • Health and safety tips to keep in mind

You can also find information about entry and exit requirements, visa processes, and possible restrictions due to the ongoing pandemic or other unforeseen circumstances.

Utilize the information from these sites to plan your trip more effectively and ensure you have the necessary precautions in place. This knowledge will help you make informed decisions and prepare for any potential challenges during your solo adventure.

But, don’t let that deter you from visiting certain countries

As important as it is to take into the safety considerations of your preferred destination before booking the trip, don’t let this scare you away from visiting a new country! 

It’s important to note that some countries may be relatively safe for travelers, despite what the advisories might suggest. These sites tend to err on the side of caution, and local conditions might not be as severe as they are portrayed. 

One example of a country that often has travel advisories but is generally safe for solo travel is Mexico. 

The  U.S. Department of State  often issues advisories for certain regions in Mexico due to crime and violence. Yet many popular tourist destinations such as Cancun, Playa del Carmen, Tulum, and Mexico City remain relatively safe for solo travelers.

Tulum sign

While it’s crucial to be aware of potential risks, don’t let that completely deter you without doing some extra research. As with any destination, exercising caution and staying informed are key to a safe and memorable solo travel experience.

I’ve traveled solo to Tulum myself , and had an enjoyable experience with no safety issues whatsoever.

Just use common sense and research the specific areas you plan to visit within the country. Always take necessary precautions, such as avoiding travel at night or venturing into high-risk zones. 

Check out my YouTube video for some inspiration on the best solo travel destinations to visit!

Consulting local sources, online forums, or fellow travelers can also provide further insights into the safety of specific regions and help you make well-informed decisions during your trip.

Be sure to also research common scams and take note of local customs to avoid any unwanted surprises!

Factoring in your budget

Not all destinations are created equal when it comes to cost. Keep your budget in mind when selecting a destination.

Southeast Asia, for example, is renowned for its affordability, while Western Europe tends to be pricier.

Use resources like  Numbeo   to compare living costs in different cities and countries.

Seasonality and weather

Timing is everything! Research the best time to visit your chosen destination, considering factors like weather, peak tourist season, and local festivals.

While traveling during the off-season can save you money, it may also limit your options for activities and accommodations.

Double-check visa and entry requirements

Don’t let red tape ruin your trip! Research visa and entry requirements for your destination well in advance.

Some countries offer visa-free entry or visa-on-arrival for certain nationalities, while others require you to obtain a visa before arrival. The  IATA Travel Centre   is a useful resource for checking visa requirements based on your nationality and destination. 

Also, ensure your passport is valid for at least six months beyond your planned travel dates.

There would be nothing worse than planning a whole trip, shelling out tons of $$ on airfare, hotels, and activities… just to get turned away at the border.

And yes, they will actually turn you away. Make sure your passport is up to date to avoid any mishaps!

4. Create A Travel Itinerary

Now that you’ve chosen your destination, it’s time to dive into the fun part—planning your itinerary!

Research top attractions, hidden gems, and local experiences that align with your interests. Travel blogs, guidebooks, and social media can be treasure troves of inspiration. 

Don’t forget to read reviews from fellow travelers to help you prioritize your must-see sights!

thailand elephant sanctuary

With so many amazing places to see, it can be tempting to cram everything into your itinerary. However, it’s important to prioritize your must-see sights to avoid travel burnout. 

Create a list of your top attractions and allocate time for each one, ensuring you leave enough wiggle room for serendipitous discoveries.

I always use  GetYourGuide  to book my activities and excursions whenever I travel!

They have a reviews section where you can see reviews and advice from other travelers that’ll help you determine which tour you want to book (or not book)! I find this super helpful when planning out the exact attractions I want to see.

​Another thing I like to do before a trip to a new place is to look up the city’s location on Instagram, to see what places other people are posting about. This is an easy way to find some cool places that may not be well-known or listed online.

It’s also my #1 technique for finding cool photo spots around the city!

Balancing relaxation and exploration

While it’s natural to want to make the most of your trip, don’t forget the importance of downtime. 

If you’re an introvert like me, (and yes,  introverts can travel solo too !) – then you know the importance of needing to recharge your “social battery” from time to time.

Schedule time for relaxation, whether it’s sipping coffee at a local café, reading a book in a park, or simply people-watching. This will help you recharge your batteries and be able to fully appreciate your surroundings.

Building in flexibility

A well-planned itinerary is essential, but so is leaving room for spontaneity.

Don’t be afraid to veer off course if you stumble upon an enticing local market or receive a tip about a can’t-miss experience. Being open to new experiences and having a flexible itinerary is one of the joys of solo travel. 

Some of my best moments solo travel happened because I was spontaneous with my schedule and did something out of my comfort zone!

Estimating travel times between destinations

When planning your itinerary, don’t underestimate the time it takes to get from point A to point B. Research travel times between destinations, factoring in potential delays and layovers. 

This will help you avoid overscheduling and ensure you have enough time to fully enjoy each location.

Don’t jam-pack your schedule – leave some wiggle room for emergencies and impromptu activities.

5. Book your flight! 

Eeeeeek –   sh*t is getting real now!

It’s the moment you’ve all been waiting for…

Time to book your flight!

When booking flights, consider factors like price, layovers, and airline reputation. Consult airline review websites like  Skytrax   to help you make an informed decision.

I can’t stress enough how important it is to read reviews of the airline before booking.

I once booked a flight with an airline that had poor reviews, and my luggage ended up lost for days! Lesson learned: always do your research.

Tips for finding the best deals

To snag the best deals on flights, it’s a good idea to be flexible with your travel dates and book well in advance. Use flight comparison websites like  Skyscanner  or  Google Flights   to find the most affordable options.

You can search for flights on Skyscanner here 👇

Don’t forget to sign up for price alerts and consider booking during sales or promotions !

I once saved hundreds on my last trip to Mexico by being flexible with my travel dates and catching a last-minute deal!

On-the-ground transportation

Now’s also a good time to think about how you’ll get around in your destination once you get there.

  • Are you going to a big city, with an efficient metro or subway system?
  • Or will you be in a small town, with no choice but to drive or walk around to the major sites?

Take a minute to map out your options for getting around the city, so we can choose which is the most efficient option for your trip.

Public transportation

Public transportation is often the most budget-friendly and eco-conscious way to get around. Research local transportation options like buses, trains, or subways, and familiarize yourself with routes, schedules, and payment methods.

On my first solo trip to Switzerland, I didn’t research the public transport system and ended up on the wrong bus. It took me hours to get back on track! Don’t make the same mistake.

Taxis and rideshares

Taxis and rideshares can be convenient, especially when you’re carrying luggage or traveling late at night. Research reputable taxi companies and rideshare apps like Uber or Lyft to ensure a safe and comfortable ride.

In some cities, I’ve found that using local taxis can be more cost-effective than Uber or Lyft.

Bike and scooter rentals

Renting a bike or scooter can be a fun and efficient way to explore your destination. Look for bike-sharing programs or rental shops, and familiarize yourself with local traffic laws and safety guidelines. 

I once rented a scooter in Thailand  without knowing the local road rules and had a few close calls! Make sure you’re well-prepared before hitting the road.

Car rentals

Renting a car can provide you with the freedom to explore at your own pace. Compare rental rates on websites like  Kayak  or  Discovercars.com . Don’t forget to check if you need an international driving permit or additional insurance coverage.

During a trip to England, I didn’t realize I needed an international driving permit and had to scramble to find a solution at the last minute. Do your research to avoid unnecessary stress.

When traveling between cities or countries, research the most convenient and cost-effective options, such as trains, buses, or flights! Websites like  Rome2rio  can help you compare different modes of transportation and their respective prices.

Remember, fellow solo travelers, learn from my experiences and mistakes to ensure a smoother journey. The more prepared you are, the more you can focus on enjoying your adventure!

5. Book Accommodations

Alright, you’ve made it this far! 

You’ve chosen your destination, booked your flight, scouted out all the best #instaworty photo spots in your city, and maybe even booked an activity or two.

Now for the fun part – booking your hotel!

Before we can click ‘confirm’ on that glorious booking and start packing our bags, we have to decide what type of accommodation to stay in.

Types of accommodations: Hostel vs Hotel?

Hotels can be a comfortable and convenient option, especially if you value privacy and amenities like room service or daily housekeeping. Look for hotels with positive reviews, particularly from solo travelers.

bangkok thailand hotel

On my first trip to New York City, I learned the hard way that not all hotels are created equal… But that’s a story for another time! 

Long story short: do your research and find a hotel room that suits your needs and budget.

Hostels are a great way for budget-conscious solo travelers seeking a social atmosphere. Opt for hostels with communal areas and organized events to increase your chances of meeting like-minded adventurers.

You can book a bed in a dorm room, where you’ll share a huge room with 8, 10, and sometimes up to 15 other people! Or for a little more privacy, you can opt for a private room.

hostel room

Hostels get a bad rep and freak a lot of people out, but honestly, I love them.

They’re a solo traveler’s best friend when it comes to traveling the world on a budget , and it’s the easiest way to meet some fun people to explore a foreign country with. 

P.S. If you’re a hostel newbie, have no fear! I’ve written a complete guide on what hostels are and what to look for when booking one for the first time.

Hostels are also great because there are usually always tons of events going on, which makes it a good place to socialize and connect with fellow solo travellers. 

For example, in Athens, I stayed at a fantastic hostel that organized group trips and walking tours. It was one of the best ways to join some group activities and have some company to visit the city’s most popular attractions with!

Vacation rentals

Platforms like Airbnb and VRBO offer a range of vacation rentals, from cozy studios to luxurious villas. This option is ideal if you prefer a home-away-from-home experience.

A friend of mine once rented a small townhouse in a quaint Italian village, and it ended up being the perfect place to immerse herself in the local culture.

These can sometimes be a bit more pricey than staying in a hostel or even in a hotel, but in some regions, renting an apartment can actually be cheaper than staying in a hotel! Have a look at the prices and see what would be more cost-efficient for your destination and travel dates.

Couchsurfing

Couchsurfing is a platform that connects travelers with locals offering a spare couch or bed for free. This can be a fantastic way to immerse yourself in the local culture while saving on accommodation costs.

Just be sure to read reviews and trust your instincts when choosing a host!

I’ve had incredible experiences couchsurfing, but I’ve also heard some people with not-so-great experiences. Though I wouldn’t recommend this for a first time solo trip, it’s always an option if you’re wanting to save some money on accommodations.

But just to be on the safe side, always make sure to let a family member or travel companion know where you’re staying.

Considerations when choosing accommodations

A centrally-located accommodation can save you time and money on transportation. Look for lodgings close to public transport, attractions, and amenities like restaurants and shops.

I have (more than once, admittedly) booked a hotel far from the city center in an attempt to save a few dollars. The commute was not only expensive, but also time-consuming.

At the end of the day, the few coins that I saved were not worth the hassle.

Safety should always be a priority, particularly for solo travelers. Research the neighborhood, read reviews, and opt for accommodations with secure entrances and good lighting.

When I traveled solo to Bangkok, I made sure to choose a well-reviewed hotel in a safe area, and it made all the difference!

Consider the amenities that are important to you, such as Wi-Fi, air conditioning, or laundry facilities.

Keep in mind that budget accommodations may have fewer amenities, but sometimes a friendly atmosphere and a prime location can more than make up for it.

Booking tips and tricks

To get the best deals on accommodations, consider booking directly through the property’s website or contacting them via email or phone. Also, don’t be afraid to compare prices across various booking platforms like Booking.com or Expedia .

Lastly, keep an eye out for discounts or special offers, especially if you’re traveling during the off-season.

6. Pack and Prepare for Your Trip

It’s getting closer!

Now you’re reading to start packing your best ‘fits and gathering all of your most important documents you’ll need for your trip.

Here’s the low-down on how to efficiently pack for your first solo trip. 

Obtaining the necessary travel documents

Ensure your passport is valid for at least six months beyond your planned travel dates. If you need to renew or apply for a new passport, allow ample processing time. 

plan a trip yourself

I once had a friend who had to postpone her trip to Europe because her passport was expiring soon, and she didn’t realize it until it was too late.

It was a small mistake that ended up costing her hundreds of dollars to fix, and could’ve easily been avoided.

Check if you need a visa for your destination and follow the application process accordingly. Some countries require you to apply in person at a consulate or embassy, while others offer e-visas or visa-on-arrival services.

When I traveled to Tanzania, I had to apply for an e-visa in advance, which was a smooth and easy process.

Research any required or recommended vaccinations for your destination. Consult with a travel health clinic or your healthcare provider to ensure you’re up-to-date on necessary immunizations. 

Buying a travel insurance policy

When it comes to planning a trip, there are some things you can afford to skip out on to save a little bit of money.

Travel insurance is NOT one of them.

Accidents happen, and it’s always better to be safe than sorry. Seriously, if you don’t listen to any of the other solo travel tips I’ve given in this article, hear me out on this. 

Invest in a comprehensive travel insurance policy that covers medical expenses, trip cancellations, and lost or stolen belongings. Compare policies on websites like  Safety Wing  to find the best fit for your needs.

I once had to use my travel insurance to cover medical expenses while abroad, and it was – quite literally – a lifesaver.

I can’t stress enough how vital this is!

You can get a travel insurance quote from Safety Wing here 👇

Health and safety precautions

Getting sick is never really on anyone’s travel plan, yet it still happens more often than not. Take the necessary steps to safeguard your health while traveling. 

Bring a well-stocked first-aid kit, pack any prescription medications, and familiarize yourself with the location of nearby hospitals or clinics. Also, research local food and water safety guidelines to avoid potential health risks.

On my first solo trip,  I got sick from eating street food in Thailand –  which taught me to be more cautious about food hygiene. 

If you have space in your suitcase, think to pack a few simple items like Tylenol, Ibuprofen, anti-nausea medicine, and whatever else you may need that might be hard to find in your location.

Packing essentials and tips

Packing efficiently can truly make or break your solo travel experience!

Make a packing list tailored to your destination’s climate, activities, and cultural expectations. Pack versatile clothing, travel-sized toiletries, and essential electronics like a charger and adapter.

sterling pacific luggage review

Remember, less is more—traveling light will make it easier to navigate public transportation and crowded streets.

Related read: How to pack for multiple destinations (without overpacking)

During a trip to Europe, I overpacked and struggled with heavy luggage in busy train stations. It was super annoying (and honestly a bit embarrassing), but it taught me the importance of packing light.

Staying connected: local SIM cards and Wi-Fi options

Staying connected while traveling is important for both safety and convenience. Research local SIM card options or international roaming plans with your current provider.

Depending on how long you’re staying in your destination, it may be more cost-effective to buy a local SIM card once you arrive. 

For example, in Thailand, you can get a local SIM card with about a month’s worth of data (20GB or so) for only about $25. This is waaaay cheaper than most US roaming plans, who sometimes charge upwards of $1 per minute while you’re overseas.

I’d recommend checking out Airalo , a convenient eSIM marketplace that offers a variety of affordable data plans for solo travelers.

With Airalo, you can easily stay connected while abroad, allowing you to access important information, navigate unfamiliar places, and stay in touch with friends and family without the hassle of switching physical SIM cards.

7. Making the Most of Your Solo Travel Experience

Congrats – you’ve made it to the last step of planning your first solo trip!

Before you take off, let’s talk about some quick tips to keep in mind in order to make the most out of your solo trip. 

Be open to new connections

Remember: Solo travel doesn’t have to be lonely! 

Be open to meeting new people by striking up conversations with fellow travelers or locals. Hostels, walking tours, and group classes or workshops are great opportunities for making connections.

a group of new friends posing for a selfie in front of snowy mountains in grindelwald switzerland

You can also use apps like  Couchsurfing or even Facebook groups to find fellow travelers and local events.

You never know, you might even make some lifelong friends while traveling abroad!

Embracing local culture

One of the joys of travel is immersing yourself in new cultures.

Learn a few basic phrases in the local language, try traditional foods, and attend local festivals or events. Engage with locals by asking questions, respecting customs, and being open to new experiences.

As they say – when in Rome, do as the Romans do!

Practicing responsible tourism

As a traveler, it’s essential to be mindful of the impact you have on the places you visit.

Practice responsible tourism by respecting local customs, supporting local businesses, and being conscious of your environmental footprint. Educate yourself on sustainable travel practices and strive to leave a positive impact wherever you go.

Thanks for reading!

And there you have it, fellow globetrotter! With this ultimate step-by-step guide in hand, you’re well-equipped to plan and embark on your first solo adventure.

View this post on Instagram A post shared by Tiana • Where Tiana Travels (@tianabaaaby)

Trust your instincts, embrace the unknown, and savor every moment of your journey. The world is waiting for you—go forth and conquer it!

tiana thompson in paris

Hi, I’m Tiana – founder of and author here at Where Tiana Travels. I’m a 20-something with a love for all things travel, photography, and food. I have been living abroad for the past 5 years and solo traveling the globe in my free time. I created this blog to share my travel stories and inspire other women to go out and see the world. Read more about me here!

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Nomadic Matt: Travel Cheaper, Longer, Better

16 Easy Steps for Planning Your Next Trip

A map on a wall with money and pins used for planning a trip

I remember when I started planning my first trip around the world. I had no idea what I was doing.

When I decided to quit my job and travel the world , I walked into a bookstore and bought Lonely Planet’s Southeast Asia on Shoestring . Buying that guidebook was my first step toward long-term travel. It made the trip seem more real, more tangible. It made it all seem possible.

While helpful, the book didn’t exactly prepare me for planning a trip around the world. Back then, there weren’t really travel blogs, sharing economy websites, and apps like there are today. I was excited and determined — but I was lost. I had to figure it out as I went, hoping I didn’t miss anything important.

Trip 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 — and especially considering just how much information there is out there these days. Blogs, social media, and guidebooks have never been more plentiful. There’s a firehose of information out there that can sometimes make the task of planning a trip even more challenging and overwhelming.

After a decade of traveling the world , I’ve planned countless trips and vacations for myself, friends, family, and even group tours. In the beginning, it was trial by fire and I learned a lot of lessons the hard way . However, that helped me develop an efficient checklist that ensures I don’t miss anything important during the trip planning process.

After all, I don’t want to get to my next destination and then realize I forgot something. And neither do you!

There is a lot of information on this website ( and even more information packed into my book ), but one question that comes up frequently is, “Matt, how do I put this all together? How do I plan a trip?”

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 — no matter how long you’re going for! Just follow this checklist and you’ll be off in no time!

Table of Contents

Step 1: Decide Where You Want To Go

Step 2: decide the length of your trip, step 3: research your costs, step 4: start saving money, step 5: get a travels rewards credit card, step 6: switch to no-fee atm cards, step 7: stay focused and inspired, step 8: check for last-minute deals, step 9: book your flight, step 10: book your accommodation, step 11: plan your activities, step 12: sell your stuff, step 13: automate your bills, step 14: pack, step 15: buy travel insurance, step 16: enjoy your trip.

If you want to jump ahead, simply click on any of the links above.  

Signs pointing in all directions on a tall sign post with a blue sky as the background

It’s a lot easier to mentally get behind “I am going to Paris in the summer” 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. Get specific with your plans. Get detailed. The more focused and concrete your goal, the easier it will be to actually reach it.

Resources for picking your travel destination:

  • 200+ In-Depth Destination Guides
  • 10 Destinations Under $50 Per Day
  • The 10 Best Places to Visit as a Budget Traveler
  • The 20 Best Tropical Islands in the World

How much does it cost to travel? That depends!

Without knowing how long you’re going away for, I can’t answer that question. And it’s a question you need to answer so you can start planning!

In order to figure out how much you need to save you’ll need to know how long your trip will be.

Are you going away for a week? A month? A year?

The length of your trip is a huge factor in determining how much money you need. Spend some time mulling that over until you have your answer.

For example, after you say “I’m going to Paris this summer,” add “for X days.” That way you can start to narrow down just how much money you’re going to need to save. “I am going to Paris for 10 days” is a trip that you can plan for. It’s an attainable goal.  

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. Here is how to research costs:

  • Buy a guidebook.
  • Check out my travel guide section .
  • Google prices for specific things you want to do, such as scuba diving, bungy jumping, winery tours, etc. ( Get Your Guide is a good place to start for that)

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 overplanning, you’ll get lost and confused by the firehose of information. Stick to those three things and you’ll be set!

In our example, if you are going to Paris for 10 days and need at least $75 USD a day (not including your flight), you know you need to save $750 USD (though round up to $800-900 USD 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 USD a day .

Here are some other insightful posts that will help you better estimate your costs:

  • 5 Ways to Make Your Money Last When You Travel
  • How to Know the Travel Info You Find is Legit
  • How I Research My Solo Travel Destinations

saving money for travel in a piggy bank that's standing on a pile of cash bills

People bleed a lot of money every day through small purchases: a coffee here, a snack there. All of that adds up. In order to make changes to your spending habits, you first need to understand them. Making a list will do just that. It will also put your financial needs into a better perspective.

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 USD per day. Couldn’t you find a way to save $8 USD per day? Heck, your daily coffee is most of that!

If you’re struggling to save money, here are 23 ways to cut your expenses and save money for travel . This will help you get started and on the road to saving money in no time!  

travel credit card being used to shop online by a man at a laptop

These days, most cards have welcome offers of up to 100,000 points when you meet their minimum spending requirement. That’s enough miles for a free flight almost anywhere in the world!

If you want a free flight, sign up for the cards that help with that. If you want free hotel rooms, get a hotel card. Either way, sign up for a travel credit card and start earning points today. As long as you can pay off your monthly balance, you’ll get free travel credit.

You don’t need to sign up for very many cards either; 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 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. While the best cards are only available in the US, there are still plenty of options for Canadians as well as folks from Europe, Australia, and New Zealand.

For more information on travel credit cards and using points and miles, check out these posts:

  • Points and Miles 101: A Beginner’s Guide
  • How to Pick the Best Travel Credit Card
  • The Best Travel Credit Cards
  • How to Earn Points by Paying Your Rent
  • The Ultimate Guide to Points and Miles
  • How to Use Points and Miles in Canada

Once you’re abroad, you’re going to need money. While many countries accept credit cards, in the majority of countries cash is still king. That means you’ll need to use ATMs to withdraw the local currency.

And that also means you’re going to get dinged by ATM fees.

If you’re just away for a week or two, paying a few dollars in ATM fees isn’t the end of the world. But if you’re away for a longer period, those fees add up and chew into your travel budget — a budget you’ve worked hard to grow. Don’t give banks any of your hard-earned money.

How? By using a no-fee ATM card.

I use Charles Schwab , but there are lots of other banks (don’t forget to check your local banks) that don’t charge ATM fees. Additionally, you can join a bank in the Global ATM Alliance .

By using a no-fee ATM card you can avoid those pesky ATM fees, leaving you more money for what it was intended for: travel.

Here’s exactly how you can avoid ATM fees while traveling .  

While you get closer to your goal, make sure that you keep feeding your desire to travel. Travel planning can be exhausting and overwhelming — especially if you don’t have support from your friends and family (and especially if your trip is still months away). It can often get discouraging and feel out of reach at times.

Luckily, there are tons of ways to stay focused and keep your spirits high thanks to the amazing community we have on this website. Here are some inspiring travel stories to help keep you inspired to travel:

  • Why It’s Never the Perfect Time to Travel
  • 13 Travel Books That Will Give You Serious Wanderlust
  • How to Change the “I’m Too Poor to Travel” Mindset and Say Yes to Travel
  • 8 Ways to Stay Motivated to Travel

Additionally, be sure to join our online travel community The Nomadic Network . Not only will you find support (and tons of tips) online, but we also host regular in-person and virtual events all around the world. These are a great way to get inspired, meet other awesome travelers in your area, and get travel advice.  

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. Or 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.

These days, there is always a deal to be found — especially if you’re flexible with your dates and/or destinations. Some deal websites worth checking out are:

  • Going (Formerly Scott’s Cheap Flights)
  • The Flight Deal
  • Holiday Pirates

A commercial plane taking off into the golden, bright sunset

Fortunately, there are still many ways to avoid being the person on the flight who paid the most for their ticket. My two favorite sites for finding cheap airfare are:

  • Skyscanner – Skyscanner is the best website for searching multiple destinations at the same time.

For the best deals, book your flight about two-three months in advance. Here are two articles on how to score a cheap flight:

  • How to Find Cheap Flights
  • Booking Flights: Everything You Need to Know

luna's hostel in panama city, full of backpackers just hanging out and having fun

For trips longer than two weeks (or if you are going to be traveling long-term) just book your first few days. That will ensure you have a place to go on arrival. Once there, you can get insider advice from your hotel/hostel staff as well as other travelers. You can then use that info to plan your next steps.

While you can book more than your first few nights, you might end up wanting to change your plans once you land. I prefer having flexibility, which is why I always just book my first few nights and go from there.

Here are my go-to sites when it comes to finding the best deals on accommodation:

  • Hostelworld – Hostelworld has the largest selection of hostels and is my go-to site for finding affordable hostels.
  • Agoda – Agoda has the best results if you’re heading to Asia (though they sometimes have good US deals too).
  • Booking.com – Booking.com is the best overall platform for finding budget hotels and guesthouses.

If you’re on a tight budget or you want to connect with more locals during your travels, consider joining platforms like Couchsurfing or BeWelcome . These communities allow travelers to stay with locals for free as a sort of cultural exchange.

Long-term travelers can also try housesitting or WWOOFing as well as they both offer free accommodation (in exchange for pet sitting or farm work respectively).  

Nomadic Matt pretending to be lost with a group of backpacker friends in Asia

Search online for discounts as well. While some countries offer cheaper prices in person, others give discounts to those who book early/online. Research which is which for your itinerary so you can save money.

For shorter trips, you can also book your activities in advance to ensure you get tickets. For longer trips, book as you go.

Additionally, before you leave home, have a rough idea of what activities are priorities for you. That way, if you run out of time or money, you can focus on your top activities so you don’t miss out. Also, make sure to double-check that there are no holidays or other obstacles that will prevent you from certain activities as well.  

If you are going on a long-term trip (six months or more), consider selling your stuff in order to earn extra money for your trip. Start doing this about 60 days before you leave. Some sites to use are:

  • Gumtree – An online classified site with a focus in the UK and Australia.
  • Amazon – The biggest online store in the world.
  • Craigslist – Online global classifieds that have both local and global reach.
  • eBay – Another global online classified site.
  • Facebook Marketplace – Great for finding people near you (so you don’t need to ship your items).

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. A good storage company in the US is Public Storage . It’s one of the most affordable options out there.  

Get rid of your mail, go paperless, and set up online bill payment for your recurring bills to ensure you won’t miss any while overseas. If you are still going to get paper mail, use a service like Earth Class Mail , which will collect and scan your mail for you. (If you are going on a two-week trip, you don’t really need to worry about this, so you can skip this step, too.)

If you have the option (and don’t want to pay for a mail service), you can also have all your mail sent to a friend or family member.

Additionally, you’ll want to make sure you cancel any phone plans you have or switch your plan to one that is more travel-friendly. T-Mobile is great for travelers going on trips under 3 months. For any trips longer than that, you’ll want to cancel your plan and just buy SIM cards abroad as that will be much cheaper.  

Two travel backpacks all packed and ready for an adventure

I travel with a 45L REI bag and then a smaller day bag.

Unless you’re heading to multiple climates and need bulky winter gear, you don’t need a massive 70L bag stuffed to the top. Here’s my suggested packing list to help you take just the right amount of stuff and avoid overpacking ( here’s a list for female travelers as well ).

While what you pack will depend on where you are going, remember that you don’t need to pack everything you own. You can buy things you need on the road. You can do laundry overseas. At the end of the day, you have to carry everything you bring. So bring less!

There are a few extra items you might want to pack beyond your everyday clothes, though. Some things I like to bring with me are:

  • First aid kit
  • LifeStraw bottle with built-in filter
  • Packing cubes (to stay organized)
  • Travel lock (for hostel lockers)
  • Travel adapter
  • Quick-dry towel

Additionally, make sure you bring any prescriptions with you so you have enough for the duration of your trip. If that’s not feasible, bring a doctor’s note and prescription with you so you can fill it abroad.  

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 canceled, a family member dies and you have to come home, or if something gets stolen.

Yes, it’s an added expense. But it’s always better to be safe than sorry. I never leave home without it because I’ve seen first-hand just what can happen on the road.

I never thought I would pop my eardrum while I was scuba diving in Thailand or break my camera in Italy .

I didn’t know I would get knifed in Colombia .

My friend never thought he would break his leg hiking.

Another friend didn’t expect her father would die and she would have to fly back home.

Unfortunately, bad things can happen when you’re traveling. True, these events are few and far between. But they can cost tens of thousands of dollars to handle on your own. If you’re not prepared to pay out of pocket, buy travel insurance.

To help you figure out the best plan for you and your trip, here’s my ultimate guide to picking a good insurance company . It will show you how to pick a good plan that covers you for when you get sick, your flights get canceled, if you get injured, something gets stolen, or your trip is delayed.

Here’s a breakdown of my recommended travel insurance companies so you can see what company offers the best plans for your needs and budget:

  • SafetyWing – Super affordable plans for budget travelers.
  • Insure My Trip – Best for senior travelers.
  • Medjet – Provides additional evacuation coverage to ensure you get home should an emergency occur.
  • Insured Nomads – In-depth emergency and non-emergency coverage for long-term travelers and digital nomads.

For more information on travel insurance, you can check out these posts:

  • What Does Travel Insurance Actually Cover?
  • Is Travel Insurance Worth It?
  • Do You Need Medical Evacuation Insurance?

Additionally, make sure you know your rights as an airline passenger. For example, delayed flights to/from Europe often mean you’re entitled to compensation (beyond anything insurance-related).

Learn how to ensure you are compensated if your travels are delayed or your flight is canceled .  

A person jumping into the water from a cliff as they travel the world

If you’re feeling nervous, don’t worry — that’s perfectly normal. You’re about to embark on an amazing adventure — and that’s a huge change. Feeling anxious or nervous or unsure is something every traveler experiences. But you’ve made it this far. Trust your planning, follow your instincts, and you’ll have the trip of a lifetime. I guarantee it.

By using this post as a guideline for your trip planning, you can better organize and prepare for your trip. You’ll check all the boxes, not miss anything, and have plenty of money for your vacation. It can be as simple as booking a flight and packing or as complex as rearranging your entire life to go backpack the world forever.

But, no matter how long your trip may be, this list will help you stay organized and motivated as you plan your trip and step out into the world.

P.S.  – Yes, I did leave out visas and vaccinations, because needing those isn’t as universal as the other stuff on this list, but don’t forget to check if you need those, too!  

Book Your Trip: Logistical Tips and Tricks

Book Your Flight Find a cheap flight by using Skyscanner . It’s my favorite search engine because it searches websites and airlines around the globe so you always know no stone is being left unturned.

Book Your Accommodation You can book your hostel with Hostelworld . If you want to stay somewhere other than a hostel, use Booking.com as it consistently returns the cheapest rates for guesthouses and hotels.

Don’t Forget Travel Insurance Travel insurance will protect you against illness, injury, theft, and cancellations. It’s comprehensive protection in case anything goes wrong. I never go on a trip without it as I’ve had to use it many times in the past. My favorite companies that offer the best service and value are:

  • SafetyWing (best for everyone)
  • Insure My Trip (for those 70 and over)
  • Medjet (for additional evacuation coverage)

Want to Travel for Free? Travel credit cards allow you to earn points that can be redeemed for free flights and accommodation — all without any extra spending. Check out my guide to picking the right card and my current favorites to get started and see the latest best deals.

Need Help Finding Activities for Your Trip? Get Your Guide is a huge online marketplace where you can find cool walking tours, fun excursions, skip-the-line tickets, private guides, and more.

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Hi, I’m Nomadic Matt, the New York Times best-selling author of How to Travel the World on $50 a Day and Ten Years a Nomad, as well as the founder of this website! And I’m here to help you save money on your next trip.

Got a comment on this article? Join the conversation on Facebook , Instagram , or Twitter and share your thoughts!

Disclosure: Please note that some of the links above may be affiliate links, and at no additional cost to you, I earn a commission if you make a purchase. I recommend only products and companies I use and the income goes to keeping the site community supported and ad free.

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10-Step Guide for Planning a Trip

Home | Travel | 10-Step Guide for Planning a Trip

Planning a trip can be stressful if you’re not sure where to start or you’re afraid you’ll forget something important.

I have to admit that I love travel planning , but part of that is because I use a detailed checklist and the most helpful websites. So, if you don’t know how to organize a trip and you want to avoid feeling overwhelmed, I’ll help you out with this guide. Below, I’ll share the steps I typically follow as well as the best apps and websites to book your flights, tours, and accommodation so you can travel cheaply .

Guide to planning a trip in 10 easy steps

These are the steps that I always follow when I’m planning a trip , although I might skip one or two depending on the type of trip and where I’m going:

  • Search for flights
  • Apply for a visa
  • Book the accommodation
  • Set up your transportation
  • Decide which attractions to visit
  • Book a tour
  • Get travel insurance
  • Apply for a commission-free credit card
  • Buy a SIM card
  • Pack your suitcase

Remember that, depending on the destination and your reason for traveling, you may not need to do all these steps. So, rather than worrying about checking off a long to-do list, enjoy the process of planning your trip itinerary . For me, making a travel plan is almost as much fun as traveling itself!

Things to do before planning a vacation

Before I give you a detailed look at my checklist for planning a trip , I want to point out that choosing your destination is the real starting point. Not only is deciding where to go an important part of any travel plan , but it’s also a good idea to learn some crucial information about it. For example, you should research things like the best time to visit and what the weather will be like when you go.

Once you’ve chosen a destination and you have a solid timeline for when you’ll visit, you can begin the trip planning process. If you want some travel inspiration, here are some beautiful places to go, as well as some information about them:

plan a trip yourself

Best Countries in Central America

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Best countries to visit in Africa

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Best countries in South America

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Best Caribbean Islands

1. Search for flights, the first step to planning a trip

Once you’ve chosen your destination and travel dates, one of the first things to do to organize your trip is to look for flights. This is usually one of the most tedious steps, but you can make it much easier by reading our guide on how to find cheap flights .

Passenger waiting in airport terminal, planning for a trip

We always use Kiwi and Skyscanner since they make it super easy to find the best prices on flights. Moreover, if you’re not sure where you want to travel but you want to take a cheap trip, you can choose the “Anywhere” option and see the best deals, listed from the lowest price from your selected airport.

Kiwi and Skyscanner also show you the cheapest dates to travel, which is extremely useful if you have flexibility in your trip plan calendar . Don’t forget to activate flight alerts to receive notifications when a ticket price changes. That way, you can jump on the best deal before it runs out.

While I hope you don’t have to use it, AirHelp is a handy website to turn to if your flight is canceled or delayed. This company handles the claims process for you, although they will take a commission fee from your compensation. You can learn more about how to get compensate for delayed flights  in our guide, where I show you how to get up to $600 in compensation .

2. Apply for a visa, a must-do when planning a trip abroad

Step number two of planning a trip is to check what type of documentation you’ll need to enter the country you’re traveling to. Even if you already have the proper paperwork, double-check that it won’t expire before or during your trip.

Passport and boarding pass, how to plan a trip

For example, if you’re planning a vacation to Europe, you should be fine with a valid passport, and travel insurance for Europe . The same applies if you’re visiting Australia, New Zealand, and most countries in South America. But be aware that most countries in Asia and Africa require a visa.

For those cases, I highly recommend going to the iVISA website to check what kind of documentation you need for your destination. We’ve used iVISA several times without any problems and consider it to be one of the best travel planning websites .

3. Book the accommodation, an important step in any trip plan

Another crucial part of organizing a trip is booking your accommodation. There are lots of trip planning apps to help with this, although we almost always use Booking . Here, you can find hotels, villas, apartments, and other types of lodging to suit any budget, which is why we consider it to be one of the best options.

Renaissance Bali Uluwatu Resort, best travel planning website

The main advantage of using Booking.com to plan our travels is that we can pay right on the website, and cancellations are usually free until 24 hours before the trip. Also, if you use the website frequently, you can upgrade to the Genius plan, which offers the best deals and discounts. So, if you want to find cheap hotels anywhere in the world, even if you’re planning a multi-city trip , I highly recommend Booking.com .

4. Set up your transportation, an essential part of any travel plan

The next step in this trip planning checklist is to think about transportation once you get to your destination. You can either use public transportation or rent a car.

We prefer renting a vehicle because it grants us more freedom to explore places that might be off the beaten path. That said, some cities and countries have very good public transportation systems, so it’s up to you. When creating your travel itinerary , think about the destination and what you want to do during your trip. That should help you decide whether or not to rent a car.

Friends on a road trip, create travel itinerary

If you decide to go with a rental, I recommend going through DiscoverCars . Without a doubt, this is the best option for renting a car, especially if you’re not used to organizing road trips . A nice thing about DiscoverCars is that it shows you a comparison of different rental websites, so you’re guaranteed to find the cheapest rental cars .

Of course, if your planned travel route is more like a cross-country trip, take a look at Motorhome Republic , which offers the best prices and conditions for motorhomes. We’ve used this app several times to plan trips around Iceland and the United States, and it’s always been a positive experience.

Again, many cities and countries have great public transit networks, so if you plan on getting around by bus or train, you can get low ticket prices on Omio . Simply enter your destination, and the website will compare bus and train tickets from different companies to find the best deal for you. You can even search for the cheapest or fastest route. Flixbus is often listed on Omio since its prices are some of the lowest and they operate all over the world. We’ve used Flixbus on several trips around Europe, but you can also use Flixbus in the U.S., Canada, Brazil, and more.

Caleta de Sebo, La Graciosa, how to plan an international trip

Public transportation or renting a car, tips for planning a trip

Finally, you may be planning your vacation to an island destination like the Canary Islands, where ferry transport is more common. In that case, I recommend getting your tickets through Direct Ferries , which offers excellent ticket prices for all kinds of time slots. We’ve used this site for our trips to the Canary Islands and Indonesia.

To sum up, organizing your transportation can be a bit stressful, but these travel planning tips and websites will streamline the process for you .

5. Decide which attractions to visit, the most fun part of planning a trip

Among all the steps for planning a trip , choosing which attractions to visit is one the most enjoyable. Step number five in this travel planning checklist is looking at which attractions and activities (free and paid) are available at your destination.

If you’re going to see a show or a concert, Hellotickets can be useful in reserving tickets in advance. That said, if you’re visiting a city that has lots of things to do and offers attraction passes or cards, I recommend getting one. This way, you can access several top attractions while getting the maximum savings. So, if you’re visiting a popular city, check if it offers the Sightseeing Pass , the City PASS , or the Go City pass.

Statue of Liberty, how to plan a road trip

Depending on the destination, some of these cards may also include certain tours or tickets for the sightseeing bus . So again, I highly recommend this option, especially if you’re planning a vacation in a metropolitan city.

Regardless of where you’re going, I suggest making a list of all the tourist attractions you want to visit to better organize your trip . Remember, it’s usually better to focus on seeing things that really interest you, rather than trying to cram as many attractions as possible into your itinerary or planner .

6. Book a tour, a key step in many tourist plans

The next thing to do when planning for a trip is to book any tours you’re going to take at your destination. A tour or excursion can help you discover little-known places and learn more history about the city you’re visiting.

While not every destination calls for a detailed tour plan , some places are known for incredible excursions, like seeing the Northern Lights in Iceland, or taking a walking tour through New York.

Northern Lights, plan a trip or tourist plan

When we’re creating a travel itinerary and we know we want to take a tour, there are two websites we use. First, Civitatis offers interesting excursions and some free tours around the world, while GetYourGuide has an extensive list of tours in practically any destination.

Using these online trip planner websites is super easy since all you have to do is enter your destination and hit the search button. You can filter the results by category, price, duration, and more, so they’re two of the best trip planning apps out there.

You don’t want to skip this step, especially if you’re not sure how to plan a trip or you’re visiting a place for the first time. Booking a tour or two will help you make the most of your trip, and since a guide will lead you, it’ll be an informative and entertaining experience.

7. Get travel insurance, something you can’t forget when planning a trip

Another must-do when you’re travel planning is to get travel insurance coverage.

Canadian Rockies at sunset, how to plan a vacation

No one likes to think about it, but unforeseen events can and do happen while traveling, and in those moments, having travel insurance makes all the difference. The worst-case scenario would be getting sick or hurt while abroad and not having any of your extra medical expenses covered.

Currently, we have annual multi-trip insurance with Heymondo , which is the best travel insurance on the market with the best coverage-to-price ratio. You can even get a travel discount with Heymondo just for being our reader.

Holafly logo

5% OFF your travel insurance

In addition to medical assistance for injury or illness, Heymondo covers baggage loss or delay, medical quarantine expenses, and more. You’ll also have Heymondo’s 24/7 chat, which is available to help you should you run into an emergency while abroad.

I can’t recommend travel insurance enough, and while it’s probably the least enjoyable part of planning a trip , it’s the most important. This is particularly true in countries like the U.S. or Japan, where medical treatment is very expensive. Plus, if you opt for trip cancellation insurance , you’ll be covered if an unforeseen event prevents you from traveling.

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Best travel insurance

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Cheap Travel Insurance

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Annual [multi-trip]

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Cancellation

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Europe travel insurance

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Travel insurance for the USA

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Medical Travel Insurance

The best only medical travel insurance

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Cancel for any reason insurance

The best cancel for any reason plans

Mount Fuji, best travel insurance for japan

Pre-existing conditions

Best insurance for pre-existing conditions

La Playa de la Señora es una de las playas más remotas en Morro Jable donde pasar el día junto al mar

Best travel insurance for seniors

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Best family travel insurance

Best insurance for traveling with kids

8. Get a no foreign transaction fee credit card, another important part of your trip plan

Another important thing to remember when planning your itinerary is to get a travel credit card . If you’re going abroad, you’ll want a card with no foreign transaction fees , so you can make payments or ATM withdrawals without the pesky currency exchange fees. Fortunately, you can take advantage of some great options on the market.

Passport and map, planning for a trip or tour

We use the Revolut debit card, which you can get for free and use at ATMs and stores around the world. With Revolut, you can withdraw up to $1,200 a month from foreign ATMs without fees, as well as exchange up to $1,000 a month.

We also carry a Wise credit card with us, which comes in handy when we need to withdraw more money and want to avoid extra fees. With Wise, you can spend money in over 50 currencies.

For more information about the Revolut card and the Wise card , I recommend reading our full reviews of each .

9. Buy an international SIM card, a must-do when you plan to travel

One of the most common concerns we hear about how to plan a trip is related to mobile data. We’ve looked at all the possible options for getting Internet for travel , and have found Holafly to be the best solution.

The Holafly eSIM card, which you can get here , is a prepaid digital SIM card that you can use to get Internet while abroad. It’s cheap, quick to arrive in your email inbox, and allows you to keep your number on WhatsApp and other mobile apps.

Person using phone in the mountains, how to plan a vacation

All you have to do is select the country you’re planning a trip to and choose the best international SIM card for the number of days you’ll be there. Depending on the destination, you can find cards for five to 90 days. After selecting your eSIM, you’ll receive the digital card via email, and you can scan the QR code to activate it. This means you can even buy it when you’re already abroad, so it’s the most convenient option.

There’s no doubt that the Holafly eSIM card is the best mobile data option, but you can learn more about it in our full review.

Holafly logo

5% OFF your international eSIM card

If your phone does not support eSIM cards , you can also opt for a physical SIM from SimOptions , which is another very good option.

10. Pack your suitcase, the last step when planning a trip

Now that you’ve done all the tedious steps to plan your itinerary , all that’s left to do is pack your suitcase. If you’re traveling for the first time or you need new luggage, you’ll have no problems finding backpacks and suitcases on Amazon .

For longer trips, we’ve been using this large suitcase (30 inches) for years, and it still holds up. When we’re planning a trip for the weekend or the short term, we use this small suitcase (21 inches) and this carry-on bag .

If you’re curious about how we plan for a backpacking trip , we follow the steps above and depend on this backpack (80L), which is ideal for longer trips. If you’re taking a backpacking trip and want some tips, check out our guide on how to prepare a backpack for long-term travel.

Luggage set, how to organize a trip

Whether you’re packing a suitcase or a backpack, remember to check the temperatures at your destination so you can bring the appropriate clothing and footwear. Also, don’t forget your toiletries and a small first aid kit since even getting ibuprofen while abroad can be difficult. Other essentials you can’t forget while planning your trip include your passport, wallet, phone charger, and power bank.

These days, you can keep most documents on your phone, but I still recommend bringing along physical copies of your boarding pass, reservations, and insurance policy just in case.

Finally, if you find yourself in a scenario where you don’t have a place to keep your suitcase and you don’t want to drag it around the city with you, you can opt for a luggage storage service. We’ve used Nannybag and Bounce a few times and it made all the difference in how enjoyable our trip was. I also recommend keeping Apple Airtags in your luggage so you can locate it in case it gets lost or stolen.

Bonus step: Pack your photography gear, an essential part of our tour planning

One of the best parts of traveling is seeing amazing landscapes and architecture, which brings me to my bonus travel planning tip . If you love photography as much as we do, don’t forget to bring your camera and other gear with you. We always pack the essentials, especially for our photo tours , and we always keep our equipment well protected.

Photography gear, how to plan a family trip

If you don’t have travel photography gear , you have two options. You can buy what you need on Amazon or B&H Photo , or you can rent the equipment from LensRentals , which I recommend if you’re only going to use it for that trip.

You can get all the details on where to rent camera gear in the U.S. in our guide. I think renting the equipment is a great idea if you’re not a dedicated photographer and don’t plan on using it too much. Plus, you save 15% in LensRentals with our code ATLAS15.

photography gear camera and lenses rental

Other tips when planning for a trip

Now you have all the top tips for planning a trip from start to finish. Before I say goodbye, I want to recommend some trip planning apps that can make organizing your trip even easier.

Maps.me has become a must-have travel app for us, even on our weekend getaways. This online travel planner app gives us maps of places all over the world, which we can access even when we lose Internet connection.

Another great tool is TravelSpend , which makes planning a trip with friends super easy since you can organize the travel expenses and determine who pays what.

Of course, travel planning is a process that takes time and effort, but if you follow the advice in this guide and use the websites I mentioned, it’ll be much easier. If you have any questions or want to share your trip planning experiences or tips, leave me a comment below. I’d be happy to hear from you!

Until then, good luck, and have fun planning the trip of your dreams!

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49 Things You Need to Do to Plan Your Best Trip (Free Travel Research & Planning Checklist)

  • Updated: 04/06/2024

Before you jet off on your next adventure, ensure you have all your travel research and planning in order. To help, use this ultimate travel research checklist  to guide you through the necessary steps for more enjoyable planning and a stress-minimized trip.

I love to travel, though I do not necessarily enjoy all the tedious steps required to get out the door and start having fun. So, I rely heavily on checklists like this planning list , a packing list , and a prep and close-the-house list  to streamline my departure. Leaning on these saves me time and money and helps to avoid unexpected situations, making for worry-free trips. I hope they can do the same for you.

So, whether you are a seasoned traveler or a first-time adventurer, I have designed this travel research and planning guide to cover the things you must cross off your to-do list before leaving for a trip. 

From the fun stuff like flights, accommodation, and local attractions—to the necessary details, especially for more complicated international travel, like getting visas , knowing about local customs, and purchasing travel insurance , use this list to explore the world confident you have things covered. 

Table Of Contents

Download your free travel planning checklist here.

Prefer not to print? Jump to my explanation of the 14 stages of trip planning  with 49 separate things you should do below. Otherwise, click the image beneath to access and print my free Travel Planning Checklist .

The Importance of Travel Research

Before setting off on any adventure, it is crucial to do your research. Travel research helps you gather information about your destination, allowing you to make informed decision s and avoid unnecessary stress. By taking the time to research and plan, you can uncover hidden gems, know about local events, find the best deals, and arrange your itinerary to maximize your trip enjoyment. 

Plus, conducting research helps travelers be more thoughtful and respectful visitors by being aware of local customs.

Sign up for my monthly Discovery Newsletter & get a free Trip Budget Calculator !

Learn how to further simplify your trip research, planning, and organization for every stage of your trip in “ 5 Proven Ways to Simplify and Organize Your Travel Research .”

When to Start Planning a Trip

When is the ideal time to start planning a trip? Whenever you decide to go! Though—several months, or at least six months in advance , is generally best. However, some destinations, like high-demand national parks with limited visitor and lodging capacity, may require planning up to 12 months or more in advance. 

Plus, it depends who is traveling . Solo or couple travelers can more easily plan last-minute trips as they tend to have more schedule flexibility (i.e., not following family school break schedules) and can choose from more affordable double or single-room lodging options, which tend to be more abundant.

Because families usually require more of everything , from plane tickets to more spacious lodging and even bigger rental cars, planning further in advance becomes more necessary, especially as it allows them to secure the best of these resources at the best pricing. If you are a family traveler or part of a big multi-generational group, you will want to begin planning further in advance—six months to a year is ideal.

14 Stages of Trip Planning & 49 Tips

How you follow these 14 stages of travel planning depends on how long you have before you depart for your trip and your comfort level with leaving things to the last minute. 

Because I do not enjoy the feeling of big to-dos being undone or last-minute scrambles, I aim to complete all 14 stages of travel planning anywhere from one to several months in advance. Alternatively, you may feel more comfortable playing your timeframes looser. 

Step 1: Decide on Your Destination (7 Questions)

Step 2: International Travel: Understand Visa & Vaccination Requirements & Travel Restrictions/Warnings (4 Tips)

Step 3: On Budgeting, Know What You Can Spend (Budget Template)

Step 4: Set a High-Level Itinerary (Get Shortcuts)

Step 5: getting there, find the best deals on airfare (3 resources).

Step 6: Getting Around, Rental Cars & Local Transportation Options (6 Tips)

Step 7: Choose Where to Stay (Shortcuts & Resources)

Step 8: Decide, Save & Book the Things You Want to Do (4 Tips)

Step 9: Focus on Food, Reserve Restaurants & Learn About Local Dishes (2 Recommendations)

Step 10: Create, Update & Finalize a Detailed Trip Itinerary (Resources)

Step 11: Plan for Emergencies & Unexpected Situations (3 Tips)

Step 12: Packing & Prepping Your Home Before Your Trip (Resources)

Step 13: Make Your Finances Accessible on Domestic & International Trips (13 Tips)

Step 14: Stay Connected While You Travel (Resources)

You may have several destinations in mind for an upcoming trip—or none at all. To get assistance narrowing down your options, consider your travel wants, needs, and limitations by answering the seven questions below to help you figure this out.

How long do you have to travel?

Your work and school schedules or family obligations may dictate the duration of your travel. Or perhaps budget  constraints cap the number of your away-from-home vacation days.

So, before you choose where to go, know how long you can spend there. If your holiday break is limited, you will want to minimize the time or expense of transportation, guiding you to pick closer destinations or places with direct flights.

What do you want to do?

Do you want a warm week lounging on the beach within reach of an easy and affordable nonstop flight? Or are you looking for a city trip with cultural activities? Perhaps the pull of nature is strong, and you want a hiking adventure? Or a bit of all of the above? Know what experiences you or your group would like to have during your time away and pick a place that meets it best.

This question is linked to the one above but digs deeper. Confirm your potential destination offers the right breadth and depth of activities and cultural or culinary highlights. Are there enough things to do and experience to last your trip and meet your wants and needs? Determine whether these options will make for an ideal visit. 

How to get there?

Explore how to get to your potential destination. Does getting there require a multi-day drive? Or a flight with a long layover? Gain a high-level idea of the time and cost involved with the “getting there” part of travel and confirm your time off can easily accommodate long transit times if required. Then, further dive into this step by learning your best options for getting around  once you arrive, here .

When is the best time to go?

To avoid destinations during their rainy seasons and less ideal temperature times, look up historical weather averages for your potential vacation spot before you commit. Use a helpful site like SunHeron  to look at month-by-month temperatures and rainfall for nearly any destination. Doing this will give you a better chance of having the weather be a helper for a great experience instead of a hindrance

What do you want to pay?

It is never fun to start digging into a trip to an incredible place only to realize a few steps in that you cannot afford it. This exact situation happened to us. Several summers ago, we did not plan far enough in advance for a family summer trip to pricey Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Limited availability and expensive lodging options forced us to backtrack and find a more budget-friendly alternative destination—surprisingly, Vail, Colorado.

So, before committing to a spot, set your budget , then do quick hit searches on the costs of available transportation, lodging, activities, and dining to confirm they fit what you can afford.

Is it safe?

Ensuring your health and safety during your trip should be a top priority, especially when visiting an international destination and you are unfamiliar with the customs and language. Before you go, look up travel warnings , read recent traveler accounts on blogs or social media channels, and even message the account owners with your safety questions. Then, check the local news sites. Gathering information about recent on-the-ground experiences will help you decide if this destination is right for you.

Step 2: International Travel: Understand Visa & Vaccination Requirements & Travel Restrictions/Warnings (4 Tips)

This step is for international travel. Before buying your plane tickets, understand entry requirements related to passports and visas, if applicable. 

Ensure you have an up-to-date passport & learn about visa requirements.

For international travel, always ensure your passport will not expire soon and it will be valid for your dates of entry. A good rule of thumb is your passport should be valid for six months after entry . However, sometimes it is less. Confirm exact entry requirements by researching this with the official government customs and tourism organization for the country you plan to visit.

A quick online search should get you the answers you need. For US travelers, check and confirm destination requirements on the helpful “ Learn About Your Destination” page of the US State Department website.

If your passport is expired or set to expire within a validity window, like six months, take immediate steps to renew it. In the US, obtaining a new one can take weeks, if not several months. Get all the details you need about obtaining and renewing US Passports here .

Review travel advisories, security alerts, vaccination & other health requirements.

For US citizens planning to travel abroad, search for your destination on the US State Department website , look for travel advisories, security alerts, and detailed information about health matters, including links to vaccination requirements. Or go directly to the US Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) Destinations page for extensive health recommendations.

Additionally, maintain your safety by booking lodging  in busier and well-known areas and following the tips I recommend here  to prepare for unexpected emergencies .

If traveling to Europe, know about EITAS, a coming-soon travel permit requirement.

Also, if you plan to travel to Europe, learn about the new electronic travel authorization (ETIAS) for visiting Europe. This coming-soon authorization is not a visa. It is a travel permit. As non-EU Schengen members, US travelers must eventually apply for this new travel authorization before entering Europe.

US travelers, enroll in STEP.

For US travelers for an extra measure of security and safety, consider enrolling your trip with the US State Department as part of their Smart Traveler Enrollment Program, or STEP . Doing this will share your travel status with the US government which will allow you to receive important safety information about your destination country and help the US Embassy contact you in an emergency. Enroll here. 

Step 3: On Budgeting, Know What You Can Spend

Does your budget determine where you can go? Or does your destination determine your budget?  An essential part of your travel planning is being realistic about what you can afford . There are few better ways to ruin the effect of a top-notch vacation than to return home after it, realizing you overspent, and then having to contend with the pain of outsize credit card debt and the regret that comes with it.  Instead, book a trip to a place that meets you where your money is. Memorable travel experiences do not have to cost a fortune.

Use a budget calculator like the one I provide for free with signups to my monthly Discovery travel newsletter , shown above. Or create your own budget that includes the major expense items like transportation, lodging, activities, meals, and incidentals that cover anything from souvenirs to travel insurance to pet sitting.

Once you decide on your destination , determine if you will stay in one place or move around and make multiple stops. Will your path of travel be circular—where you end up in the original place you began so that you are flying into and out of the same airport? Or will it be linear? A linear path means you will fly to one destination and return home from another—requiring plane tickets commonly referred to in the travel industry as open jaw tickets. 

Your budget and available vacation time may dictate staying in one place. Or it will allow you to include several different stops in one trip.  Get shortcuts to quickly determine a high-level itinerary for any destination in this article .

Flights and related on-the-ground transportation costs can often be the most significant expenses of any trip.  To find the best airfare deals, compare prices across multiple airlines. Consider flexible travel dates to take advantage of cheaper fares and rates. Additionally, look to redeem frequent flier miles or sign up for travel credit cards that give you miles bonuses.

Maximize your savings by learning to find the best fare deals using Google Flights Explore and Google Flights price tracker . Or read this overview of how to track down the best airfare deals .

Step 6: Getting Around, Rental Cars & Local Transportation Options (6 Tips)

Familiarize yourself with these six transportation tips for taxis, public transit, rental cars, and safe walking routes applicable to any new destination.

Plan for how to get around.

Knowing in advance how you plan to get around your vacation spot will impact where you decide to book your lodging . If you plan to rent a car and drive, you will want vacation accommodation that provides easy vehicle access—and ideally nearby and free parking. Or, if you plan to rely on ride shares and public transportation, you may want to ensure close lodging proximity to taxi stands or train or bus stops. 

Familiarize yourself with local transportation options.

Before you arrive at your destination, familiarize yourself with the local transportation . Research different options, such as public buses, trains, ride shares, and taxis, to determine the most convenient and cost-effective ways to get around. These alternatives can be very different in international destinations. 

For example, the most recommended rideshare in Malta, which we visited for a spring break trip , was Bolt, followed by a few others I was unfamiliar with, like eCabs and Ryde.

If you learn about these things in advance, you can pre-download the apps , set up an account, and link payment methods before you arrive. Additionally, consider purchasing local transportation cards or passes, as these often offer discounted rates for multiple journeys.

Get rental car tips & gather resources.

If you plan to rent a car, review these 15 rental car tips which will save you money, reduce potential hassles, and explain how to get complimentary upgrades. Then, understand whether you need to buy rental car insurance —something that even the most experienced travelers get confused by—with this thorough overview .

When traveling internationally, research to find out if you need an international driving permit for your destination. If you do, get this permit in advance, as sometimes the paperwork may take a few weeks. Check to see if you need an international driving permit via this helpful article . 

Learn the (local) rules of the road.

For any international travelers, you will want to familiarize yourself with the local driving rules in the country you plan to drive in advance. Doing so can help you avoid unintentional penalties and minimize the chance of on-the-road incidents. 

US travelers can understand driver safety abroad by referencing this State Department page . This page provides helpful country links and outlines local driving rules—from default speed limits to signaling requirements to where to park.

Consider pre-booking an airport pickup.

Especially for international trips, if you do not feel confident about your understanding of local transportation options, make things easy for yourself upon arrival. Consider requesting your lodging to arrange a pickup for you . This reserved ride will likely be more expensive, though it will give you peace of mind that you will not get things “wrong” when you arrive.

Then, when at your destination, ask for assistance from your accommodation manager or concierge to help better explain your on-the-ground transportation options .

After an international overnight flight, our family sometimes pre-books airport taxis, as we did on a visit to Rome . When exhausted and running on empty from a long and likely sleepless flight, it is a relief to know our in-town transportation is reliably taken care of. 

Know safe walking routes.

If you plan to explore a new destination on foot, familiarize yourself with safe walking paths . Research this ahead of time. Or ask once at your accommodation. The front desk staff and management, who generally live locally, are a valuable resource for sharing the best routes, areas, and times for moving around safely.

Step 7: Choose Where to Stay (Shortcuts & Resources)

Pinpointing the right location for lodging is never easy. To figure it out fast—my first stop is to use the “ Where to stay ” button on Google Hotels , which will show neighborhood-by-neighborhood descriptions and ratings for all major destinations, allowing you to quickly zero in on the right neighborhood for you to stay in. See where to find it in the quick clip below.

Alternatively, run an AI or online search on “ best places to stay in [your destination] ” and review the results. Or, reference up-to-date travel guidebooks , which generally provide a helpful point of view on the best areas to stay. 

Additionally, since I find great lodging in top locations has an outsize positive impact on our travel experiences, I put a lot of effort into finding the best places to stay.  Get tips on how to do this for your lodging searches in this article .

Step 8: Decide, Save & Book the Things You Want to Do (4 Tips)

Now that you have the framework of your trip set, it is time for the most fun part—figuring out things you want to do once you get there.

Search for things to do online.

If your best trip experience includes seeing top attractions and activities, you will want to research the top things to do in a destination that best fits your interests. Run AI searches or look online for “things to do in [your destination].”

Travel blogs, social media, and sites like Pinterest or Reddit are helpful for this. Or read a guidebook  or visit Google Travel , searching your destination to get an idea about the top attractions and get recommendations for more things to see or do.

To determine what you want to do most, read reviews from fellow travelers to understand what to expect. Then, consider purchasing tickets or making reservations for the most popular attractions to avoid long queues and secure your spot.

Save your favorites.

My preferred way to keep track of things I want to do in a destination is to save them to a custom list in Google Maps . Doing this gives me quick access to my favorites on my mobile phone via my Google Maps app while traveling. I share why and how to create similar custom lists in this article . 

Check out the guided activity and tour options.

Another good way to round out your research for what to do in any area is by checking out tour booking sites like Viator , Get Your Guide or Airbnb Experiences . Use them to look at the top-rated experiences for your destination. You might discover a cooking class, photo tour, guided hike, history walk, and so much more—activities that could be one of the more memorable parts of your vacation.

Ask for recommendations.

Before your trip, ask your friends, family, and acquaintances for suggestions for what to do in your planned destination if they have already been there.  T hen, when your trip is here, and you finally and excitingly arrive— connect and chat with your lodging managers, taxi drivers, tour guides, servers, and any other locals you can befriend to ask for their recommendations. 

By doing this, we have learned about many things we would have missed if we did not connect with locals, like off-the-radar restaurants, event-related parades, holiday processionals, or the best spots to catch sunsets. While traveling, we value these local recommendations so highly that we often will reshape our entire plan for how we spend a day to accommodate them. 

Step 9: Focus on Food - Reserve Restaurants & Learn About Local Dishes (2 Recommendations)

Does your culinary experience matter to you on vacation? I have a food blogger and cookbook author friend who makes researching places to eat and reserving restaurants her immediate third activity after booking airfare and lodging for any trip. So, if incorporating an epicurean experience into your travel is important, include the two steps below in your pre-trip planning.

Make restaurant reservations.

Search online to get a list of top eateries in your destination. Reference Google Maps, articles, blog posts, or run AI inquiries. Or ask other travelers who have been to the area recently, as they are always happy to share their favorites. Prioritize the places you want to eat and make reservations. If you cannot do this in advance online, do not sweat it. Do it in person when you arrive. Or ask your lodging for dining recommendations and assistance with booking reservations.

Learn about the food before you go.

Although international trips provide ample opportunities for new food experiences, you do not have to go far from home to indulge in regional food specialties while on vacation. For example, on a fall getaway to Door County, Wisconsin , near our hometown of Chicago, we were sure to order cheese curds, a Badger State specialty, paired with local brews. 

Before your trip, search online for “best food to eat in [your destination]” to see what tops the list. On a spring trip to Rome , it was Jerusalem artichokes. When in Malta , it was a rabbit dish and many other unfamiliar foods.

Eating at different places and trying new dishes, drinks, and snacks can be one of the most memorable aspects of your travel. To get a head start, take a global tour from these food guide and cookbook recommendations .

Step 10: Create, Update & Finalize a Detailed Trip Itinerary (Resources)

Now that you have your transportation, lodging, activities, and possibly even your dining planned or loosely set, it is time to put it all down to paper.  Use an online app like TripIt to keep track of your bookings and day-to-day plans. Or go semi-old school like I do and put it in an Excel document . Since I have yet to find an app that functions exactly how I want, I created my own itinerary framework that includes all the elements I prefer.

I share this free framework  downloadable in four file types in this article . In it, I also link to more places to find free or affordable trip itinerary templates. 

Then, for safety purposes , share your itinerary with family and friends so they know where you will be when you are away from home.

Step 11: Plan for Emergencies & Unexpected Situations (3 Tips)

Follow these three recommendations to help you avoid or quickly recover from emergencies and unexpected situations while traveling.

Conduct practical safety prep.

Before each trip, familiarize yourself with local emergency service numbers and healthcare facilities in your planned destination. When traveling internationally—particularly to an area at risk for conflict, know where to find your local embassy or consulate.  Additionally, ensure your family and friends know where you are going and how to reach you. If you created a detailed itinerary  share it with them. Then, continue to check in throughout the trip.

Buy travel insurance.

It is an extra expense every traveler would love to skip. However, given the cost of your vacation and what is at risk—your trip budget, your health, and your property—the cost of travel insurance should be considered an essential and non-negotiable expense, especially for international trips. Read about why to get travel insurance and where to find it in this article .

My preferred resource for buying travel insurance is InsureMyTrip.com , an online travel insurance agent and search engine that I use to shop policies from different insurers, buying from the ones with the highest user ratings.

Know what to do in case of theft.

Do you have a plan for what to do in case your wallet, phone, computer, or passport is taken or goes missing? Do you know how to protect your sensitive data? Or how to quickly replace credit cards or a phone? Or get a replacement passport so you can get home?

If not, familiarize yourself with these steps in case your phone goes missing , or read this account of a traveler who had to navigate getting her phone stolen out of her hand in Cartagena, Colombia.

Then, make front-and-back print and digital copies of all IDs, passports, credit cards, and travel insurance policies, keeping copies easily accessible in case of emergency, theft, or loss. Share copies of all items with a trusted friend or family member who can quickly send them back to you if needed.

Step 12: Packing & Prepping Your Home Before Your Trip (Resources)

Taking care to pack efficiently will make your trip a more comfortable one. Before you go, research weather conditions at your destination and plan accordingly. Make a checklist of essential items, such as toiletries, medication, electronics, and travel adapters. Pack versatile clothing items that can be mixed and matched for different occasions and temperatures. And remember a travel first aid kit with essential medical supplies.

Because I bring many repeat items every time we travel, I spent a year carefully crafting, updating, and tweaking a universal and printable packing list to reuse for every trip. Using this helps me avoid “recreating the (packing) wheel” every time I leave home, which helps save time and minimizes prep. 

Access, download, and print this universal packing list , which includes a comprehensive medical kit, here . 

Additionally, since I am a fan of checklists and streamlining tasks, I created a second checklist to close the house and prep for packing—that includes to-do items like buying trip-specific gear or picking up medical prescriptions in advance to avoid last-minute scrambles. Check out the list here. 

If you are new to traveling and packing, get 25 of my best packing tips that I follow for every trip.

Step 13: Make Your Finances Accessible on Domestic & International Trips (13 Tips)

Before you go on any trip, be sure to have a plan for how to pay for all expenses, access your cash, and use your credit cards.

On domestic trips: two tips on spending and cash.

If your getaway is domestic, this step should be relatively easy, as how you spend will be similar to what you do at home. However, there are two things you may want to consider before you leave. Getting extra cash from a local no-fee ATM and ensuring you have up-to-date logins with mobile pay apps like Zelle or Venmo. 

Even in this age of high connectivity, it is still relatively easy to encounter a market vendor, fair, or pop-up snack shop that does not accept credit cards. So, you will want a cash supply handy . Doing this will help you avoid unnecessary and out-of-the-way stops at high-fee and out-of-network ATMs. Sometimes, vendors will also accept mobile payments from apps like Venmo or Zelle. 

For example, during a recent domestic trip to New Orleans, our family enjoyed listening to musicians who accepted tips via Venmo, allowing us to scan their QR code and drop some cash—in appreciation of their talent and time. So, before you leave for your trip, if you use these apps, ensure you are actively logged in and can access your accounts.

On international trips: 11 tips for spending, credit cards, cash, and safety.

Prearranging and maintaining comprehensive and secure financial access requires a few more steps when traveling internationally. Here is a list of 10 things you will want to plan for: 

1. Determine which credit card(s) you plan to use . Ideally, choose the one(s) that offers the lowest, or zero, foreign transaction fees.

2. If you use a mobile hands-free payment like Apple Pay, ensure your default credit card linked to your mobile payment account is the card with the lowest foreign transaction fees. 

3. For travelers who do not already use a hands-free payment method like Apple Pay, consider setting it up, as it is a convenient wallet-free way to pay when traveling. Keeping your wallet tucked away may also make you less of a target for potential pickpockets who tend to mark international travelers.

4. If you plan to use a credit card while traveling internationally, process your transactions in the local currency . At the point-of-sale, avoid converting the transaction to your home currency since this often translates into a less advantageous exchange rate. 

5. Know the currency exchange rate between your home and destination country before you leave home—this will help you better manage your spending and budget. Download a currency converter app like XE , to easily translate local prices to your home currency.

6. Plan to take out the local country currency from an ATM when you arrive. Some travelers prefer to pre-buy foreign currency at their local hometown bank before they leave for their trip. However, we are always comfortable doing this at the airport upon arrival.

Know which local ATMs offer the lowest fees for international visitors for cash withdrawals and which charge the highest—and should be avoided. Visit traveler forums and social media groups , or read guidebooks  to learn this information.

7. Bring back up cash in your own currency , which you can exchange in an emergency. Include small bills if you can. You can often use these in a pinch for tips and when you run short on small denominations of local cash. However, local currency—depending on the country—is generally preferred.

8. Remove all unnecessary credit , identity, membership, and banking cards from your wallet that you do not plan to use while traveling and store them safely at home. Doing this is preventative in case of wallet loss or theft. Keeping so many cards at home means you will have fewer to cancel or replace.

9. Make copies of both sides of your banking and credit cards . Keep print or digital copies accessible. For a backup— share them with a friend or family member who will be staying home and can send them to you in the event of loss or theft. 

10. Have a plan for keeping your wallet and valuables safe while on your trip. Assume on an international trip, you may be a target for pickpockets. Make it difficult for would-be thieves by using secure carrying bags and backpacks with zippered pockets.

Practice never leaving your personal items unattended or on the back of chairs. If you need to set a bag down, wrap a strap securely around a leg or arm. Also, ensure all openings are fully zipped and face inward toward your body. Depending on your destination, consider sewing hidden interior pockets to pants or using money belts under clothes to keep cash and IDs secure.

Another helpful step you can take includes being aware of your surroundings and avoiding being distracted in public by your phone while traveling. It is relatively easy for a cyclist or motorcycle rider to whip by and grab an unlocked phone from unsuspecting hands.

11. Finally, before you go, move ample cash into your checking or ATM-linked account to fund your trip and to fully process automatic bill withdrawals to eliminate the possibility of overdrafts or other unpleasant financial surprises that could happen while you are away. If you do not have auto bill payments set up, pre-pay all upcoming bills before you leave.

Note: Many credit cards and banks no longer require you to alert them when you plan to leave the country as they track trip-related purchases like plane tickets, taxis, and hotel bookings. 

However, check with your banking and credit card companies before you go to understand their travel recommendations and to avoid possible suspicious-activity freezes on your accounts.

This step is easy for domestic journeys, as depending on your data plan, you can ideally use your mobile phone to text and call to stay in touch like you would at home.  However, constant connectivity gets more complicated for international trips. When traveling abroad, you want to determine how you plan to use your mobile phone .

Will you stay off-network and use it only when connected to Wi-Fi? Or pay a daily network international roaming fee—up to a pricey $10 per day with networks like Verizon? Or, instead, buy a data plan from a local network using e-sim technology?

Does this feel complicated? Even to me, a regular international traveler, and others—it does also. Based on your budget and connectivity needs, you will want to figure out which way of staying connected is right for you. To decide, price out international plans from your mobile carrier and then learn more about going the eSIM route with info in this helpful article .

Once you know how you plan to stay in touch, download apps you anticipate you may need to use. When traveling internationally, this may include downloading What’sApp , a global messaging app and voice-over-IP service heavily used outside of the United States.  When abroad, I frequently use this app to communicate with lodging contacts and tour guides and to confirm reservations.

Additionally, be sure to have all lodging or tour booking apps downloaded and updated on your phone. You will want to access the messaging functionality within apps like Airbnb, Booking.com, or other hotel apps, which you may need to use to send and receive communications. 

Hands-down, thorough travel research is the key to a stress-free adventure. By taking time to gather destination information so you can make informed planning decisions, you can ensure a smooth and memory-making journey. 

From researching your destination and finding the best deals to understanding local customs and preparing essential travel documents, each step plays a vital role in creating your best travel experience.

So, before you embark on your next adventure, check off the items on this ultimate travel research checklist. With research and planning complete, you can explore the world with confidence and peace of mind. The more you know, the better prepared you will be for any unexpected challenges or opportunities that come your way. Happy travels!

Related Reading

If you are searching for more travel planning assistance to help you save time and money and to stay organized, check out the related articles below.

  • Google for Travel: Plan Better with These 8 Tools
  • Why You Will Love Google Maps for Trip Planning
  • Travel Better: How to Best Use Google Flights Explore
  • How to Save Time & Money with Google Flights Price Tracker
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Additional Trip Planning Resources

To further help you with travel planning, I share my go-to resources for every trip below. 

Google Flights. My first research stop for affordable flights for every trip. Learn why here . 

Google Hotels . Use its “ Where to stay ” button to discover the best neighborhoods to base your visit.

Booking.com. For hotel and rental bookings, I appreciate its flexible cancellation, candid user reviews, discounts, loyalty program, and easy-to-use interface.

Viator , Get Your Guide , & Airbnb Experiences . Quickly find and book highly-rated tours and activities on these sites.

Google Travel Things to Do & Google Maps . Find more things to do in your destination on Google Travel, then record where you want to visit on a custom Google Maps list. 

AllTrails . Love to hike? Me too. I religiously use AllTrails to discover hiking and biking trails and download its offline maps to manage my hikes.

Guide Along . 5-star self-guided audio tours that are GPS-compatible for US road trips and national parks. We loved the Glacier National Park tour .

Insure My Trip. I never travel internationally without trip insurance. Learn why here . My preferred place to shop and compare policies is InsureMyTrip.com . 

Plus, check out the 15 travel apps I use on trips, my preferred guidebooks , and my free customizable travel itinerary template , downloadable in four file formats.

Janice Moskoff in front of doorway in Valletta, Malta. (Credit: Danielle Cassar)

About the author:  Janice Moskoff is a travel writer and blogger who loves hiking, exploring the world, and reading. She writes to inspire travel-loving families, adult friends, and couples on her blog,  Gather and Go Travel . Check out  her bio , learn how she became  a blogger , and discover how to  work with her . Sign up for her monthly  Discovery Newsletter  to get her latest travel recommendations and  how-to’s .

Love to travel? Sign up for m y monthly Gather & Go Travel Discovery Newsletter and get a free trip budget calculator .

Affiliate Disclosure: Some of the links on this page may be affiliate links, and at no additional cost to you, I earn a commission if you make a purchase. I only recommend products and companies I use. And the income goes to keeping the site community-supported and ads minimal.

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Travel Guides · January 2, 2019

How to Plan a Trip: A Guide for Beginners

How to Plan a Trip: A Guide for Beginners

Wondering how to plan a trip, and not sure where to start? You’re not alone!

For experienced travelers, booking flights and throwing together an itinerary is second nature. But I remember the first time I planned a trip all on my own, I was kiiiiind of a nervous wreck.

Sure, I was excited as hell for my first independent travel experience. But I had ZERO clue how to efficiently create an itinerary, search for flights, find places to stay, or figure out transportation. Needless to say, I second-guessed myself at every turn.

But, not anymore! All these years later, and I’m something of a trip-planning pro (…I did have a brief stint as a travel agent back in 2016, after all!)

I receive dozens and dozens of emails and messages from soon-to-be travelers, and I thought it would helpful to create a detailed guide for anxious first timers (or even experienced travelers who happen to love checklists and helpful tidbits – I like them too).

I crammed as much knowledge and as many resources as possible into this “How to Plan a Trip” guide. I hope you’ll find it helpful, but as always, drop any questions in the comments section and I’ll do my best to answer them!

(Short on time? You can find a condensed list of my favorite travel resources here .)

1. Pick a Destination

Researching and choosing a travel destination is by far one of the most exciting parts of planning a trip.

At this point in time, the whole world is your oyster. You can go anywhere, and do anything!

Then again, the world is a pretty damn big places, so it’s good to have a strategy for narrowing down your options.

plan a trip yourself

Here are some methods for picking a travel destination:

  • Seek inspiration. One of my favorite resources for finding travel inspiration is The Travel Book by Lonely Planet . It features brief overviews of EVERY SINGLE COUNTRY in the world along with some seriously stunning photos. I’ve wasted away many hours flipping through this book! I also like browsing Pinterest  and Reddit  for travel photos and itineraries. And of course I follow many travel bloggers on Instagram and Bloglovin ‘!
  • Choose the destination that’s cheapest to fly to.  Open to going anywhere in the world? Save yourself some serious money by simply booking the least expensive flight you can find! Sign up for a service like Scott’s Cheap Flights , which sends you airfare deals from your local airports. You can also use the Explore tool on Kayak to shop around for cheap flights to anywhere.
  • Build a bucket list. Sometimes when I’m browsing online and stumble across a new destination or interesting attraction, I’ll jot it down in the notes section of my iPhone. I keep a “local” bucket list (filled with all sorts of destinations near where I live in California) as well as a global bucket list. It can be easy to forget what originally caught your eye about a city or country, so having some notes handy when it comes time to book a trip can help with your decision.

Pssst – I own all 3 of these coffee table books, and they’re amazing for finding travel inspiration!

2. decide how long your trip should be.

Four days? A week? Two weeks? A month?

There’s no right or wrong answers when it comes to the length or your trip, but typically this decision will come down to a few factors:

  • Vacation time. How much of it do you have? How much of it do you want to spend on this trip?
  • Travel time to the destination. In general, the further away you’re traveling, the longer your trip should be. If your destination is only a three-hour flight away, you can definitely spend just a few days there and get your money’s worth. If you’re spending 20 hours on a plane, however, you’ll likely want a full week (better yet, two) at the minimum in order for the travel time to be worth it.
  • Time needed to enjoy the destination. Countries come in all sizes, and the time needed to “properly” explore China vs. Costa Rica (for example) would be drastically different. It’s true that you’ll likely never see everything a country has to offer, no matter how much time you have. But if you’re visiting a large destination, or one that really fascinates you on a deep level, it’s smart to budget more time.
  • Monetary budget.  Generally speaking, the longer your trip, the more you’ll spend. Which brings us to…

3. Set Your Budget

Some people may prefer to set their budget earlier in the process; for example, even before deciding on the destination or length of trip. And this probably makes sense if you’re on a very strict or limited budget.

For example, if you know that you absolutely cannot spend more than $1,000 total, then it’s smart to make that decision first, and then look for destinations that fit into your budget (either because they have a low cost of living, or because they’re cheap to fly to).

But personally, I tend to already have a dream destination in mind, and then  build my budget around the airfare and average destination costs .

plan a trip yourself

For example, if I’ve picked Mexico (which is a short flight away, as well as a relatively cheap destination) I will set a much lower budget than if I had picked Germany, which costs more money to fly to, on top of being a more expensive country.

Again, if you know that you have a limited budget, it makes sense to rule out unaffordable destinations right off the bat. But if you have a bit of wiggle room, it makes sense to be flexible in your budgeting based on the location.

But how do you actually set your travel budget?

Essentially, you just figure out how much you’re able to comfortably spend, and then force your expenses to fit into that budget. Easy, right?

It can be helpful to think in terms of dollars per day; for instance, if you have $2,000 available to spend (not including flight costs) and want to travel for 10 days, you know that you can spend $200 per day on accommodations + food + activities, etc.

Having this estimate handy can help you make decisions about hotels and activities later in the planning process.

4. Start Researching Flights & Dates

Super important rule: flights should ALWAYS be the first thing you book. 

Airline prices and availability are much more volatile than hotel or activity prices and availability.

If you a book a flight, and then discover that the hotel room you liked is no longer available, there’s still a good chance you can find someplace to stay that will meet your needs and fall within your budget.

But what if you already booked your hotels, only to find that the flight you were looking at has doubled in price? Or is no longer available at all? Or is significantly cheaper the day before or after you had planned to start your trip?

You’ll also need to know your arrival and departure schedule in order to build your itinerary.

For instance, factors such as whether your flight arrives in the morning or evening may determine how much time you spend in your arrival city before moving on to the next destination.

plan a trip yourself

Here are some variables to consider while researching dates and flight routes:

  • When can you comfortably take time away from work or school?
  • What season do you want to travel in? What will the weather be like in your destination at that time?
  • Do you want to travel during high season (typically the best weather, but most expensive prices) or low season (fewer tourists and lower costs, but may have poor weather or other inconveniences)?

I personally like using Kayak to search for flights, but I always book directly with the airline. Why? If something happens (like a delay, cancellation, or missed flight) third party vendors will be less equipped to help you than the actual airline.

Once you’ve locked down your dates and identified a flight you’re happy with, I still recommend creating a rough itinerary before actually booking your flights. Which brings us to…

5. Create Your Itinerary

At this stage, I like to make a list of all potential cities, sights, and activities within my destination that interest me. A Word document or the notes section on your phone is a good place to make this list. I’ve even used PowerPoint if I want to include images in my notes.

…this list is usually WAY too long.

If you have a week to explore a country, you’re not going to fit visits to 5 different cities in. You’re just not! Narrow down your list to the 2 cities that interest you the most.

If your trip is longer, scale up the number of destinations accordingly; for instance, in 2 weeks you could reasonably visit 4 (or possibly 5) cities.

Some personal rules of thumb:

  • 2 days per city at an absolute minimum
  • For major cities (like Paris), double that number
  • 3 days is my sweet spot for most mid-sized cities
  • Avoid single-night stays…even for small towns. It’s just too much of a hassle with checking in and out of hotels; no time to actually relax!

plan a trip yourself

Factors to help you narrow down your list and choose which cities to visit:

  • Travel accessibility and time between cities (if one city is a 9-hour bus ride away, and another city is a 1-hour shuttle ride, I’d almost always pick the second city)
  • Things to do in each city; what interests you the most?
  • Accommodation availability in each city

And here’s something most guide books probably won’t tell you: there is no such thing as a must-see city or attraction.

Seriously! It’s all relative.

If your dream is to bicycle around the French countryside exploring small villages and tasting local wines, and the thought of walking through city streets and touring art museums sounds like hell, why would you spend any of your precious time in Paris during your week in France?

I know, it sounds like a sin to skip a city as great as Paris…but honestly, I believe it’s worse to skip those destinations that set your imagination on fire and fill you with excitement, in favor of someone else’s “must see.”

plan a trip yourself

I don’t believe in skipping touristic sights just for the sake of going off the beaten path (truthfully, popular sights are usually popular for a good reason) but if they truly don’t speak to you, follow your heart.

…Sorry, that was a bit of tangent! But here’s where I’m going with that: I know it’s hard fitting everything you want to see into your itinerary. For me, it’s usually more than hard – it’s impossible!

My advice: Accept the fact that you can’t see it all, choose the places that excite you or interest you the most, and trust that you’ll have such an amazing time visiting those places, that you won’t even think about the places you had to cut.

It’s the truth, I promise.

6. Start Booking!

Once you’ve settled on an itinerary you’re happy with, it’s time to lock it all into place by finally booking your flights, accommodations, activities, and any other transportation.

Book Your Flights

Boom! Done.

This is always a super exciting moment for me, because no matter what happens next…there’s no turning back now, you’re going on your trip!

Book Your Accommodation

After securing flights, accommodation is always the next thing I book.

Where to Stay in San Miguel de Allende

More often than not, I end up booking a place to stay via Airbnb . I find that you can get some really amazing value from Airbnb, for the same cost or lower than what you’d find at a hotel. A lot of the homes I’ve rented have amazing views or amenities, and are usually in great locations.

(Psst – get $40 off your first Airbnb stay!)

When I’m not staying in an Airbnb, I like to search for hotel rooms on Booking.com .

Not only is it a useful search engine for finding available rooms, you can also view photos, read user reviews, and see ratings of features like location, cleanliness, and overall value.

Unlike with flights (which I prefer to book direct with the airlines), I’m happy to book hotels through third party vendors like Booking . You can sometimes find better deals than what you’ll see on the hotel website, such as free breakfast or flexible booking.

That said, I always recommend shopping around to see where you can find the lowest price!

When I’m traveling on a budget, HostelWorld is my go-to source for finding dorm rooms, or even private rooms in hostels.

If you’ve never stayed in a hostel before, my advice is this: don’t knock it ’til you’ve tried it! They can be great for traveling cheaply and meeting likeminded travelers.

Whichever service I’m using to book my accommodation, these are a few things I always look for:

  • Location, location, location. No matter how stunning or unique a hotel is, it’s hard to pass up accommodation that’s perfectly located. You can save so much time and stress by picking someplace that’s walking distance to the city center, major sights, good food and nightlife, etc.
  • Character/charm. Why book a cookie cutter room when there are so many quirky hostels, boutique hotels, family-owned guesthouses, or beautifully decorated Airbnbs to choose from?
  • Views. Not a must-have, but I take ’em where I can get ’em!

Plan/Book Other Transportation

How will you travel between the various cities you’re visiting? How about any day trips or excursions?

Booking transportation may not be something you need to do in advance, but it is something you should definitely research and plan for.

  • If you’re renting a car, I highly recommend reserving in advance.
  • If you’re traveling by train, it may depend on the destination whether or not you need to book in advance. Look up train schedules to see how frequently they depart for your destination, and browse forums like Reddit or TripAdvisor to see what other travelers say about booking in advance vs. after you’ve arrived.
  • If you’re traveling by bus, you most likely don’t need to book before you arrive…but again, it doesn’t hurt to double check.

Plan/Book Activities

This part is always a lot of fun!

Much like you did while selecting which cities to visit, I recommend compiling a big master list of all the possible activities and sights you’re interested in: walking tours, day trips, museums, architectural or historic sites, food tours, bar crawls, hikes, snorkeling, etc.

Tulum Travel Guide

Here’s where I like to search for things to do and see while traveling:

  • Travel blogs (like this one 😉 )
  • TripAdvisor
  • Rough Guides  (I love their “Things Not to Miss” sections)
  • Lonely Planet

Once you have a good idea of your possible options, go back to your list and narrow down your choices to your personal “must do’s.” When deciding which activities to cut, consider factors like length of time, cost, location, and – most importantly – how much each attraction or activity interests you.

Here’s another tip: you don’t need a minute-by-minute itinerary for every single day of your trip.

Everyone has different travel styles; some prefer to leave their plans wide open and make decisions on the fly, while others like to plan and pre-book as much as possible.

Either way, I recommend leaving some amount of wiggle room in your daily itineraries.

My personal preference is to 1) make a list of all the activities, attractions, and restaurants I definitely want to try, and then 2) loosely “assign” them to various days. This tactic allows me to ensure that I can fit everything I want into my schedule, while still keeping it flexible.

Remember: travel should be fun! Don’t force yourself into anything just because it was originally on your itinerary; if you’re not feeling it anymore once you’re in the destination, or you think you’d rather experience it on another day, it’s no biggie!

7. Make a Detailed Arrival Plan

Arriving for the first time in a foreign country always leaves me with butterflies in my stomach…and not just the good kind of butterflies.

What if I get lost? What if I get scammed? What if, what if…

These are all perfectly normal thoughts, but making a detailed arrival plan can help alleviate some of these anxieties.

Plan for factors such as:

  • What’s the best way to get to your hotel/hostel/Airbnb? How much should it cost? How should you deal with taxi drivers who try to overcharge you? (Tip: refuse to accept a ride unless they turn the meter on)
  • Where/how will you acquire the local currency? (An airport ATM is usually a good option)

I also like to screenshot the name and address of my hotel (in the local language if possible) as well as my booking confirmations. That way if there’s an issue with connecting to WiFi, I still have everything I need to get checked into my room, which is the most important thing on Day One.

8. Plan for These Not-Very-Fun-But- Super -Important Steps

Visas – Do you need a visa to visit your destination? For Americans visiting most countries, the answer will usually be no. But it’s always smart to double check visa requirements , as well as passport validity requirements (note: most countries will require your passport to be valid for at least six months after your return date ).

Vaccines – On the CDC website , there is a section where travelers can input their destination and find recommended vaccinations, as well as health risks.

Travel Insurance – You should never travel without proper travel insurance! We would all like to assume the worst will never happen to us while traveling abroad…but the truth is, none of us can plan for these things.

If you’re seriously injured or become sick abroad, having insurance can make a world of difference to ensuring you get the care you need. Especially when it comes to major illnesses and emergencies! World Nomads is a favorite among experienced travelers; you can pop your travel details into the tool below to see a pricing estimate:

Tell Your Credit Card Companies Your Travel Plans  – Typically, if your bank sees a sudden influx of charges on your credit card coming from a foreign country, what are they going to do…? Flag the charges as potentially fraudulent and freeze your card, perhaps?

This would be considered great service most of the time, but could become a nightmare situation for someone traveling abroad. ALWAYS let your bank know about your travel plans; almost all banks allow you to input this information online nowadays. If not, just give them a call.

9. Have the Time of Your Life!

Planning a trip definitely takes work, but it’s one of those things that gets easier and far less stress-inducing the more you do it. And hey, the effort definitely pays off – you’re going to have a blast!

Enjoy your trip – eat all the food, see all the sights, soak in all the culture, and take all the photos. Happy travels!

Discovering Gorgeous Guanajuato

Are you in the process of planning a trip to somewhere amazing? What questions do you still have about how to plan a trip? I can do my best to answer them in the comments!

Note: This post contains several affiliate links. If you make a purchase using one of these links, I will earn a small commission at no additional cost to you. My affiliate income helps offset the cost of running this blog, and allows me to keep this site free of ads and sponsored posts. So, thank you!! 

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January 5, 2019 at 6:28 am

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January 6, 2019 at 4:01 pm

Thanks Emily! I like to provide basic but essential tips like these every now and then!

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January 6, 2019 at 7:08 am

January 6, 2019 at 4:03 pm

Haha, I definitely plan trips that I have no intention of taking in the near future, too! And that’s awesome – it’s good to try out different styles of travel and see how you like them. I definitely think there’s a time for both quick and slow travel, but usually do skew towards the slower side. Let me know how you like it 🙂

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January 14, 2019 at 9:23 pm

This is such a good read, very detailed that’s why it is more understandable. Great tips too. Thank you for sharing!

January 16, 2019 at 7:08 pm

Thank you so much, Hannah!

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February 8, 2020 at 1:45 am

March 10, 2020 at 8:48 am

Totally agree!

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April 25, 2021 at 10:31 pm

As you mentioned, I also have zero clues on how I can plan my own wellness travel. It has been a really hard year for me and I feel like I deserve to rest. However, to enjoy good itineraries and follow a smooth schedule, I think I might have to turn to experienced travel planners to organize it for me.

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How to Plan a Trip for Beginners (5 Easy Steps)

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Planning a trip can seem overwhelming to beginners, but I promise you that it’s simple. You only need to do a few things to plan a trip…and a great trip at that!

Keeping things simple will help you keep the nerves at bay and make your overall experience more smooth.

There’s no need to overthink your travel plans. You don’t need to follow an 11- or 18-step plan to learn how to plan a trip.

overhead view of a couple using a paper map to plan a trip

So if you want to easily plan a trip without any drama, just keep reading!

To get started planning your trip, grab your FREE printable travel planner here.

This post includes affiliate links. If you make a purchase through one of these links, I may earn a small commission at no additional cost to you. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.  See disclaimer.

#1. Choose your trip destination

First, you need to decide on where you want to go…which can sometimes be a difficult task since there are thousands of travel destinations all over the world.

Keep in mind that certain destinations will require a little (or a lot!) more research or pre-travel prep than other destinations (such as visa or vaccination requirements). They make for more complicated travel planning.

If you’re planning your first trip, I highly recommend that you keep your first destination simple. You can always make more complicated plans for your next trip.

Consider trying:

  • A domestic trip
  • A destination just a few hours’ drive from your home
  • A simple weekend getaway

When choosing a destination , cost is often going to be a major factor. You can choose your destination and then set your travel budget or choose your destination based on a travel budget you’ve already set.

Either option is a viable choice.

We tend to start planning trips up to two years out and we’ll set our budget based on where we want to go and how much time we have to save up the money we think we’ll need.

This leads me to one of my favorite travel tips (which also doubles as a personal finance tip: do not go into debt to travel. Only spend the money that you have.

For more help with budget travel, see my article outlining all my best practical tips for affording more travel .

For more help with building your travel budget, check out this post on creating a travel budget that works for you . It includes basic guidance for how much of your travel budget to allot for certain expenses such as transportation, accommodations, food, activities, etc.

Or sometimes we find we have some extra time and money and we’ll choose our trip destination and trip length based on the money we have available.

For help with choosing your travel destination, you can:

  • Brainstorm a list of places you’ve always wanted to visit. Inviting your travel companion(s) to give their input is a great way to get them involved in the planning process.
  • Check out Pinterest for inspiration
  • Read your favorite travel blogs (hint hint)
  • Ask friends and family about their favorite trips
  • Do Google searches for ideas such as “Affordable beach vacations in the U.S.” or “best family vacation destinations in Europe.”
  • Consult with travel guidebooks

Once you’ve chosen your destination for your perfect trip, you’re ready to get on with planning your trip.

mockup image of a free printable travel planner

#2. Decide how you want to get there

Once you’ve chosen your travel destination, you’ll need to make arrangements for getting there.

Now, sometimes there will be only one obvious transportation option for your destination. But sometimes there are non-obvious options such as taking a cruise to Hawaii instead of flying or traveling by bus or train.

If you live in the “lower 48” in the U.S., more often than not you’ll be flying or driving to your destination. We generally prefer to stick closer to home and drive for short trips. For a long trip, we’re always willing to fly.

Google Flights

My go-to site when I start my trip planning is Google Flights .

Use the “Explore” tool to browse for great deals from your chosen departure airport. You’ll get the best results if your travel dates are flexible…though this can be said of any cheap flight tool. 

See my post on how to use Google Flights for more information.

Formerly Scott’s Cheap Flights,  Going  is a flight deals subscription service that sends travel deals straight to your email inbox. And Premium members get weekend getaway deals in addition to amazing deals on international and domestic flights.

In my opinion, a  Going Premium subscription  is well worth the money and is the best way to get the best deals on flights especially if you have flexible travel dates and want to see a new place. I especially highly recommend Going for international travel (from the U.S.).

You can even try it for free for two weeks to decide if you think it’s worth the money.

For more about this service, see my full  review of Going .

Secret Flying

Another great resource for finding amazing deals on flights (including error fares) is Secret Flying . Secret Flying is totally free.

You sign up for alerts on their website , but they don’t offer alerts from any airport you want in the U.S. But they do offer alerts from airports outside the United States, unlike Going

Another tool in my trip-planning arsenal is the Hopper app . Hopper predicts prices to help you decide whether you should book now or wait for a better deal to come along. I like to use Hopper when my travel dates aren’t as flexible, but I have time to wait for prices to improve before I book.

For more details about all the options for pricing flights, see my full post on how to save money on flights .

woman sleeping in an airplane window seat

I love driving to our travel destinations whenever we can. No airport security. No worrying about missing connections, etc.

I also love that I can be a lot less fussy about my packing. If it fits in the car, it can go.

Not to further complicate things, but you might also want to fly to your first destination and then road trip from there to see a few cities. This does make travel planning more complicated, but if you opt to do that you’ll want to look into renting a car.

A less complicated option is to choose one destination to serve as your “home base” and then day trip from that one location to see more of the area.

AutoSlash Find a great deal on rental cars with  AutoSlash . You can also use AutoSlash to track your rental, and they’ll notify you of price drops. 

Costco Travel If you have a Costco membership, you can also find great deals on rental cars through Costco Travel . I always check both.

I used to always get the best deal through AutoSlash, but lately, Costco has been offering me the best price.

Employee or association discounts Check with your employer or your alma mater’s alumni association to see if they offer any rental car discounts you can take advantage of.

For more help with your road trip, check out:

  • Things to do on a long road trip to pass the time
  • Great road trip questions to spark fun conversation
  • Entertaining road trip trivia & questions

Romantic couple is standing near green retro car on the beach.

#3. Figure out where to stay

Now that you know where you’re going and how to get there, you can decide where you’re going to stay once you’re there.

Unless you want to travel on a shoestring, you can bypass the typical “gap year” options like hostels and couchsurfing.

Your main options then will be to stay in a hotel (or resort, inn, or bed & breakfast) or use a vacation rental through a platform like Vrbo or Airbnb.

The choice of staying at a hotel, inn, or resort will depend a lot on how you like to vacation and what you’re looking for as far as amenities.

Those who travel regularly might choose a major hotel brand to frequent so that they can earn points for their stays and loyalty status for access to more amenities and upgrades.

View of The Inn on Biltmore Estate in winter

Vacation rental

Using a vacation rental can often (but not always) save you money.

Keep in mind when looking at options on Vrbo or Airbnb that the added fees can be significant, meaning that at some destinations or for shorter stays a hotel might cost you less money per night.

And there are plenty of affordable hotels that offer helpful amenities like free breakfast.

On the other hand, your vacation rental will typically come with a full kitchen, allowing you to bypass eating meals out at restaurants if you wish, which can also mean significant savings in your travel budget.

Vacation rentals are also a great option if you’re traveling with a large group that would require multiple hotel rooms. Dividing the cost of a larger vacation rental home with several bedrooms will very often save money over booking multiple hotel rooms.

There are websites (like booking.com ) that allow you to look for a wide variety of accommodation options at the same time: hotels, inns, B&Bs, condo rentals, homestays, etc); however, a downside with using a site such as booking.com is that choices can be overwhelming, making it difficult to make a decision.

My recommendation for new or anxious travelers who are having difficulty choosing a place to stay is to:

  • Use a map to choose an area or two in your destination where you would like to stay
  • Set your budget
  • Do a little research to find 3 or 4 accommodation options in a location you like and that are within your budget then stop searching there
  • Compare the amenities of those options and book

#4. Choose what you want to do

Now that you’ve settled on where you’re staying at your destination, you need to make some decisions about what you want to do on your trip.

What do you enjoy doing when you travel?

  • Popular tourist attractions
  • Theme parks
  • Guided behind-the-scenes tours
  • Walking tours
  • Arts performances
  • Outdoor activities
  • Historical sites
  • Natural sites
  • National parks
  • Scenic drives

There are so many options!

Large fountain at the gardens in Versailles

Depending on your destination this may require a fair amount of research and pre-booking tickets or tours. Or it could be as simple as just brainstorming a few ideas for things to do if you get bored.

Here are a few tips for building out your itinerary:

  • Be honest with yourself about what your “must-do” attractions and activities are. Prioritize the most important thing early in your itinerary then add in any lower priority items.
  • Don’t overbook your itinerary. Make sure to give yourself some breathing room between activities to account for travel delays, rescheduling for bad weather, etc.
  • For longer trips, give yourself half a day or a full day with no pre-booked activities so you can get some extra rest, go back to a spot you enjoyed, or accommodate any extra sites/activities you discover at your destination.

See my post on planning a travel itinerary to learn about the exact process I follow when I plan my trips.

#5. Build your packing list

With your itinerary built, it’s time to figure out what you want to take with you on your trip.

Your packing list will be a reflection of your destination, the season/weather during the time of year you’re traveling, and your planned activities among other things.

And don’t forget to pack your important documents such as your passport, etc.

Here’s more help to get you packed and out the door:

  • Travel Light Packing List for a Week (in a Carry-on)
  • The Best Carry-on Packing Tips for Traveling Light
  • How to Pack Toiletries in a Carry-on Bag
  • Weekend Packing List (For Any Kind of Getaway)

top view of a carry-on bag packed for a week

Other things to consider before you travel

While we just went through all the major steps you need to take to plan your trip, depending upon your destination and personal life situation there may be other things you may need to take care of before you leave town.

Visa, travel advisories

If you are traveling out of the country, you must understand what the entry or visa requirements (if any) are for your destination.

Don’t be like the honeymooning bride who didn’t know that her passport needed to be valid for three months beyond her planned date of departure from France at the end of her trip. It would have taken her literally two minutes to find that information and avoid the heartbreak of not being able to take her honeymoon. 

You’ll also want to be aware of any travel advisories or health requirements/recommendations. U.S. citizens traveling internationally should check the U.S. Department of State website for helpful information.

Travel insurance

When you travel, it’s a good idea to purchase travel insurance in case something goes wrong.

We use World Nomads for peace of mind whenever we travel internationally.

Miscellaneous considerations

Other things you may need to think about as you plan your trip could include:

  • Arranging care for pets
  • Arranging for your mail to be picked up or held
  • Making sure that you don’t miss any bill due dates while you travel

Final thoughts on planning a trip

Traveling for the first time or planning a trip yourself for the first time can seem scary, but it’s actually a pretty simple process.

Certainly, some kinds of trips are more complicated than others or destinations that require more advanced prep before you visit, but beginners and anxious travelers can still plan wonderful trips on their own.

Just remember that you only need a few things to have a great trip: a destination, a way to get there, some place to stay, and things to do.

More articles to help you plan a trip

  • Essential travel planning resources
  • The best travel guides (books and online resources)
  • Find the best personal item bag for you
  • Checklist of the last-minute things to do before you leave for your trip

Pin this post!  

How to plan a trip. Planning a trip for beginners.

Darcy Vierow is a busy professional and travel planning expert with years of experience maximizing travel with limited time and on a less-than-average salary. Her tips have been published by Forbes, MSN.com, Yahoo! News, Yahoo! Finance, Aol, Newsbreak and GOBankingRates. Read more about Darcy Vierow .

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TheTravelDeck

HOW TO PLAN A TRIP – 10 STEP TRAVEL PLANNER GUIDE

travel planning tools laptop, map, notepad & pen

Planning a trip, whether overseas or not, is an exciting part of travel. As exciting as it may be, creating a travel plan can, however, be a source of stress and anxiety.

Well yeah, dreaming about your destination and all the things you’ll do, is exciting. 

But once you start putting down all those ideas and adventures that you’ve been dreaming about and try creating an organized travel plan, you realize, there is a load more work to planning than you had imagined.

The truth is, planning a trip doesn’t have to be the cause of so much frustration or overwhelm. 

After all, you are planning what should be an enjoyable and relaxing vacation.

Over the years of planning many many trips (including a full 12 months of travel), we have crafted a great method to plan travel.

And in this article, we are laying out everything you need to know and showing you exactly how to plan travel in 10 practical and easy steps.

Along the way, we will show you how to break down travel planning into easy-to-follow steps that cover everything you will ever need to know. So you can be sure not to forget anything when you create a travel plan.

Ok then, let me not continue rambling because we’re going to dive right in. Get ready to take notes cause this is a long guide. You may even want to save the link to this article in a note or share it on Pinterest for future reference.

Travel has changed from what it once was. Please follow the latest news and follow local regulations in your chosen destination. Doing so will ensure you get the most out of your trip and keep yourself and others safe while enjoying your trip.

HERE IS A SUMMARY OF WHAT WE WILL GO THROUGH

STEP 1. HOW TO AFFORD TRAVEL

Step 2. type of trip / purpose, step 4. pick a destination, step 5. research things to do, step 6. find your vacation stay, step 7. research flights, step 8. map your trip, step 9. logistics, step 10. start packing.

Whenever we get into a conversation with friends and talk about travel, everyone is baffled when we talk about our one, two, three-month, and even 1-year trips.

Obviously, people are perplexed by these things because of the huge misconception that traveling is super expensive.

We don’t afford to travel because we’re rich or something. But because we prioritize travel over many other things.

So while our friends dine out in fancy restaurants, go for drinks every week, buy the latest iPhone and spend a ton of money on weekend breaks in some local 5-star hotel, we do none of that.

There are many ways that will make traveling much more affordable. And in this section, we will explain exactly how we manage to afford to travel.

Oh yes, setting a budget, and actually sticking to that budget. Many seem to forget how important it is to stick to a financial plan while traveling.

Take a good look at your financial situation and set an amount of money to spend that you’re comfortable with.

Your travel budget should reflect your financial situation.

Having a budget set in place before you start planning a trip will determine which destinations you should be looking into, what type of accommodation and restaurants to consider. And what are those activities that you can realistically afford.

A budget is the foundation of a solid travel plan.

START SAVING

If you have the time before you travel, it would be a good idea to start saving up in advance.

Before you go, make some sacrifices. Take on an extra shift or put some extra hours into your own business. Keep dates of your upcoming trip clearly written on a calendar or a picture that reminds you of your destination and use them as motivation.

Cut down on extra expenses that you can easily get by without.

Instead of buying coffee from expensive cafes for your daily commute, use the free office coffee.

Instead of buying your lunch, prepare a healthier meal at home to take with you.

Instead of paying monthly subscriptions for services that you rarely use, keep only those that offer some true value.

These costs may seem relatively insignificant. But the truth is, cutting down on those small expenses, day after day, all add up. You could easily be saving $100 every week. That’s around $5000 a year, or enough for 2 or 3 decent trips.

Ask yourself “what is this trip all about?”

Having a clear idea of what is the purpose of the trip will determine a lot of the things we’ll get into in this travel planning guide.

Is it a two-week relaxing family vacation that you’re planning? Maybe you’re planning a fun holiday with a group of friends? Or a big adventurous solo trip with no clear end date?

Asking yourself these questions will influence a lot of the planning process.

TRAVEL AS A GROUP / FAMILY

If you’re planning a group trip (family, friends, as couples) you should always get input from everyone involved.

Not everyone has the same tastes in things they’ll want to do and places to stay. Nor will everyone have the same travel budget. So you need to lay out a clear travel plan that meets everyone’s expectations.

Also, think about the fact you’ll be spending a lot of time with those people. Often, even people that you know really well are completely different when you spend enough time with them.

When you’re spending a lot of time with the same people, it’s inevitable that some friction will arise at some point. Maybe somebody doesn’t like part of the plan or they didn’t like the hotel you booked. These things happen [unless you travel solo].

Therefore, my suggestion is to avoid planning every single thing together. Like, ask the others to plan certain days for themselves just in case things don’t work out. If everything is good you can always join in. These things are very common between couples (2 or more couples), especially if only the men are friends and the girls barely know one another or the other way around.

STEP 3. TRIP DURATION

The trip duration will determine a lot of the destinations you can realistically visit within your allocated time.

For example, if you’re planning a 1-month trip a 12-hour flight isn’t going to be such a big deal. But would that 12-hour flight make sense for a 4 or 5-day vacation?

Prioritize time management over everything else especially for shorter trips. There is no point in cramming too much into a travel plan if that means spending half your time getting from one place to another.

For short trips, choose places not too far from home and that you can easily reach within a couple of hours. And the longer the trip duration gets, move further away.

Taking into consideration the time you have and the time you’ll spend getting from one place to another, will help choose destinations (and do things once you’re there) that realistically make sense for the time you have.

Choosing a destination when you plan travel seems like a straightforward process right?

But the world is a pretty darn big place. So unless you always go to the same places each year or your destination is predetermined by an event like a wedding or a family reunion, choosing a destination that works for you is a bit more complex.

To pick a destination you need to take a look at what is the purpose of this trip.

Is it a family or group trip and everyone has different interests? In that case, maybe a trip to the Maldives may not suit everyone. Probably Thailand will suit more people in the group because it offers a broader choice of activities other than beaches being the main focus.

Or maybe you’re looking into an adventurous low budget trip where you want to do hikes explore waterfalls and get lost in amazing landscapes. Then leave Iceland out of the plan, it’s too expensive. Instead, choose somewhere cheaper like Indonesia, Hungary, or Turkey. You’ll get more bang for your buck.

Choose your destination wisely and make sure it meets your budget and interests.

Use a map if you already have an idea of where you want to go.

Get all those ideas of places that you want to visit and mark them on a map. Like just mark where in the world those places are located using a paper map or online map like google.maps.

It will be easier to understand where certain places are by visualizing them on a map. And if you see that certain places are close to each other, you could also combine more than one place in a single trip. As long as you have enough time and they meet your budget. and interests.

RESEARCH DESTINATION

At this point, I’m assuming that by now you already have a clear idea of the place/s you want to go.

So what you’ll need to do now is to get familiar with your destination.

Do some digging and find out more about your destination. There is no better way to plan a trip than getting to know more about that place before you’re physically there. Your research will also eliminate surprises once you get there.

Start off by asking yourself….

WHEN WILL YOU TRAVEL?

Every destination around the world has certain months of the year that are considered the best time to visit. But the truth is, the best time to visit a place depends entirely on what you are expecting out of that trip.

The months or time of year when you travel will have a big effect on what your trip will look like.

You’ll have to take into account what the weather will be like around your travel dates. Is it too hot, too cold, rainy and dull?

Most tourists will be waiting for the best weather to visit destinations. That’s normal I guess. But those bright sunny days and clear skies often come at a cost of finding crowds of tourists and higher price tags on hotels, tours, flights.

So keep in mind that the best weather doesn’t necessarily mean the best time to visit.

About one month before and a month after the popular peak season, every destination has what they call shoulder months. These months are a transition between the bad (or not so great) weather and the good weather. Although the weather may still be a bit unpredictable, there are quite a few advantages.

Shoulder months are a great time to visit new destinations because there will be fewer tourists, cheaper hotels, tours, and flights. Although not perfect weatherwise, these months meet all our needs of avoiding crowds and finding great deals on just about everything.

SAFETY and SCAMS

Safety should be a high priority while planning trips since every place in the world has some form of risk. Whether it’s a natural risk like earthquakes or something else like scams and pickpockets, it’s always good to know these things in advance.

A lot of the risks involved in travel can be avoided by knowing about them in advance. For instance, if you’re going to Thailand where Tuk-Tuk scams are very common, be on high alert whenever dealing with one of the drivers.

Or if a place is notorious for pickpockets, try avoiding crowded places when possible. Knowing in advance will help avoid getting into a rough situation.

And most importantly use common sense.

I always wonder why some people find it normal to do certain things while traveling but would never dream of doing the same things back home. Learning to ride a scooter, barefoot, no helmet and obviously, no license seems normal for some people just because they’re not in their home country.

So please, don’t do stupid things that you wouldn’t be doing back home.

Also get insured whenever going on vacation or traveling. I know, insurance is a waste of money. But only until you really need it like for a massive medical bill. Just get yourself covered, at least for medical expenses. It’s not worth risking thousands of $$ in medical expenses over less than $1.50 a day for a reliable coverage.

CHECK OUT SAFETYWING’S TRAVEL HEALTH INSURANCE. IT’S THE BEST TRAVEL INSURANCE AND ALSO COVERS COVID 19 RELATED BILLS

ENTRY REQUIREMENTS

What will you need to enter the destination you want to visit?

In some places, a Visa is necessary to get into a country. Or if you want to stay for a certain amount of time.

Note that entry requirements will depend on your nationality.

For instance, as Maltese citizens (yep I’m from a tiny island country named Malta ) I and Jacqueline get 15 days Visa-free if we go to Thailand. But US citizens get 30 days Visa-free.

There are other requirements that you should know in advance. For example, you may need a minimum amount of months remaining on your passport before expiry, a certain amount of funds in your bank account, a flight out of the country and other things.

To find out what are the requirements, research the destination on your government travel website. You’ll find all the information you need regarding entry requirements and also what are certain risks like common scams, places to avoid, or any risks of natural disaster.

Here is a list of useful travel government websites:

  • United States
  • United Kingdom
  • New Zealand

Now that we’ve cut through all the confusion, and all the technical stuff is out of the way, now comes the fun part.

Now you get to go through all those ideas, places you want to see, and tourist attractions that you can’t miss and put them down into a solid travel plan.

Start off by asking yourself, “what triggered your interest to visit that place?”

Answering this simple question is useful because whatever got you triggered to consider that place is probably your main interest.

For instance, what triggered our interest in Bali was an amazing waterfall. In the end, we spent 1 month in Bali mainly exploring waterfalls and other related stuff like hikes.

When you have a clear idea of what interests you most, it’s easier to find other related things.

Write down every idea you have and find out more about it – find out entrance fees, reviews, opening hours and most popular times. Doing this research will give you a good idea of what to expect.

Here is another option. If you’re short on time and you’re visiting a destination that offers loads of interesting things to see and do, then why don’t you consider a tour?

Tours are a great way to get the most out your day and usually cover the most important things you’ll want to do in that destination. And most importantly, tours don’t always cost a ton of money. In fact, considering the time spent to plan out a day and researching ways (transport) of visiting the places you want to go, a tour may actually work out to be cheaper than expected.

There are 2 different websites that we use if we want to do a tour. And we make it a point to pre-book in advance to avoid finding everything fully booked once we are there.

  • Klook is our go to website for tours in Asia. They offer the best deals and almost always, the tours are cheaper than if we organized everything ourselves.
  • Viator is the other option for destinations outside of Asia. You’ll still find tours for Asian destinations on Viator, but they’re more expensive than klook.

Both Klook and Viator offer a wide range of tours and day packages for various activities and sightseeing spots. You can click on Klook and Viator blue links in the text above to see more detail. All you’ll need to do once on the page is enter the destination and dates and find out what activity or tour is good for you.

TRAVEL INSPIRATION

Short on ideas? There are loads of places to find a dose of travel inspiration.

Instagram is a great place to get fresh ideas and discover new destinations. When I’m planning a trip, I always like to go through a few Instagram posts related to that place. Usually I always end up with a few other places that probably I would have never found through any other research. Just keep in mind that a lot of those who post on Instagram go to great lengths to produce those amazing images – like editing the images and waking up super early in the morning to avoid crowds. So what you see isn’t necessarily what you’ll get.

Pinterest is also a visual platform but instead of just images, the pins on Pinterest are linked to related articles. So if you see an image of a place that you like, you can click on it. Clicking on the image will open up the related blog post (article) where you’ll find loads of related information about that place. And you can save those things that you like.

Blogs . If I already know where I’m going, I always make sure to check out a few other blog posts. Travel blogs are created by people that have physically visited that place and the content will reflect what to actually expect in that destination. On the other hand, big travel websites usually write content by researching a place and not actually getting a firsthand experience from physically visiting.

But don’t plan too much

Although we’re all going on about how important it is to plan your trip, don’t overdo it. Don’t cram too many things into your day to day itinerary.

Actually, leave some wiggle so you can do random stuff and be spontaneous.

Over-planning is as bad as under planning. Here’s what will usually happen if you over plan:

  • you’ll rush along
  • have to bribe you taxi driver to “step on it”
  • won’t meet the strict schedule and go into a panic attack
  • won’t have the time to enjoy a place
  • you’ll stress out
  • you won’t have the time to do something that you found out about once you’re there

Our suggestion of how much to plan depends on the length of a trip. For example, if it’s just a short weekend break, it would be good to plan everything in advance because it will help you get a lot more out of your time. But still don’t squeeze too much in.

For longer trips, for example, 5 days or more, we always leave 1 or 2 unplanned days. Being spontaneous usually leads to interesting places that you had probably never even thought about.

At this point we already have a good idea about our destination. We understand where all the stuff that we want to see and do is located and we know what are those areas to stay in that will work best for us.

So based on our criteria we search for hotels (or any other type of accommodation) that will meet our budget, is located in a good neighborhood. Has a few things nearby within walking distance – bars and restaurants for evenings. And if it’s a city, we like to stay somewhere close to a train station, subway, skytrain? (in Bangkok)

Overall, we like to find a place that is centrally located to all the things we want to do and also has a good list of nearby amenities.

And whatever the case, whether we are planning a long trip or short trip, we always make it a point to book in advance.

Because booking accommodation in advance is always (according to us) cheaper.

If we plan a short vacation, like 1 or 2 weeks, we always have our accommodation booked before we leave. This saves us time figuring out where to stay. Because we’re already a bit short on time.

But even for longer trips, like months-long trips or a year, we still book our accommodation because just walking into hotels or hotels and getting the rate directly is more expensive.

We always thought that walking into a place and getting the price directly would be cheaper. But to the contrary, we found rates are between 10% to 20% higher.

You can try it for yourself. In the worst-case do like we’ve done. First, check the price on a booking platform like Agoda.com and then walk into the hotel or hostel and ask for the rate directly. If the price is higher just walk outside, book the cheaper option online and walk back in with your freshly booked stay. And at a cheaper rate.

CLICK HERE TO CHECK OUT HOTELS AND HOSTELS ON AGODA.COM

Hotels and hostels aren’t the only forms of accommodation that you should consider for a vacation. I can tell you, there are some great vacation stays that will work even better than a hotel.

A website named VRBO offers some amazing alternative vacation stay that is very much different from the common hotels and hostels. Ever wondered what it would be like to stay in a beautiful cabin in the middle of the woods? Or relaxing in a stunning villa with a pool far away from the hectic city life? Or maybe you want a cheap apartment where you can cook your own meals while getting some online work done?

VRBO offers beautiful vacation stays equipped with all amenities like a kitchen, T.V, dining area. Basically, everything you need and some even have a pool, garden, terrace, depending on the type of place you want and your budget.

CLICK HERE FOR YOUR HOME AWAY FROM HOME WITH VRBO

Nothing excites us more than booking our flight. It’s like we can do all research in the world but booking our flights is what excites us most. It’s kinda like sealing a deal and that trip is for real.

If you’re planning an overseas trip, your flights are probably one of the biggest travel expenses. So it is important to start your research in advance.

But don’t book right away.

Flight prices change all the time. So don’t just book the first flight you find – unless you already know that it’s a good deal.

Instead, take your time to stalk the available options, check what different airlines are offering, maybe change the departing airport unless it’s too far away. Or if possible, play around with travel dates. Even moving by 1 day can make a big difference. These small changes can have a huge impact on the final price you pay.

Compare all flight options

Instead of searching through all the available flights and airlines, we simplify the process with the help of a website. Basically, we use something that does all the research for us instead.

When we plan a trip and get to the point of looking up flights, we always use a website named Kiwi.com.

All Kiwi.com needs is your departure point, destination and travel dates, the search engine will do the rest and will show you all the available options.

Flexible Travel Dates

Being flexible is one way to save lots of money on your flights.

If you’re adventurous, flexible and don’t mind going somewhere that you hadn’t considered before, choose a destination based on flight prices. Like find a cheap deal to wherever and just take it.

You can find great deals for random flights for destinations all over the world.

To be honest, we’ve never had our destination chosen by a cheap flight. But it does sound interesting to be that spontaneous while saving a ton of money.

Really, you can save loads of money. We’ve seen $300 flights from the U.S to London, Paris, and Spain. And the other way around they’re usually cheaper, like a $250 return flight from Europe to New York for 9 nights!

Being flexible is key to find great deals and avoid stressing over where you should go. If you want to see what’s on offer RIGHT NOW, go check out the Kiwi.com website. There is always some great deal there.

CLICK HERE TO FIND GREAT FLIGHT DEALS ON KIWI.COM

When to book flights

Flights are generally at the cheapest point about 3 months and up to 3 weeks in advance of the departing date. Booking too early or too late may be more expensive.

We start looking into the flights about 4 months in advance and take note of the prices we found. But then instead of monitoring the prices all the time, we occasionally take a look to see if there was a change in price. If there is no price fluctuations we will book our flight about 6 to 8 weeks in advance.

We also use a notification system on flight websites which lets us know if there has been a price drop in a flight that we want. To find the notification look for a bell icon and click on it and enter your details: dates – destination.

Consider what time you depart and arrive at your destination

Some flights may be cheaper because of the time they depart or what time they arrive at the destination. For example, flying in the middle of the night is generally cheaper.

But at what cost? You have to consider that in some places it will be a challenge to get from the airport to your hotel because there will be less taxis and buses won’t be operating. Even if you do find a taxi, there is usually a nighttime fare.

Also arriving during the night at a destination that you don’t know isn’t really the safest option. And you’ll have to book an extra hotel night just for those few hours when you arrive. (hotel check-ins are at 1 pm or 2 pm unless specified otherwise).

So, in the end, it may work out cheaper to buy the more expensive flight and arrive during the day.

What we do next is we put everything that we know we want to do and see, places we want to stay, restaurants, and anything else that could possibly make sense on a map, and put them all onto a map.

The reason we put everything on a map is that it simplifies planning out our days by putting everything into perspective.

We can visualize and understand where places are. That helps us determine which places will work for us. So if we’re planning a short trip and a certain activity is too far away, we will take it off our to-do list. Or if we want to be in the middle of bars and restaurants, we won’t book that hotel that is in the middle of nowhere.

Pinning everything onto a map also helps us determine how to plan out our days and create a practical route. For example, if we see a cluster of our pins near each, we group those things and call it day plan. Or if certain activities are in a certain order, we can easily figure which is the best route to take.

In today’s age, there isn’t any need for a paper map, you can use an online map to do this. And we always use google.maps because it has loads of features.

You can give different colors to the pins, give icons to the pins so you can easily understand what that pin is, and also organize everything into categories like, museums, restaurants, hikes, waterfalls. Or whatever you want which will depend on your trip.

Google.maps is quite straightforward to use but you’ll still need to know how to do certain things. But we’ve taken care of that. You can check our article that will help you create practical travel guides for google.maps.

FOLLOW THIS STEP BY STEP GUIDE TO GET STARTED

Where is your destination and what options do you have to move around? You’ll need some form of transport to reach all those things you want to see. So it’s best to know in advance and avoid any complications once you reach your destination.

Plan your arrival first to ensure a smooth start. We don’t like to step out of the airport all confused in an unfamiliar place, maybe no one even speaks English, and we still have no idea how we are going to reach our hotel. So we plan exactly how we will get from the airport to the hotel.

Send an email to your hotel and ask what are the ways to get there.

Are you on a budget? Then find out where the bus stops, or maybe there could be a shuttle service into the city.

If you want to make sure that you don’t get overcharged by taxi drivers with the usual scam “I’ll give you a fixed price cause the meter isn’t working” , use a Grab or Uber. But make sure you know where their stop is located because most won’t be allowed to enter in the airport’s arrival area.

We always like to take note of the available transport options. We find out what the prices are, where bus and train terminals are located. And if there are any scams or anything important that we should know about related to transport.

We don’t necessarily have an exact plan, (like bus number and departure times) to reach every single place on our list.

But if there is a place that is a bit *complicated to reach, or if we’ll be using long-distance buses, [things that need some pre planning], we always plan exactly how we will do those things. And if something that we want to do deserves having its very own logistics plan, then we always make it a point to pre-book any buses, trains, ferries maybe flights, that we’ll need.

Because, like we are planning those logistics, everyone else is doing the same thing and we don’t want to find that all options of getting to that place have all been sold out when we need it. So we make sure to secure our spot.

Also, if you plan on doing any tours, make sure to pre-book because the best tour organizers usually sell out their tours well in advance.

So, plan out your arrival and how you’ll get to your hotel. Figure out what options you have to move around – taxis, buses, trains, hire cars, scooters (we love the freedom of moving around on a scooter especially on tropical islands). Cost for each option. Any scams or risks related to any one of them. Plan exactly how you’ll reach complicated places. And pre-book things that may sell out like buses, train tickets, ferry tickets, flights.

* Complicated (meaning for us): in a way challenging to reach because of a strict budget, may involve a combination of buses, trains, boats. Anything that makes something complicated. As budget travelers, we love complicated things because they are usually cheaper .

P.S. About that scooter on a tropical island thing, make sure you have the necessary requirements to drive a scooter. You’ll need a valid motorbike license in your home country and an International Driving Permit and always use a helmet even if the standard in that place is to not use one. It’s for your safety after all.

Here’s a transport resource list that we use:

  • Rome to Rio: for detailed routes in just about every place in the world. Enter the starting point and destination and Rome to Rio will take care of the rest. You’ll get a list of available options like buses, trains, taxis, flights, to get from one place to another. Every option will have relevant information like bus and train schedules and prices, trip duration, bus numbers. Well, everything you need.
  • Seat 61: if you want to know what to expect on a specific train ride make sure to check out seat 61. The detail in this guy’s blog is impressive. I think he must have used all the trains in the world. You’ll find detailed schedules, prices and an insiders look on what to expect on that specific ride. This is important if you’re planning a long distance train ride or a sleeper train.
  • 12goASIA: nothing ruins a trip more than wanting to get from one place to another only to find out that everything has been sold out. To avoid such complications we use 12goAsia to pre-book anything that we think can sell out like trains, ferries, buses, flights. Pre-booking allows us to secure our spot on that specific ride whatever it may be. Prices are generally the same as what is on offer in train stations or bus stations and even if there is a small mark up, it still isn’t worth risking that option selling out when we need it.
  • Klook: for tours, activities, entrance tickets or any other entertaining thing that we’ll want to do we use Klook. They have the best prices for tours and activities and we can always see reviews from other travelers which helps us determine if that thing is for us or not.
  • Viator: this is another online website offering great tours in destinations all over the world. We use Viator for destinations outside of Asia simply because they have more options in other parts of the world.

Oooh, that’s fun! Packing means you’ll soon be off. But don’t leave it until the last minute because you’ll probably either under-pack or over-pack with a bunch of unnecessary travel items.

Before you begin packing, think about your trip.

Is it an adventurous holiday and you’ll be moving around a lot? Then consider getting yourself a good backpack.

Imagine hauling around your wheeled luggage on a bus, a train or maybe ferries. It’s a lot easier to do those things with a backpack.

It’s a lot easier to walk around with everything on your back rather than hauling around a wheeled luggage.

And what is the purpose of your trip and the climate going to be like?

Is it hot, cold or maybe you’re going different places with very different temperatures. And how about the things you’ll do?

Think about the climate and your day to day travel plan and the activities. And the things that you’ll be using the most. For example, if you’re planning a beach holiday and there is a chance you could go on a single hike, probably packing a bulky pair of hiking boots just in case isn’t a great idea. Instead, pack a pair of slippers that you could use for different occasions.

Packing items and outfits that serve more than one purpose is practical and will help in not taking too many things with you.

But if you need to pack for different climates, don’t pack a bunch of summer clothes and a bunch of big bulky winter clothes. Doing that will just take up too much space.

Instead add layers. Take out those bulky tops and stack up with layers. As the climates get colder and colder, add layers on top of each other. It would be almost impossible to pack a complete winter wardrobe and another only for summer. Obviously, you’ll still need winter things like a thermal vest and jacket. But choose tops or bottoms that are smaller but serve the same purpose as the bulky ones.

Keep it simple and avoid over-packing

Pack versatile outfits. If you want to have lots of different outfits but don’t want to carry around lots of luggage, the only way to go is to pack versatile clothing. Think of tops and bottoms that you have that just seem to go well with everything. Those are the things you will want to pack because although you’ll have less clothes you can easily mix and match everything together.

And send things for laundry. Just because you go on vacation it doesn’t mean you have to take an outfit for every single day. Most hotels will have a laundry service and usually, it takes less than 24 hours for them to do it. So instead of packing 2 weeks’ worth of clothes, pack for about 5 to 7 days and when needed, send the dirty clothes for the wash.

Roll or fold. There is a huge debate about which one is the best to save space. And in my opinion, both have different purposes. I fold trousers and anything else that seems bulky like a beach towel. But t-shirts, shorts, long vests or anything else that is quite small, I roll.

But although we’re all about being practical, and only pack items that add value to our trip, we always pack a few just in case items.

Here is a list of just in case items that we always pack.

  • First Aid Kit: We always pack a mini first aid kit just in case of any minor incident. There’s no need to have a crazy amount of supplies. We pack paracetamol, band aid, gauzes, plasters, that yellow antiseptic spray for wounds, sickness tablets, food poisoning pills, diarrhea pills, electrolytes, sun cream, mosquito repellant (deet spray).
  • Hand Sanitizer: Now, it is important more than ever to always keep our hands sanitized. Pack a small hand sanitizer that you can hang on your bag for quick use.
  • Face Masks: And face masks also. In most places you’ll able to buy them from your destination. But if you want something specific other than the medical masks, (like the N95 masks) it’s better to pack a few with you.
  • Universal Power Adapter: To connect electronics in destinations that use different electrical outlets.
  • Duct tape: For many things. I’ve duck taped backpacks to a scooter, rolled it into a washing line, used instead of wax strips.
  • Bungy Cords: If you travel a lot on motorbikes or scooters, bungy cord are a must so that you can secure you backpacks in place.
  • Soap Bar: Just in case we are somewhere remote, we always pack a soap bar so we can wash our clothes. We just take a common soap bar and not the one specific for clothes.
  • Flip Flops: To use in the hotel or hostel showers. Even though the shoer may be cleaned regularly there is still a chance of getting a foot infection. Just slip on a pair of flip-flops to avoid that from happening.
  • Sarong: Take a sarong with you to cover shoulders or knees in religious places. You’ll save money renting one and you can also use it as a scarf on chilly evenings.

Don’t forget about your packing essentials

Make sure you have the following checked off your list.

  • Passport – Some places also require that you have 2 blank pages and 6 months before passport expiry.
  • Visa – Check requirements in Advance.
  • Vaccines – Covid and any other vaccines needed for that destination.
  • Insurance – better to be safe while traveling.
  • International Driving Permit – If driving overseas.
  • PCR test results – if needed.
  • Credit or Debit Card – make sure you have enough funds.
  • Medication – also take your prescription with you.

FINAL NOTES

Planning a trip requires quite a lot of, well, planning. But it doesn’t have to be stressful and actually, it should be quite enjoyable if you break down your trip into manageable sections as we did in this guide.

You may also want to save this guide if you’re not going to start planning right away. And even to follow the steps as a reminder to what you should be doing next.

Either way, you can let us know what you think about this article. And also, did we miss anything in this guide? Or maybe there was something you didn’t quite understand? Let us know in the comments below. It will help other travelers that are planning a trip understand the various ideas from other people.

Do you travel on a budget or want to travel to destinations without breaking the bank? Well, we do and we’ve written about a lot of amazing destinations that are very cheap to travel in.

CLICK HERE TO CHECK OUT ALL THE AMAZING STUFF WE’VE DONE WHILE NEVER SPENDING MORE THAN $30 A DAY

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——— ABOUT US ———

Jacqueline and James, the two behind this travel website

We're Jackie and James, now in our late 30's, we've been traveling on and off for 5 years now. After living our entire lives on a tiny island named Malta, we set off to explore Asia on a budget while writing detailed guides about awesome destinations. We hope our travels help you realize that traveling doesn't have to cost a fortune.

——— SEARCH THE BLOG ———

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How to plan a vacation you'll love, travel planning process

How To Plan a Vacation You’ll LOVE in 10 Steps

How to plan a vacation you'll love in 10 steps, travel planning process pin

Follow the step by step travel planning process below to plan a trip you will LOVE. These 10 steps help you define the experience you want, build your travel itinerary, and then get ready to go.

Grab your notebook and pen, and let’s get started!

Disclosure: This post may include affiliate links to excellent travel-related products. If you use the links below to make a purchase, we’ll receive a commission at no extra cost to you. Thank you!

How To Plan a Trip You’ll LOVE in 10 Steps: Step-by-Step Guide

Step 1: start with the experience you want.

Where do I start with planning a vacation? With the EXPERIENCE you want to have. Start by asking yourself, “When I get back, what will make me say this was a fantastic trip?”

SO many bloggers completely miss this all-important first step for planning a trip. Some start with the budget, but this can hamstring you before you get started. Some start with the destination, which makes sense at first, but can be disastrous if you go with the wrong people.

The first step for planning a trip is to define the REASON you want to travel. Then you have a much better chance of actually getting it!

Do you need to wind down? Wind up? Stretch your mind, or your physical boundaries? Spend quality time with family or friends?

Whatever you want the most, write this at the TOP of your trip planning documents.

For more on this step, check out Trip Planning Step 1: Define the EXPERIENCE You Want .

plan a trip yourself

Step 2: Identify your PRIORITIES and constraints (time, money, activities)

The second step in how to plan a vacation you’ll love is to consider your priorities and constraints. This second step for planning a trip will give you your boundaries, so they don’t distract and frustrate you from getting that experience you defined in step 1.

How much TIME do you have? Are your dates and length of trip flexible or pre-defined?

How much BUDGET can you set aside for your trip? Again, is this pretty flexible, or is it strict?

Are there certain ACTIVITIES you must do, or really want to do? Do they only happen during certain seasons, or in specific locations?

Once you know your priorities and constraints, EMBRACE them in the travel planning process. Even if your time is limited or your budget is tight, you can still plan a fabulous trip that gets you the experience you’re after. Use these priorities and constraints to guide your most important decisions.

plan a trip yourself

Step 3: Clarify what you KNOW (where, when, who)

Next, clarify what you KNOW about your trip and let it guide what you don’t know.

Do you already know WHERE you’re going? If yes, when would be the best time to go, and for how long? Who would you most want to experience that place with?

Do you already know WHEN you’re going? If yes, what type of destination is best to experience in that season, or within the amount of time you have? Who could go with you then?

Do you know WHO you’re going with? If yes, what type of destination would be most fun for both of you, together? When can they go?

Use what you already know as inspiration in the travel planning process. Be careful not to “put a square peg in a round hole,” by mixing up where, when and who. For example, when your kids are going with you, pick a destination they’ll enjoy, too, and give yourself extra time to get there.

Step 4: Understand your travel STYLE (preferences, rhythm, limitations)

plan a trip yourself

The next step in how to plan a vacation is to understand your travel style. This includes how you like to travel, and how you don’t like to travel.

If you’ve traveled a lot, you probably have a pretty good sense of your travel style. Ask yourself questions, like:

  • How busy do you like to be? 
  • What’s your typical sleeping and eating schedule? 
  • What luxuries do you want available?
  • How much walking or driving do you like on vacation?

Every trip is unique, depending on the experience you most want, your constraints and what you know. But even then, you have default preferences. So, take note of them.

And compare your travel style with those going with you. How similar or different are your travel styles? When traveling with other adults, it’s a very good idea to chat about your styles before your trip and how you can accommodate each other. 

For example, my family likes making simple breakfasts and picnic lunches on trips, but I hate going into mega stores on vacation. So, we plan our itinerary to include a visit to a farmer’s market or local grocer.

As another example, my mother-in-law likes relaxing mornings with her coffee. So when traveling with her, we know to relax too or to plan morning activities she doesn’t want to do.

Explore travel styles in more detail at Trip Planning Step 1: Define the Travel EXPERIENCE You Want .

Step 5: RESEARCH your destination

Steps 5 to 9 in how to plan a vacation are all about building your trip itinerary. Start by putting on your detective hat!

My favorite way to research a destination (or destination options) is to get a Lonely Planet travel guide and colorful erasable highlighters and pens , and head to my favorite coffee shop. Lonely Planet travel guides are written by local experts, and include hidden gems and super-useful tips for visitors.

Go through your travel guide, marking up places you definitely want to see and maybe want to see. Once you have a sense of your must-do and maybe-do activities, check out reviews online to confirm what’s most important to you. My favorite places to research travel reviews are Google and Tripadvisor .

Want more ideas on researching your destination and building your itinerary? Check out How To Build Your Travel Itinerary .

Step 6: MAP out your interests

As you research your destination, hopefully a natural itinerary begins to emerge. That’s what you want! It’s much easier to start building your travel itinerary once you have a sense of where things are that you want to see and do, and how much time they’ll take.

If your travel book has a map, highlight places you want to go. If it doesn’t, create a Google Map to plot out these spots. Create a layer for must-do and maybe-do activities, color-coding each one. (Later, you can drag-and-drop activities into a layer for each day of your travel itinerary.)

Choose one or two main activities per day, with a few backup options depending on how you feel that day. Then, pull these into a calendar view, and you have a rough travel itinerary for your trip. Done!

Tip: For a more relaxed travel experience, plan a free day at home before and after. This gives you mental space to transition from (and back into) everyday life. Whenever I’ve done this in my travel planning process, my trips have felt SO much more relaxed.

Step 7: Pick ACCOMMODATIONS for your trip

Oia Greece accommodations, how to plan a vacation

I’m always amazed when travel bloggers down-play the importance of fabulous accommodations in how to plan a vacation you’ll love. Even if you’re on a budget, pick a place you want to go back to at night.

Make a quick list of what your travel accommodations MUST have or be. Safe and without bed bugs. In a good location (whatever that means for your trip). Within your budget. Comfortable for everyone in your travel party.

Then, make a list of what you really want, too. A rooftop pool and bar, perhaps? Onsite restaurant, spa or golf course? A beautiful beach, view or kids club?

Start your travel accommodations search with a picture of what you WANT, to help you find a great fit.

My process for finding fabulous travel accommodations is this:

  • Start by searching Google to get a sense of locations, prices and reviews. 
  • Then, check guest photos and more reviews on Tripadvisor . Look for any concerning patterns, like bed bugs or bad customer service, and trust your spidey sense.
  • Find the best price on Google. Booking.com is my favorite place to book, as it’s usually the cheapest price and easy and friendly to use.

This is actually my favorite step in how to plan a vacation. My husband wants to relax in the evening, so I’ve learned to find travel accommodations I enjoy, too. A romantic lighthouse inn. Charming historic mansion. Or a classy boutique hotel with a great pub downstairs.

For more on finding great travel accommodations, visit How to Find BETTER Travel Accommodations .

plan a trip yourself

Step 8: BOOK the critical pieces

By now in how to plan a vacation you’ll love, you defined the travel experience you want and acknowledged the factors that’ll help you get it. You found activities and travel accommodations that fit that experience you want. The next step for planning a trip is to book it!

Four travel essentials to book as soon as possible:

  • Transportation : Including flights, car rentals, and train tickets. My favorite place to research and book is Expedia .
  • Accommodations : Even if you like winging it, book the first and last nights, plus any nights you know where you want to be. My favorite place to reserve accommodations is Booking .
  • Must-do activities : Make sure you get the days and times that work best with your travel itinerary. For tours, check out GetYourGuide .
  • Insurance : Recommended if you’re traveling internationally. A helpful post on buying travel insurance is by fellow travel blogger  NomadicMatt . 

Save confirmation numbers in your travel itinerary.

plan a trip yourself

Step 9: Deep breath … then fill in the gaps

The hard work in how to plan a vacation you’ll love is done! Woohoo!!

Now is a good time to take a deep breath and walk away for a bit until trip planning is fun again. Then, revisit your must-do and maybe-do activities and fill in any gaps. Chat with those going with you to make sure everything’s still good to go.

This is also a great time in the travel planning process to look into highly-rated restaurants, pubs and short excursions. These are icing on the cake, to take your travel experience to that next level. Slot any you definitely want to check out whenever it fits best in your itinerary, and book them.

Step 10: Count down to a vacation you’ll LOVE!!

plan a trip yourself

Ideally, give yourself three months to leisurely get yourself ready for your vacation. This gives you plenty of time to enjoy the anticipation … and to remember all those little details.

Like travel documents. Child care and pet care. Travel gear and essentials. Emergency contacts. Foreign currency, electronic gadgets, and playlists. And packing those bags!

For much more detail, check out Your ULTIMATE Vacation Countdown Checklist .

Get your FREE trip planning template

Ready to start the travel planning process? Use this FREE trip planning template to plan a vacation you’ll love. It’s a 6-page fillable PDF that’s easy to use, and has lots of space for notes. Includes pages for brainstorming, building your itinerary, and a 3-month countdown checklist.

Enter your email below to get this template PLUS our travel bucket list template, too.

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Thrifty Nomads

How to Plan Your Own Trip (& Save Big Travel Bucks)

plan a trip yourself

E ven for the biggest of wanderlusters, trip planning can be a keyboard-head-banging task. Where to go? When to book? How much to schedule ahead?

The “oh crap” moment of having 8,000 tabs open in your browser and virtually nothing booked is an all-too-familiar  blah . For far too many, this makes tours and all-inclusive vacations a tantalizing lure. It's easy to see why; they just seem EASY .

But what if you could save yourself major cash and take that dream trip? What if you could see the same sites as a tour, at a fraction of the cost? Spoiler alert: YOU CAN! In this post, we'll show you step-by-step exactly how to plan and book your own trip, and save HUGELY.

Step 1. Choose a destination

The slightest of research can help you understand which countries will serve your travel budget best. $50USD/day in Paris will hardly stretch beyond activities and food, while the same budget in Bangkok will more luxurious travel for days. Here's some factors to consider when deciding where to head.

Pick countries where your dollar will go far

plan a trip yourself

Aim for places where your home currency is high against the native dollar. Need inspiration? Check our top budget destinations for 2020 , plus our other list of budget countries here .

Another point to consider is current events and currency deflation (e.g. Britain's “Brexit” made England much more affordable for some travellers). Curious about how expensive a place is? Numbeo provides a quick snapshot of average prices for every country. Need destination ideas? Here's some suggestions to start.

  • South Africa
  • China (check our guide here )
  • Philippines

Eastern Europe

South america, consider shoulder season travel.

Off-season travel is a simple but effective money-saver – just make sure that your destination is still safe and won't be entirely ruined by weather. Google your desired destination and find its slower months. Tripadvisor forums can be a good place to get local opinions.

Sydney

Keep open eyes and ears for deals

Flights are often the biggest ticket item of any trip (we've got plenty of hacks on flight booking  here ). Keep an eye out for error fares,  which aren't always last minute and regularly pop up on international (and even business class) routes.

Travel deals on hotels and package vacations can be found on sites like  Travelzoo  and  Groupon (always check reviews & read the fine print). Don't forget to follow airlines & travel sites on social media and newsletters to hear about sales.

Step 2. Find out travel visa requirements

Once you've chosen a destination and before booking anything , check if you require a visa for your visit and how long it's valid for. Check your country's government travel advisories online, such as here below:

  • Australia (click on country of choice for info)
  • Canada (click on the country of choice, then “Entry/Exit Requirements”)
  • Europe (info for Europe-based travel here , worldwide visa requirements viewable on the map here )
  • United Kingdom (select country and click “Entry Requirements”)
  • United States (type your country of choice in the search box, click it, then select “Entry/Exit Requirements”)

Xi'an, China

Step 3. Plan a (rough) itinerary

Once you've chosen a place, you'll want to familiarize yourself with it. Where do you want to go? What do you want to see? How long is your visit? The amount of pre-planning here is up to you. There are benefits to having loose travel plans (or none at all), you just have to decide what suits you best.

If you want to plan a route, here's some ways to do it!

Check tour company itineraries

South America itinerary

Tour companies like G Adventures and Intrepid Travel have itineraries freely listed on their website. These are handy for getting a snapshot of destination highlights, duration, and modes of transport. If you've decided on a country, Lonely Planet writes great guidebooks with detailed information. Travel blogs *ahem* are also a handy source of information.

Note: when viewing group tour itineraries, keep in mind these are often  fast paced.  You may wish to add more buffer room and lazy days for your own trip. You don't need to copy sample routes & durations to a tee.

Read trip summaries online

Many travellers share extensive itineraries and trip summaries on forums like  TripAdvisor . This is a great way to hear ups and downs, get itinerary critiques, and genuine local advice.

TripHobo is another service where people share detailed day-by-day itineraries, and you can actually earn money by posting your own.

Pinterest is a great place to find sample itineraries and tips on destinations. Many regions of the world have expert bloggers with extensive destination-specific knowledge and experience. Simply use the search bar with terms such as your country of interest and “itinerary”, and pin away!

Thrifty Nomads pinterest

Step 4. Book ahead (or wing it!)

For those with limited flexibility in dates or destinations, waiting last minute is an absolute gamble. If you're travelling openly or long-term, then booking as you go based on deals can certainly work (and is what we did during our 2+ years of nomadic travels). Regardless of your trip style, here's how to get booking.

Use broad search engines with flexible cancellation

As a general rule of thumb, your best bet when possible is to book ahead and “hold” a good price on sites with fee-free cancellation policies. Here's our recommendations.

Sydney plane

If you do a broad search (ideally searching for “entire month” as opposed to specific dates), you can identify the cheapest dates to fly. In addition to our flight-booking hacks , keep watch for error fares , and try to book flights 4-6 weeks ahead.

Our recommended broad search engines to use for booking flights:

  • Airfare Watchdog (good for error fares)
  • Secret Flying (good for error fares)

Car rentals

Britz RV

Nearly all major car rental search engines offer free cancellation. For this reason, a car rental should be one of the first things you book for a trip , as prices tend to increase as supply goes down. For hacks on getting the best car rental price, check our guide here . These are the search engines we use for car rental bookings:

  • Booking Buddy (lets you search many car booking sites at once)

Accommodation

plan a trip yourself

As with car rentals, most hotel-booking booking websites offer free cancellation ( always  double check!). This means you're best to snag a bargain in advance, even if your plans change . For tips on booking the cheapest accommodation, check our article here . Broad search sites to use for hotel bookings include:

  • Booking.com
  • HotelsCombined
  • AirBNB (always check hosts' cancellation policies as these can sometimes incur a cost)
  • Hotwire  and Priceline (good for Mystery Deals on major cities for bargain rates on swanky hotels. Note: You CANNOT cancel mystery bookings!)

Step 5. Find cheap & free activities

Once you've chosen a place, route, and places to stay, you'll want to scope out activities for your trip. You needn't plan every minute, but it can be wise to get some ideas in advance.

WikiVoyage and Lonely Planet are good resources for quickly finding a list of ways to keep busy in a new place, including free things. Walking is one of the best ways to do this, and is definitely the local approach to experiencing a place. Here's some more tips & tricks to explore for less!

Jeju Island

Check walking routes and/or free walking tours

Nearly every major city on earth offers free walking tours, and this can be a great way to explore a place on foot while getting a bit of history. Note: “free” walking tours are not  actually free (you are meant to tip at the end), but they usually provide great value and interesting information about a place.

Don't have the time or patience for a group tour? You can still scope out walking routes from Free Walking Tour websites, or simply search Google or Pinterest for ideas and inspiration. Lonely Planet books will often include self-guided walking tours as well.

Seek out free or discounted museum days

Even Paris' Louvre offers free admission days

Read ahead to see if a city has free or discounted entry dates to attractions. Sometimes museums and art galleries offer free admission in the last hour, or a discounted day of the week. Having an ISIC card can pay off big time if you're a student, especially in Europe where students (with ISIC ID) gain free entry to many sites.

Explore sharing economy options

The sharing economy or peer-to-peer lending has created infinite activities and events for travellers offered by locals themselves. We've compiled a comprehensive list  of sharing economy services around the world and there are MANY on offer! After all, what's more alluring than dinner with a local, or a city tour from someone who's lived there their whole life?!

Visit local markets & events

Marrakesh market stalls

Tripadvisor  and Lonely Planet are good places to read up beforehand on markets, events and happenings that locals know of. TimeOut Magazine and Metro News (often available for free in public transit stations worldwide) are also great at listing free/current events and activities.

Stalk group buy sites for activity deals

Sites like  Travelzoo  and  Groupon  frequently offer attractive discounts on activities and tours. Always double check expiry dates and the fine print (especially for use on weekends)!

Step 6. Keep your plans organized

If you aspire to be as tidy as a travel agent with your plans,  TripIt is a great and free service we recommend and use. We've been active users it since 2012 during our initial jam-packed once a year trips. As a bonus, this service also tracks travel points by linking with accounts like Aeroplan or AirMiles (note: this is a paid add-on).

You can of course use your own alternatives like Google Docs, but TripIt is great for the “lazy” (or disorganized!) planner. Once you make an account, it will coordinate any relevant info for your trip, no uploading required . Either give TripIt access to your e-mail, or forward each of your booking confirmations to [email protected] , and it will automatically build your itinerary. That means flight tickets, hotel and car bookings, etc. are all kept track in one place . Another plus is being able to share access to trip itineraries (simply add a friend's e-mail address). Definite bliss for planning group trips!

Screen Shot 2016-07-08 at 8.24.32 PM

TripIt does have an upgraded membership that offers attractive features like texting you real-time updates of flights, gate changes, etc. We paid for this account in 2016 when I was doing some extensive travels with a friend. All of our planning was done while we were on opposite sides of the globe, so it was quite helpful. I also received realtime updates on her (repeated) flight delays and cancellations, long before she could notify me herself.

All that said, the basic (free) account definite suffices for regular planning. But the paid upgrade does have its perks and is handy for group trip planning.

The Thrifty Gist

  • Consider travelling to budget destinations and/or in the off-season to reduce costs
  • Use existing itineraries ( Tripadvisor , tour websites) to get a quick snapshot of highlights and routes
  • Book refundable trip items (e.g. hotels, car rentals) ahead of time on broad search engines
  • Search broadly for flights and keep eyes peeled for error fares
  • Check out the sharing economy , walking tours, and online resources like Pinterest for activity ideas
  • Keep your plans organized in one place with free services like TripIt

Whew, you did it ! You've now got the basics on how to plan your own trip. With even a slightly organized approach, sorting your own travels can be a breeze. Happy planning!

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How to Plan a Trip

Last Updated: January 29, 2024 Approved

This article was co-authored by Amy Tan . Amy Tan is a Travel Planner and the Founder of Planet Hoppers, a boutique travel design team founded in 2002. Planet Hoppers specializes in brainstorming and creating itineraries for dream vacations, honeymoons, exotic adventures, family reunions, and group trips. Planet Hoppers is a TRUE accredited travel agency and a member of the Signature Travel Network, the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), and Travel Leaders. Amy earned a BA in Communications and a BS in Physics from the University of California, Davis in 2000. There are 8 references cited in this article, which can be found at the bottom of the page. wikiHow marks an article as reader-approved once it receives enough positive feedback. In this case, 94% of readers who voted found the article helpful, earning it our reader-approved status. This article has been viewed 555,610 times.

Before planning a trip have a current passport. Purchase traveler's checks. Keep the receipt in a safe place in case of being stolen. Whether for travel or pleasure, schedule some fun. All trips are meant for adventure, relaxation, and enjoyment. By planning well, you can ensure you that you and your family or friends can enjoy a hassle-free trip with only the good kind of surprises to ensue.

Planning Help

plan a trip yourself

Choosing the When, Where, and How

Step 1 Choose your location.

  • Keep in mind weather and climatic conditions, merits and demerits of the place, types of recreation (beaches, culture, shopping), and facilities (transport, eating out, etc). What clothes are suitable? How removed from civilization will you be? What does your destination require?

Step 2 Choose when you want to go.

  • Do you want to go during the off-season or while tourism is booming? The off-season will offer discounts, but it will also mean closed doors and reduced availability.
  • When it comes to weather, do you want to deal with winter or the rainy season? How about when it's hot and muggy?
  • And then there's ticket prices – if you're flying, when is it the cheapest to fly? If you are planning to fly on a long weekend , then you should book the tickets well in advance to get the best deal.

Step 3 Plan a loose itinerary.

  • Make a list. Write down the places you want to visit, including restaurants, museums, malls, and other places of interest. This will help give you ideas and prevent being completely lost when you arrive and do not know what to do.
  • Include how you're going to get around. Does your itinerary involve cab rides? Using the subway? Trekking on foot? If you are taking public transportation, make sure you know how that's done wherever you're going.

Step 4 Be wary of going through a travel agent.

  • Companies that help you in the actual "planning" phase of your trip, would be like Gap Travel Adventures, Get A Trip.com, the Automobile Club of Southern California Travels Division (and their counterparts in each of the 50 States), and the American Express Corporation, whereas the giant travel conglomerates, such as Expedia, Travelocity ,Orbitz.com and Priceline (the 4 largest travel vendors in "gross profits" within the United States), aim at the end booking process.
  • The five things you can do to help yourself and your budget (that you don't need a travel agent for) are the following: 1) Book your flight and hotels at the same time, not separately 2) Be willing to fly mid-week and off-hours 3) Be willing to fly or land at a neighboring airport within 30 miles (48 km) of each other 4) Pay an all-inclusive price when possible, so that meals and gratuities are included, and 5) The actual season you travel – i will differ the rates by 30-40%.

Figuring Out the Logistics

Step 1 Assess your costs.

  • Always add some wiggle room, overestimating rather than underestimating. There are always costs you don't foresee or things you want to do that you haven't accounted for.
  • If the trip is more than you are willing to spend, make cuts where you can. If it ultimately means cutting the trip short, so be it.

Step 2 Make a budget.

  • Ditch that daily sugary latte. If you get a $4 coffee drink three times a week, that's $12 a week, and about $50 a month. That's $300 in six months right there.
  • Eat from home more. Restaurants are great, but they're expensive. If you cook at home, you can save money not only because it's cheaper, but because you'll have leftovers that can last you days.
  • Quit the luxuries for a while. That last drink on Saturday night? Pass. A movie next week? Nope. Heck, cable? Who needs it when you have Netflix? Take a look at what little things are fun, but that you could live without.

Step 3 While you're saving, do your research.

  • It is said that you should book airfare around two months out for the best deals – this is that happy place where airlines start discounting their trips to sell tickets, but haven't yet jacked prices up because they're last-minute.
  • If you're going somewhere that speaks a different language, take the time to brush up on the basics. You'll be glad you did, and the people you interact with will be, too.

Step 4 Get a

  • Many airlines also pair with major retailers, like Target, Amazon, and Apple. If you buy from those stores, you get miles. What's not to like? You're shopping there anyway – you might as well get a free flight for it.

Setting Your Plans in Stone

Step 1 Make your reservations for flights and accommodations.

  • And anything else for that matter, too. Many attractions have ticket sales online where you can skip the lines and go right in. Sure, the idea of waiting in line right now doesn't sound so bad, but for three minutes of work right now you can not waste hours of your vacation standing in a line with strangers wishing past you would've had better sense.

Step 2 Consider travel insurance.

  • Only you know if you are one of these people that changes their mind often, or often does re-scheduling – or if you are one of these people that will fly out in a hurricane, no matter what!

Step 3 If traveling internationally, make sure your documents are in order.

  • Keep your passport, travel documents, visas, and similar items in a safe pouch. You may want to make copies, too, and keep them in a safe place. It will make it so much easier to replace anything that you lost.

Step 4 Notify the right parties that you're leaving.

  • If applicable, put vacation notices on your e-mail, and remember to set your answering machine. Those messages will just have to wait until you get back.

Wrapping Up the Details

Step 1 Buy everything you'll need.

  • Traveling in a car? Make sure to get lots of foodstuffs, water, and things to do. A CD on tape about a road trip or your specific destination will be great to get you in the mood. Consider "On the Road," " Lost in My Own Backyard," "A Walk Through the Woods," or "Washington Schlepped Here," amongst others. Good music is a must, too.

Step 2 Pack light.

  • Stick to basic pieces and a couple pairs of shoes – it's really all you need in terms of clothes regardless of how long your trip is. A few basic shirts and a few basic pants, shorts, or a skirt will do the job. You can then mix and match as necessary.
  • Roll your clothes when packing. This will save you a ton of room and mean you can buy that authentic-looking tiki torch when the mood strikes.
  • Create and use a checklist for packing, which helps consistently remind you of all the odds and ends of packing. You don't want to arrive at the airport and remember you forgot the needed documents at home.

Step 3 Go!

  • Don't be tempted to take work or home problems with you – then all this planning will be for naught, making it feel like you're still mentally back home. Leave that laptop and your phone off – now is all about exploring and going on an adventure.

Expert Q&A

Amy Tan

Reader Videos

  • If planning a trip on a severe budget is your number one priority, there are literally hundreds of money saving tips for the actual daily travel plans, that can save you in the hundreds if not thousands of dollars. Thanks Helpful 0 Not Helpful 0
  • If peer reviews are more important than shopping by rates, than websites like Trip Adviser.com and some of the top ranked travel blogs, like with Budget Travel and Travel Zoo.com all have stellar reputations for providing unbiased reviews. In Europe, a similar counterpart would be found within Auto Europe.com (full service European travel vendor, not just cars) The Asian markets probably have the widest variety of travel providers. The only reason mentioning names is relevant, is according to Forbes Research many of the other smaller affiliate travel resources have been known to delete from their databases the low-25% of the negative reviews, thus obstructing true peer review analysis. This does not mean however, that one should not consider one of these smaller travel affiliates, though one should do their research and due diligence on that company's trust factor. Many have value-added services the larger companies do not have. Thanks Helpful 0 Not Helpful 0
  • Start learning the language of the country you are going to if you are traveling overseas. Thanks Helpful 0 Not Helpful 0

plan a trip yourself

  • Don't keep sharp objects in your luggage. Security has been greatly beefed up, and your luggage may be checked. Thanks Helpful 4 Not Helpful 0
  • Traveling can be hectic. If traveling to a new place, make sure you keep medication (especially for children). Keep your documents and precious possessions safe. Mugging and theft is common. Thanks Helpful 5 Not Helpful 1

You Might Also Like

Pack for a Trip

  • ↑ https://www.theglobetrottingteacher.com/how-to-successfully-choose-your-travel-destination/
  • ↑ Amy Tan. Travel Planner. Expert Interview. 12 March 2020.
  • ↑ http://www.seat61.com/spreadsheet.htm#.VBx5XvldUss
  • ↑ https://www.lonelyplanet.com/travel-tips-and-articles/how-to-budget-for-a-big-trip/40625c8c-8a11-5710-a052-1479d2772aa0
  • ↑ http://www.nomadicmatt.com/travel-blogs/planning-a-trip/
  • ↑ http://www.nomadicmatt.com/travel-tips/how-to-find-a-cheap-flight/
  • ↑ https://www.travelpulse.com/news/features/the-importance-of-travel-insurance-3.html
  • ↑ http://www.roadtripamerica.com/tips/How-To-Plan-A-Great-Road-Trip.htm

About This Article

Amy Tan

To plan a trip, start assessing your costs by determining where you will stay, like a hotel or a hostel. You should also go online and compare flight prices a couple months in advance for the lowest rates. Additionally, be sure to consider ways of getting around your destination, like rental cars or subways, based on the place you’re traveling to. If you’re traveling internationally, get your necessary documents in order 6 months in advance, like a passport and travel visa, and keep them in a safe place. For more tips on planning a vacation, like how to make a budget, keep scrolling! Did this summary help you? Yes No

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Trip Planner | Travel Itinerary Planner | Plan a Trip

Are you looking for an itinerary planner to plan your next trip? We know creating a customized travel itinerary manually is an overwhelming task. You have to put a lot of time into selecting destinations, booking hotels, flights, and comparing prices. On top of that calculating budgets & booking hotels and flights is another challenge that makes itinerary planning tough.

But what if all of this is done within a few minutes for you? Yes with TripHobo trip planner you can do this smartly. We have observed that many travelers end up spending more time in researching information than enjoying the actual trip. Not only first-time travelers but also experienced travelers struggle in creating perfect travel plans.

Even though it is a tedious task to create a customized itinerary, everyone agrees on the importance of itinerary for an enjoyable holiday. So Triphobo came up with this easy to use automatic itinerary planner.

How Trip Planner Works / Steps to Plan a Trip

Do you want to create your travel itinerary quickly & easily? Are you ready to use this tool now? TripHobo's trip planner plays a major role to ease the itinerary creation process and helps you overcome the pain in the trip planning .  Follow these 4 simple steps to plan a trip & let us know your experience.

1) Choose Your Destination & Dates when you want to travel

Visual algorithmic trip planner lets you choose destinations you want to travel to. You have the freedom to choose the real dates from the calendar. After selecting travel dates, planner runs algorithms to optimize a trip. It starts suggesting activities, sightseeing spots, tours and transport options with the details. For every attraction, it suggests open/close timings, time to spend, and nearby restaurants.

You can drag & drop activities and complete your itinerary within a matter of minutes. You can book yourself a nice vacation once you are sure of all the details, making you plan your trip very easily.

2) Refer to User Created Itineraries

If you have a lot of travel ideas but confused about where to start? Don't worry. Thousands of other people have visited the same destination before and created itineraries with us. Choose from a pool of more than 1 million user-generated itineraries around the globe. You can view other travelers’ itineraries for any location and duration to inspire yourself and then customize them to suit your own preferences.

3) Book Hotels and Flights

TripHobo always tries to offer the best from the travel industry to our valued planners. It has formed alliances with Expedia , Skyscanner, Zomato and Booking.com. Its ratings and reviews come courtesy of TripAdvisor whereas Google (as well as other partners) powers its location data.

TripHobo aims to cater to travelers at every stage of the travel planning process. It provides one platform to create personalized itineraries and hassle-free bookings .

4) Get Ready with a Perfect Itinerary

Once you’ve created your customized itinerary, you can print it. Save your plan for future reference or share it with your friends. When you’re ready, you can finalize and have a perfect travel itinerary ready.

Why Is TripHobo a Smart Trip planner?

There are few things included in the Triphobo planner algorithm & app which builds itinerary within minutes.

  • A free virtual map-based trip planner with a smart algorithm
  • International trip planner with about 1,50,000 popular destinations
  • The largest repository of user-generated itineraries
  • Hassle-free booking options for hotels, tours & flights
  • Provides local transit options like metro, rail, bus, and car
  • Calculates an estimated budget
  • Provides options to save, print and share itinerary
  • Strategic Partnerships with leading travel companies

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  • Interview: Praveen Kumar, Founder & CEO of TripHobo
  • TripHobo inks partnership with Zomato
  • How a trip planning startup can succeed
  • Karthik Ramachandram Co-Founder COO, TripHobo - Phocuswright Conference

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Great tool for trip planning. Impportantly it's free and automatically tailors travel plans to your preferences and is completely customisable. The integration with skyscanner and booking.com, and other OTA like priceline and expedia makes it very easy to plan the whole trip along with the bookings in one place.

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How to Plan an International Trip

Planning for international travel can be complicated and overwhelming. Even experienced travelers can find themselves in a panic after forgetting an important step in the planning process. But traveling abroad doesn’t have to be that stressful.

So forget the gut-wrenching realization that you’ve forgotten to print copies of your travel information or purchase travel health insurance. This comprehensive, step-by-step guide to traveling abroad is all you need to make sure you’ve checked all your boxes before jetting out.  

You’ll discover budget travel hacks, helpful sites for deciding where to travel, apps to keep you organized, and so much more to help you plan a trip by yourself—or with the help of a travel agent.

Step 1: Do You Need A Travel Agent When Traveling Internationally?

Before beginning your preparations for travel, consider whether you would benefit from hiring a travel agent to help plan your trip. Travel agents aren’t needed for every trip, but they can be a valuable resource for complicated trips or travelers who don’t have the time to plan a trip themselves.

Here are three important questions to help you decide whether to hire a travel agent.

Is Cost a Concern?

Most travel agents charge a fee for their services, but they can also save you money by finding the best discounts and negotiating prices.

Travel agent fees for booking airline tickets average around $20 and around $50 for cruises according to the American Society of Travel Agents. A full itinerary could cost you between $100 and $200 according to Angi.

However, travel agents can also save you money by finding the best discounts and by negotiating prices. You could save $500 on airfare with the right agent according to U.S. News.

The cost of booking often totals about the same when booking it by yourself or booking through a travel agent (including fees). It’s best to consider how you like to travel and how you like to plan to determine whether you want a travel agent. 

How Complicated Will Your Trip Be?

Various moving parts in a trip, like multiple destinations or a large group of people, can quickly complicate the planning process. This is where skilled travel agents can make a difference.

For example, travel agents can ensure you don’t forget to book a flight for yourself after booking them for your parents and your three siblings. They can also ensure you get tickets for everyone to that award-winning new musical before it’s sold out.

Not every trip will be complicated enough to require a travel agent, but feeling very overwhelmed may be a sign that you could use some extra help.

Do You Have the Time to Plan?

Not having the time to plan a trip abroad doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take one at all. One study about traveling abroad found that people spend about 30 hours planning a vacation. A Travel Attribution Study for Expedia Media Solutions found that people, on average, visit 38 different websites when planning. Handing the reigns over to an expert can provide you the luxury of an enjoyable trip without having to spend months pre-planning.  

But if you like the excitement of planning a trip by yourself and doing your own research, skip out on the travel agent fees and follow the steps below to planning your trip abroad.  

Step 2: How Do You Start to Plan an International Trip? Pick A Destination

You might already have a destination or two in mind and a crew to travel along with you, but maybe you’re open to discovering someplace new and exciting too. Now is your time to do a little personal investigating into the countries and cities where you’ve always wanted to travel.

Search the most popular travel destinations in the world if you’re looking to hit tourist hotspots and be impressed. Or consider the most underrated travel destinations if exploring the path less traveled is more your style.

Do you have any hobbies like skiing or surfing? Search the top destinations for these activities. History buffs can visit the sites of important battles or castles of iconic kings and queens of the past. Escape your hometown geography and check out famous mountain ranges, a tropical forest, or beaches with crisp, blue water.  

Keep a running list of your favorite destinations as well as events and activities you’d like to do there. Then begin to narrow down that list by deciding how far you’re willing to travel, how much you’re willing to spend, the safety and climate of each destination, and your must-do activities.

Check Travel Advisories

Take a look through the U.S. Department of State’s travel advisories before settling on a destination. These are regularly updated safety rankings assigned to every country in the world. Advisories are divided into four levels based on the presence of certain safety and security risk indicators , such as crime, terrorism, civil unrest, health, and natural disaster.

Travel advisories also list important travel information, such as entry and exit requirements, local laws and customs, health conditions, transportation, and more.

The U.S. Department of State encourages you to reconsider any destination under a level 3 “reconsider travel” advisory. Do NOT travel to any destination under a level 4 “do not travel” advisory.

IMPORTANT!  Travel advisories are not only issued on a country-wide level. A country may have an overall travel advisory of level 2, but with elevated advisory levels for certain high-risk parts of the country. That’s why it’s vital that you read the entire travel advisory before choosing your destination

Step 3: Build a Budget

It’s no secret that traveling across international borders can be pricier than a day trip within your own country, especially if you’ll be booking flights or renting cars. It’s important to consider how much you are willing to spend before you start booking reservations.

Setting a budget for your trip can help you determine:

  • Where you can afford to go
  • How much money you need to save

Consider setting a budget for your trip if you recently got a bonus at work or a big tax return that you want to spend on a vacation, or if you’ve already factored a vacation into your yearly finances.

Explore these ways to save up for your trip and make extra money if you don’t have the funds available right this second.

How to Create Your Own Travel Budget

Any good budget travel guide will tell you that creating a realistic budget requires a little extra research on the average prices for a location.

A few factors to include in your travel budget are:

  • Accommodations
  • Transportation
  • Up-front costs (i.e. travel documents / identification)

A vacation cost calculator can provide per-person, per-day cost estimates for each of these factors based on your destination and travel style. You can also do a quick Google search to find prices for specifics like the attractions you plan to visit.

PRO TIP: Overestimate costs so you have a financial cushion to lean back on if necessary.

Start saving once you’ve established your budget. Set monthly savings goals that will lead to your ideal savings for the trip.

Keep in mind there are numerous steps you can take along the way to make your trip more affordable, like traveling to more affordable destinations , taking public transit or walking, and seeking out free or affordable activities to do at your destinations.

Do your best to stick to your budget using helpful budget tracking apps like Trail Wallet Budget Travel App , Tripcoin (IOS only), and Trabee Pocket .  

Step 4: Set (Preliminary) Dates  

Setting dates as far ahead as possible can provide you with ample time to plan, in addition to allowing you to schedule time off work farther ahead. Consider your best time to travel (i.e., when the kids are out of school, when work slows down, etc.).

Also, use sites like WorldTravelGuide.net and ChampionTraveler.com to determine the best time to travel to your destination. Consider whether you want to travel in the peak season or the off season.

Locations during peak season are typically tourist heavy and may be more expensive, but these times are often the best weather wise. You may also find that there are more activities and places to see during this time.

Avoiding the travel-heavy times can often be more affordable if you are on a tight budget. Just make sure the museums, tours, and activities you’re planning are still available during the off season. You’ll also need to consider that the weather may not be ideal in the off season.

Step 5: Settle Travel Documents

Get a jump start on settling your necessary travel documentation. This may include applying for a passport, a visa, and an International Driver’s License.

Ensuring that you have an up-to-date passport is necessary for any international travel you plan to do. It’s important to get the necessary paperwork in order as soon as possible because applying for a passport can be a lengthy process. The U.S. Department of State suggests applying for a new passport several months in advance.

Processing time for a passport can vary depending on your location and the time of year. For example, it takes 6-8 weeks to process in the U.S. Your passport may be expedited to 2-3 weeks or sooner with an additional charge ($60).

Some countries require passports to be valid for 3-6 months after you enter the country. Check your destination(s) and renew your passport if necessary. 

Some travelers may need travel visas before jetting off to different countries. A visa is an official authorization granted by a country that allows you to legally enter.

Visas are sometimes necessary for extended stays (often lasting longer than 30-180 days), but every country has a different policy. For example, China requires all foreign visitors to have a visa, while France only requires visas for those staying longer than 90 days.

Check the guidelines for your destination country to learn its policy on visas while planning for your international vacation.  

International Driver’s Permit (IDP) 

Travelers who plan to drive in a foreign country may need to apply for an International Driver’s Permit , or IDP. This permit allows you to drive in over 175 countries around the world. To be eligible for an IDP, you must be over 18 and you must have held a valid license, issued by your home country, for six months or longer.

The American Automobile Association and the American Automobile Touring Alliance are the only places in the United States allowed to issue IDPs (other outlets are considered illegal).

The application process can often take several weeks. IDPs are issued for a period of one year, so make sure to correctly align your application with your travel time.

There is no additional written or driving test required to obtain an IDP, but it’s important to research your destination’s driving laws beforehand to ensure that you abide by them.

Additionally, always carry your valid driver’s license along with your IDP, since your IDP is invalid without it.  

Step 6: Check for Necessary Shots and Immunizations

Different countries may have different vaccine requirements before entry. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend vaccinating at least a month before you travel to accommodate for time to get all required doses of the vaccine, time for the body to build up immunity, and unforeseen delays.

Don’t delay. Review the CDC’s "Travelers' Health" page for your destination to ensure you have all the necessary shots. Schedule an appointment with your doctor sooner rather than later, especially if you require an immunization not typically housed at your doctor’s office.

Step 7: Consider Accommodations

Now is a good time to decide on your ideal accommodations while on vacation. Resorts, hotels, Airbnbs, and hostels are just four of the most common accommodation options around the world. Let’s start by breaking each one down.

Resort / Hotel

This option is for the traveler who wants all-inclusive accommodation. Travelers willing to spend the extra money can enjoy various amenities as well as guaranteed privacy and security.

Resorts and hotels tend to be on the pricier side and don’t always provide the most authentic experience in a new city, but they often guarantee a comfortable and familiar stay in an unfamiliar place. Use sites like Trivago or Kayak to easily check prices from multiple websites before you book.

Vacation Rental

Vacation rentals are a middle-of-the-road option between hotels and hostels. They might be the way to go if you’re planning a trip with many people or plan to stay in the same location for an extended period.

Timeshares or Airbnbs provide a private space and the freedom to save money by cooking your own meals. Rentals are a great way to bring a big group together under one roof for quality time with family or friends.

Hostels are by far the most affordable means of accommodation, and a great choice for travelers wishing to socialize. Though amenities and privacy aren’t as plentiful, hostels can be a viable option for budget travelers and social butterflies who are comfortable with dorm-style bedrooms and shared bathrooms—or those who plan to spend very little time in their rooms and more time exploring.

Make sure to book through reputable sites like HostelWorld.com to ensure the hostel is legitimate.

Step 8: Decide on Transportation

It’s important to organize transportation to and from your destination as soon as possible to get the best rates. A study from CheapAir.com of over 1,000,000 international trips found that the best day to purchase airline tickets for the cheapest price is anywhere from 70 to 207 days prior to departure, depending on your destination.

Follow these guidelines from U.S. News to save money when booking your flight:

  • Fly out on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, or Thursdays
  • Check airfare rates in the middle of the week instead of the weekend
  • Book your flight at least 21 days before you plan to travel

Consider other means of transportation to your destination as well, including airplanes, cars, trains, and boats. Booking a flight may be the most convenient way to travel abroad, but driving or taking a train could be a more affordable mode of transportation.

Local Commutes

Also consider how you plan to commute around your location once you arrive. Book your car rental or look up public transportation guides for your desired destination. (A simple Google search of your destination followed by “public transportation” will likely provide helpful resources.)

Walking might even be the best form of transportation if the attractions you want to visit are nearby.

Step 9: Research the Heck Out of Your Destination(s)

Create a bucket list.

Researching the cities you plan to visit can be the most exciting step of the planning process. This is the time to really discover all the memories you can make while at your destination.

Look up travel guides for your specific destination and start making a bucket list of activities you would like to do there. Seek advice from friends who have visited your destination to help you sort through the must-see spots.

You can also post questions on Trip Advisor’s “Travel Board” to get responses from locals and other travelers who have visited your intended destination.

Understand the Culture

It’s important to learn a bit more about the culture of your destination so you can be prepared for any culture shock and prevent inappropriate behaviors along the way. Customs like tipping, greetings, and even what’s appropriate to wear can vary greatly between cultures, so it’s best to do some research to learn about proper behaviors and attire in your destination.

View culture guides from sites like Commisceo-Global.com or download apps that enable you to experience local cultures on a deeper level.

Learn the Language

Knowing the language can help you navigate your way through a new country, but don’t let lack of fluency detour you from a destination. Take time to learn some of the basic commands , like greetings and asking for directions, in order to better navigate your destination.

Download apps like Google Translate to help you read menus and signs while also quickly translating words or phrases in a pinch.  

See more tips for traveling without knowing the language .

Step 10: Prioritize Last-Minute Logistics

There are a few last-minute steps to check off your list before jetting abroad. Make sure you have important elements like cell phone service and credit cards in order before you leave.

Be Wary of Cell Phone International Roaming Fees

Be aware of international roaming fees from your cell phone plan. Stick to mostly Wi-Fi to save money on those hefty fees. Download maps to destinations in advance so you don’t have to use your service to look them up.

Purchase a cheap phone at your destination if you don’t want to deal with those extra fees. You can pay only for the service you use during your trip and then return to your original phone when you get home.

Contact your current provider about roaming charges abroad so you are well informed and can make the best decision for yourself before leaving.

Notify Your Bank

Give your bank a call before you leave for your trip. New transactions from abroad when you haven’t notified your bank can seem suspicious and lead to frozen accounts.

Additionally, check into the fees your bank charges for transactions abroad. It may be helpful to apply for a credit card for international travel with minimal fees and additional deals, especially if you plan on spending a significant amount of time abroad.

Otherwise, be cautious of the additional fees charged for withdrawing from ATMs and exchange services. The highest fees are often at airports, so venture a bit farther into the city for a better deal.

Purchase Travel Health Insurance

When you cross international borders without adequate insurance, you may be vulnerable to expensive out-of-pocket costs. Don’t assume your current health insurance policy covers overseas medical expenses.

Learn whether you need travel medical insurance that can help mitigate costs from an unforeseen injury, illness, or other emergency. A plan like Atlas Travel insurance can provide coverage for unexpected expenses resulting from situations like:

  • The eggnog you purchased from a Christmas market in Vienna results in a serious bout of food poisoning that requires inpatient hospitalization.
  • You’re exploring the white-sand beaches of an Indonesian island when you fall and become seriously injured. You’re taken to the local emergency medical facility, but the facility cannot provide you with the life-saving medical treatment you need. You need to be evacuated to the nearest adequate hospital.
  • You’ve just touched down in Japan when you receive the devastating news that your mother has passed away. You need to purchase a new flight to return home as soon as possible.
  • After arriving at the airport for your initial departure, bad storms cause your evening flight to be delayed until the following morning. You must now pay for meals and accommodations you hadn’t planned for in your budget.

Learn more about how Atlas Travel can provide coverage in these scenarios.

Step 11: Start Packing

Now that you have all of your reservations and activities in order, you can start packing your suitcase . It might be helpful to make a list of all the items you need . There are a few important items that you want to remember to pack:

What to Bring When Traveling Internationally

  • Prescription medications
  • Electronics converter
  • Emergency cash
  • Copies of travel information (passport, visa, hotel reservations, travel tickets, travel health insurance ID card)

PRO TIP: Read our Ultimate Guide to International Travel . This resource contains even more advice for your next trip abroad!

Don’t miss out on the opportunity to explore new places and cultures. What’s stopping you? Start planning now so you can finally start checking your dream destinations off your bucket list. 

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Plan your summer trip to North Carolina's Outer Banks

May 31, 2024 • 11 min read

plan a trip yourself

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There must be magic in the air down on the Outer Banks . How else can you explain a place where wild horses frolic on a beach and humans can learn to fly?

That’s what I thought on my first visit there as a lifelong resident of landlocked states who, truth be told, rarely craved a beach getaway. They were never as idyllic as the postcards promised – I guess I’d just never gotten one from the Outer Banks. Like so many others, my wife’s family would make annual pilgrimages, and after they offered me an introduction, I finally “got it.”

The natural barrier islands protect roughly 200 miles of mainland North Carolina coasts from Atlantic storms despite themselves being delicate land formations mere hundreds of feet wide in some stretches. Home to a dozen national wildlife refuges, protected seashores and state parks, the combination of beauty and power, immense breadth and serene fragility, make for quite the draw.

And travelers have definitely noticed. Between four and five million people will make the trek to the Outer Banks – or OBX – this year, nearly double the numbers from 15 years ago, according to the local tourism bureaus and park authorities, meaning it pays to plan ahead. Despite the crush of attention, the coastal towns and soul-restoring views still retain that breezy charm – yet another example of the magic of the Outer Banks. Here’s my top tips for making the most of your trip.

A pack of wild horses stand together on a beach

Step 1: Choose where to base yourself

Location is key in OBX as each town has a distinct feel, yet traveling between them has its challenges. Traffic on Hwy 12, the main artery throughout the Outer Banks, can harsh the vibes up north, while Ocracoke Island to the south is only accessible via ferry. Beachside parking lots are also smaller and fewer in number than you typically see at mainland beaches, so you’ll need to gauge how important it is to be easily walkable to a beach access point. Here are some of the highlights, listed from north to south.

Vibes: Upscale yet unpretentious mix of posh rental properties, shopping, and natural beauty. While geographically the Outer Banks start in far southern Virginia , typically people are referring to the communities of North Carolina when talking about OBX, and Corolla is as far north as you can drive in OBX without needing a beach-safe 4WD vehicle (Remember: pronounce the town name as kur-ALL-ah, and don’t get your kah-ROLL-ah stuck in the sand).

Do: Getting a glimpse of the wild mustangs, ancestors of Colonial Spanish steeds, on the dunes of Currituck National Wildlife Refuge is a trip-defining highlight. The nonprofit Corolla Wild Horse Fund has a resource page on how you can do this safely yourself if equipped with a 4WD, but if not, a plethora of local tour operators exist. In town, climb the steps at the Currituck Beach Lighthouse before grabbing a beach read at Island Bookstore .

Eat: Splurge on a crabcake benedict breakfast at Seanna Tavern before your lighthouse visit. In the evening, cool off with a drink at the laid-back Corolla Beer Garden . 

Stay: Vacation home rentals are everywhere and for every budget across OBX. Go Airbnb if you are looking for a smaller or more affordable stay, but for large groups I’d recommend one of the local vacation rental outfits like Twiddy & Company , which dominates the northern OBX market and will have more staff support on-call. The Inn at Corolla boasts sunset views of Currituck Sound.

Three brightly colored kits fly above sandy dunes covered in grass

Vibes: Quaint and family-friendly, the town of Duck is a charmer with a boardwalk lined by souvenir shops and seafood joints. Art crawls and free concerts in the park will let you tap into a coastal town atmosphere straight out of Netflix’s Outer Banks (Disclaimer: I’ve never seen an episode, but the show is actually filmed in South Carolina anyway.)

Do: Rent a set of wheels from Ocean Atlantic Rentals and zip up the bike path before picking up a kite at the boardwalk shops to fly at the beach. Follow the boardwalk down to Duck Town Park and watch reeds dance in the wind.

Eat: Grab an almost-too-pretty-to-eat donut from the original Duck Donuts location that spawned the nationwide chain. The Blue Point serves up straightforward but delicious takes on seafood classics like scallops or shrimp and grits, while the Paper Canoe ’s intimate dining room and creative presentations are perfect for date night.

Stay: If Twiddy or Airbnb listings in Duck aren’t to your liking, Village Realty  has an office in town. There’s also a string of hotels along the narrower stretch of land between Duck and Corolla, of which the posh Sanderling Resort is the most elegant.

Kitty Hawk/Kill Devil Hills/Nags Head

Vibes: This trio of neighboring communities has both more things to do and more people doing them than elsewhere else in OBX. Look here to trade a more crowded beach for more accessible amenities and rental prices.

Do: It was Kitty Hawk where the Wright Brothers famously launched their proto plane experiments, and the Wright Brothers National Memorial stands here to commemorate the exact spot the inventors squared off with gravity. Jockey’s Ridge State Park has the tallest living sand dunes system on the Eastern Seaboard. Want to try jockeying yourself? Book a beach horseback ride .

Eat: Beachside grillshack John’s Drive In has been slinging burgers and sweet treats for nearly 50 years, while  Sam and Omie’s comfort food from the sea has been a crowd-pleaser for nearly 90 years.

Stay: You’ll find more motels and national chain hotels in this area if that fits your needs better than a full home rental. If you want to get away from the crowds, the kid-free Colington Creek Inn on the Roanoke Sound side offers a calm oasis in Kill Devil Hills.

Roanoke Island

Vibes: The community of Manteo on Roanoke Island in the sound should be your hub if you’re more of a museum hound and history buff than a beach bum. 

Do: Try to solve one of the country’s oldest cold cases by investigating the notorious 16th-century disappearance of the “Lost Colony” at Fort Raleigh National Historic Site , where roughly 120 British colonists vanished without explanation. Walk among the flowers at the stately Elizabethan Gardens , a living memorial at the site.

Eat: The oysters, whether broiled or raw, at Blue Water Grill for lunch will tide you over till your reservations for a steak dinner at the 1587 Restaurant and Lounge inside the Tranquil House Inn.

Stay: The island features a number of cozy inns and traditional bed and breakfasts. There’s the aforementioned Tranquill House , but the views and boardwalk access at the Roanoke Inn are tough to beat.

People relaxing and playing on a sandy beach on a sunny day

Hatteras and Ocracoke Islands

Vibes: At the end of the line at the far south Outer Banks are Hatteras and Ocracoke Islands, the more secluded and chilled-out alternatives to the bustle of northern OBX (though accommodations still fill quickly in peak season).

Do: Just getting here will be part of the adventure. The drive down Hwy 12 to Hatteras along Cape Hatteras National Seashore will treat you to views of both the ocean and the sound, while Ocracoke is only accessible via ferry. Once settled, enjoy a less-crowded beach or walk the trail through Buxton Woods .

Eat: Howard’s Pub is a funky favorite hangout in Ocracoke with decent burgers, or change it up with Thai curry ramen at Cafe Pamilco . 

Stay: Home rentals in these areas are best accommodated through one of the rental offices that specializes in these communities, like Ocracoke Island Realty or Hatteras Realty . 

Step 2: Booking your accommodations

We’ve done large home rentals for our trips to OBX, a must for a dozen people traveling together, including kids, but researching options can feel daunting. Not only are there multiple rental agencies, but prime spots book up quickly, over a year in advance in some cases, and Twiddy warns that its stock of large homes is nearly 80% booked for the summer by January 1 of a given year. What’s tricky is that due to variable leasing agreements between homeowners and rental management companies, booking availability can feel a bit scattershot, with rates for future years listed as subject to change even as you are allowed to place a hold. If going with a rental home, start looking now and reserve immediately. Even if you plan to keep your eyes open for alternatives and would have to forfeit a small hold fee for a change, better to lock in early.

Home rentals aren’t necessary for every group, understandably, but if staying in a hotel, splurge on that quaint inn if at all feasible. Many bars aren’t open late and the OBX nightlife is more chill than thrill, so stay somewhere you’ll enjoy relaxing in the evenings.

A teen is instructed in hang gliding from a kite on sandy dunes

Step 3: Plan your days

I’ve listed a bunch of recommendations above, but we all know the reason you’re going to the Outer Banks: the beaches. Numerous options exist for renting beach gear including seating and umbrellas, paddleboards or even golf carts to shuttle your crew to different beach access points. Advance reservations are a must to get quality equipment. If you’re in a pinch and forgot something, call around to various rental agencies rather than just skimming their sites for a last-minute Hail Mary chance at snagging something.

The Wright Brothers launched their early flights from here because of the consistent sea winds, and you can glide along yourself with kitesurfing or glider lessons from Kitty Hawk Kites . I’m more grounded (i.e. terrified of heights) so a novelty kite that can fly over our beach chairs is more my speed. Keep an eye on surf and wind reports before committing to a plan for the day; poor water conditions or a strong wind out of the west (which blows in more mosquitoes and flies from the still waters of the sound) may be a reason to skip the beach that day and check out one of the towns instead.

Lastly, check the launch schedules at  NASA’s Wallops Island and Kennedy Space Center facilities. They are sporadic and highly dependent upon the weather conditions being perfect at launch time, but we were fortunate enough to witness one in 2023, and watching a craft literally leave Earth’s atmosphere is a powerful and humbling experience. I can only imagine what Orville and Wilbur Wright would think.

Step 4: Plan your menu

Endless mid-scale dining options exist throughout OBX, with an emphasis on seafood, naturally, but anywhere that takes reservations will likely book up days to weeks in advance in peak season, so make some bookings before you even leave home.

If you’re traveling with family or another large group, an easy and fun way to beat the crowds is to have a seafood boil at home. Outer Banks Boil Company will assemble your preferred combo of shellfish and sides tossed with butter and seasoning, all wrapped to go. You’ll just need a stove to boil it on. It still pays to reserve your pot ahead of time in the high season.

Step 5: Decide how you’re getting there

The closest major airport is Norfolk International, which is a roughly 90 minute drive, without traffic, to the Wright Memorial Bridge into the Outer Banks, and depending on where exactly you’re staying, it could be another hour driving through OBX. Key words being “without traffic”, as high season will bump this up considerably, particularly at choke points near the bridge and in town centers. Do everything possible to arrive and leave midweek, as arriving on a Saturday midday will mean spending most of your first day of vacation staring at brake lights.

Whether coming from Norfolk or from further to the north, make a pit stop at Morris Farm Market near Barco, N.C., which has the largest selection of goods – and cleanest bathroom stalls – of the markets that dot the northern route into OBX. The southern route across Roanoke Island on Hwy 64 is typically less crowded, and the main way you’ll go if coming from Raleigh. Ferries to Ocracoke launch from Swanquarter and Cedar Island on the mainland, and as with everything in high season, book ahead for peace of mind if going that route.

Speaking of routes, doublecheck that GPS and make sure it’s not inadvertently directing you to a ferry in an ill-advised attempt to avoid traffic. Likewise, your GPS may route you through neighborhood side streets once in OBX, despite local attempts to have tech companies stop recommending these shortcuts (I’ve even seen locals post signs saying  “Google Maps lies! Don’t drive this way!” to deter detours). If you just can’t help yourself, at least be sure to drive slowly and respectfully through neighborhoods off the main drags.

Step 6: Pack your bags

For us, this is one of those “pack the car to the gills” kind of trips, as we bring food and supplies to stock the rental property during our stay. Aside from sunscreen and bug spray, you’ll also want to bring any toiletries and laundry soap that might not be provided by the rental. Better to bring from home rather than waste your time in long lines to pay premium prices after you arrive.

Buy the nicest, heaviest beach umbrella or canopy you can manage, as the winds will turn a cheap one inside out or send it flying down the beach, and you’ll need a respite from the sun. Pack a nicer lightweight button-up or dress if you want to spruce up for a dinner or two, though you can get by with beach casual pretty much anywhere.

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<p>From beachfront resorts to mountain retreats, indulge in top-notch amenities and stunning surroundings. Puerto Rico invites travelers to experience all-inclusive luxury in a tropical paradise. Whether seeking relaxation or adventure, Puerto Rico’s all-inclusive options cater to every traveler’s desires.<br><strong>Read more: </strong><a href="https://fooddrinklife.com/puerto-rico-all-inclusive-resorts/?utm_source=msn&utm_medium=page&utm_campaign=msn">Discover All-inclusive Style Bliss in Puerto Rico</a></p>

Discover All-inclusive Style Bliss in Puerto Rico

This destination is perfect for travelers looking to maximize their vacation time without the hassle of constant planning. Puerto Rico offers an all-inclusive experience that blends the convenience of pre-planned travel with the exotic beauty of a tropical paradise. Here, you can indulge in endless activities or simply relax on the sun-soaked beaches with a drink in hand. Read more: Discover All-inclusive Style Bliss in Puerto Rico

<p>Stroll through vibrant shopping districts and enjoy the local art scene. West Palm Beach offers a mix of activities to make your visit memorable. Relax on the sandy shores or take a boat tour to explore the waterways. Don’t miss the lively nightlife with its array of dining and entertainment options.<br><strong>Read more: </strong><a href="https://fooddrinklife.com/7-top-things-to-do-in-west-palm-beach/?utm_source=msn&utm_medium=page&utm_campaign=msn">7 Top Things to Do in West Palm Beach</a></p>

7 Top Things to Do in West Palm Beach

West Palm Beach is a hub of activity and beauty, offering more than just stunning beaches. From upscale shopping to exploring the vibrant arts scene, there’s something for every traveler. For those who love the outdoors, the area’s lush botanical gardens and nature preserves provide a perfect day trip. West Palm Beach combines leisure and adventure, making it an ideal destination for those seeking both relaxation and entertainment. Read more: 7 Top Things to Do in West Palm Beach

Plan a Dream All-inclusive Trip to the U.S. Virgin Islands

All-inclusive resorts here cater to every whim, allowing guests to indulge in gourmet meals, spa treatments, and various water sports without worrying about the details. The U.S. Virgin Islands are a dream destination for an all-inclusive getaway, featuring crystal-clear waters and picturesque sandy beaches. These islands offer a unique opportunity to enjoy unspoiled tropical beauty alongside luxurious amenities. Read more: Plan a Dream All-inclusive Trip to the U.S. Virgin Islands

<p>A great beach day is made better with the right snacks. Choose foods that are easy to eat and transport, like sandwiches and fresh fruits. Keep hydration in mind with plenty of water and refreshing juices. Proper nutrition will keep the energy up for a day of fun in the sun.<br><strong>Read more: </strong><a href="https://allthebestspots.com/the-ultimate-beach-food-guide-fueling-fun-in-the-sun/?utm_source=msn&utm_medium=page&utm_campaign=msn">The Ultimate Beach Food Guide: Fueling Fun in the Sun</a></p>

The Ultimate Beach Food Guide: Fueling Fun in the Sun

Enjoying the beach is not just about sunbathing and swimming; it’s also about savoring great food that complements the seaside atmosphere. This guide covers the best foods to enjoy while soaking up the sun, from fresh seafood to light salads and tropical fruits. Discover where to find delicious treats along the boardwalks or pack the perfect picnic to enhance your beach day. Read more: The Ultimate Beach Food Guide: Fueling Fun in the Sun

The post Can't believe these 11 gorgeous US beaches exist? See for yourself appeared first on Food Drink Life .

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  • Symptoms and Complications
  • How It Spreads
  • Plan for Travel
  • Measles Cases and Outbreaks
  • Measles Resources
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  • Measles cases in the United States originate from unvaccinated international travelers.
  • You should be vaccinated against measles at least 2 weeks before international travel.
  • Call your doctor immediately if you think you or your child have been exposed to measles.

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Who is at risk

You are at risk for measles if:‎, before international travel, do not travel if you are sick‎, protect yourself against measles.

The best way to protect yourself and your loved ones is by getting the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine . You should plan to be fully vaccinated against measles at least 2 weeks before you depart . If your trip is less than 2 weeks away and you're not protected, you should still get a dose of MMR. The MMR vaccine protects against all 3 diseases.

  • Two doses of MMR vaccine provide 97% protection against measles.
  • One dose provides 93% protection.

Call your doctor or your local health department; or locate a health center or clinic near you to schedule an appointment for the MMR vaccine. CDC does not recommend measles vaccine for infants younger than 6 months of age.

Infants under 12 months old who are traveling

  • Get an early dose at 6 through 11 months.
  • Another dose at 12 through 15 months.
  • A final dose at 4 through 6 years.

Children over 12 months old

  • Get first dose immediately.
  • Get second dose 28 days after first dose.

Teens & adults with no evidence of immunity*

*Acceptable evidence of immunity against measles includes at least one of the following:

  • Written documentation of adequate vaccination
  • Laboratory evidence of immunity
  • Laboratory confirmation of measles
  • Birth in the United States before 1957

After international travel

Watch your health for 3 weeks after you return . Measles is highly contagious and can spread to others through coughing and sneezing.

Call your doctor immediately if:‎

  • If one person has measles, 9 out of 10 people around that person will also become infected if they are not protected.
  • People who are infected can spread measles to others from 4 days before a rash develops through 4 days after the rash appears.
  • High fever (may spike to more than 104° F)
  • Runny nose (coryza)
  • Red, watery eyes ( conjunctivitis or pink eye )
  • Rash (3-5 days after symptoms begin)

Countries having measles outbreaks

Measles remains a common disease in many parts of the world, including Europe, the Middle East, Asia, and Africa. Each year, an estimated 128,000 people die from measles. Many countries and popular travel destinations have experienced measles outbreaks in recent years. These include the UK, Israel, India, Thailand, Vietnam, Japan, Ukraine, the Philippines, and more.

Before your next trip:‎

U.s. measles outbreaks from international travel.

In the United States, measles cases originate from international travel.

The disease is brought into the United States by unvaccinated people who get infected in other countries. Typically, 2 out of 3 of these unvaccinated travelers are Americans. They can spread measles to other people who are not protected against measles, which sometimes leads to outbreaks.

Since measles is still common in many countries, unvaccinated travelers bring measles to the United States, and it can spread. Protect yourself, your family, and your community with the MMR vaccine , especially before traveling internationally.

Measles (Rubeola)

Measles is one of the most contagious diseases and can be dangerous in babies and young children. The best protection against measles is the MMR vaccine.

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Destination of the Year 2024: Costa Rica

Destinations.

  • Central & South America
  • Destination of the Year 2024

Introduction

Picture yourself on a white-sand beach, surrounded by palm trees. In the distance, surfers ride the breaking waves. Behind you rises a dense rainforest, where white-faced capuchin monkeys jump from branch to branch. Welcome to Costa Rica . 

I grew up in Costa Rica, and while I’ve lived all over the U.S., I'm always drawn back home. In the northwest, a dry tropical forest stretches down the Nicoya Peninsula. The laid-back beach towns that dot this part of the Pacific coast include Nosara, a mecca for surfing and yoga, and my favorite, the lesser-known San Juanillo, which still has the charm of a small fishing village. Farther south, Santa Teresa has an intriguing mix of cultures and superb international cuisine.

Venture inland and you’ll reach the Guanacaste pampas, with its sabaneros — Costa Rican cowboys — and rich pre-Columbian and colonial history. I love to walk through the town of Nicoya, one of the first Spanish settlements in the country and the home of the Chorotega people.

On the Caribbean side of the country, you’ll find the freshwater canals and serene rivers that meander through the rainforest of Barra del Colorado National Wildlife Refuge and Tortuguero National Park. In Limón, the vibrant Afro-Caribbean culture includes the sounds of calypso and an aromatic cuisine built around strong spices and coconut milk.

If hiking is your passion, try the Camino de Costa Rica, a 174-mile trail that cuts across the country: starting in Barra del Pacuare on the Atlantic coast and eventually winding into the Dota Mountains — the place where I grew up. 

Off the Osa Peninsula, in southern Costa Rica, is the Golfo Dulce, a sanctuary for Pacific humpback whales. The region is defined by mangrove swamps and Corcovado National Park, which protects one of the most diverse ecosystems in the world — and where it is possible to see a jaguar strolling along a white-sand beach.

I could go on and on. There is no single recipe for enjoying Costa Rica. Any road you take will likely bring the same result: a sense of wonder and a desire to return. We Costa Ricans are relatively few — the population barely exceeds 5 million. But we’re proud of our shared idea that things will always turn out fine and that life is, above all, beautiful.

— Ronny Rojas

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Cover Story

If 2024 is your year for retirement, then one, congratulations, and two, we've got a destination for you to consider moving to in your golden years. 

Travel Tips

Experiences, culture & style.

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Exiting nps.gov

Alerts in effect, angels landing permits & hiking.

Planned trail maintenance will close the route to Angels Landing from April 1 to April 4, 2024. We will not issue any permits to hike on those days.

Learning the lottery outcome

  • If you cancel your permit at least two days before your hike, we will refund the $3 per person fee.
  • You can get your permit by logging in to your account on recreation.gov
  • You did not get a permit and can consider applying again the day before your hike or for a future Seasonal Lottery.  

After you get your permit

You will get an email from recreation.gov confirming that you got a permit. This confirmation email serves as your permit. Print or download a copy of the confirmation email and bring it with you on your hike. Mobile phone service is unreliable at the permit checkpoint so be sure to print or download before you arrive. 

Day-before Lottery

When to apply.

You can apply for a permit the day before your planned hike. This lottery opens every day at 12:01 a.m. and closes at 3 p.m. Mountain Time (MT).

Note: It costs $6 to apply for a permit. The fee covers an application for up to 6 people (including the person filling out the application). This fee is non-refundable.  

How to time your application

Apply on the day before you want to hike between 12:01 a.m. and 3 p.m. MT. For example: If you want to hike on a Tuesday, you need to apply between 12:01 a.m. and 3 p.m. MT on Monday. We will issue permits at 4 p.m. MT on Monday.  

At 4 p.m. MT on the day you apply, we will send you an email to let you know:

  • This fee is not refundable.
  • You did not get a permit and can try again in a future lottery.  

You will get an email from recreation.gov confirming that you got a permit. This confirmation email serves as your permit. Print or download a copy of the confirmation email and bring it with you on your hike. Mobile phone service is unreliable at the permit checkpoint so be sure to print or download before you arrive. 

Getting a refund or changing your permit

Cancellation policy.

You cannot change your permit. All fees are non-refundable.

Seasonal Lottery

If you get a permit using the seasonal lottery, you can cancel the permit until two days before the permit reservation date for a full refund of the $3 per person fee. The $6 application fee is not refundable. Canceled seasonal lottery permits will automatically roll into the day-before lottery.  

Change Policy

You can reduce the group size on your permit until two days before the permit reservation date. If you reduce the number of people on your permit, you will get a refund for the $3 per person fee for each person you take off of the permit. The $6 application fee is not refundable. 

Example:  If you have a permit to hike on a Friday, June 24, you can cancel it or reduce the number of people on it until 11:59 p.m. MT on the Wednesday, June 22. If you reduce the number of people on your permit or cancel it, recreation.gov will refund the $3 per person fee for each person who is removed or canceled.

You cannot:

  • Increase the number of people in your group
  • Change the date of your hike
  • Change the permitee (transfer the permit).
  • Change to an alternate leader.

Permits are not transferable.

Embed Video

Learn how to apply for a permit on recreation.gov to hike at Angels Landing in Zion National Park.

Learn more about hiking at Angels Landing

Angels Landing hike with hikers on the rim of the trail.

After you get a permit

Prepare for your hike! Along this 5.4 mile round-trip hike, you will gain 1,488 feet in elevation. M ost hikers take around 4 hours to complete the hike, but some take longer. Check the seasonal shuttle schedule before you leave to make sure you do not miss the last shuttle. Print or download your permit and carry a flashlight or headlamp with new batteries, some food and lots of water just in case you end up out later than you planned. The trail is well marked, but bring a park map in case you get disoriented. Always carry and drink plenty of water, dress in layers, know the forecast, and check conditions in the park to get ready for your hike.

Before your hike

Print or download your permit.

You need to print or download the confirmation email from recreation.gov that says you got a permit (this serves as your permit) before you get to the trailhead. A ranger may check your permit at the Grotto (Shuttle Stop 6), at Scout Lookout or along the trail. If you do not have your permit with you, we may not allow you to take your hike.

Treat your feet right

Check the weather forecast, get to the trailhead, at the trailhead, fill your water bottle, go before you go, leave no trace.

  • Protect the canyon walls, rocks, and trees from graffiti and vandalism.
  • Leave rocks as you find them and do not stack rock cairns.
  • Protect the natural sounds of the canyon by talking softly and using headphones for music.

On the trail

The hike along the West Rim Trail to Angels Landing is strenuous. Your safety on the trail is your responsibility, and we want to share some tips so that you reduce the risks and have an enjoyable hike.

Stay hydrated

Enjoy scout lookout.

You do not need a permit to go to Scout Lookout.   

You do need a permit to go past Scout Lookout on to the part of the trail with Chains.

For many people, Scout Lookout is a reasonable stopping point. You will have to hike the West Rim Trail  from Zion Canyon to this viewpoint. and you will covering most of the distance and elevation gain for the hike. If you or someone in your group has a fear of heights, consider splitting up here and regrouping at a specified time and place. It can be a great option to head up the West Rim Trail to get views overlooking Angels Landing and Zion Canyon. You do not need a permit to hike on the West Rim Trail.

Be mindful of conditions

Even if you have a permit, it may not be advisable for you to hike if the weather is bad when you are in Zion. Do not attempt to ascend if:

Storm clouds are in the area.

The ground is wet or icy (the rock becomes very slick when wet; most accidents on the chains occur during wet conditions).

It is dark or will be dark before you finish.

  • You have any fear of heights.

Watch for rockfall

Rockfall hazards occur throughout the park and are especially high near any cliff face. If you witness a rockfall, quickly move away from the cliff. If you are near the base of a cliff or talus (loose rock) slope when a rockfall happens and cannot quickly move away from the base of the cliff, immediately seek shelter behind the largest nearby boulder and pull your backpack over your head. After rocks have stopped falling, move quickly as far away from the base of the cliff as possible. Be aware that rockfalls can occur at any time. Pay attention to your surroundings, stay off of closed trails, and, if unsure, keep away from cliffs.

Use caution on the Angels Landing Chains

You need to have a permit to hike the Angels Landing chains.

Take your time and be patient with slower hikers.

Allow faster hikers to pass you (when possible).

  • Where available, remain within reach of the chains.
  • Be considerate. There are many places that are only safe for one person to travel the two-way route. Communicate and take turns with others.
  • In winter, the metal chains are very cold. Gloves may be useful.

Watch for wildlife

Keep wildlife wild : respect them from a distance. Squirrels, ravens, chipmunks, and other animals live along the trail; never feed them or allow them to get your food. Do not leave your pack unattended (e.g., at the base of the chains or while you take a nap).  California condors are the largest bird in North America and you might see one near Angels Landing. Please respect these critically endangered birds by keeping your distance. Never feed or approach a condor.

Pack out your trash and recreate responsibly

Pack it in, pack it out, don't roll rocks.

In Zion, you will commonly be above other people and wildlife. Do not throw anything over the edge of the trail. Angels Landing is a nesting area for many birds and rock climbers are often below. A falling rock could injure or kill.

Logistics and other information

Emergencies.

Even if you plan well and bring the right equipment, you might still have problems. If you need help, try to call 911. If you have cell and/or data service, a call will connect you with the Zion Dispatch Office. If you do not have cell and/or data service ( most people cannot connect to a mobile network in Zion Canyon ), find a park ranger or park volunteer on the trail or at a trailhead.

More Information

  • Learn more about why we issue permits to hike at Angels Landing and about Zion's Visitor Use Research and Planning .
  • If you have a Commercial Use Authorization to guide hikes in the park, please contact the Zion Commercial Services to discuss options. If you want to find a guide, consult our list of authorized guides . No matter when you plan to hike Angels Landing, you will need a permit

If you do not receive a permit

You can hike about 2.25 mi (3.62 km) from the Grotto (Shuttle Stop #6) to Scout Lookout on the West Rim Trail without a permit.

Hiking to Scout Lookout is strenuous and you will climb 1000 ft (305 m). Hikers at Scout Lookout get scenic views of Zion Canyon. The half mile route with chains to Angels Landing starts at Scout Lookout. You need a permit to go from Scout Lookout to Angels Landing.

There are many other trails in Zion Canyon. Learn more about hiking in Zion.

An album with materials you can print to share QR codes, tips, and updates with people planning trips to Zion

Learn about the Free Zion Canyon Shuttle Service.

Maps, shuttle schedules, hiking, and camping information. Check here for materials translated into languages other than English.

Last updated: June 1, 2024

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Contact info, mailing address:.

Zion National Park 1 Zion Park Blvd. Springdale, UT 84767

435-772-3256 If you have questions, please email [email protected]. Listen to recorded information by calling anytime 24 hours a day. Rangers answer phone calls from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. and 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. MT, but a ranger may not answer if they are already speaking with someone else.

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    Narrow down your list to the 2 cities that interest you the most. If your trip is longer, scale up the number of destinations accordingly; for instance, in 2 weeks you could reasonably visit 4 (or possibly 5) cities. Some personal rules of thumb: 2 days per city at an absolute minimum.

  13. How to Plan a Trip for Beginners (5 Easy Steps)

    Do Google searches for ideas such as "Affordable beach vacations in the U.S." or "best family vacation destinations in Europe.". Consult with travel guidebooks. Once you've chosen your destination for your perfect trip, you're ready to get on with planning your trip. #2. Decide how you want to get there.

  14. How to Plan a Trip

    MAP YOUR TRIP. STEP 9. LOGISTICS. STEP 10. START PACKING. STEP 1. HOW TO AFFORD TRAVEL. Whenever we get into a conversation with friends and talk about travel, everyone is baffled when we talk about our one, two, three-month, and even 1-year trips.

  15. How To Plan a Vacation You'll LOVE in 10 Steps

    So when traveling with her, we know to relax too or to plan morning activities she doesn't want to do. Explore travel styles in more detail at Trip Planning Step 1: Define the Travel EXPERIENCE You Want. Step 5: RESEARCH your destination. Steps 5 to 9 in how to plan a vacation are all about building your trip itinerary.

  16. How to Plan Your Own Trip (& Save Big Travel Bucks)

    In this post, we'll show you step-by-step exactly how to plan and book your own trip, and save HUGELY. Step 1. Choose a destination. The slightest of research can help you understand which countries will serve your travel budget best. $50USD/day in Paris will hardly stretch beyond activities and food, while the same budget in Bangkok will more ...

  17. Plan That Trip: Create your travel itinerary & more

    Absolutely! Plan That Trip allows you to invite friends, family, or colleagues to collaborate on your travel plans. They can view, edit, and add to the itinerary in real-time, ensuring everyone involved has the latest information. Collaboration and sharing require a Premium plan.

  18. How to Plan a Trip: 15 Steps (with Pictures)

    2. Make a budget. Let's say you figure your trip will cost $1,500, including airfare. It's six months away. That means you have to save $250 a month for the next six months in order to meet the costs of your trip. [6] Here are a few ideas where you can start saving: [7] Ditch that daily sugary latte.

  19. Trip Planner

    TripHobo trip planner is the best FREE alternative in online trip Planning. Create your itinerary, organize day-to-day activities, book hotels and flights with this smart itinerary planner. ... You can book yourself a nice vacation once you are sure of all the details, making you plan your trip very easily. 2) Refer to User Created Itineraries.

  20. How to Plan an Awesome Trip in 16 Easy-to-Follow Steps

    16 steps to planning an awesome trip. 1. Consider your travel style. Before you even decide on any other details like where you want to go and when, you first should think about what *kind* of trip you want to plan. This might be influenced by your travel style, or what you ultimately want to get out of your vacation.

  21. How to Plan a Trip Yourself

    Start planning a trip yourself to get more enjoyment out of your trip and save money and nerves at the same time. Plan ahead. Start planning six months of your trip. Once you've chosen a country, buy your round-trip tickets right away - this defines the boundaries within which you plan your trip and saves money, as it's always cheaper to buy ...

  22. 11-Step Planning Guide to Traveling Internationally

    Step 4: Set (Preliminary) Dates. Setting dates as far ahead as possible can provide you with ample time to plan, in addition to allowing you to schedule time off work farther ahead. Consider your best time to travel (i.e., when the kids are out of school, when work slows down, etc.).

  23. Plan your summer trip to North Carolina's Outer Banks

    Step 1: Choose where to base yourself. Location is key in OBX as each town has a distinct feel, yet traveling between them has its challenges. Traffic on Hwy 12, the main artery throughout the Outer Banks, can harsh the vibes up north, while Ocracoke Island to the south is only accessible via ferry. Beachside parking lots are also smaller and ...

  24. Traveling on a Budget: Here's How to Plan a Memorable—and Affordable

    Here are some handy tips on how to save money on a cruise. 12. Rent an Airbnb or Vrbo. A rental property, such as a cheap Airbnb, can have many advantages for traveling on a budget. "I stay at ...

  25. Can't Believe These 11 Gorgeous Us Beaches Exist? See for Yourself

    Plan a Dream All-inclusive Trip to the U.s. Virgin Islands. Photo credit: YayImages. Prepare to be amazed by some of the most stunning US beaches you won't believe exist. These coastal gems ...

  26. RV Trip Planner

    RV Trip Planner - AI-powered trip planning for RVers. Keep exploring with the Roadtrippers mobile apps. Anything you plan or save automagically syncs with the apps, ready for you when you hit the road! Download from Apple App Store Download from Google Play Store. Powered by AI and what we've learned from 38 million trips, Roadtrippers ...

  27. Plan for Travel

    The best way to protect yourself and your loved ones is by getting the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine. You should plan to be fully vaccinated against measles at least 2 weeks before you depart. If your trip is less than 2 weeks away and you're not protected, you should still get a dose of MMR. The MMR vaccine protects against all 3 ...

  28. Destination of the Year 2024: Costa Rica

    Picture yourself on a white-sand beach, surrounded by palm trees. In the distance, surfers ride the breaking waves. Behind you rises a dense rainforest, where white-faced capuchin monkeys jump ...

  29. Angels Landing Permits & Hiking

    Angels Landing Pilot Permit Program. Everyone who hikes Angels Landing needs to have a permit. The pilot permit program reflects lessons learned when we metered the number of hikers on the trail in 2019 and 2021 and by distributing tickets to use the park shuttle system in response to COVID-19 in 2020. Map of the area near Angels Landing ...