If there’s one thing we get asked about more than often, it has to be about how we plan our trips. And it’s not a trivial topic since there are quite a few things worth considering, from choosing a destination and what to visit, to booking flights and accommodation, and everything in between.
When it comes to trip planning and how we do it, everything tends to be quite straightforward and relatively simple as we don’t have a super detailed or complicated process. For example, we won’t plan everything down to the hour, yet we like to be organized and know more or less where we’re going each day.
Keep reading to find out about all our tips for travel planning.
What to keep in mind
Travel is a very personal experience and everyone has their own style. Over the years we tailored our travel style to suit our needs and now know exactly what we want and how to achieve it. Setting your constraints from the beginning is very important and things such as budget and trip length are key to simplify the planning process.
Let’s be honest, a lot of people don’t like to plan their travels or are inexperienced in doing it, and sometimes don’t travel because of that. We enjoy travel planning because it means we’re going to explore somewhere new and that’s exciting.
Our aim with this guide is to explain the different phases that we go through when we plan our trips, starting from the very beginning to the actual trip. We hope that this will help and inspire you to simplify your planning process and to travel more.
Deciding where to go
Deciding where to go is the first thing to do and, for us, a continuous process of inspiration as we’re constantly finding places that we want to visit and things we want to do. If you suffer from the same problem, then one important thing to do is to narrow it down to a few options before making a final and often difficult decision.
Prioritize according to your time, budget and style of travel. For example, we hold full-time jobs and have a limited number of days off each year, and for as much as we’d love to go 1 month to South America, that would limit the rest of our year. Instead, we select a handful of destinations that we can visit in 1 or 2 weeks at a time spread throughout the year, usually including a longer trip. We prefer not to cram too much in a single trip. Quick weekend getaways are also a great way to keep the travels up to date.
Our main sources of inspiration are other travelers, the internet, travel programs, and books. And they’re all connected. We often find ourselves learning about a new place on tv, followed by a quick online search and then a new book arrives. Discussing travel with your friends is also a great way to discover new interesting places to visit.
Before making a final decision, we dig a bit more into a handful of destinations to make sure they are a good fit. This is a quick process as we focus on what we know we enjoy when traveling, such as visiting the outdoors and National Parks, interesting cultural features, UNESCO World Heritage Sites, and popular tourist attractions.
Some resources that we use:
One of the tools we use the most is Google Maps and its companion My Maps. The first one is the regular tool to search for and map locations, whilst the second one is used to create custom maps which you can save and share. It is particularly useful when researching an itinerary for a trip that makes us travel to different parts of a country or even multiple countries, and a great example of that is a road trip.
The process is quite simple, we add the places we want to visit and check the distances and time it takes to travel between them. Nothing too detailed but this allows us to iterate over our plans and decide what to include or discard depending on the time we have available for a particular trip. It definitely helps us prioritize.
For shorter trips like weekend getaways, we don’t really map or plan much but taking a look at a map certainly helps to get a better idea of the places we’re going to visit.
Once we have a rough idea of the itinerary, it’s time to research and book flights, accommodation, car rental, and activities. There are countless places on the web to search for these and new ones are showing up all the time.
We use two flight search engines:
These are very similar but have subtle differences. For example, Google Flights has a nice map to search for destinations, while Skyscanner provides access to more extensive results.
Ultimately, we only use them to search for the best airfares and always end up booking directly with the airlines.
Once you know more or less what kind of accommodation you prefer and your budget, searching gets very simple. We usually apply some very basic filters and shortlist 2 or 3 options, and revisit these once the itinerary is finalized.
These are our two main sources:
Probably 90% of the times, we go with what we find on Booking.com since it has a wide range of options, more than enough for our simple needs. It’s not unusual though for us to check out some extra reviews on TripAdvisor.
AirBnB (or similar) is an excellent alternative but it greatly depends on the locations you’re searching or if you’re looking to stay longer and with access to more facilities. It’s also great to stay local.
We’re big fans of road trips and book cars very often. Our main search engine for cars is RentalCars.com and book through there quite often, even after comparing with the regular international car rental companies. There’s one exception though which is that sometimes local operators offer much better deals than the international companies and you have to check them out directly.
So far we haven’t found the need to book any activities via a third-party provider and thus don’t recommend anything in particular. We aim to book everything we need with local companies.
You can see a detailed breakdown of some of the gear we use.
During the trip
Having all the trip details such as flights and accommodation details within easy reach is very useful and a time saver. For this, we have been using Tripit and their handy mobile app for a few years since it’s a very practical and easy way to store all the information we need. There are probably a few other alternatives out there but until a game changer comes into the market, we’re happy with what we have.
We keep a copy of our main documents, such as the passport, in our phones and an online backup in case we need it. This way we can leave the real ones in a safe place.
Important things to remember
Before embarking on your trip remember to check a few important things. We always do.
Travel insurance is one of the most important things to have. We know most people think nothing bad is going to happen, but better be safe than sorry. Cost varies depending on the length of the trip, destinations you’re visiting, and what is covered, namely any special activities.
Things to look for when comparing travel insurance coverage includes medical expenses, personal items, accidents, and cancellations, among others.
If you travel more than a couple of times a year, it’s probably worth getting yearly multi-trip coverage. We have it and it provides a much better value and also peace of mind.
Passport & visa
Is your passport still valid? Verify this in advance so you have enough time to renew your passport if necessary. Some countries require you to have at least 6 months of validity in your passport.
Also very important. Do you need a visa for the country you are traveling to? Is it a visa on arrival or do you need to request it beforehand?
Double check with the relevant authorities to avoid any disappointments.
Last but not least, it’s important to be prepared health-wise, especially if you have any existing conditions. Carrying a basic first-aid kit and some medicines is usually a good idea however the needs depend greatly on where you’re going.
Check if you have all the suggested or required immunizations. For example, some countries require that you have had the yellow fever shot. Your GP or travel clinic will be able to advise.
Get to know the currencies you need and how widespread are card usage and ATM availability. This will influence how much money you need to take with you.
Don’t forget to let your bank know where you’re going so you can use your cards abroad. If you don’t do it, you can risk having your transactions denied.
Travel planning services
We love travel planning, whether it’s our own trip or helping someone with theirs. Because of that, we started a travel planning service aimed at assisting others traveling to the destinations we know well, but also for general travel questions and tips.
If you need help or have questions, check out our travel planning services. We’re happy to help with simple questions or provide a more detailed service.
Ready to travel? Thank you for reading about how we plan our trips!
How do you plan your travels? Do you plan too much or too little? Any suggestions? Share it with us.
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A great read about travel planning.
For a view from pensioners who don’t have so many time constraints I have some thoughts in my blog on practicalities for a 7-week road trip through 12 countries in Europe in summer 2015 and my blog on practicalities for a 3-month round the world trip to Malaysia, Singapore, Australia, Samoa, American Samoa and the USA August to November 2016.
Like you we find booking.com to be the best site for accommodation, but must try airbnb some time.
I am one of those people that enjoy planning my trips as much as the trip itself. These are some great tips for anyone planning for the first time
It really is nice to plan a trip 🙂
I agree on all fronts. Narrow it down to two or three choices then see how you feel when you think of each one is my approach.
It’s great to see your process stated so clearly and simply. Time is such a big factor and certainly plays a role in where to go. I love Skyscanner and Google Flights, but I also use Momondo and the Hopper app for flight insights.
We’ve used Momondo occasionally. Need to try it again!
Looks like we have some of the same favorite planning tools! I swear by Skyscanner, good prices are a huge factor in deciding where we’ll go next. Technology makes it so easy to find out info, but also sometimes it can make it overwhelming, too!
Cool! You’re right. Things are much easier these days but with so many options sometimes the hardest part is to pick one to start with.
if you like Google Flight, you should try ita matrix. More complicated, but its the best way to find some crazy deals. I also tend to use Google Flight and Skyscanner as well. The ability to search to “Everywhere” on Skyscanner is awesome! Book so many trips that way.
Yay! It’s addictive to search for destinations on these engines.
Thanks for sharing some great tips here! We use many of the same travel planning sites, including FlightHub, where we’ve booked some great fares without issues (so far). Totally agree about the importance of travel insurance, especially for health coverage while travelling to the United States – it’s a must.
Haven’t used FlightHub but will check it out.
Travel insurance is a must for any foreigner visiting the US!
I know some people who could benefit from this post. I will have to share. Also that shot of New Zealand is amazing.
From the outside, travel looks fun and easy. This wonderful post breaks down the process and makes it attainable. One thing you are absolutely right about, is never to leave home without travel insurance. Good luck with the travel planning services.
Indeed! Thank you for your comment.
I enjoy doing research about everything on a chosen destination but we don’t really book any accommodation in advance except for the first night. I think it’s key to remember that traveling is very personal and each person travels differently but we all can take advantage of the wide range of information from different sources.
I think booking really depends on where you’re going. Some places you must really book, others not really. We prefer to have at the least the accommodation lined up before we travel.
I believe all travels are very memorable regardless of ambiance and planning excessively is really a must. Thanks for sharing this travel guide. I’ll consider this as my best approach.
Great post. For me, planning trips is almost as fun as taking them. Planning is just dreaming out loud.
Thanks! You’re totally right.
Great tips. I love when I see other travel bloggers using the same tools it makes me feel like I’m doing the right things…lol. At the same time I like learning new apps and tech to travel. I’m a huge fan of short Trips…
We must be doing something right, then! So do we, but with so much stuff out there it’s important to look how relevant and game-changing they are.