We all get a little overwhelmed with the thought of travel planning: scheduling and saving and finding flights, accommodations, and transportation and and and…the list goes on. Honestly, there really are a lot of aspects to consider, and you’d be crazy not to be a little skeptical about it all–but that’s where it should end, at a little skeptical. Because people do it every day, and by people, I’m specifically pointing out the non-experts, the people who won’t spend travel money on a travel agency, the people whose fear of all the unknowns is surpassed by their desire for the unknowns–the people like us. So, I’m not an expert (as I like to reiterate often), but you don’t HAVE to be, and that’s kinda the point.
I hope the steps below help simplify the process for you!
Please note that you have two options here. If you are planning around a certain date/time of year you can travel (like with spring and fall breaks), follow the list chronologically. However, if you are planning your adventure around a specific location with no limitations on the date, you can do steps #1 through 3 in reverse before continuing on to step #4.
1. Commit. SET A DATE.
- Setting a date first is important for a couple of reasons. (1) It gives you a focal point for scheduling; you’re no longer just shooting around in the dark. (2) On that note, it allows you something to actually commit to. No longer are you going to Paris “some day”–you are going next June. When I decided I wanted to backpack across Europe, it was the summer of 2015, and I said we are going in May and June of 2016–the end. I didn’t know how it was going to happen yet, but I committed to it happening, which was all I needed to spur it into action.
2. Establish the duration of the adventure.
- It may seem silly to be already considering this, but you need to. Decide how much time you and whoever else you are traveling with will be able to dedicate to this trip, wherever it may be. Establishing the time frame will be important in deciding WHERE you go (step 3). One reason is that if you want to go to Australia, for instance, you’re going to want to spend a couple weeks (or at least 10 days) to make the most of your time. If you’re backpacking across Europe–approximately 2-3 weeks. If you’re going to Thailand or New Zealand or anywhere else in Asia, you’ll want to account for the rather long flight times (a couple days there and another couple back) and expensive flights at that. For example, I knew that I wanted us to go somewhere on my Spring Break, and since it was one week long–9 days including weekends–we chose a European location where the flight wasn’t super pricey and the duration of the flight not long.
3. Make the big decision–WHERE you want to go.
- Okay, this may seem like an obvious step, but make no mistake (seriously), it’s not a simple one. Because you want to go everywhere. You want to see everything. And the world is big, but you have to pick JUST ONE place. Here is where you’ll have to take steps #1 and #2 into consideration–the time of year you’re traveling and how many days you have to spare for it. There are a couple of other things to consider as well.
- (1) Some places are just better suited for different types of weather. You don’t want to go somewhere with the intent of diving into the sea or snorkeling and find you’ve traveled there when the weather isn’t so appropriate for that sort of thing. Iceland was a great place to visit in March not only because the Northern Lights were still visible but also because the cold didn’t affect any of the sights we wanted to see.
- (2) Some countries’ high and low seasons are not what you might expect; look into this if you’re wanting to avoid lots of tourists or if you’re hoping to save a bit of money.
- (3) Always account for flight times. You don’t want to end up being in the air more than you’re on land.
4. Begin researching FLIGHTS.
- This is truly an ongoing process, and you may not actually purchase your flight until later on. I’ve not yet learned the secret art of purchasing at just the right time although I’ve done a bit of research here and there and feel like we’ve come out pretty lucky (for instance, we ordered our July Greece tickets in January for HALF the cost of what they are now in April).
- Take different airports into consideration. DO NOT get discouraged when you see high flight prices; just be patient and play around with both departure and destination cities. Our closest airport is Nashville, and it’s not a very cheap option most of the time. We actually drove a rental to NY (13 hours) to catch a Norwegian flight when we backpacked Europe, but believe it or not, it was worth it–it saved us hundreds of dollars a piece (there were 5 of us); it wouldn’t have been worth it though for Iceland or Greece because of the specific circumstances. We’re flying out of Atlanta to Greece, and we’re flying into Athens because it’s way cheaper than flying into Santorini and the two cities are only a ferry-boat ride apart.
- Use www.momondo.com to get a feel for prices and to monitor them.
5. SAVE, SAVE, SAVE, & SAVE SOME MORE.
- If you haven’t started already, begin saving ASAP. As you continue planning the trip, you’ll get a better feel for how much you will need, but you’ll need to go ahead and begin setting aside money now, however little it is.
- This is honestly, as we all know, the hardest step and requires the most self-discipline. For some tips on how to begin going about this, you can look over my blog post “How I Afford to Travel”! The most important thing is that you have a designated fund specifically for this adventure and nothing else.
6. Find your accommodations.
- There are so many options here. It just depends on who YOU are and what type of experience you want–and how much money you’re willing to pay. It’s VERY important though to not skimp yourself for the sake of saving a dollar. Take location into consideration. You don’t want to save money but be too far away from everything and then end up spending just as much money and even more TIME on transportation.
- Hostels: For a SUPER cheap experience, look into these. We stayed in one in Rome because our flight arrived quite late at night and we were only staying the one night, so we didn’t want to spend very much on essentially just a sleeping place.
- Campervans: Many countries like Iceland and New Zealand have campervan rental companies. The great thing about these is that they cover you for both accommodation and transportation. We rented a campervan in Iceland, and it allowed us the ease of mobility we needed to travel around the entire island in 7 days.
- AirBnBs: Okay, these are our favorite. We stayed in 7 different ones in Europe, and these homes were what allowed us to more naturally experience the life of each place. A couple airbnbs we stayed at were simple apartments; others were entire houses. They were all great though. There’s really an option for everyone, and many are reasonably priced if you’re not wanting to spend very much.
- Hotels: We haven’t stayed in hotels since we discovered AirBnBs. However, I think it’s worthwhile to check out booking.com just in case there may be more comparable options. You also might not want to use an AirBnB for just a night’s sleep.
- Whatever you choose, book your accommodations as soon as you can afford it.
(Our AirBnB in Ireland on the West Coast–the ocean lay right across the small gravel road and sheep roamed the fields!)
7. Find your modes of transportation.
- This step is honestly going to vary so much depending on where you’re going, so I’ll just give you some examples.
- Rental Cars: We used ones of these in Ireland because we wanted to go to multiple places within the country. We also used one in France because we wanted to be able to drive along the Mediterranean coast and stop at multiple places.
- Bus/Metro/Tram Passes: We used these in all of the cities we visited: London, Paris, Amsterdam, Rome, and Venice. Each country has its own pass with its own benefits/perks, so you’ll need to research it beforehand for sure. It’s definitely worth the money to buy the pass in most places.
- Other: look into other options as well like ATVs and Bicycles and Ferries. We’re planning on renting ATVs in Greece. We also have to book a ferry from Athens to Santorini.
- Planes vs. Trains: If you’re planning on traveling to multiple cities within Europe, compare prices between taking planes and taking trains between your destinations. We flew three times and took a train three times. Two train rides were overnight so the prices were worth saving a night of accommodation. Other times we didn’t want to spend the TIME, so we flew. I definitely recommend riding a train though at least once for the experience.
8. Research, Research, Research.
- If you haven’t started already, use Pinterest to research as much as you can about your chosen destination. Make a list of any specific sights you want to see or things you want to do. Figuring all this out ahead of time will allow you to make the most of your time while you’re there!
9. Plan a tentative ITINERARY.
- If you’re like us, you probably don’t like strict schedules or itineraries when traveling. However, you will want to at least create a tentative outline of what you will try to do each day–with the understanding that things may change and that’s okay (it’s part of the adventure!). Here’s where you will take your list from Pinterest and try to fit it all in!
10. Book any excursions.
- Here’s the fun part! You’ll want to see if there is anything specific you want to do where you are going–anything you might have to book in advance like snorkeling or kayaking or climbing to the top of the Eiffel Tower.
- We were able to book a kayaking trip through Venice less than a week before we arrived–through antlos.com–but that might have been just luck. We booked a trip snorkeling in the Silfra Fissure as well as visiting the Blue Lagoon in Iceland a couple months in advance. You should book for the Eiffel Tower several weeks in advance so that you don’t end up waiting in line 3+hours.
- At this point, you may want to go ahead and research any other types of passes. Paris, for example, has a “museum” pass that is fairly pricey, but it will get you in many museums, monuments, and other tourist attractions.
(Kayaking in Venice was such an awesome experience!)
I hope this is helpful! Please let me know if there are any other tips you have!