There’s often something stressful about international (or even domestic) travel. It’s odd that a leisure activity can be so anxiety-inducing, but most of us will work up a bit of a sweat before we step on the plane. We’re usually running through a mental checklist of items, hoping that there’s nothing vital that has been left behind.
How a trip turns out is often a matter of perspective; but we can do our best to plan ahead. So how do we go from conception to execution in a streamlined, thorough, and possibly even enjoyable manner?
There are some obvious steps towards good trip planning, which I won’t elaborate on:
- Start planning early, especially for flights and accommodations.
- Set a budget and research the estimated costs of all aspects of the trip.
- Choose a destination that is financially, mentally, and physically appropriate.
In addition to these steps, however, there are a few tricks I use to make sure the trips I plan go as smoothly as possible. Here they are!
6 Tips For Better Travel Planning
1) Do the macro (big picture) research first.
How much do you really know about the destination you’ve selected? Start with very general searches: use Google and Pinterest to turn up basic names and images from the place you’re visiting.
I usually create a Pinterest board to collect images for places I’m planning to visit. This helps me remember the sights that I want to see when I’m there, and orients me towards the most popular places in that area. For example, I created a board for our travels to southern Spain this winter:
Make note of what stands out to you: religious buildings, historical landmarks, stunning views, trademark experiences, etc. While letting these images set your expectations might not be a good idea, make sure you know what all the highlights are before digging deeper.
Create a list of sights and experiences you would like to research further.
2) Do the micro (in-depth) research.
Good travel research requires some digging around. Here are some ways that I do that:
- Purchase the travel guide– yes, a book. Having a book always makes me more comfortable; despite finding lots of information on the Internet, I find that guide books still have the most information compiled in one place.
- Look up tour company itineraries to your destination. I like to make note of which sights the itineraries visit, and in what order. I also take note of any hotels or restaurants that look intriguing.
- Reach out to friends (or bloggers) who have been there. You don’t have to do what someone else did, but getting their opinion can be valuable. I find that other people are often the easiest source when it comes to figuring out logistics– transportation, dining, accommodations, and more.
- Start reading TripAdvisor reviews for your sights of choice. I’m cautious with reviews because different travelers have different tastes. However, once I’ve decided to visit a certain sight, I make sure to read about others’ experiences so that I can go in with eyes wide open.
3) Determine the level of activity and outline a schedule.
Some people enjoy planning their travels down to the hour, while others prefer to go with the flow. I think a good balance of both is important: make sure to schedule time for anything you absolutely want to see, and leave room for flexibility should you need to rest or slow down.
For those destinations that require tickets, appointments, or tours, it’s important to book those before you arrive, if possible. Last-minute bookings can often lead to few choices, or less-than-quality experiences.
We usually like to have only a few scheduled sights per day– and then play it by ear the rest of the time. I love indulging our time at a new destination; exploring without a strict schedule makes me happy.
4) Prepare yourself for changes in climate and culture.
Beyond researching what you want to see, it’s important to also research what you should expect. Many tourists forget that travel means entering into a climate and culture that somebody else calls home. This can mean being prepared for exhaustion, trying new foods, dressing differently, and being mindful of our words and behavior.
It is absolutely imperative to learn about the local climate and culture before you arrive. Is the altitude high? Is the culture conservative? What is considered rude and what is polite?
If you’re looking for a specific country, you can try searching Wandershare Travel Cheat Sheets on Pinterest. It will give you very basic information, and you can go from there.
5) Leave room for error and create a backup plan.
This is again an issue of preference, but I think it is unwise to expect a trip to go 100% as planned. Things happen– sometimes completely outside our control– and it can devastate any strict itinerary.
Here are some ways to circumvent disaster if something unexpected occurs:
- Do not schedule anything important right before or right after a flight, bus ride, or train ride.
- Avoid depending on a single person you don’t know very well to follow through on something big.
- Know how to ask for help in places where you might need it: the train station, the bank, the hotel lobby, or the cab.
- Find out what you can do if the weather is less than ideal.
- Leave plenty of time to get from one place to another; having too much free time is better than not having enough.
6) Organize and compile all information from the start.
From the very beginning, organize all of your correspondences, searches, and files in a manner that works for you. Whether this means using labels on email, bookmarking websites, or writing everything down in a notebook, keeping the information together is key to smooth planning.
As soon as you have made reservations, be sure to write down confirmation numbers as well as the payment method you used. Bring this information with you when you travel.
I like to print out all of the information and place it in a folder, instead of expecting my phone to give me all the answers. Electronics are generally reliable, but you never know when it might malfunction, be stolen, or simply out of batteries.
It’s all about being thorough.
Sure, some of us are happier to “wing it” than others. But if you’re reading this post, I assume you’re interested in at least some level of planning. Most of us travel to these destinations without the expectation that we will get to come back– so of course it’s important to make sure we get what we can out of them!
In the end, it does not really matter where you’re going or what your budget is: planning is necessary to get the most out of your travels. And once you’re there, the best thing to do is to make the most of your adventure.