If you know me at all, you know that I love a good trip. In my ideal world, I would probably go on 5 or 6 big trips a year. But alas, I do not have endless time and money. So when I plan a big trip, I really plan it. I think the trip planning obsession began with Eric and my fantastic Europe trip in 2006. Amber requested a post on how I plan a trip, so here it is :)
1. Decide on a general budget. Unless you already know where you want to go, you'll want to start with a budget. If your budget is $2000 it will be difficult to take a trip to China or even Europe because the airfare will cost close to or more than you want to spend on the whole trip. Also, decide what kind of things you want to spend money on. Are you okay with most of your budget going to airfare and then staying at hostels and eating Ramen noodles when you arrive? Would you prefer to go somewhere closer and then stay at a more luxury hotel or eat at nice restaurants? I also have some money saving tips and if you have no real budget at all, you can always be a tourist at home!
2. Decide where to go. For me this is the #1 hardest part. The problem is I love everything from small town Sedona to the big cities of Paris and London. I love the Irish countryside and the Hawaiian Islands. There are very few places in the world I don't want to visit. I do think it's important to determine what kind of vacation you want. Would you prefer to lay on the beaches at an all inclusive resort in the Dominican Republic or sprint around Rome taking in every possible ruin?
3. Talk to people you know. One of my favorite places on earth is Sedona and I found it because when I posted on my blog that I was going to Arizona to see the Grand Canyon, I received multiple comments telling me to go to Sedona. When I first started planning my trip to Seattle and Vancouver this summer, I e-mailed my friend who lives in Seattle and talked to my friend who has been to Seattle multiple times. The people you know are the best source of information about how long you should stay, where you should stay and what you should do.
4. Get some travel books. I have to admit I love travel books, particularly the Eyewitness books because they show you lots of great pictures. You can take these out of the library or buy them, it's up to you. My dad just introduced me to Eyewitness Top 10 books which I really love because they narrow down the top 10 things to do in an area overall, and then by neighborhood etc.
5. Book Your Flight. Usually the first thing you need to do is book a flight to your location. I recommend checking out several different websites to get the best deal. Sometimes the airline's website has the best deal. Bing Travel offers a price predictor for certain flights where it tells you whether your flight is likely to go up in price or down if you wait. It can also be useful to check a few days before and after your approximate date of departure because flight prices can vary a lot just by day. I've also heard rumors that flight prices are cheapest on Tuesdays and most expensive on the weekend. It's also possible it's all a crap shoot!
6. Visit TripAdvisor. I truly love this website and credit it for most of the success I have when planning vacations. I always start by using TripAdvisor to plan where I will stay on my trip. It has fantastic hotel reviews from real people. They even have a specialty lodging section which means you can read reviews on houses or apartment for rent. This can be an awesome way to save money especially if you plan to stay in one place for at least a few nights. You can also use TripAdvisor to determine if you will need to rent a car, and there are forums where you can ask questions. Also, revisit TripAdvisor often when you are planning what you will actually do when you arrive on your trip.
7. Bring your Laptop or Smart Phone. As much as I enjoy planning trips, I have trouble planning every detail until I am really on the trip. I like to decide each day based on my mood what I will do that day. This is why I find it SO essential to have my computer or smart phone available so I can use TripAdvisor or regular google searches to get ideas for places I want to see, hikes or walks I want to go on, restaurants I want to eat at etc. I also love the Yelp app on my phone which allows me to search restaurants by my current location. This way I can see reviews of nearby restaurants and make educated decisions about where I want to eat.
Happy Trip Planning! Do you have any exciting trips planned in the near future? If not, what is one great trip you have done in the past?