In this post I’m sharing with you how to plan your trip in a few simple steps, maximizing value. When planning our trip many arrangements are involved, especially if it’s the first time we do it, or we have little practice, it can be overwhelming.
After many years of experience preparing my own trips, and even group tours, I have developed an efficient technique that ensures I miss nothing important during the trip planning process. In addition, in order to help you get the most out of your money, I give you some awe-inspiring tricks that I personally use, and work very well.
Since I started traveling the world, I have always liked to organize my own trips. I deeply enjoy getting involved in the process to plan the “perfect trip” prioritizing value (travel for less) and as a result, more adventure.
TRAVEL DESTINATION PRE-CHOICE
Before choosing a destination, and getting fully involved in the trip’s organization, the very first thing I do is to check that I have the necessary time to organize it; for example, when I traveled to Indonesia I had several months to prepare everything ahead, but with South Korea, I did so just 20 days in advance.
In order to get this relevant information, I look at these factors:
– Vaccinations. How many doses are needed and the minimum interval between them.
– Requirements to enter the country. Do I need a visa? And if so, how long does it take to get it? Or, just a visa on arrival?
– Last but not least, the weather in the destination, whether is Summer or Winter season (or dry/rainy season)
With this information in mind and depending on the time I have available to prepare the trip, I decide whether this it’s viable at this occasion or leave for later.
Where you can find this information
– Visa Requirements and Safety issues : On Travel State website. And also in each country’s embassies.
1 – TRAVEL DESTINATION CHOICE
Knowing what kind of trip I want, if I’m going to travel solo, with friends, and what kind of trip it will be (cultural, varied, trekking, …) I end up deciding on a country.
Sometimes when I take a few days off, I decide the destination simply based on the price. I look for the cheapest price and there I go… To get inspired I use the Skyscanner meta-search engine (I’ll tell you how to use it below).
Now, it’s time to get fully involved in the trip’s organization. To do this, I follow these simple steps:
2 – BOOK FLIGHTS
To look for cheap flights tickets, I keep it simple. Although the best thing is to buy the flights with the greatest anticipation, often I arrange everything 2 months before traveling, sometimes also in less time.
Therefore, first of all I look at the Skyscanner meta-search engine that compares prices of flights between different companies, so I get an idea of the airlines that fly to that destination.
If you are planning your trip in advance, you can create an alert that will warn you when the prices drop.
How to use Skyscanner
You can find more options if your travel dates are flexible. Instead of selecting the exact date you enter the month in which you want to fly and the website quote the prices across a whole month. Sometimes there are significant differences in the price just for flying a day before or a day after.
If you feel like a trip, but you want to prioritize the price over the destination, with Skyscanner you can do it too. Here, in “Destination” you select “Anywhere” and in “Departure/Return” you select “Whole Month”. The search engine will give you the prices ordered from lowest to highest by country.
Anyway, take into account that the cheapest prices will have not very good schedules, that is (for me), very early in the morning or late in the afternoon (which makes you lose a day if you wanted to take advantage of it).
After considering the flights that interest me, and their respective airlines, I go straightaway to the official websites, where they usually offer more schedules and fares options. I also compare the flights between the different airlines, and finally I end up buying the tickets on one of them.
Tips and Tricks
The trick to compare successfully airlines flights is to enter in the browser in incognito mode. Before starting the search, delete the history and cookies as well. If you don’t do so, google assumes you liked the price it showed you and therefore will offer you a fare based on them, so you won’t get quotes the cheapest flights anymore.
Another trick to buy tickets at the best possible price is to buy them at their optimal time, the more in advance the better. The recommended time for flights in Spain is one and a half months in advance, in Europe approximately six months. And for transoceanic flights, about seven months.
Besides the above mentioned, when buying the ticket I keep in mind what the total ticket’s price will be, I mean, a very cheap fare can draw my attention, but if the flight departs at 6 a.m. (there are plenty of those) I consider whether I can use public transport to get to the airport or I must take a cab (for me it costs 30 euros because I don’t live in the center).
You also have to check which airport the airplane will arrive at (more often than not, low-cost companies operate in airports far from the city) because the transfer to the center can involve a higher cost than the one to a closer airport.
Another idea to reduce the ticket’s price is to travel “light”. As you know, for excess weights the company charges an extra fee for each kg, depending on the conditions of each airline.
For all of my trips, since many years ago, I only use a carry-on suitcase (measures 44 x 55 x 20) and I never check it. Regardless of the duration of the trip (4 days or 1 month) I carry the same piece of luggage. In the last step, “Packing” I’m telling you a couple of very useful tricks to make the most of the space in your cabin bag.
3 – ACCOMMODATION
After buying the flight, the next step is to book the accommodation. Depending on the trip, and if it is high/low season, maybe I book just the first night at the destination and on the go, I book the rest.
But if I’m sure that I’ll be several nights in the same place, I feel more at ease if I book the room with free cancellation. The very first website I look at is always Booking.com and after selecting the hotels I’m interested in, I always check on TripAdvisor for the traveler’s reviews.
In order to find a better price, I don’t mind if the hotel is a little farther from the center, as long as is well-connected by public transportation to get there.
In Booking.com, you can book most of the rooms with free cancellation.
Another excellent website to find hotels is Agoda.com, which offers hotels all over the world and like Booking, rooms can be cancelled for free.
And if you prefer staying in a private home over a hotel, Airbnb is a great way to find locally owned accommodations all around the world.
4 – TRAVEL INSURANCE
Travel insurance becomes an essential part of traveling. Apart from covering medical expenses also it’s useful to protect yourself against unforeseen emergencies that could spoil your trip (delayed flights, lost or stolen luggage or passport). My recommendation is Iati Seguros.
5 – ITINERARY
At this point we have made considerable progress in our preparations, and now it’s time to define the route. I have to say that this is my favorite part of the planning. The journey takes shape in my imagination when gradually I start discovering the destination.
DESIGNING THE ROUTE
To get as much information as possible about the place, I read many travel blogs, traditional guides such as Lonely Planet, watch YouTube videos… With all the information I manage to gather, I first make a list of all the must-see places and also add others that interest me.
I draw a map with these locations and also add the distances between them.
Then, depending on the days of the trip, I calculate the time I can spend in each place, allowing some spare time or anything that comes up, until finally I come out with the “perfect itinerary”.
During my last trips I have found very useful the off-line mobile application Maps.me. In the app you can create your own travel map by marking the places you plan to visit. Once you have downloaded the country you’re going to travel to, you won’t need internet connection anymore. It’s very useful both to orientate yourself at your destination and also to follow the route previously marked.
TOURS, DAY-TRIPS, ACTIVITIES
Now that you know which visits you can’t miss and which activities you would like to do, it’s time to make some reservations. Booking in advance saves you time at the destination and ensures that you will be able to carry them out. Some very touristy places make it difficult to get tickets if you don’t book in advance.
6 – GETTING AROUND
Once the itinerary has been arranged, you know where you will need to take internal flights, or other means of transport (bus, train, boat or car rental). It is time to book the internal flights and also to check the availability of the other means of transport.
7 – TRAVEL CHECKS AND PAPERWORK
In this section we take care of all the formalities for the trip, and we check everything is correct.
It’s vital to make sure your passport expires at least 6 months past the dates of your international trip’s return. So that, double check the expiration date on the passport.
As you know, I had already checked this information in the very beginning, in case I need a visa, I only have to apply for it at the country’s Embassy.
The same regarding vaccines. I already have found out if I need any vaccine, so I just have to go to the Health Center.
Money Exchange and Payment Cards
As for the money, it’s better to exchange it in the country you are traveling to. Usually, you can save money on the exchange process if you wait to buy the foreign currency at destination.
Also, you will get the best exchange rates if you shop around before converting your money.
Among the best commission-free cards abroad are Revolut, Bnext and N26.
You should carry a credit card and a debit card that does not charge fees abroad.
8 – PACKING
And finally, comes the last step in organizing a trip on your own: packing!
To ensure I miss nothing essential and I fit everything I want to take with me, I keep in mind what activities I am going to do (snorkeling, trekking, varied) and in what time of the year I am traveling, if it will be summer or winter.
Tips for packing the perfect carry-on suitcase
As I said before, for practical purposes I only use a carry-on suitcase; it was after some trial and error I managed to pack the “perfect suitcase”.
First of all I make a list of everything I will need. You can download my Travel List for free and adapt it to your preferences.
What really saves a lot of space in your suitcase are these compression bags. These bags have no vacuum or pump, so they don’t take up any space. All you need to do is put in a bag several well stretched pieces of clothing, then zip the bag and slowly roll it up. The rolling motion forces all the excess air out. These bags can be reused, and they’re usually waterproof.
To fill in the gaps, I make rolls with other clothing and fit them as playing tetris. I also don’t forget to take advantage of the space of the slippers or shoes I want to wear.
And of course, on the day of my trip I put on some of the heaviest or clothes.
I hope this blog post on how to organize a trip on your own will help and encourage you to prepare one on your own. The most important thing … Enjoy your next adventure to the fullest!
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