Planning a trip for yourself or a group of friends can be time consuming, exhausting and tedious. Many people end up resorting to buying travel packages or relying on travel agencies/companies to plan their trip. However, sometimes planning the trip yourself can save you fees .... You can tailor your trip to your exact needs, sticking to your personal budget. And from my experience you can even get lucky and plan your trip at a cheaper cost than travel agencies/companies are offering. Personally, I like to plan my own trips, because I get to decide every detail myself and ensure I get to do exactly what I want and stay within my budget. I also find joy in planning trips for my friends, although when you are dealing with multiple people the decision making becomes far more complicated. Trip planning has become more of an art form, scouting for the best deals, finding that perfect hotel, while also navigating a place you’ve probably never been. I love to plan and figure out the logistics of every trip I take, but I know there are people who get overwhelmed at the thought of figuring out everything themselves. Below I have broken down the SIX steps you need to take to plan and awesome and unforgettable trip.
1. Choose Your Destination
So the first step in planning a trip is to choose your destination. Now this is a crucial component of your trip planning stage, because you need to make sure you’ll really get to enjoy your trip, whatever the purpose of it is. The last thing you want to do is end up in a destination, that you don’t like. So first, figure out whether you want to go domestic or international, tropical, cold, or both, heavily touristy or heavily local, small island or big country, one destination or multiple (backpacking) or cruise, etc. You should also take a look at the travel warnings for whatever destination you are traveling to and you can find that on your government’s travel website. (For US travelers its:https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/traveladvisories/traveladvisories.html). Consider the dates you want to go and what the weather would be like during that time and if that’s what you want. For example, Greece is really hot in the summer months with lots of tourists visiting, but during fall months Greece is colder, which reduces the amount of tourists during that time. It’s important to weigh your options while keeping in mind your overall goal for your trip. If it’s to relax, a tropical destination may suit you or a quiet cabin in the mountains. If it’s for exploration, a place with alot of historical history or beautiful architecture may suit you. It essentially boils down the the purpose of your trip. Tripadvisor is a great website, because of the way travelers communicate suggestions, recommendations and even warnings for certain destinations. For example, I recently looked up on google “Is it safe to travel to Nigeria?” and Tripadvisor provided me with a thread of responses from various people who have visited Nigeria detailing their experience. Google is your friend, so don’t be afraid to use it.
2. Book Your Flight
The third step in planning your trip is booking your flight. If you’re like me then you’re just looking for the most affordable flight at the time. I do prefer non-stop flights, so unless price is a big factor, I usually stick with non-stop flights. When booking your flight, you should remember the checking in and checking out time of your hotel, Airbnb or Homeaway property. You don’t want to pay for an extra day because you arrive too early or too late. Also if you have a frequent flier program, you’d probably want to book your flight with that airline,. When I book flights for a trip I utilize google flights and the app “Hopper”. Google flights helps you determine which days are cheaper to fly and which airlines offer the best price. Hopper does the same, but it enables you to watch a trip and notifies you when the price for the flight goes up or goes down. From my experience, Hopper is pretty spot on when it comes to price. If they don’t predict the price going any lower, it’ll urge you to buy your ticket at that time. However, it may also tell you to hold off on purchasing your flight, because it predicts the price will reduce.For this reason, buying your flight doesn’t have a specific time period or point during your planning journey. If price is of no concern, then you may book your flight right away but if price is a priority, then I suggest utilizing both google flights and Hopper. And once you’ve booked your flight don’t forget to input your frequent flier program, if able, and your Global Entry ID number or KTN (Known Traveler Number), if you have one, so you can receive the perks.
Skyscanner: https://www.skyscanner.net/Hopper: https://www.hopper.com/Google Flights: https://www.google.com/flights/#flt=/m/02_286..2018-04-08*./m/02_286.2018-04-12;c:USD;e:1;sd:1;t:hScottscheapflights: https://scottscheapflights.com/Airfarespot.com: https://airfarespot.com/
3. Choose Your Accommodations
The second step when I’m planning my trips, is to look for my accommodations. I usually decide between staying in a hotel, Airbnb or Homeaway property, Airbnb and Homeaway are online marketplaces where people can lease and rent their homes for extended periods of time. This ranges from houses, cottages, cabins, apartments, homestays, or hostels. There is also a website called Innclusive, that is similar to Airbnb and Homeaway, but actively works to combat the discrimination that is sometimes present in Airbnb and Homeaway. They cater to minorities who are often stereotyped and denied because of their pictures. I haven’t used their platform as of yet, but I certainly plan to. All of this aside, depending on the size of the home and condition, these properties often work out to be cheaper than certain hotels. But there comes an expense, because you have to provide your own groceries and sometimes toiletries, unless provided by the homeowner. Also if you enjoy the experience of being in a hotel, Airbnb and Homeaway may not be for you since some of the homes are in local neighborhoods. This is, of course, not to say that Airbnb and Homeaway properties are unsafe, they just don’t have the hotel experience some people enjoy. From my own experience, I enjoy Airbnb and Homeaway, because the prices are usually less than hotels for everything that you get. And rather than getting a small box of a room, you get a whole apartment or a whole house. I do, however, prefer the free breakfast option at hotels and the convenience of staying in a hotel. So depending on my location, I switch between staying in hotels and Airbnb/ Homeaway properties. In terms of searching for hotels, I prefer using websites like expedia, travelocity, orbitz, and kayak, because they allow me to see multiple hotel options and prices. This is also the time that you need to be choosing your exact dates of travel. You can’t book an accommodation, if you don’t know when you are going. And don’t forget to look at what the weather may be like during the time you decide upon.
Expedia: https://www.expedia.com/Travelocity: https://www.travelocity.com/Orbitz: https://www.orbitz.com/Kayak: https://www.kayak.com/Airbnb: https://www.airbnb.com/Homeaway: https://www.homeaway.com/Innclusive: https://www.innclusive.com/
4. Choose Your Activities & Excursions
This step for me is particularly fun, because you are planning the foundation of your trip. The first three steps mainly deal with getting to and staying in your destination. The fourth one deals with what you will be doing while you are there. This is the part of the trip that dictates whether you enjoy your trip or not. You need to decide what activities or excursions you want to do or have a general idea of what you were aiming for. You definitely don’t need to have everything planned to the T, but it’s good to have an idea of what you want to do. Whether you want to just explore local culture, have planned activities for each day, relax by the beach, etc. It boils down to the purpose of the trip. You can start by looking up popular tourist attractions or historical grounds, popular restaurants, night clubs or lounges, hiking trails, culinary classes, art shows, music festivals, carnivals, etc. When searching, Tripadvisor is a good resource to use, because people leave reviews and recommendations of attractions, activities, restaurants, etc, in the area. It’s a helpful way to plan your days. Or you can just plan a lazy vacation and lounge by the pool all day, which I’d then advise you to book a resort hotel. If you are going to the Caribbean to celebrate a carnival like my friends and I usually do, the events are planned for you, you just need to buy the tickets. This part of the trip can be tedious, which is why a lot of people resort to booking through travel agencies/companies, so everything is booked for you. But if you really want to tailor your trip to your needs or the needs of the group, the best way is to plan it yourself. It can be helpful to do a group tally when trying to decide what activities to do, in order to ensure everyone has a good time. It is helpful to look through sites like Expedia, because they may have discounted event packages or tickets. For example, Expedia had discounted ticket prices for museum tours and bus tours, when I planned by trip to California. As long as you know what you want to do, planning your activities will be fun, if not exciting. Again google is your friend. By simply typing in google “top ten attractions or activities to do while vacationing in _____”, you should find a plethora of options to look through.
5. Finalize Trip Details
Once you’ve booked everything, now it’s time to finalize and make sure everything is in order. Whether I’m booking for myself or with a group of friends, I like to create an itinerary and payment schedule (if needed) in google docs, so I can see the whole trip laid out. It is really helpful when planning for a group of people, that way no one can say they didn’t know or they didn’t like what was planned. And as the trip planner, the last thing you want is for people to say they didn’t enjoy the trip, because the blame may fall on you. It’s during this time that you should be making adjustments where needed, taking note of payment due dates and payment balances, if there are any. Ensuring all the dates are accurate and there are no discrepancies. When attending a carnival, this part is super crucial, because you have to remember costume payment deadlines, hotel deadlines, party deadlines, etc. But even if you aren’t going to carnival this part of the planning stage helps you keep everything in order.
Google Docs or Microsoft WordTravel Itinerary builder: https://hello.travefy.com/travel-itinerary-builder/Triphobo: https://www.triphobo.com/tripplannerSmarter Travel: https://www.smartertravel.com/2017/06/19/create-perfect-travel-itinerary/
6. Trip Prep
This is THE MOST exciting part of the trip planning journey, because it means your trip is right around the corner. The trip prep stage can, honestly, be the whole month prior to departure or just the week before. This part includes packing, preparing all travel documents and finalizing and double checking your travel information AGAIN. The month prior to departure, I usually buy any clothes that I need for the trip, because I am not a fan of express shipping at the last minute. I prefer to have all my clothes with me, so I don’t have to worry. When shopping and packing, remember to check the weather for your destination, so you can dress accordingly. You may have to do this 1-2 weeks prior, since the weather may not be available till then, but just ensure you are not poorly dressed for the occasion. More importantly, before you start packing decide how much luggage you are taking and whether it’s going to be checked or a carry-on. It helps prevent you from overpacking. Unless you are like me, who likes to pack in advance, so I don’t forget anything and ends up overpacking anyway. I’ve found it helpful to download and print those vacation checklist you find on google and just start checking off the things I need and have. You can also call your friends and ask them to help you because they may think of something that you forgot. Even though I do most of my packing and shopping in advance, I save all essential toiletries for the week I’m leaving. In terms of toiletries, I like to pack them in travel size containers and then put them in ziplocks, to maximize space and preventing spillage. Once you’ve finished packing, it’s time to finalize your details once more, just to be certain everything is in order. And the night before departure, you should check-in, check for any delays, finish last minute packing and gather all travel documents and put them in a travel documents holder, so it’s easily accessible. Always give yourself enough time to get to the airport. After all this planning, the last thing you want to do is miss your flight.