I remember my trip years ago to Morocco. I was travelling with a friend. We decided to go on an organized tour, and while it had some advantages for us (being two females); e.g., safety, transport and itinerary were all organized.
There were some major disadvantages- rigid timing of sightseeing (had to be back at the bus by certain times) and my biggest bugbear was that everyday there was “shopping time”, and it felt like we spent more time at the shops at each town than at the sites themselves. As I am not a trinket buyer I found this really frustrating and vowed no more organized tours ever, as I felt my valuable holiday time of seeing and experiencing a new culture and country was diminished.
Planning a trip by yourself can be a daunting project, and it’s easy to get overwhelmed – especially if you haven’t planned a detailed trip before.
My husband and I have planned countless trips over the years, and we have fine-tuned the process. Good planning should result in great trips that your remember forever.
I have created this step by step guide which breaks the process down into easy, manageable steps.
Step 1. Choose Your Destination
- If you’re not sure where you want to go, I would suggest you make a list of five places you want to travel to and rank these in order of preference.
- In choosing your destination think about what you really want from the trip. Do you want to unwind and chill out, see historic and famous sites or are you seeking adventure?
Step 2. Decide How Long You Wish to be Away
- In order to establish the cost of the trip and how much you will need to save, you need to make a decision on the length of your stay.
- When planning how long you will spend at each destination, always think big. Travel costs there & back are the same for a five day trip as they are for a three week trip. Nearly all of us get home from a good trip, and almost immediately start to reflect upon, “Wish we could’ve stayed longer…” This is natural. It’s that travel bug biting you – the same as he bites everyone else. The cost of staying another week on top of a three week stay, usually only represents another 10 to 15% cost onto the total trip budget.
Step 3. Research What You Want to Do
- Say for example my first choice is Scotland and I have decided to go on a 14 day trip, it’s important to know specifically what I want to see and do in Scotland – otherwise it’s hard to decide how long I should devote to each town or city in Scotland.
- Firstly get yourself a map of the country you want to visit and familiarize yourself with locations- you can do this on Google maps
- Start by looking at all travel websites like Google, Tripadvisor and Lonely planet, etc. Search the Unesco World Heritage sites, search: key landmarks, search: places to visit, search: what is this area famous for etc, etc. Most countries now have a tourism focused website (e.g., Visit Scotland). It pays to look at these official websites, and again search: the top things to see and do in the country. Look for a mix of free and paid sites & activities.
- Start listing the site or experience you want to have in the country of your choice by city or town. This way you will be able to create a daily itinerary for yourself and will be able to determine how long you will need to spend in each city or town.
- I would suggest that for each activity you also research the cost, the estimated time you want to spend there, address, opening hours, if you can book online, the website and a suggestion for a meal nearby.
- I like to put this into a spreadsheet like the example below:
- By the time you finish this, you should have a fairly solid itinerary of things that you want to do and see, and good idea of the total cost of these activities.
- Don’t forget to schedule in some time to just walk around for few hours & take in each destination you visit.
Step 4. Research Transportation
- How are you planning on getting around? Are you planning on hiring a car or using public transport?
- If you are planning on driving, the Google distance calculator is a very handy tool. This will give you the distance in both kilometers and miles. It will also advise the hours it will take to drive between each location on your itinerary.
- You need to take this timing into account with your itinerary. That way, you won’t have to rush visiting a site, or be driving late at night – just to get to your next destination. This level of planning helps to make travel stress free.
- Car hire firms nearly all work on a 24 hour rent cycle. If you pick the car up at, say 3:00pm, you should try to drop it back as close as possible to 3:00pm on your drop-off day. Most companies allow a one hour period of grace. Anymore than that and you start paying for another day. Any earlier than the pickup time, you are paying for a whole day, but actually getting less than a day’s use out of the vehicle.
- If you are planning on catching trains look into the network, timing and costs for your itinerary.
Step 5. Research Accommodation
- Now that you have your itinerary mapped out, you are in a better position to be researching accommodation for each location. It is best to use all available search agencies – Tripadvisor, Bookings, Expedia, etc. When searching for accommodation at each location on your itinerary, put in your desired style of accommodation – luxury hotel, b&b, motel or hostel.
- My tip for narrowing down the options is look at the best rated properties in your price range and then look at what all previous customers are rating the hotel low on- are these issue that matter to you? If no, then disregard the low rating. Now read the last five top reviews for each hotel- what did these customers love about the property? Does this resonate with you?
- Look at the pictures for the property- does it appeal to you?
- Look at the cost of staying here for the duration of your stay in this city- are you happy with the rate? If not, look at alternative places within your budget comfort zone.
- Look at where the hotel is located on a map. Is it easy to get to? Is there parking? Does it cost extra to park there or is it complimentary?
- Does the hotel have breakfast included and complimentary wifi? What other inclusions are important to you?
Step 6. Research Flights
- Are you paying for your flights or do you have airline points you want to redeem?
- Search agencies like Skyscanner, Rome to Rio, I know the Pilot as a start to get an idea for price comparisons.
Step 7. Passport, Visa & Travel Insurance
- Overseas travel almost always requires a valid passport. Most countries require your that passport is valid for at least six months on arrival.
- You can quickly see if you need a visa for your destination by a quick internet search. Just search “entry requirements ……..”.
- Some country enter/exit fees are often included in your airline ticket cost. Others are payable upon arrival. Credit card or US$ is the two most common form of payment method.
- Investigate travel insurance conditions and cost and make sure you understand what is and is not covered.
Step 8. Start Saving Money for Your Trip
- At this point you should have a good idea of the total cost of your journey.
- Sites and Experiences, Land Transport, Accommodation, Airfares, Passport, Visa and travel insurance.
- You do need to add to this the cost estimate for food, drink and spending money for anything you might want to buy.
- This will give you a total trip cost. Saving for the trip, does need planning. Say my trip to Scotland is going to cost $6,000 and I want to travel in 12 months time, I would need to save $500 a month for 12 months or close to $120 per week for 52 weeks.
- Track all your current expenditure (either monthly or weekly), can help you to achieve your goal.
- Write down your fixed expenses that you have to pay (mortgage/rent, electricity, gas, phone, car, insurances, etc).
- Write down your discretionary expenses – all the things you choose to spend money on (magazines, coffee, drinks, water, lunch, dinner, movies, snacks, clothes, shoes, etc).
- People often spend a lot of money daily on small indulgence items that really do add up.
- If I am to save the $6,000 in 12 months time to go to Scotland, I would look at cutting $120 a week in my discretionary expenses.
Step 9. Apply for a Credit Card that is linked to a Frequent Flyer Program
- Most credit cards have bonuses (normally between 40,000-100,000 frequent flyer points) when you sign up. Most have a minimum spend of about $3000 in the first 3 months. That’s a lot of frequent flyer points for example you can go from Melbourne to Hong Kong return for 56,000 points +$308 taxes per person in economy with Qantas.
- The other good thing to remember is that you can use your Qantas F/Flyer points on the nearly all other Partner Airlines within the One World Group. Likewise, you can use Virgin Velocity F/Flyer points on other airlines within the Star Alliance group. Between these two major airline consortiums, you can access flights on approx 80% of the world’s airlines.
- The $3000 spend in three months is easy to achieve, if you put everything on your credit card that you would normally buy; i.e., all fixed and discretionary expenses. The important thing is to not over spend, and to pay off your credit card in full each month to ensure you are not paying interest.
- Recently, my husband & I accumulated our Qantas F/Flyer points, and then used them to travel first class on an Emirates A380. We both really wanted to tick having a shower in the air off our bucketlist. So don’t underestimate what is possible with F/Flyer points.
Step 10. Keep an Eye Out for Last Minute Deals
- It’s a good idea to sign up for any travel deal websites that appeal to you. Then keep an eye out for any last minute deals that maybe too good to resist. We were recently planning on a trip to Portugal, but then saw a fabulous deal to India that was 60% off normal pricing. So, we decided why not India for this trip. (India has been on the bucketlist for long time).
- If you’re flexible and can go to plan B or C with your travels you could save yourself a lot of money when these sort of deals come up.
- It’s a good idea to sign up for email alerts from your favourite airlines.
Step 11. Book your Flights
- The best time to book haul flights is 18 weeks in advance of your travel date.
- Look at different options for your flights. You can often find cheaper fares if you book a one way ticket to your destination on one airline and then a return one way ticket with another airline.
- My favourite site for airfares is Skyscanner.
- It’s wise to print off your confirmation email.
Step 12. Book your Accommodation
- With your itinerary already set, go ahead and book your accommodation for your entire trip. This will ensure you get the location, the hotel, the room that you want.
- If you are booking via the internet, my preference is to use Tripadvisor. That way you get to see all of the up-to-date price comparisons from the different hotel booking sites.
- Again, print off confirmation emails as you make each booking.
Step 13. Book Your Transportation
- If you are hiring a car, monitor all deals from your list of rental companies over a few days. They do change.
- Print off your confirmation email.
Step 14. Book Your Sites And Activities
- Book as many of your sites as you can online and print off your confirmation emails. This is very helpful at popular sites, where you could be in a queue for a long time. Most sites have a separate pre-purchase line-up/queue area.
- It is best to make your booking with the site you are visiting directly. A lot of third party websites charge inflated prices.
Step 15. Organize Passport, Visa & Travel Insurance
- Apply for passport and or visa if required well in advance. This process can take up to five working days with some embassies/consular offices.
- It is best organize your travel insurance through reputable companies.
- Some cash money from your destination country is a good to have with you when you land. Generally speaking, you will always get a much more favourable rate of exchange on the Australian dollar at money changers overseas. The best rate in Australia for overseas cash is at the Post Office for common order currencies. Also of note is the fact that selected Flight Centre offices have a money change counter. Here they promise to match or beat any other currency rate in Australia.
Step 16. Set up a Trip Travel Folder
- Buy yourself a display book with clear plastic sleeves.
- It is best to organize your folder chronologically by day or by city, putting into the plastic sleeve your accommodation confirmation emails, and all other confirmations and trip notes you have printed. When you organize your folder by day or city – everything is easy to access and at your finger tips
Step 17. Pack for your Trip
- Write a list of what you will need to take.
- Monitor the weather of your vacation spots so you can pack appropriately.
- To avoid any nasty surprises at the airline check-in point, make sure that your luggage meets the required weights and dimensions that are listed on your airline’s website. There are different baggage and weight allowances for different classes of travel within each airline.
- Pack layers – so if the weather does turn you are prepared.
- Invest in waterproof clothes packing bags- these make packing so easy and also ensure that if anything does leak in your bag, your clothes will be protected.
- Make sure that your carry on liquids, aerosols and gels meet current airline requirements.
Step 18. Enjoy Your Trip 🙂
- All the hard work is over and its now time to enjoy the huge effort you have put into planning your trip – have a great time!!
No matter how long you are going away for- this list will help you prepare step by step for an amazing adventure around this beautiful planet.
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