Planning a trip is always tricky when you don’t know when to start. It’s a minefield of guide books, websites, blogs and YouTube videos, each telling you conflicting information about how to plan and save for your travels.
I don’t believe trip planning has to be difficult at all. In fact, I think it’s incredibly exciting, and teaches you a lot along the way. From packing like a minimalist (it really is possible to bring only 5 t-shirts), to choosing the best tour company for you, trip planning can either be complicated, or the easiest part of the trip.
I’m planning an Australia trip, so I’ll bring you along with me during the process of planning my (hopefully) year in the sun! Here’s the first lot of tasks on my to-do list, which you can apply to your next travel adventure.
Corvara, the Dolomites, Italy, 2015
Decide Where You Want To Go
It’s more difficult than it sounds. If you’re anything like me (a nomad whose spiritual home is on the road), you’ll want to go everywhere. I have a really, really long list of all the places I want to go – it’s basically a list of every country in the world – but I had to narrow it down: my first destination is hopefully going to be Australia.
It’s tough to choose, but pick whatever your gut instinct is telling you. Do you get a buzz whenever someone mentions Rio? Go to South America! Do you get excited at the thought of seeing Harajuku and innovative tech culture? Then Japan should be next on your list!
Do some research, but don’t get stressed out. Narrow your options and go wherever your heart is leading you.
Do Your Research
Probably the most exciting part of the planning process is RESEARCH. After you’ve picked a destination, find out how realistic the trip will be in terms of money, time and logistics, and see what awesome things you can do there.
Remember to check the essentials, for example, will there be a language barrier, and should you pick up some basic phrases before you go? If you’re planning on doing a working holiday like me, figure out the likelihood of finding employment in the destination – and whether you should have something lined-up before you go – and what the visa terms and conditions are.
There are so many ways to do your research now that it can be overwhelming. From blogs to classic guidebooks and official travel websites like TripAdvisor and Lonely Planet, there is so much information that it can be really easy to find all the information you’ll need. There are even incredible YouTube vlogs that will show you the destinations and explore the ups and downs of travelling there.
There’s a lot of terrible information out there, but it’s easy to find useful and helpful tips that will help you narrow down your to-do list both before and during your adventure.
Decide When You Want To Go (And How Long You Want To Be There For)
Through your research, you’ll probably get a good idea of when the most popular times to go to certain destinations are. Take this into account, as you’ll often find that flight and hotel prices spike during these times of year, but also look at what the weather is like in your destination.
It’s important to get to grips with what you can expect weather-wise – after all, there’s no point going to Thailand in monsoon season when your goal is to soak up the sun on the islands. Take into account the activities that may be limited to summer or winter seasons, you don’t want to go skiing in the Alps during the summer months.
Think about how long you want to stay there too. Are you wanting to do a long-weekend stopover on the way to somewhere else (Singapore and Iceland are great options here), or is it a destination in itself? Factor this decision into your timings, you might end up wanting to stay in your destination a little (or a lot) longer. Be flexible.
Corvara, the Dolomites, Italy, 2015
Think About Tour Companies
For first-time solo travellers, going with a tour company for at least part of your journey is something I can’t recommend enough. It’ll ease you into to solo travelling, allowing you to focus on yourself and your priorities while someone else takes control of getting from A to B, driving and organising the finer details.
I highly recommend Trek America, for the USA, Canada and Central America (read my Trek America Experience here), but there’s a whole range of options available to you. Some excellent companies are G Adventures, Contiki and Explore (I grew up doing trips with them in Namibia, Peru, Thailand/Laos/Cambodia, Borneo and South Africa just to name a few), but there is a never-ending list of excellent companies that will give you the time of your life.
If you’re worried about safety in your destination, or you’re not sure that you are organised enough to do the whole trip by yourself, these tours are a great option. They allow you amazing experiences, no stress, and the chance to experience the world with a group of people that will probably be your new BFFs.
Create A Rough Budget
Money is a necessary evil that you can’t travel without, but working out exactly how much you need is easier than it sounds. Start with creating a rough budget that encompasses everything you’ll need; I’ve previously written a blog about my 8 top money saving tips, read it here!
Here’s a break-down of the main things to take into consideration when figuring out your budget:
- Flights: check skyscanner for last-minute deals on flights or book well enough in advance to capitalise on deals.
- Visas: you can’t skip this one.
- Travel insurance: you can’t skip this one either.
- Vaccines and injections: you want to be protected against any diseases or viruses in the destination you’re going to. Check with your GP/nurse for what you need to be protected against. Bear in mind that often these vaccines last years, so keep a log of what you already have and how long it will protect you for.
- Food shopping and/or meals out
- Equipment: think about whether you’ll need a tent, new camera or backpack and search your local outdoor retailer for discounts and deals.
- Petrol: if you are doing a road trip and driving yourself, petrol will be a huge cost.
- Accommodation: look at AirBnb, Hostelworld and LastMinute.com to see what’s available. Camping is almost always an option too!
- Excursions: are you wanting to do a skydive or visit the National Parks? You can get amazing deals on National Parks (for example, REI do a pass that allows you entry to all the parks for about $80) and outdoor activities if organising them with the same company – these can allow you to save a ton of money.
- Extras: There will always be activities that you want to do that you won’t have accounted for; adding a little extra into your budget will allow you to do all the things you want.
- Emergency fund: it’s a good idea to have at least £50-100 per week in your emergency fund; you never know what might happen and it’s a good idea to have a little extra just in case.
- Souvenirs: obviously. I collected patches when I was in America (I’ve stuck them all on my favourite Levi’s jacket: see here), so take into account all the memorabilia you’ll want to bring home!
Your budget isn’t a set amount that you should bring/save – always try and factor in a few more dollars (or whatever the local currency is) to account for any spontaneous decisions or unexpected ideas!
Dolomites, Italy, 2015
In Travel Planning 101: Part 2 I’ll be going through organising flights and visas, saving money, packing lists and deciding what’s important.