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When it comes to traveling, I’ve found it’s best to start with baby steps in order to plan the best trip ever. What started out as long weekends camping in nearby parks has now evolved into weeks spent living out of a backpack traveling across multiple borders. No biggie, right? But with a type-A personality, it isn’t always easy to surround yourself in unknown environments with little idea of what to expect. I’ve spent one too many times shuffling through train tickets and passport copies only to realize I’ve missed a departure time or forgetton housing for a stop along the way. Since it’s impossible to prepare for ev-er-y-thing, I created a method that allows me to feel the most comfortable and safe, while still allowing room for the spontaneous excursions that are sure to pop up. As we’re currently in the beginning phases of planning our next trip driving around the countryside of France, I decided to record the exact measures we’re taking to make sure we don’t end up lost, confused, and croissant-less.
So whether you’re looking for a week hitchhiking around Iceland or two months trekking across Australia, these are the steps I take to make any trip go as smoothly as possible. So far, so good. (Knock on wood!).
Identify What Fills Your Heart
Before you even begin planning your trip, decide what brings you the most joy when traveling. Do you prefer getting lost in the art museums of large cities? Or exploring a park where the nearest sign on civilization is 50 miles away? Jot down the five big things you *need* to truly have a dream trip. This will bring an overall focus for when you pick your destination. We were looking for a little bit of both so opted to spend a couple days in Paris snatching some awesome tour deals and then the rest of the time driving around the French country side.
Create a Budget
Real talk. Don’t go anywhere you can’t afford because it’ll only stress you out later. Opposite purpose of your vacay, no? Start with Google Flights to get a feel for where your radius can take you and pinpoint the places that have your ideal activities. Keep in mind, don’t account for your entire budget to go to flights, accommodations and food. You’re going to want some spending money for that once-in-a-lifetime sunset sail tour or cliff jumping excursion. Always give yourself a cushion to land on.
Establish a Location and BOOK
Once you’ve got the boring financial part in place, bite the bullet and book your plane tickets. This tends to be the most difficult part of the entire trip, but knowing your bookends will help everything else fall into place.
Make a Google Doc
Be warned, my nerdy side is shining through. Since I’m usually traveling with at least one other person, we create a google doc to record all the details we’ll need when traveling. Using a chart, the columns that work best for me are: Date, Location, Planned Activities/Tours, Accommodations, Confirmation Numbers, Resources. This includes all the important info I would need to have at a moment’s notice without having to go through a binder full of paper slips. Since we’ll be traveling to multiple cities, this is our safety net to ensure we have somewhere to sleep each night.
Create a Route
Determine the top places you’d like to visit from your arrival location and do some research to establish the most productive routes. I spend a lot of quality time with Rick Steves learning the best path to hit all our must-sees in a way that’s efficient and tailored to our interests. Plug your coordinates into google maps to generate a custom map for you. It will not only give you directions, but an estimate of time as a whole, as well as between each stop.
Establish Mode Transportation
While we often opt for a rental car, you might find it best to look into other modes of transportation. I’ve taken a ferry to travel through Greece and a train to get across Norway. What might be good for one country is not great for another.
Book Your Hospitality
Whether you prefer hotels, AirBnB ($20 off!) or hostels, find the accommodations early on to guarantee you’re not overpaying last minute. Make sure to put all the details into your google doc and check whether or not you’ll be able to access a GPS while on your trip. If not, or even just as back up, add the directions and landmarks you’ll need to know where you’re going.
Connect with Locals
This is always my favorite part of my trip. Once I have the important stuff out of the way, I can get right into all the must sees, must dos and must eats of all the locations! TripAdvisor has great message boards, but I often love turning to social media to get personal recommendations on what I cannot miss out on in each spot. Take note of tours to book, restaurants to eat at, sites to photograph and historical landmarks to visit. This goes under the Planned Activities/Tours column of your google doc and tends to be the most fluid. Unless you want to book a tour ahead of time (highly recommend), allow for some freedom to explore while you’re there. If you can’t find something spontaneous to do, you’ll always have this list to fall back on.
Create your Itinerary
Once you have the details, plug all your details into your google doc from hotel addresses to the name of that one little cafe where you “must try their latte”. Make sure you leave open spaces for some mandatory wandering. It’s always well worth it! For our trip to France, we turned to Viator for their full day tour of the Paris. I always trust their well-reviewed experiences and they literally exist EVERYWHERE.
Double Check Details
With a finalized plan, go through to check that your confirmation numbers match your itinerary and your accommodations match up with your hotels. A few minutes of review could save your hours of mayhem later on!
Have the Time of Your Life
Do. It .Up. Enjoy all the hard work you put in for a seamless adventure!
For the next few weeks I’ll be driving through the French countryside! Wifi will be a bit spotty but I’ll be popping in when I can. Don’t worry, I have some posts on the docket that’ll be going live while I’m eating my way through baguettes. Au revoir!
What’s your best tip for when you’re planning a trip? I’d love to hear it!