So, you’ve been dreaming about faraway lands and you’re ready to plan a trip? Planning a trip can be super exciting, but it can also be very daunting. Where on earth do you begin?! (Pun intended).
Well, you don’t need to worry anymore!
This comprehensive step-by-step guide will walk you through how to plan a trip, in just 12 super easy steps.
What’s more, it can be used for any trip – you can use it as a checklist whether you want to plan a trip with friends, family or solo, and no matter how long you want to go away for.
How I Learned How To Plan A Trip
Over the years I’ve traveled extensively; from road trip weekends with friends, to budget vacations with the family, to 6-month backpacking trips with my girlfriend.
Believe me, I learned the hard way that planning a trip goes a long way to ensuring that you don’t miss out on anything.
I like to think that I’ve got this down to a tee and that by creating a simple (albeit rather lengthy) checklist, planning a trip is no longer the intimidating task it once was.
In fact, it now seems rather easy and can actually be a lot of fun. In this article, I am going to show you exactly how to plan a trip.
As I said, this is a LONG guide – I like to think it covers everything. You may need to return to it again and use the contents to navigate through it. I suggest bookmarking it so you can refer back at any time.
If you’re taking a road trip, use our awesome road trip planning article to get you started!
Here’s what’s included in this extensive guide:
How to plan a trip with friends
If you want to plan your trip with friends, make sure you are all on the same page and plan together!
It’s important that everyone who is traveling has the same expectations of what you will get out of the trip – where you are going, how much it will cost, etc.
Sometimes this can be difficult as you may have completely different ideas about the trip. It may be necessary to compromise. However, this can actually be a positive thing!
Check out more posts on Travel Tips here.
Cover this guide together
In the past, I have been totally unsure on some of my friends’ travel suggestions, but they have often ended up as some of the best experiences of my life. I would suggest covering the rest of this checklist together, so you have similar ideas about what the trip will involve.
Share this article with them so you can get to working through this simple travel planning guide together!
Choosing a destination – How long? Where? Who with? When?
OK, you know you want to go on a trip – you know you want to go somewhere – but how do you go about choosing a destination?
Well, there are a few important things to consider. These are broken down below to make the process seem nice and simple. You can get into the finer details and the best way to choose your destination in the rest of this section.
- Decide the length of your trip
- Get inspired and think of potential locations
- Decide when you will go (or when is the best time to go)
- Use multiple resources to research your destination
How long will your trip be?
First, to plan a trip you must ask yourself for how long you plan to go. For example, are you planning the week-long vacation you always dreamed of? A quick city-break with your partner? Or are you planning to travel long term and take the trip of a lifetime with your friends?
Acknowledging exactly how long you want to go away for will give you the basis to determine a solid plan for the other details of your trip.
Where will you go?
The most exciting part! This is always my favorite part of planning a trip as I find myself dreaming about those exotic faraway places.
Think about what you want from the trip – what do you like to do when you’re away? Do you want to travel somewhere eco-friendly? Do you like hot or cold weather? Relaxing with a drink in the sun or hurtling down a snowy mountain? Do you like the buzz of the city or the calm of the countryside? Popular attractions or getting off the beaten path? Luxury treatment or the simple life?
These things should all factor into the decision you make on where to go.
Find out the best time to go!
It is likely that your chosen destination will have a time of year when it is best to travel to. This might be down to the weather, conditions, other travelers or local events.
For example, let’s say you have decided you want to see the tropical secluded beaches of The Philippines. Find out the best season to visit. Not only will this mean that you’re more likely to get that beautiful sunshine, but also that you avoid the crowds of peak times AND keep away at dangerous times such as the typhoon season (TRUST ME, we were very wet and very miserable).
Similarly, let’s say you have decided you want to experience the color and chaos of Carnaval in Rio de Janeiro. It is important that you check the dates of the festival so you can plan a trip around them.
Resources for Inspiration
There are plenty of resources out there for researching potential destinations such as Reddit, Pinterest, travel blogs and even Google Maps! I often find myself intrigued by something that someone has told me about a specific place.
The next thing I’ll do?
Find it on the map and start pouring over pictures of it on Google Images.
Still not sure where to go?
Skyscanner and Google Flights let you search for flights to “everywhere”. Why not choose a rough date and see where you can get to for a bargain? You might find yourself somewhere you never thought you would visit otherwise!
Choosing your Activities
What will you do whilst you’re away?
Start to create a list of things you’re interested in; any tours you want to take, museums, cool areas you want to explore, food recommendations, etc.
I like to put them all into a document on my laptop – don’t worry if this starts getting a bit overcrowded! You can edit it and start to prioritize later when you create a real itinerary.
If you’re looking to get out on the road, take a look at our best posts on road trip advice.
At the very least, make sure to outline the ‘must-do activities for your destination as these are often one of the main reasons for choosing to go somewhere. Quite often, the main reason I have chosen a destination is down to a cool activity that you can do there.
It’s not all about the big things, sometimes it’s fun to incorporate the philosophy of micro-adventures into the planning process.
How do you find things to do?
Honestly, some of the best activities that I have taken part in whilst traveling have come from first-hand recommendations from other travelers.
As such, travel blogs can be an excellent way to search for recommendations for things to do.
Trip Costs and Budgeting
Now you have decided where you want to go and what you want to do, it’s time to start thinking about how much the trip will cost. This can be a little overwhelming, especially if you’re planning a long trip! I like to create a trip budget by making a list of costs using estimates.
Budgetyourtrip is an excellent resource that allows you to search by destination and see estimates and averages for costs during your trip. It also provides daily, weekly, and monthly living budget amounts in any currency!
What to include in a budget
In your personal budgeting list make sure to include (but not be limited to!) the following:
- Local Travel
- ‘Must-do’ Activities
- Additional Activities
Here is an example of my budget for a month-long trip in Argentina using estimated costs from Budgetyourtrip:
|Cost Type||Description||Daily Cost||Monthly Cost|
|Accommodation||Hotel or Hostel||$22||$660|
|Local Travel||Local Transportation||$7.80|
|Intercity Transportation||$28 (approx 8 during trip)||$458|
|Must-do Activities||Vineyard Tour in Mendoza||$50|
|Ticket to Boca Juniors game in Buenos Aires||$100||$150|
|Additional Activities||Alcohol||$4 (approx 15 days during trip)|
|Entrance Tickets, Shows etc.||$7.80 (approx 20 days during trip)||$216|
*Graphic assumes 30 days/month
When creating your budget, bear in mind that each day of your trip will probably be different. Some days will be much more expensive, while some might simply involve swinging it in a hammock with a book.
Therefore, the best way to create a budget is to try and work out the costs for your whole trip (as the graphic above shows), instead of trying to figure out exactly what you will spend per day.
Make sure to include your must-do activities
Make sure you pick out your “must-do” activities (see “Choosing Your Activities”) and ensure these are factored into your budget. Why would you not take part in a Scuba Dive experience if the main reason you want to go to Australia is to see the Great Barrier Reef?!
You can make sacrifices elsewhere (for example by eating cheaply or drinking less alcohol), but you should never compromise on your dream activities, after all, they are the reason you want to plan a trip!
Saving Money for your Trip
The best and easiest way of saving money before your trip is by cutting out unnecessary purchases. How much do you spend each day on a cup of coffee from the coffee shop? $7? By making that coffee at home you could save yourself $50 per week, or over $200 per month…
Similarly, I like to make a conscious effort to prepare my lunches at home whilst saving for a trip. The cost of eating out each day can soon add up but can also be an easy thing to cut out to start saving.
Create a realistic plan while at home
No matter where you make your savings, be sure to budget. Review your incomings and outgoings and create a REALISTIC plan to save money each month.
If you know your trip will cost $2000, and from your budget, you have worked out that you are able to save $200 per month, be aware that it will take you 10 months to save for the trip. It may even be wise to give yourself some extra time and to plan to save for a year.
I like to use Mint to help keep track of my finances and to budget and help me save. It’s an extremely useful resource that allows you to link your bank accounts to the app and create goals to help you on your way to saving for that big trip.
Travel Rewards Credit Card
Take out a travel rewards credit card. This is a great way to save points and get cheap flights as you go about your daily spending HOWEVER be careful when using credit cards not to create unnecessary debt!
Stay inspired. Keep checking back to those original photos from Google Maps and Google Images – the ones that got you so excited to take the trip in the first place and helped you choose your destination – this will help you to keep focused on your goals.
It’s much easier to give up luxuries and make sacrifices when you are imagining yourself on that paradise island, pina colada in hand. I like to set my phone background to a picture of the place I’m super excited about visiting or even pin one up on my wall.
Money management during your Trip
Be wary of credit card and ATM fees whilst on your trip! International fees for using your card abroad can seriously add up. If your current cards have sizeable foreign transaction fees, it may be worth taking an FX (foreign exchange) card or opening a new card account just for travel.
Use an FX card (foreign exchange currency card). FX cards are a great source for keeping control of your spending whilst on your trip as you can top them up as you go. They also ensure you get a good exchange rate as they often use the Mastercard or Visa exchange rate of that day.
Cards like Revolut, Starling, and FairFX also have small or no fees. Furthermore, the preload feature of these cards is nice and secure as if your card is lost or stolen you only stand to lose the amount you loaded, not the entire contents of your account!
Splitting Money With Friends
When I have been on trips with friends it’s been helpful to be able to split bills or expenses quickly. We use Monzo, which is UK based, but there are multiple different apps worldwide to choose from including Square’s Cash and Venmo.
Booking a Flight
Booking a flight will probably be one of the more expensive purchases when you plan a trip.
As such, booking this before arranging the other details of your trip allows you to be more flexible with dates and could save you a lot of money. Booking in advance will often ensure your flight is much cheaper too, so as soon as you have decided on a destination, get searching for a flight!
Where do you look for flights?
Firstly, refer to our article on finding cheap flights for the best tips on getting a great deal.
When searching for flights be sure to check multiple sites to ensure you find the best option.
Skyscanner is a great resource that searches for flights from thousands of airlines and includes non-direct options (which can sometimes be cheaper). What’s more, the site allows you to search with broad parameters such as “by country” rather than with a specific airport and “by month” rather than with specific dates. This can be extremely useful if you are flexible with the details of your trip and can lead to huge savings.
There is also an app! Other helpful flight comparison sites include Kayak, Momondo, and Google Flights.
A word of warning:
Booking with the airline is usually the most secure!
There are numerous online “budget” travel agents out there offering cheap flights – sometimes cheaper than the airlines themselves – however, some of these may be selling seats on flights before they have even secured them with the airlines.
There are horror stories of travelers taking advantage of cheap flights on third party sites, only to find out said flights were not actually confirmed with the airline, and then ensuing in a struggle to reclaim their money AND having to rebook flights (which would most likely have increased in price by this time).
Always book directly through the airline if possible, or use well-known, widely trusted travel sites to ensure your trip starts without a hitch!
Woah, bit of a somber tone there, how about we get back to planning that adventure and find somewhere nice to stay?
By this point, you should have a good idea of where you’re going and what sort of thing you want to see. Now it’s time to start thinking about where you are going to stay as you plan a trip.
There are so many different types of accommodation out there, how do you know what is right for you and your trip? Here is a quick description of what you can expect from some of your options.
Typically the cheapest option and good for traveling on a budget. Hostels can be a great place to meet other people, especially if you’re travelling long term. Hostels can provide helpful information about local activities and will often have their own events for travelers. They usually have a variety of rooms available, ranging from beds in dorms to private rooms.
Where to find Hostels:
The best sites for booking hostels are hostelbookers and hostelworld.
Hotels can range from $3 per night to $3,000. The choices are endless. While hotels are generally more expensive than hostels, I have found some epic deals over the years for hotel rooms in amazing locations! Hotels are a great option for families or couples who want private rooms. They can also be a great way of experiencing a bit of luxury during your trip.
Where to find Hotels:
My favorite site for booking hotels is booking.com as there are so many options. Trivago and Expedia are also useful for finding great hotel deals!
3. Apartments/Homes/Air BnB
Booking your stay in someone else’s home is another option. Perfect for large groups who want the whole place to themselves. Great for digital nomads looking for flexibility, privacy, or nice working space.
4. Free Accommodation
That’s right – free accommodation – this is not a mistake!
There are several options out there that may not cost you anything. Couchsurfing is a cool resource that allows travelers to network and put each other up for free. It works on the assumption that you may return the favor at some point in the future!
Volunteering for a bed is another clever way of cutting costs and finding a bed without having to pay for it, especially if you’re traveling long-term. Volunteering can also be an extremely rewarding experience in itself – you could travel AND make a difference. Workaway promotes volunteering opportunities all over the world, as well as Homestays, Family exchanges and other local experiences.
How much accommodation should you book in advance?
Book as much accommodation as you can depending on what you know about your trip.
If you are going on a vacation and plan to stay in only 1 or 2 locations, booking all your accommodation could ensure you get your first choice AND a great deal.
If you are planning a longer trip, traveling with friends, for example, book the first few days’ accommodations before you go and then book more once you have a concrete plan and you know where you will be. It’s absolutely fine to book things whilst on the move, plans can change after all!
What to look out for when booking accommodation
Things to consider when booking your accommodation are:
- Location – is it close to those activities you decided you wanted to do earlier? Booking somewhere to stay that is close to what you want to see and do will make life a lot easier once you arrive.
- Price – is your accommodation within budget? Make sure to shop around, as the same place could be a different price on different sites.
- Amenities – does it have everything you want and need? If you’re looking for luxury, does your hotel have a pool? Does the room have aircon or is there only a fan? Will you have a private bathroom, or will it be shared? How many beds are in each dorm? Check the description of the accommodation you’re interested in for a list of the facilities that are provided.
Check reviews and ratings
Booking sites will often include reviews, and this can be a great way to hear about past travelers’ experiences in the accommodation you’re thinking about staying at. Tripadvisor is also an excellent resource for checking out reviews for lodging all over the world. Make sure to leave reviews after your stay to help future travelers who are thinking of planning a trip!
Life Admin – Ensuring its manageable from wherever you are
How can you stop pesky life admin from getting in the way whilst you enjoy your trip? Here are some suggestions that will ensure it’s manageable:
- Get rid of all your mail by going paperless with bills such as your bank statements and phone bill.
That way you can check your accounts on the road. Ensure you’re also able to make all your bill payments online to ensure you don’t miss any whilst on your trip.
- No matter how long your trip is, it’s always a good idea to let your bank know you will be going abroad. This will hopefully prevent your cards form being blocked as you use them.
- Cancel any contracts/payments you won’t use.
These might include your mobile phone bill, gym membership, car insurance etc. There’s no point in paying for things unnecessarily whilst you take your trip.
You know where you’re going, you know what you’re planning to do, you’ve carefully budgeted, and you’ve saved all the money you need.
You must be ready to go right? Not quite yet, sorry. It’s time to start packing!
But how do you pack smart? What should you take?
It’s super important to pack depending on what type of trip you’re taking. You need to consider how long you’ll be going for and what you’ll be doing. What will the weather be like? And What activities do you have planned? Try not to overpack! Especially if you’re taking a longer trip which will involve a lot of carrying your pack around.
Here is a basic packing list you can use for some ideas:
- A few changes of clothes
- Toiletries (don’t take your whole bathroom, just the essentials – and make sure they are travel size if you are including them in hand luggage on a plane!)
- Plug adaptor
- First-Aid kit
- Blow-up travel pillow (honestly one of my best ever purchases)
- Activity specific gear – for example, snow gear if you are taking a skiing trip
Taking a road trip? Check out this extensive road trip packing list!
Having an up-to-date passport is a must, especially if you plan on crossing borders during your trip.
What does your passport need?
Most countries will require you to have at least 6 months remaining before your passport expires, so if you’re running out, be sure to get a new one. You’ll also need enough pages for entry stamps (some countries require a full double page for some reason), and from experience, having a tatty or beaten up passport can also lead to annoying questions from some border control officers who haven’t had the best nights sleep the night before.
Check your visa requirements. You may require a visa (or a few visas) for your trip.
The best sources of information for this are always the official government sites of the countries you’ll be visiting, however, travel blogs and sites can still offer useful information, especially if the government site you’re looking at doesn’t have an English translation!
Be sure to check if you need a visa even if you’ll only be in transit in that country, for a non-direct flight for example. Finally, be wary of processing times, visas do not always come through immediately!
Don’t leave it until the night before you leave to sort out your visas, or you could end up delaying your trip or not being able to legally travel to the country you’re planning on visiting!
Taking the trip!!
Now you’ve used this foolproof guide, you’re ready to enjoy your trip and start making memories!
But before you go…
I’d love to hear from you.
Which step did you find the most helpful?
And is there anything else you like to do when planning a trip?
Either way, leave a comment and let me know!
More From The Road Trip Expert
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