Here’s something very few people know about me: I LOVE planning trips. Love it. I love finding great deals, getting hyped to go to new places, and, above all, I love planning the trip agenda.
So, as someone who would totally plan other people’s trips for them just to do it, here are my five pointers for planning a great trip:
Establish Parameters Based On Who You’re Traveling With
Who is traveling with you? Your family? Your friends? A lot of people? One other person? Traveling by yourself?
Nailing this down makes all the difference. One thing it impacts is the location – I typically save super outdoorsy trips for when I’m traveling solo and try to emphasize more local, cultural, and food options when I have a group. It also impacts budget – you may be able to buy a ticket to Europe right now, but if you’re traveling with a group, you need to know what they can afford.
Set A Budget
Set. A. Budget. Do not spend on a whim – you WILL spend way too much. But at the same time, don’t set your spending limit too low, because that’s the fastest way to guarantee failure. When I plan for trips, I usually have a housing budget and a travel budget.
I also have a spending budget that includes a realistic amount for every meal I will eat, coffee money, the money for all the planned events, and some flexible spending money. For example, on my recent trip to New Orleans, the flexible spending was put toward artwork for my home and local chicory coffee. I would have bought these things with or without the budget because I loved them so much, but having them in-budget protected the rest of my finances.
Do NOT Only Look At One Option
If you’re rolling with the first option you see, you’re not getting a good deal. Compare airlines, or, if you’re loyal to a single airline for the points (like me!), compare flights. Is it less expensive to take a super late flight out a night early versus a morning flight the next day? Do the same with housing and car rentals. I’m constantly flipping through hotel versus Airbnb prices and if I can’t take public transportation like the Metro, comparing car rental companies to things like Turo.
Read All Sorts of Reviews
I literally planned a trip last night, and you know what I had pulled up? Yelp, Google reviews, Reddit, and all sorts of local review blogs. Getting perspective and hearing what other people (ESPECIALLY locals) think will help you prioritize where you should go. While not always foolproof (some NOLA reviews ended up letting me DOWN), this process has proved useful 90 percent of the time.
Block All Your Time In A Trip Doc, But Leave Wiggle Room
Finally, the part I love most – pulling together a trip document! When I travel, EVERYTHING goes into one document. This can either be accessed on your phone or, if you’re worried about a lack of service or your phone dying, can be printed out. I always go the phone route because that makes life easier, both for navigation and for updates on the fly.
All my research gets pulled together in this document, along with all addresses (because just having to go one place for your phone GPS serves wonders) and any tips or notes I may have. Since I apparently lost the last couple of trip docs and am not about to share the one from my upcoming trip with the public (sorry folks!), here is an example of a morning in one of my trip plans:
8 am: Get ready, walk over to the coffee shop for breakfast.
9 am: Head out for swamp tour (address here)
9:30 am: Arrive at swamp tour. (Parking for free around the corner, check-in at the gift shop)
11 am: Wrap up swamp tour, head to French Market (address here)
11:30 am: Arrive at French Market, shop
12:45 pm: Grab coffee + beignets at Cafe Du Monde (leave car where it’s parked – it’s walkable)
The trick to this? ALWAYS leave wiggle room. For trips I’m taking solo, I just leave enough wiggle room for if travel time or a planned item takes longer because I get to plan exactly how I want. When you’re traveling with a group, everything that can go wrong will go wrong. Leave a LOT of flexibility for if you’re running late, if the mood of the group doesn’t match the mood of the plans, etc.