I’d like to share the most basic travel planning advice I’ve got: prioritize. Sure it sounds simple, but when we get excited for adventure and have the good ol’ internet at our fingertips, we can easily spiral out of control.
I am guilty of the following: looking up Trip A that I am thinking about, getting sidetracked by Trip B on my mind, then wondering what sort of cool trips there are that I haven’t thought of and looking up “coolest” “most amazing” “before you die” places to go this year, only to then decide that what I really need is a budget friendly trip so I’ll look up blogs about those for a few hours — !!! Pretty soon I have rough outlines for six or seven (or a dozen) trips that I am not actually prepared to go on in any way/shape/form.
Don’t get me wrong, if you’d just like to browse and daydream, be my guest. But here’s what you have to do if you really want to go somewhere, like NOW.
- Cut the bull—. Be honest with yourself about limitations of your budget and free time. Just narrowing down which days you can actually miss work may greatly focus your travel plans. You want to see Iceland on the way to Belgium, which is near Holland, and — stop. Be realistic about how many days and what kind of money you have to spend.
- Commit to a place that you can’t imagine skipping. I don’t mean the most hip place this year, but the one that you keep going back to even when other locations grab your attention. I considered touring around almost every country in Central America, but when it came time to book all I WANTED was to hang in Costa Rica for a week. It’s ok to choose a less “sexy” itinerary if it’s where you really want to be.
- All right, step 3 is the most stressful but also the most rewarding. It’s time to research transportation and lodgings. I won’t lie, you will likely spend hours pouring over kayak.com or whichever travel site you prefer to find the best deals. Take time to experiment with days or times that are flexible for you, as well as alternative airports or stations. Look into hotels, bed and breakfasts, airdbnb, hostels, friends’s houses, allll the lodgings. A hostel in one location may be way nicer than a hotel in another. A guest house or cottage might have the friendly support staff you want and need while abroad. Then again hotels can be niiiiice. See? There is a lot to check out. DO NOT RUSH THIS STEP no matter how annoying it gets.
- Ok, you are now an expert in all things regarding getting to and sleeping at this location. Book it. The time to stress is over. No more agonizing. Book your flights first, then lodgings. That’s just in case you end up on a red-eye or find a cheaper rate going into a different airport. You do not want to book an airbnb you love for the weekend only to realize it’s easiest and cheapest to arrive Sunday. Duh.
- You are going on a trip! Tell your loved ones! Or high five yourself. Also, feel free to take a little break at this point. You know where you are going and where you will sleep, nothing else is urgent, I promise.
- Ok, prioritize again. Make a list of trip activities that might require reservations, and put anything you’ll truly regret missing at the top.This could include snorkeling, museum tours, fancy restaurants, side trips, or volunteering. Etc. Etc. Etc. Be sure to be thorough here; this stuff varies from place to place. For example, you can show up in Belize and shout “snorkeling! woo!” and someone will take you out to the reef for relatively cheap. But if you want to see Machu Picchu, you need a park ticket and train tickets before you even get to Peru, and then you have to pick them up in Cuzco, at different locations. Please get that stuff settled before you leave home, and know cancellation policies or rescheduling options.
- Ok. You have all the big ticket items covered and now you can get into the gritty details. From here on out, a lot depends on your destination. Check: what kind of money do you need? Not just currency – do people there generally prefer cash or card? Will you be able to use your cell phone? Do you need an outlet converter to charge it? Do they throw toilet paper in the toilet or in trash there? Do you need vaccinations before going? That sort of stuff. I highly recommend googling “what to bring to -” or “before you go to -“. But remember to prioritize! It is still too early to spend an hour freaking out about which bathing suit or tent to bring.
- PHEW! Now you can really relax. You are going. It will be amazing. You are a boss. Depending on where you’re going, buy a guidebook or just google a ton about the specific areas you’ll be in. Have loose plans. Do not plan every minute – that is just setting yourself up for a panic attack when a suitcase goes missing or a storm ruins your skydiving plans. Have ideas, check out different activities, but go knowing that you’ll have to be flexible. And ENJOY being flexible. It is, after all, a vacation.
- Finally. It’s time for your trip. Pack. Print out all related documents. Email any needed confirmations. Send your itinerary to loved ones. Don’t forget travel snacks. Check what you packed one last time…