Whether you’re traveling for business or pleasure, every trip needs a little planning. Things like flights and hotels have to be booked in advance to make sure you get the itinerary you need. Travel planning doesn’t have to be stressful, though. As long as you allow yourself plenty of time to look around, compare prices, and make sure you have everything you need before you leave, you can plan a great travel experience.
EditStarting Your Plans
- Start planning 3-6 months in advance. The further away you want to go, the sooner you should start planning. International trips can take months to plan properly. Likewise, trips during high seasons, such as summer or over the holidays, need to be booked further out than trips during low seasons.
- As a general rule, give yourself 6 months to plan an international trip, 3 months to plan a domestic vacation, and at least 4-6 weeks for a trip like a long weekend.
- Some major destinations such as resorts may require a deposit well in advance. As soon as you decide on a destination, contact them to figure out if they require a deposit, and how far in advance you need to pay it.
- If you are planning a last-minute trip, be mindful that you will need to be flexible in where you go and exactly what your vacation will look like. You can certainly plan a successful last-minute vacation, but it often takes more maneuvering.
- Set a travel budget. Before you do anything, you need to know how much money you will have at your disposal. It’s easy to overspend when you’re traveling if you don’t plan ahead, so start your planning by breaking down how much you want to spend on transportation, food, lodging, sightseeing, nightlife, and any other activities you hope to include in your trip.
- Your budget breakdown will vary significantly depending on your trip. If you’re going abroad, for example, a lot of your budget may be dedicated to transportation. If you’re planning a food tour, you may be spending a lot on meals but relatively little on attractions.
- If you want or need to go to a specific destination, the going rates in that location will factor into establishing your budget. You may be able to find a hotel in Des Moines for $60/night, but you won’t get that same deal in New York.
- Remember to plan for little things like taxis or ride shares around town, the cost of boarding your pets, foreign transaction fees, baggage fees, and different sales tax rates in different regions.
- It’s wise to set aside about 10% of your overall vacation fund as an emergency fund for unforeseen circumstances. Forgetting your sunscreen at home, having to take a taxi because you missed the last bus, and ordering an extra drink at dinner all add up. Have an emergency credit card in case you need it, but try to avoid relying on credit cards to curb the potential for overspending.
- Choose a destination that fits your available resources. Available resources include not only your travel budget but also things like how many vacation days you have or how close you must be to a client’s office. It’s tempting to go above and beyond when planning your dream trip, but you’ll have the most success if you pick a destination where you have the time and money for fun once you get there.
- If, for example, you want to take an international trip to Paris but you only have 2 vacation days, Paris probably isn’t the right destination at this time. You can always choose to wait until you have more vacation saved up or choose a destination that doesn’t require such a large time commitment for both transit and tourism.
- Likewise, if you are meeting a client with offices downtown, don’t stay in a far-off suburb to avoid the city noise. It can often take a lot of valuable time to commute in the morning — and that’s time you could be using to prepare for your meeting.
- Pick a vacation destination that you will enjoy. If you’re traveling for pleasure, look for a destination that will be enjoyable for everyone going. Think about your interests and the interests of the people traveling with you, and consider destinations that work for everyone.
- Consider the age groups traveling with you. If you’re bringing kids, look for a destination that has kid-friendly activities. If, for example, your child loves dinosaurs, check a destination’s natural history museum to see if it has an interactive exhibit on the subject.
- If you and your travel companions like outdoor activities, check the predicted forecast for your destination well in advance to make sure you can participate in the activities you enjoy. Most weather websites and almanacs provide seasonal weather trend information.
- Consider the physical abilities of yourself and your travel companions, too. Your aging parent may want to see the history in Philadelphia, for example, but if they have limited mobility, the relative lack of things like elevators and escalators might make it difficult to visit popular destinations.
- Obtain a visa for international destinations if necessary. If you’re going abroad, you may be required to get a passport, visa, get certain immunizations, or provide fingerprints before you depart. Check the website of your intended country’s consulate or embassy to see what is required for you to enter the country. Visas may take weeks or even months to finalize, so check early in the planning process.
- Different countries may have different entry requirements. That’s why it’s important to look for your destination country’s embassy for your home country. This will give you information relevant to you.
- Even if no immunizations are required for entry, it may be advisable to get them if you are traveling to a high-risk area. Check with your country’s department of public health or disease control to see what immunizations they recommend for your intended destination.
- Book babysitters, house sitters, and pet sitters, if applicable. If you have kids or large pets like dogs and cats that aren’t coming with you when you travel, find someone to watch them before you book your plans. Whether you have your kids stay with their grandparents for a weekend or drop off your dog with a friend, booking early ensures that you won’t have to change your plans if you can’t find the help you need.
- Even if you don’t need full-time care for kids or pets, it may be worthwhile to book a house sitter. This person can check your mail, water your plants, and generally just make sure that your home is in order while you’re away.
- For small pets like rodents and fish, you may be able to ask your house sitter to feed them and clean their bowl or cage while you’re gone. These pets don’t necessarily need to stay with someone full-time while you’re away.
EditMaking Reservations and an Itinerary
- Shop around for deals on transportation. Things like cruises, flights, trains, and even car rentals can be drastically different depending on where you book them. Check the company’s website directly to look for any specials. You should also check at least 4-5 aggregate sites like Kayak.com, Booking.com, or Trivago to get an idea of potential price ranges.
- When traveling to a different country, local aggregate booking sites may offer better deals than the ones you find in your home country. Check local listings to see if you can grab a better deal.
- To get the best idea of how pricing varies, compare itineraries that are the same. Check the same dates and destinations on different sites to see where you can really find the best deals.
- If you’re traveling as a representative of a particular company or organization, they may have an in-house travel site or travel booker that you are required to use. Check with your company’s administrative department to see if that’s the case.
- Check the availability for different accommodations. Sites like Kayak.com, Booking.com, and Trivago are great to check for deals on hotels. It’s worth considering other accommodations, though, too. Sites like Airbnb and VRBO let you book rooms, houses, and apartments directly from the current occupants. These can be great if you’re traveling for long periods or want amenities like a full kitchen to save on meals out.
- Likewise, if you’re planning on staying in a hostel, hostel-booking sites usually have better offers than hotel booking sites. HostelWorld.com and HostelBookers.com are two options with extensive listings.
- If you’re going camping, check your site well in advance. Popular campsites like Big Bend National Park in Texas can run out of permits months in advance. Don’t assume you can just show up at a campsite and set up your tent. You often need to reserve a spot on site.
- Think about different routes you can take to get to your destination. Flights directly into Washington DC are often expensive, for example, because the DC airports are close to public transportation, hotels, and attractions. Flying into Baltimore is often more affordable, and still puts you a 20-minute train ride away from DC.
- Book transportation and accommodations 2-5 months in advance. If you still haven’t booked your transportation or accommodations within 8 weeks of your intended departure date, you need to do so now. The longer you wait, the more expensive these will get. You also run the risk of the flight you want selling out or the hotel being fully booked.
- For international trips, you may need to book further in advance, especially if you are flying or taking a cruise. Try to book at least 4 months out from your intended departure date in these cases.
- Trips taken during popular travel times should also be booked further in advance. If you plan to go to Boston for St. Patrick’s Day, for example, expect hotels to fill up months in advance.
- Some modes of transportation don’t require you to book as far in advance as others. A train, for example, may only require a reservation the week before your departure. Check your carrier to see their suggested booking time frame.
- Make meal plans before you go. You don’t need a restaurant reservation for every meal when you’re gone, but you should think about meal plans before you go. Think about how often you want to eat out, and how you want to handle things like snacks. For example, if you have kids, you may want to pack some sandwich bags and get a full-sized box of their favorite snack. That way, you can take these to go instead of spending on snacks every day.
- Think about what meals may be included with your accommodations. Does your hotel offer free breakfast? If not, you may need to adjust your budget to include breakfasts.
- If you’re staying at an all-inclusive resort or on a cruise, check with the resort to see if you need to book meals in advance. At some resorts and on some cruises, you have to make reservations for a certain seating time, even if the meal is included in your price.
- Consider your flight, too. If you have a long-haul flight where a meal is included, let the airline know about any dietary restrictions you may have at least 1 week before you depart. This way, you can ensure you get the right in-flight meal for your diet.
- Set a daily itinerary before you leave. You don’t need to plan out every second of every day, but schedule time for the things you really want to see and do. Researching and planning these before you leave allows you to see and do more of what you want. It also gives you the opportunity to make reservations or book tickets and tours for things that sell out in advance.
- Your daily itinerary doesn’t have to be elaborate. It may be as simple as “Breakfast: 9-10, Acropolis tour: 10:30-12:30, explore the city after the tour ends.” Just make sure you include those things that are really important for you to see and do.
- If you’re traveling for business, your itinerary may have to be more formal. Check with your company or client to see if you need to submit a formal itinerary for your meetings and activities.
- Leave some room in between activities in case things run long or you have any unexpected delays. You don’t need to plan every minute of every day, just make sure you have time to fit in those things that are really important for you to see or do.
EditGetting Ready to Go
- Pack appropriate clothing for your destination and trip. Check the weather at your destination 2-3 days before you depart. This will let you know what type of clothes you need to bring. In addition, consider the nature of your trip. Will you be expected to wear a suit for a conference, or will you be able to lounge in a bathing suit on the beach?
- The duration of your trip will also influence how much you pack. You likely won’t need 12 pairs of underwear for a weekend getaway.
- Try to pack light, sheddable layers such as shirts, light sweaters or cardigans, jackets, etc. This way, you can add on or remove a piece to suit the weather without having to pack entirely different outfits for different temperatures.
- Check to ensure you’ve packed your essentials. No matter where you’re going, there are some things that are essential to pack. Check the night before you depart to make sure you have your essentials ready to go in your travel bag. Some easy-to-forget essential items include:
- Mobile phone charges
- Toothbrush and toothpaste
- Deodorant or antiperspirant
- An umbrella
- Make sure your electronics are compatible for international trips. If you’re going abroad, make sure you bring electronic items that are compatible with your destination’s power sources. You can use an adapter or converter for dual-voltage items, but you need to make sure the items are compatible with your destination’s voltage.
- For example, in the US, appliances are 110 volts. In the EU, they’re 220 volts. If your electronic has a plug or printing somewhere on it that says “110-220,” this means the item is safe to use for both voltages.
- If you use an electronic item with incompatible voltage, it could short circuit your item and permanently damage or destroy it. It is also a fire hazard.
- Even if your item is safe for both voltages, it probably doesn’t have a plug for both. You need an adapter or converter to plug into the wall outlets at your destination. Different countries have different outlets, so check online and buy your adapter before you depart.
- See your doctor for health concerns and prescription refills. If you’re going on a long or international trip, it’s a good idea to schedule a visit with your doctor before you go. Ask them to get a refill for any prescriptions you need to take with you. Give yourself enough time to get the prescription filled before you leave for your trip.
- Ask them about any vaccinations they may advise for your destination, and talk to them about any preventative medications you may need to take while traveling. If, for example, you’re going to a place where malaria is common, you may be given a preventative pill.
- Make an emergency kit. Hopefully, you won’t need your emergency kit when traveling, but it’s always a good precaution. Leave your kit in a separate place from items like your passport. That way, if your passport gets stolen, you still have the copies in your kit. Your emergency kit should include:
- 2-3 color copies of your government-issued ID or the information page of your passport
- A copy of your visa, if applicable
- Copies of your transportation and accommodations bookings
- A list of numbers for anyone important back home
- Enough cash to get you to your local embassy or emergency services (enough for a taxi ride from one end of your destination city to the other should be enough)
- An extra dose of any regular medication you take, as well as a few over-the-counter medications like pain relievers, antacids, and antihistamines.
- Pass your itinerary along to a friend or family member so that someone else has your information in the case of an emergency.
- Remember to take some time to relax and enjoy yourself. Travel planning can be stressful, but the travel, itself, can be an amazing experience.
EditSources and Citations
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