Planning your trip is part of the fun, right? No…? Some people really enjoy this step, some are a little clueless, some altogether hate it. Everyone seems to do it a little differently, too. As for me, I really enjoy planning for it. It gets me excited and looking forward to my next trip.
Some of my planning comes before I know the dates and accommodations because this helps me make the final decision of when I want to go and what area/s I want to stay. After I’ve decided dates and accommodations, I really dig into planning from there.
But now I’m getting a bit ahead of myself. Planning can be very stressful and messy, so I try to make it as enjoyable and cohesive as I can.
This is about to be a very long post.
So first things first: Where Are You Going?
What country are you going to visit? I start by googling points of interest in the country that I am visiting. TripAdvisor is a tool I really rely on for finding points of interest. Pinterest can be helpful, too, listing popular places to check out in your destination country. The reason I rely more on TripAdvisor is because you can put an area into the search and it will show you all the things in that area. From museums to restaurants to activities. You can even create a trip and save the things that interest you to this trip, and easily remove them from this list, as you go.
Once I get an ample list of things I want to see and do, then I start looking for the best area to stay in that gives me the most central access to these things. From there, I have a few websites I like to check for lodging. I’m an Airbnb fan and I also use Agoda. I like being able to stay in my own apartment so I can do cooking for some of my meals to help save on cash. If you don’t mind sharing spaces, a lot of hostels will have communal kitchens you can use to cook in, too. It all depends on what you like best and Agoda can really help you look at all of those different options. I’ve found great apartments on both Airbnb and Agoda, but I’ve also found decent hotels for short stays on Agoda, too.
Once I know where I’ll be staying, then I really get into the planning. Depending where you’ll be staying and what your mode of transportation will be is huge. Thailand was a lot harder for me to get around in some areas, but when I’m planning a trip to Japan, I make sure I stay somewhere that’s not too far from a train or subway station and then the possibilities are pretty much endless. Knowing your mode of transportation is key when planning where you want to go.
I always organized similarly, but for my latest trip I’m planning (Japan again), it’s my first time to get to put my Wandrd Travel Journal into practice. It breaks everything down in a pre-printed and organized way, cutting out the set up work on my end. So far, I’ve really enjoyed the planning process with it. I just use a pencil in case I should make any changes and I can easily erase it. It’s been much smoother than when I try to keep all of my plans in one place in a notebook or similar, scratching out canceled plans written in pen. If you have the cash, this has honestly been the easiest trip planning for me with everything laid out in front of me in one place. And it’s not just use it once and the trip is over, so… There’s actually sections for several trips in this, both long, short and weekenders. This is in no way sponsored, I just happened to support the indiegogo funding campaign because it interested me, and I ended up really loving the journal. And the best part is, I’ll get to use it for trips to come.
If you don’t have a travel planner, try to keep all of your notes in one place. It makes it so much easier when you’re finalizing everything to not have seven different sized notebooks you’re searching through. I recommend buying one notebook specifically dedicated to planning your trip. Lined or grid is probably your best bet. If you’re very visual, a blank one will do. But I write extremely crooked lines, so lined or grid is the way for me! I sectioned mine off with tabs you can pick up for a couple of bucks at tons of stores. Labeling the tabs makes it a lot easier when you’re jumping back and forth and needing to find something.
I like to make a section with a list of things I might want to do and the price next to them, highlighting the price depending on how expensive it is. I color code with prices so it makes it easy at a quick glance to find the free activities, cheap activities and so on.
I don’t make strict itineraries, either, so to fill my time when it opens up, it’s really easy to look for the activities that fit my budget with the different colors. If I’m looking for something free, my eyes pick out the green highlight. If I have a few bucks to spend, I also look at the purple.
As I said, I really enjoy planning for trips, so this is something I like to take the extra time to do and it saves me from spending too much time googling ideas when I’m at my destination. And sometimes, when I’m researching an activity so I can get the price I’ll need for it, I end up seeing it’s not really something I’d want to spend my time doing, so I’ll erase it off the list.
For a trip like Japan, as long as I know my start and end stations, I can get a good idea how much my train fair will be, too, so I can consider that in my final price.
But what if there are a few things I want to do that are really out of the way?
That’s cool, too! Plan a day trip! Or an overnight trip, whichever works best for you. In Thailand, I did an overnight trip because my accommodations were so cheap that I didn’t mind paying for two places in one night. I had a home base in Phuket, went to Khao Sok overnight, and back to Phuket the next day. My Khao Sok lodging cost a whopping 14 bucks for a night, split between my friend and I. So $7 extra I spent that night in lodging. Somewhere like Japan, you probably won’t find something that cheap, maybe $20-$25 for a capsule hotel, if you’re into that. It’s worth it if there’s something you really want to see that’s out of the way.
The next section of my journal is for 1/2 day trips, day trips and overnight trips.
Again, I don’t follow a strict itinerary, but when I’m taking the time to plan an out of town trip, I usually follow it a little bit closer than normal. I generally use a page, sometimes half a page if it’s a short trip, to outline where I’m going and what some of the things are that I want to see along the way. The layout for it ends up something like this:
Destination – travel time from home base
Cost of transportation [and cost of lodging if applicable], approximate budget for day trip
-Activity I want to do, price that it costs
-Activity I want to do, price that it costs
[Repeated for however may activities]
-Park or canyon/similar that I want to check out, entrance fee if applicable
[Repeated for however many nature spots I want to check out]
-Shopping/areas I want to check out
[Repeated for however many places I want to check out]
That’s the basic layout of my overnight/day/half day trips. Depending on where I’m going and how long I’ll be there, I might only have one or two excursions, but might have as many as seven or eight. And just because I write down the trips that interest me doesn’t necessarily mean I’ll be going. For example, I think I have nine written for one on my trip I’m planning to Japan, but I’ll probably end up doing three or four of them.
Again, I’m stressing that I don’t follow a strict itinerary. I feel like I get too panicked if I’m needing to follow a strict schedule. I want to take my time enjoying things and have plenty of open space for the activities that come up while I’m there. Since it’s a new place, or at least an unfamiliar place, if I find myself with too much free time, I simply go out and start walking and exploring. I’m a huge advocate for that. And if you’re worried about getting lost and possibly don’t have internet access where you’re at, you can open google maps when you do have internet, and it will keep working when you turn airplane mode back on. I did this in Thailand every time I left my apartment and it always worked for me. If I got lost, I could pull the map out and find my way back. Though please don’t get too lost when you’re in Thailand in May and almost get heat stroke. …Not that it’s ever happened to me…
Another thing I consider is if there is an event of some kind that I’m planning on attending while I’m there. For example, I’ll be in Japan during projected peak of Sakura season. There are a lot of local festivals during this time, so I compiled a list of the best locations for cherry blossom viewing and festivals that aren’t too far from me (or ones I can organize a day trip for). There are also a few concerts I plan on attending, so that gets thrown into my calendar, too. Because things like festivals and concerts fall on certain days, I know those days I don’t want to plan much else. I’ll pick one or two activities from my list that aren’t going to be too tiring for filling up the other parts of my day. I do love to travel, but when I am home, I am quite the introvert. Some days, I do need to recharge a little bit. So when I know I have a big event or activity planned for the day, I’m careful about what I plan around that. Japan is a place that certain areas are intensely crowded. So if you’re a person that gets overwhelmed easily, make sure you take care of yourself!
It’s okay to spend a day near your accommodation. Get some laundry done, take a stroll through a local park, soak in a hot bath (especially if you’re in Japan!), pack a picnic and go on a hike. Just little things that help you recharge, after being in heavily populated areas. If you’re the type that needs this recharge, don’t forget to add a few easy days in there for long trips, and maybe one in the middle of a shorter trip. It’s crucial that you don’t do more than you’re mentally able to handle. You want to be able to enjoy your trip to the fullest. “The fullest”, doesn’t always mean the most jam packed itinerary.
I know of people who plan themed days. You know what you like best, and maybe you’re traveling with another person who has slightly different interests. You like history, they like science, perfect. Plan an itinerary for a day that is all about history. Plan another day that is all about science. I don’t go that hard. But if the area you’re in allows for it, it might be worth your time to plan accordingly. If you’re somewhere that has a lot going on (like Tokyo), you might want to do days where you explore certain areas. Honestly, it’s all going to come down to the place that you’re traveling.
Do plenty of research beforehand so that you can get a good grasp of how the country works and the best ways to get around. Upon doing your research, you’ll be able to find the best way to go about planning your activities. Try not to let planning become a chore, let it excite you for your trip to come and take a bit of extra time researching activities you might want to do to avoid wasting time searching once you’re there.
Are you a good travel planner? What are some of your tips?