I have had this question come up a few times recently so I thought I’d dedicate a blog post to it and share some travel planning tips- our whole process from idea to vacation. Traveling is something that brings so much joy to our lives and with a little bit of research and patience, you can plan an amazing trip on your own without the help or cost of a travel agent. This will be geared more toward international travel but can also apply if traveling in the states. I love sharing our travel experiences with y’all and hopefully these steps to planning a vacation will be helpful in planning your next trip!
Step One: Choose a destination
There are a million places in the world so this can be a hard first step, but a lot of popular places may come to mind. Many people share common “bucket list” destinations like Italy, Greece, Tahiti/Bora Bora, Thailand, Spain, etc. Keep in mind that some of the most beautiful places may require extra travel time so be prepared for that. You could also choose somewhere that isn’t as popular with the masses. For example, Ryan had never heard of Banff before we went and while it’s definitely gaining popularity, it was a different type of vacation than we were used to and it turned out to be one of our favorites.
Step Two: Decide when you’re going
Yes it might be more expensive, but we go on all our trips during the “peak season” for that location. For the Caribbean, December to May works great, for Europe spring/summer is ideal. Sure the Caribbean might have great deals in the fall but you risk lots of rain or possible hurricanes so it’s not worth it to chance it. Another example is that Banff, Canada has a very short summer season (July- August) when it is not snowing or super cold so we chose to go in July. Like I said, you can definitely go at off times and save some money and I’m sure you would still have a great time, I just personally like to go when the weather is prime! Flight prices and work vacation schedules may influence this as well.
Step Three: Creat a budget
This is where Ryan shines- he’s the “CFO” of our marriage and has such a great system to keep track of expenses and budgets. We ultimately decide how much flights/transportation will cost and how much we want to spend per night on a hotel.
Once we’ve chosen a destination, we look at flights because that cost is mostly out of your control. We want to make sure we’re not spending 36 hours flying somewhere unless it’s on the other side of the world. Once you know what that cost will be, it can help you determine how much per night you want to spend on accommodations.
Pro Tip: We highly recommend using some type of travel/rewards credit card for all your purchases (as long as you can pay it off every month). I have the Citi Prestige card and while it has a hefty annual fee ($495), it gives us a 4th night free at pretty much any hotel when we travel so that’s huge savings right there (you can get this benefit 2x/year). It also gives you lounge access at airports which is much appreciated during long days of travel/layovers as well as a $200 airfare credit each year. You also get Global Entry which makes the customs process so much quicker when traveling internationally and there are no foreign transaction fees.
If we’re going to multiple destinations, we will typically splurge on one of the locations and save on others. In terms of budgeting, we do flights, hotels, meals, activities and other transportation. You always end up paying more in cabs, trains and subways than you anticipate so it’s smart to set aside extra money for that.
Pro Tip: If you have frequent flyer miles, you typically get a bigger bang for your buck on international travel vs. domestic.
Step Four: Book your trip
For international travel, I would recommend booking your flights 4-5 months in advance if possible. Hotel rooms depend on the location/season but those are usually more flexible as long as they have a free cancelation policy. Once we have a good idea of what the budget is going to be, we start saving a certain amount each month so by the time the vacation comes, we have saved up to cover the costs.
When traveling abroad, I also recommend to book your transportation ahead of time. When we arrived in Mykonos off the ferry, there were no taxis or buses to be found (there aren’t a lot on the island) and luckily our hotel sent a free shuttle after we gave them a call. We were so glad we booked transport when we got to Santorini because their port was crazy busy and it’s not like in a big city when you can just call a cab or Uber.
Step Five: Plan your itinerary
It may be the blogger in me, but I am inspired to travel discovering by photos and seeing how others experience their destinations. I always go to Pinterest and look up travel guides to where I’m going. Another great resource is the geotag on Instagram and you can never go wrong with a personal recommendation.
Ryan likes to make sure we have a decent amount of downtime during each trip so we definitely plan out activities, but don’t pack our days too full so we can have time to add in other things or take time to relax. We also look up a few restaurants, but usually keep some meal options open and take recommendations from our hotel.
Step Six: Enjoy the trip!
Once you finally arrive at your destination, the planning steps are over and it’s time to take it all in! Make sure to take lots of photos whether you’re posting it on the ‘Gram or planning to frame it on your wall (as you know, I definitely do both). The memories we create on our vacations truly are priceless!
I know some people use travel agents to plan larger trips but in today’s day and age where everything is accessible online, you can plan your own trip exactly how you want it as long as you’re willing to do some research. Trust me, everything you need to know is out there!