Monday, August 1, 2016

Travel Tips: How We Plan

I love travel planning. This is no secret. Anyone who follows me on Pinterest will know that I am constantly pinning pictures of exotic destinations, packing lists or sample trip itineraries. Jason suggested that I type out a "how-to" guide of sorts as my trip-planning abilities have definitely improved by leaps and bounds over the years.

I definitely enjoy this part more than normal. Jason will tell you that I spend basically all my free time trip-planning and it is sort of true. I really enjoy reading about other people's travel experiences! My favorite places to research are travel and ex-pat blogs. It's good to find people who like to do and eat similar things, as well as travel at the same speed you like to. Here are some of my favorites:

I also use the normal places like Tripadvisor, Frommers and an assortment of travel books. Even searching on google for "place + # day trip itinerary" works! My favorite tip is using pinterest to find blog posts about people's trips as well as the most picturesque places in each locale. This helps me find more "off the beaten path" places to explore.

This part takes the longest, but is also continuous. I have a permanent excel document with links to all of my favorite travel inspiration. I have Pinterest boards with ideas of where to go and what to do in each place. I look at hotel pricing to see how a ball-park of how much each place will cost us and compile this as well. Obviously this would be the point where airfare pricing is considered as well.

I use to plan out all of the logistical info to determine how long each trip really needs. I even think through potential itineraries at this stage. This helps later since I already know what is reasonable to plan during an certain time period. For example, Morocco is super high on my list, but with the way flights work out, it doesn't make sense for us to go with only 10 days since we'd lose 3 of them in transit. 

Basically, time is precious when you are traveling. It's not worth it to us to waste 3 hours flying into a cheaper airport or taking public transit to save $15 (or even $50). If you are backpacking or are traveling long-term, I totally get it. But if you have 10 days? Make the most of them!

With all of the information I've compiled, Jason and I will walk through what we think is the best trip. Looking at the time of year we can travel also factors in of course. Usually the phrase "this is a good place to travel before kids" comes up at least once as well. I flip flop a lot about our destination, so this part is often the hardest for me!

I start planning our itinerary early, compiling all of the fun places I've found in my research, along with the logistics of flight times, opening dates of attractions, etc. I break it down by day and time so that I can make sure I have enough planned, but not too much! I also like to employ the "we'll be back" mentality. It's not worth rushing from site to site just to "tick off a box" if you're not enjoying yourself!

The balance is definitely a learned-skill. I've learned the hard way not to overbook, but we've also found ourselves in the position of not really knowing how to occupy ourselves. I like to optimistically make plans for the best-case scenario and then play it by ear when we arrive. In the back of my mind I know those top things that we need to do (ie: what we've paid or made reservations for), but also know what we're okay leaving out in favor of wandering, sleeping in or enjoying a long meal.

I also obsessively create google maps for each place we travel. This helps with the logistical planning of each day's activities by location, but also helps me to remember favorite places we've been (blue) and places we'd like to go (red). Layers are great for different areas (Russian River v. Sonoma v. Napa) and you can put notes for each location which is synced to your Google Maps app on your phone which can provide directions.

You don't have to spend as much time as I do for this part, but I would say that putting as much time as possible here will benefit you GREATLY during the actual trip!

This means something a little different to us, as things tend to be last-minute for us, but once all of the logistics are set, it's time to book airfare and hotel! Don't forget to sign up for that cooking class, bike ride or food tour as well. It's also a good idea to book the "must-see" winery and distillery tours in advance so you get a time that works easily with your schedule. 

I usually color-code my excel document above with things that I have booked (green) or things that still need to be booked (yellow). I update the spreadsheet with reservation times/confirmation numbers as well as handy tips we may need to remember on our trip.

Last Minute Prep
Print out all confirmation letters and your excel spreadsheet. (I'm Type-A, so I have a folder with dividers for each location...) WiFi isn't always available and it's just handy to keep a printed copy. Use your itinerary to pack accordingly a week+ in advance. Doing all of this will help you relax and enjoy yourself once you actually leave for your trip and not stress that you forgot anything.

Obviously the last step is to Relax and Enjoy!

If there is anywhere we have been that you are planning on going, please let me know and I'd be happy to pass along our itineraries and tell you what worked and what didn't. And of course, our trip reports tend to hit the high points, but not always the logistical "hows", so I'd be happy to give an opinion on what is possible during a certain time frame. I also love to help plan itineraries for places we haven't been as well, so please just reach out to me.

Hope this has helped someone. Basically the moral of our story is that my spending a little extra time on the "organize" & "research" phases has always paid off for us. When things go wrong or plans change, you have some great back-up options handy.

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