Planning

Planning your perfect trip can be overwhelming.  So many of my friends WISH they traveled more, but they never really do anything about it.  The Partner in Crime and I live by the motto that when you book a trip, it becomes real.  It goes from all talk to actual reality.  We believe that life is too short to just pay bills, so once we pick our adventure, the pieces all come together with a few easy steps.  In the words of Red from Shawshank Redemption, “Get busy living, or get busy dying.”

Here are some simple tips to help you:

1. Do Your Research

First and foremost you have to decide where to go.  It’s step number one in the planning process.  We keep an ongoing “bucket” list of places we want to go and work from that. Due to the fact that I can only travel during breaks from school and in the summer, we have to pick and choose where to go based on peak travel season.  Basically, where can we get the most bang for our buck during the most expensive time to travel.
1. Look for deals – Most places will have great deals during the off season.  Not only will you avoid the crowds, but you will also pay less in airfare and lodging.  
2. Conversion rates – where will your money go the farthest if you have to travel during peak season.
3. Check the weather!  If the off season is also the hurricane season, it may not be worth it.

2. Finding a Flight   

We try and book our overseas flights 180 days, or 6 months, in advance.  This helps us with planning our budget.  Plus, we figure that once we book the flight we can’t change our minds or use money as an excuse.  We book the flights, pay for them, and then use the next 6 months to save money.  Plus, the earlier you book the flights, nine times out of ten, you get the cheapest rate.
1. We look for deals on either:  Google Flights Matrix (https://www.google.com/flights/)  or Skyscanner (http://www.skyscanner.com)
2. Try and be flexible – If you can fly out of different airports, be sure to check the rate on all locations. For example, I found that Miami to Argentina was $300 cheaper than flying out of my home airport.  After a quick search, I found tickets to Miami for a little over $100 round trip.  This saved me $200 a ticket!
3. Don’t be afraid to call the airline.  If you get a good agent when you call, they can help you find the most economical way to get you to your destination.  

3. Booking a Hotel 

There are a variety of different lodging options that all come with different price tags.  You have to find the one that suits your needs the best.  We usually go with the standard hotel, but have tried other options in the past.  We like to find 3-4 star hotels to keep it economical, without having to compromise our comfort.  I am a HUGE fan of TripAdvisor (http://www.tripadvisor.com) because they list the travelers’ reviews and pictures.  I never trust the hotel’s pictures on their site because they are professionally done.  I always search the photos of the people who actually stayed there first.  An even bigger bonus is that now you can book your hotel directly from TripAdvisor to get the best rate.  I am seriously in heaven!
-Hotel – This is my preferred way to lodge, but not always the cheapest.  I spend many hours looking for the best deal and the highest reviews.  I also like to make sure the hotel has a free           breakfast and wifi options.  I don’t like to be surprised with extra charges at the end of my stay.
Bed and Breakfast – this type of lodging in nice because you have a first hand view of the culture you are immersed in.  The owners usually give you more personal attention and can be a great resource on where to go and what to see.
 -Hostels – normally more popular among the young travelers, this is a great place to stay if you are on a strict budget.  Make sure to review the accommodations.  Many times hostels will not have private rooms or bathrooms.  You may end up sharing both a room and bathroom with a bunch of strangers.  They may also require you to bring your own bedding.  Again, just know what you are getting into.  READ everything before you book!
-Airbnb –  We did this in Chicago and got a great rate per night in a fabulous location.  I am not sure if I am sold on this idea yet, but I am willing to try it again.  When you book through Airbnb (http://www.airbnb.com), you are staying in someone’s home for a fixed rate.  This person may or may not be present while you are there.  Some leave their home entirely, while others rent out a room while they continue on with their daily lives. What is nice about this type of lodging is that you get to live more like a local.  You can even go to the grocery store and cook your own food in the kitchen.
 -Couchsurfing -(http://www.couchsurfing.com) I have personally not tried this method of lodging, but apparently it is the new way to budget travel.  Guests find a host to accommodate them for FREE on their website.  They even have an option to join events through couchsurfing in the city that they are visiting.  If I was a young college kid trying to travel the world, this is how I would do it.  You meet locals who live in the city and have an insider view.  All I have to say is…free lodging? Umm…yes please!

4. Deciding what to see 

Deciding what to do in a city or country is by far the hardest thing in the planning process for me.  If I am traveling overseas, I know that I won’t be back tomorrow, so I like to get in everything I can in a short amount of time.  I probably over think this and go overboard with my meticulous planning, but I never regret missing something.  Again, TripAdvisor (http://www.tripadvisor.com) is my best friend.  I search the Things to Do tab in the city of my choice and see how the site rates everything.
screen shot for planning example

After that, I list my top 10 in order of importance and go from there.  Some sites require you to just show up and take pictures, while for others, you may want to book a tour or purchase tickets in advance to avoid the lines.  If there is something I want to do that requires tickets or a tour, I check the prices on TripAdvisor and then branch out.  For example, tickets to the Eiffel Tower can be bought on an official site and need to be booked at least 3 months in advance, while a trip to the Pyramids required going through a tour company.  I usually take these three things into consideration when deciding on my travel adventures:
1. Popularity of the landmark.  Is this a major site that the country/city in known for?  Is it a major part of history?
2. What people are saying about it.  Did it get good reviews?  Is it worth my time?  Is there something less popular that will better?
3. Cost.  How much will it cost to see it on my own?  Should I book a guided tour for a better experience?  Can I purchase tickets/tour ahead of time?

Planning your perfect trip can see stressful, but take one step at a time and don’t rush.  Really think about where you go and what you want to do.  Make it the trip of a lifetime that you will never forget!

Need help planning your perfect trip? 
Email me and I would love to assist you in any way I can:
apinonthemap@gmail.com