Vacations are a great way to relax and escape the everyday stress of life. However, uncertainty in unfamiliar places can quickly kill the carefree vibes. So before you pack up and go on your next trip, follow these simple steps to plan the perfect vacation and avoid all the hassle!
The importance of planning a vacation
I recall a time I painstakingly watched some backpackers plead with hostel staff for help because they couldn’t find a room anywhere in town and had nowhere to go. I remember thinking, “thank God I’m a planner; that sounds stressful.”
Many people think planning a vacation is too much hassle or unnecessary and that they can wing it. However, this isn’t always the case. I’m sure those backpackers didn’t expect a shortage of hotel/hostel accommodations, and I’m sure they didn’t picture themselves spending a whole stressful day trying to secure a place to sleep. You need to consider many things when planning a vacation, such as your budget, what you want to do, where to stay, and how long you want to be gone.
If you don’t plan, you may find yourself unable to find accommodations or run out of time for things you were excited about. So, before you run into unpleasant surprises with a last-minute plan, take the time to plan it out properly to ensure that you have a stress-free and enjoyable trip.
How to choose the perfect destination
Think about what you want from a trip; destinations like New York City or Paris are perfect if you’re looking for a city adventure. Destinations like Big Bed National Park and Yosemite National Park are ideal for hiking and exploring nature. Foodies should consider cities with renowned culinary scenes like Chicago or Florence. Or if there’s a specific attraction or event you want to experience, like the fall colors in Vermont or the Oktoberfest celebrations in Munich, research those destinations specifically.
How to Travel on a budget and save for your next trip
A vacation can be a great way to get away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life and relax. However, it can also be a costly endeavor if you’re not careful. Here are a few tips on how to budget for a vacation:
Determine how much you can afford to spend
Before planning your vacation, figure out how much money you can afford to spend. Otherwise, you could find yourself in over your head financially. Determine what you can comfortably spare for a vacation and choose destinations that meet your budget requirements.
Start saving for your trip now
Plan a vacation well in advance and start saving now. That way, you’ll have plenty of time to save up enough money and won’t have to worry about how you will pay for everything. There are a few different ways to save up for your trip:
- Set aside a specific amount of money each month for your trip.
- Use a credit card with travel rewards to earn points for travel-related expenses.
- Make a list of things you’ll need for your trip (airfare, hotel, food, etc.) and create a budget based on realistic cost estimations.
Spend Money Priorities and Scrimp On Everything Else
Decide what your priorities are and spend your money on those things. Scrimp on everything else. If food is a priority, visit free attractions to save money. Here are a few ideas for saving money on something that might not be as important to you.
- Save money by using public transportation or traveling by bus or train instead of flying.
- Stay in hostels or budget hotels, and cook meals instead of going out to eat.
- Avoid tourist traps and expensive restaurants.
- Visit free attractions, such as museums and parks.
- Pack light so you don’t have to pay for excess luggage fees.
How to book airfare and accommodations
Compare prices on multiple booking sites.
Prices can vary depending on the site, so it’s a good idea to check a few different ones before you book. Some popular booking sites include Expedia, Travelocity, and Kayak.
Search for flights in incognito or private browsing mode.
If you search for flights in a regular web browser, your search history can influence the prices you see. Airlines and booking sites will often show you higher prices if they think you’re interested in a particular flight. To avoid this, search for flights in incognito or private browsing mode, which prevents your search history from affecting the prices you see.
Be flexible with your travel dates and times.
If you’re flexible with your travel dates and times, you’ll usually be able to find better deals. For example, flying on a Tuesday instead of a Saturday will usually be cheaper. And if you’re willing to take a red-eye flight (a flight that arrives early in the morning), you can also save money.
Avoid peak travel times.
Avoid booking flights during holidays or a peak season for your destination. Prices will typically be higher during these times due to increased demand. If your travel dates are flexible, pick the shoulder season, the time of year just before or after that destination’s peak season. For example, Spring in Denver is too late for ski season and a bit too early for hiking season, but there’s still plenty to enjoy and explore. Peak season differs for every destination, so include that in your research.
What to pack before going on vacation
Use a Packing List
Make a packing list to avoid forgetting essential items like your passport or sunglasses. I like to use AnyList, which allows me to reuse lists, so any time I forget something, I add it for the next time. Having a list also helps ensure you leave nothing behind at the hotel.
Wear Comfortable and Durable Clothes
You’ll want to be comfortable while exploring your destination, but you also don’t want your clothes falling apart at the seams. This may seem obvious, but I’ve packed nice clothes that were ruined after a full day of walking around. So instead, opt for well-constructed, durable clothing designed to withstand a little wear and tear. And since you’ll likely be doing a lot of walking, be sure to break in your shoes before you go!
Bring Clothes That Can Be Mixed and Matched To Save Space
Choose versatile pieces you can wear in multiple ways. For example, pack one pair of jeans that match multiple tops instead of packing a separate outfit for each day. If you’re going somewhere cold, you can bring jackets and sweaters to layer for additional versatility. By packing fewer clothing items, you can save space in your carry-on suitcase and avoid having to check baggage altogether.
Don’t Bring Things You Wouldn’t Want to Lose
This might seem like common sense, but it’s worth repeating: don’t bring anything on vacation that you wouldn’t want to lose or get ruined. Leave your expensive jewelry and favorite outfits at home; instead, opt for items that look just as nice but won’t cost a fortune to replace if it gets lost, stolen, or ruined.
Research How to have a Great Vacation
Creating a detailed itinerary is one of the most critical steps in planning a successful vacation. A well-researched itinerary will help ensure you make the most of your time at your chosen destination. Not sure how to get started? Read on for tips on researching an itinerary for your vacation.
Check blogs, guidebooks, Pinterest, and Instagram
One of the first places to start when planning is travel blogs and guidebooks. These give a general sense of what each destination offers regarding attractions, lodging, and dining. Plus, many travel bloggers and guidebooks include detailed itineraries to use as a reference. Some of my favorite resources include Travel + Leisure, Lonely Planet, and Fodor’s Travel.
If you’re looking for something a little more off the beaten path, try searching for terms like “hidden gems,” “local favorites,” or “undiscovered places.” With a bit of pre-work, you will find some unique places that will make your trip even more special.
If you’re looking for more ideas, check out Pinterest and Instagram – both have tons of photos and ideas from people worldwide. By using these resources, you will have a fantastic trip!
Look at itineraries for planned tour groups
If you’re unsure where to start or what kind of trip you’re looking for, another great option is looking at itineraries for planned tour groups. These can give you a sense of activities at each destination, as well as how much time you should plan to spend in each place. If a group tour doesn’t sound like your cup of tea, don’t worry – you can always use these itineraries as inspiration to plan your own custom trip.
Search for Attractions and Points of Interest in Google Maps
Google Maps is a handy tool for finding out information. For example, with just a few clicks, you can find the best route to wherever you’re going and how long it will take to get there. But have you ever considered using Google Maps to find more attractions in any area?
Open up Google Maps and search for “attractions” in your destination. The search results will bring up a complete list of attractions in the area that may not appear on top ten lists, and then you can then click to learn more about each one. Once you’ve clicked on an attraction, you’ll be able to see photos of it, read reviews, see their hours, and get a link to their site. Google’s business summary is a great way to get a feel for what each attraction offers and whether it’s something you’d be interested in seeing. I have found many hidden gems by clicking on random locations from google maps.
Search for things specific to your interests.
No two vacations are alike, so it’s essential to tailor your research to your interests. For example, I enjoy bird watching, so I may search for articles and blog posts about the best birding hotspots to find unique birds in the area. Likewise, if you’re interested in history or culture, look for resources that highlight local museums and historical landmarks. By focusing your research in this way, you’ll be able to put together an itinerary that truly reflects your interests and ensures that you’ll have a uniquely tailored vacation just for YOU!
Review location hours and reservation requirements
Once you’ve decided on some activities, reviewing the location hours and reservation requirements (if any) in advance is important. Nothing would be worse than arriving at your destination only to find out the museum you wanted to visit is closed or sold out! You can avoid last-minute disappointments by taking care of these logistical details in advance.
Building the Itinerary
Don’t Overdo the Planning
You don’t need to plan out every single minute of your trip. While it’s important to have a general idea of what you want to do each day, please don’t overdo it. Leave time in your schedule for exploring a place you end up liking more than you thought or have extra options in case something takes less time than expected. Trying to plan out every minute of your trip will only lead to frustration and feeling overwhelmed.
Plan by Area
Another helpful tip is to plan each day by area. For example, if you’re spending a few days in Seattle, visit the Museum of Popular Culture, Chihuly Glass Art Museum, and the Space Needle on the same day. You’ll save time by grouping activities together by area and not doubling back and forth across town.
Have a wishlist
Create a wish list containing everything you’d like to do if time permits. This list can come in handy if you find yourself with extra time or if something falls through at the last minute. A backup plan will help ensure your vacation is as enjoyable as possible, regardless of what happens along the way.
trip planner websites and apps
- I use Wanderlog to map my activities, take notes, create optimized routes, and organize each day.
- Roadtrippers for building a road trip itinerary and finding cool stops along the way.
- Go on a surprise vacation with Pack Up + Go.
- Travel check lists