People have different approaches on planning or rather not planning a trip. I personally have changed my style of planning over the years but overall I am still a planner and like to lay out an idea or itinerary before I go since I am not the greatest with uncertainty.
Having travelled to 23 countries thus far and planning to go to at least 4 more this year and having done it all from a cruise, to a weekend city trip, to 5 weeks of backpacking in New Zealand, to road trips, and to lazy weeks on the beach, I decided to summarize my lessons learned
Find the Right Place
Determining where you want to go on your next trip can be difficult since there are so many options and you just want to see it all.
First decide when you want to go as this may eliminate quite some things due to rainy seasons, storms etc. Do your research on which countries still work. Also know for how long you can go. It might not be worth it to have a travel time of 24h if you only plan on spending one week.
Consider your budget and the type of vacation you want. Maybe there is also a particular continent you always wanted to see.
Lastly, depending on your mode of travel and the number of people you are with, consider safety aspects. Always check the website of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for current travel warnings and take them seriously.
An example of my upcoming travels is my trip to Patagonia in May. My friend from Germany recently graduated from university and before starting her new job we wanted to go on a big trip. I wanted to go to a continent I haven’t been to thus far and preferred either Asia or South America. I also wanted an active vacation and not bum around on the beach. My friend agreed with the active vacation but since she is suffering from celiac disease she wanted to go to a Spanish speaking country since she is fluent in that language and feels more comfortable managing her disease this way. So we decided to go to Peru. Upon starting with my research I quickly learned that during the time of our trip it would still be rainy season in the region where Machu Picchu is located and since we didn’t want to risk spending that much money on a trip and maybe not even being able to enjoy it fully we decided to look for a new destination. Taking into account that we wanted to travel around with a rental car, safety played an important role and in the end we agreed on going to Patagonia, a region with plenty of tourism and that is fairly safe.
Find the Right People
Finding the right people can be a tough one since a lot of things need to be aligned. You should travel with people that have a similar mindset and interests so everyone can actually enjoy the trip and its activities. Budget is also an important factor to consider as well as the ability of people to spend time by themselves.
In connection with number 1 you can take two approaches: first decide the place and then find the people that want to join you or pick the people and decide on the place. Both approaches have their advantages and disadvantages but I truly believe that the people you travel with matter the most since the outcome of a trip largely depends on how well you get along.
I have two friends I have been going on annual vacations with for several years now and I know that we will get along and have a great time regardless of where we are. Granted there are sometimes little fights but we have the ability to talk it out and move on from it. Since we travel so regularly together we make sure we have a good mix of trips: last year we did a road trip through Costa Rica which involved plenty of hiking and jungles. Since both are beach bums though we are going to Crete, Greece this year, staying in a 5* resort and relaxing on the beach.
Take Time to be Alone
One thing I learned is that you shouldn’t just depend on the people you are travelling with but that you should take time to be alone and do the things that you want to do. After all you spend all that money and vacation days on a trip so make sure you enjoy it and don’t hold back just because you don’t want to hurt other people.
If everything aligns and you and your travel companions want to do the exact same things: great. Otherwise just do it by yourself. You really want to do a scuba diving class but everyone else either doesn’t feel like it or doesn’t have the budget for it? do it by yourself. You really want to explore that one city? Do it by yourself if no one wants to join.
It is ok to split up and do your own thing for a couple of hours. After all you are all adults and this trip should be something all of you look back to with joy.
This is something I learned over the years and which is coming more and more naturally since I started working in a career that involves a lot of travelling.
Just because the airline allows you to pack 50 lb doesn’t mean you have to. Make sure you tailor your suitcase to the trip you are taking and not pack things just because you maybe will do this and that. This will make travelling a nicer experience especially when you do a trip where you switch locations. And let’s be honest: if you bring a suitcase full of stuff do you really wear it all?
For my trip to Costa Rica last year I only traveled with my carry on bag and had about 25 lb with me. I knew we were going to hike and lay on the beaches but likely not go out. Hence, I packed work out clothes, swim suits and some shorts and tops. I only packed one nicer dress that I could wear if we decided to go for a nicer dinner or to a bar. I also didn’t bring any make up. In the end there were even some items I packed that I never wore.
Have a Realistic Budget
One thing I absolutely dislike is having to really pay attention to my spending on vacations because I didn’t budget well enough. Do your research!
Before going on a trip I discuss the budget with my travel companions and we try to determine realistic prices for things such as accommodation, flights etc. Based on the research we can then set a realistic budget and determine how much money we need for spending when there (for food, activities etc.).
Plan the Actual Trip
Now this can be a tricky one, but no matter if you are doing a resort vacation or a road trip I think it is important to have a general plan everyone agrees on to actually avoid discussions while on the trip or having anyone unhappy.
I am a total planner so I usually volunteer to take over the planning. It is still a very inclusive process nonetheless. However, having one person do the planning is way easier than having multiple people run off and having to bring everything together again.
At first I collect everyone’s wishlist, this could be a list of amenities for an all-inclusive vacation or a list of places they would like to see during a road trip through a particular country. Once I have those lists I compare them, find the things everyone wants and identify those items that are only important to one individual.
Afterwards I start the research. This includes for example planning out the route for the road trip to include all major places and see if any of the other places are along the route. For our Costa Rica vacation for example everyone had at least 6 national parks on their list. About 4 of those were the once we had in common and for the others I checked if they were on the route and asked the others if we really need to do 6 different parks.
With planning the trip communication is key. Once I made the plan I share it with my travel companions and everyone can give input and suggest changes. Once the destination(s) is (are) decided, I will look for hotels/ AirBnB’s and provide them as a suggestions as well.
In the end of the whole process we have a trip that everyone is happy about and a great budget estimate.
Indulge in the Culture
What is the point of travelling to another country only to eat burgers or pizza and watch Netflix at night?
Indulge in the culture. Only eat food typical to that region and go and explore as much as possible.
Have a Balance of Activities
Whenever going on vacation you don’t want to rush from place to place for days on a very tight schedule but you also probably don’t want to lie on the beach all day every day doing nothing (at least I don’t). Having a balance is key to a vacation where you have amazing experiences but also return home relaxed. Going on a beach vacation for a day? Take half a day or so to visit the local town or take a day trip to some sight nearby.