I’ve been actively traveling for over eight years now, and as I’ve explained in my “about me” page, it all began with three wonderful weeks in Bali in June 2009. For this first big trip, I of course had to call on the services of a travel agency, as I was definitely not ready to handle all of the details of such a long and far-off journey.
Over the years I’ve improved a lot (luckily, you might say!), but more than that, I now honestly enjoy the process of making travel plans. I’m not one of those people who will tell you never to go through a travel agency—on the contrary, there are several advantages to this technique, including saving yourself quite a bit of time. But for those of you who like to “build” your own trips as much as I do, here’s a short guide with my exclusive advice!
Select Your Travel Dates
This is the first thing you’ll have to decide before beginning anything else! You’ll need to choose your departure and return dates; of course, it’s best if you can be flexible by a few days with your dates, as this will help you find more convenient flights and better deals.
Choose Your Destination
This is obviously my favorite step of the process! Time to tap into your dreams and fantasies…
- Depending on the dates that you choose, there are certain destinations that should be avoided, like Asia during monsoon season, or the Caribbean during hurricane season (right now Hurricane Irma is a case in point). At this stage in your planning, you’ll have to eliminate those destinations that don’t interest you, as well as those with poor climatic conditions during your travel dates, and create a list of potential vacation spots. Make sure you take the tourism season for each location into account, as it may influence your decision. Being trapped in a horde of fellow tourists might make your trip less pleasant!
- Now it’s time to ask yourself what you want: you might prefer a peaceful vacation with zero time in the car, or a faster-paced journey with a road trip, or perhaps something completely off the beaten path like a safari!
- Having decided on these parameters, you should be able to remove some of the destinations from your original list. Consider as well how long your journey will last. If for example you feel like having an adventure and going on a road trip in the American West, that’s a fabulous idea! However, if you only have a week to travel, you may need to choose someplace else!
- To know more about each destination’s climate, it’s very easy to just type “Climate XXX” into Google and you’ll come across a number of websites with charts showing the weather for each month. In my opinion, there’s no particular website that stands out; I prefer to check a number of sources and compare.
- To learn more about a particular travel site, I often check out Expedia’s videos. They’re short, very well-made, and offer an excellent overview of a location in just a few minutes.
- I also check out tour operators’ websites. They’re perfect for finding inspiration and getting excited about travel.
- Don’t forget travel magazines and specialized books like the Lonely Planet’s “1000 Ultimate Sights” guide, which I wrote about in this post. You can also consult blogs, but be careful to choose bloggers who have the same idea of travel as you do. We’re all different, and have diverse wishes and aspirations for travel (fortunately!), so keep that in mind while researching.
Book Your Flights
This, on the other hand, is the unpleasant part, the planning stage that I hate… but hey, there’s no getting around it. While flight comparison websites draw a lot of praise, I don’t think there’s a magic solution. More than anything, it’s a matter of tinkering! You search high and low, change the dates, change the stopovers… in short, it’s a huge headache! Your task is much easier if you have fixed dates, but that comes with a price!
More often than not I use Google Flights and Rome2Rio, both of which I think work well! As for choosing an airline, I consult websites like Seatguru (perfect for choosing a good seat on the plane), Flight Report (reports and ratings for flights and airlines), and of course I always remember to check the annual Skytrax rankings. If you have the choice between several airlines, you may as well select the best one!
Build Your Itinerary
If you’ve opted for a road trip, it’s time to build your itinerary! To start, I buy a good guidebook and pore over it for a few hours so as to have a big picture idea of the destination and its most interesting attractions. These guidebooks often come with defined itineraries which I use as a base, then adapt by adding or removing steps, a night here and a night there! For example, for our road trip through the American West, I built on an itinerary which originally took only three weeks. I made it four for a more relaxed pace by adding extra nights at various locations, as well as a four-day stop at a ranch (Sorrel River)!
Reserve Your Accommodation
Begin with the star hotels of your trip. When I went to Ireland a few years ago, I spent a night at Ashford Castle, and that was the first room that I reserved, knowing that the castle is often fully booked (something which happens to me frequently, as I always make my travel plans at the last minute!).
You can reserve directly on the hotel’s website, or use Booking.com, which I really like thanks to its simplicity and abundance of consumer reviews. I also consult Tripadvisor when I’m unsure which category of room to choose or want to see photos that aren’t curated.
Book Your Activities
Some activities fill up quickly, which was the case when I wanted to visit Alcatraz in San Francisco; if you haven’t reserved a spot several weeks in advance, there’s no way you’ll get a ticket at the door! Make a checklist of activities, restaurants, and shows that you don’t want to miss, and reserve wherever necessary.
I hope that my advice will help you in preparing your next trip! For me, making travel plans is always a delightful process, and it’s actually for this reason that I created Experiences Luxe a few years ago. I realized that I spent a tremendous amount of time researching travel, seeking out the best hotels and destinations. But I’ll admit that it takes up a lot of time (#fulltimejob) and that not everyone feels like spending hours on travel planning! If that’s the case, it’s best to employ the services of a good agency (careful, as some are better than others) that can take care of all of this for you!