I love traveling overseas. While using a travel agent can be helpful and they can advise you of any entry requirements, I still prefer to plan out my own trips. I love the flexibility of planning things myself. Plus as an introvert, I may need to switch things around when I’m feeling overwhelmed. I wanted to share a general idea of how I plan my trips.
1. Make a budget.
Create a flexible budget for your travel expenses. This should include flights, accommodations, food, transportation, tickets/tours, souvenirs, misc, and an emergency fund. It’s always better to over-budget for things. Rather than finding out you can only afford two meals a day once you’re there.
2. Create a timeline.
If I’m planning a trip, I’ll create two timelines. One is for the trip itself. I’ll plan out where I want to stop and how long I want to stay in each place. Making sure to account for travel time via plane, train, bus, etc.
I try to buy my flight tickets at least three months in advance. Once they’re finalized I’ll book the accommodations and rail passes within a month. I’ll buy tour or event tickets closer to the trip unless they’re in short supply.
3. Research everything.
I make an extensive list of everything the destination has to offer. Then I’ll choose one thing per day that I MUST see. These become my priorities and I’ll plan each day around a single attraction or event. I’ll keep a list of other interesting things in the area if I have more energy. But some of my most rewarding travel experiences have come from wandering around and exploring.
4. Book flights.
I’ll compare prices on Google flights, FlightHub, Expedia and actual airplane company websites. Keep in mind what time of day you want to leave and when you’d prefer to arrive. Also decide how long of a layover is acceptable and what your approximate budget is. Once it’s booked, I’ll keep a copy of the confirmation on my phone. But I’ll also print out a copy. That way I can check in without a WiFi connection.
5. Book accommodations.
Now it’s time to book accommodations. I use Expedia and TripAdvisor to find the best deals. Even though I’m a huge introvert I love hostels. They’re inexpensive and I’m still able to get my quiet time. But I’ll check the reviews to ensure it’s in a safe location, is clean, and has friendly staff. I’ll also look up their check in and check out times. Whether you can drop your luggage off early. And how to get there from the airport. Keep in mind what you want (price, location, room size, privacy, distance to transit) and what things are optional. But if hostels are not your cup of tea, you can also check out Airbnb, bed and breakfasts, motels, and hotels. I love booking through Expedia because I can pay for the room ahead of time.
6. Figure out transportation.
If you’re renting a vehicle you may need to get an international driver’s license. Also check into car insurance. You may get better coverage through your credit card company than through the rental company. I usually rely on public transit as it’s cheaper and less stressful. In Scotland and Ireland I paid cash for transit. But in Japan I ordered a JR rail pass ahead of time. Then picked up a reloadable PASMO card once I arrived for the lines not covered by the pass.
7. All the details.
You may need vaccinations. Vaccinations usually need to occur weeks/months in advance so it’s good to find out early. You may need a travel visa. Sometimes you have to apply for it before your trip. Other countries allow you to apply for and pick up your visa upon arrival. Also, certain countries won’t allow you entry unless you have a return ticket. So make sure you have that ready to go too. You can always contact a country’s embassy for their current entry requirements.
I registered with the Government of Canada travel website before my trip. They keep you updated with weather and travel advisories. I actually got a typhoon warning while in Japan which was super helpful. They’ll also notify my family if something were to happen.
Travel insurance gives you peace of mind and it’s usually not too expensive. Be sure to read the agreement and know who to contact if something were to happen. I always keep a copy on my phone and a paper copy with me.
It’s always helpful to have a little cash with you. You may need to order currency from the bank. Order it at least a couple of weeks before you leave. Also check to see what the limit is for bringing in currency. For example, you can only bring 10,000 Philippine pesos (about 250 CAD) into the Philippines. So I brought some USD as well and exchanged it once I got there.
I keep a copy of my itinerary, directions to/from the airport and contact information on my phone. I’ll keep a paper copy too in case my phone battery is low. I’ll also send my family a copy if they need to get a hold of me while I’m gone.
Plan for meals.
If you don’t have food sensitivities or allergies, feel free to skip this one. You can request special meals with most airlines. Once you buy your ticket, you can log in and make a special meal request. You may have to call some airlines to make this request but it’s easy to do. Follow up a day before your flight and mention it as you’re checking in and/or boarding.
During the planning phase, I make up a list of gluten free restaurants and their addresses. Once I arrive, I can look up the addresses on Google maps and get directions. Some companies even coordinate “food tours” for those with dietary restrictions. They contact restaurants directly to arrange a safe meal. I would definitely consider this if I went back to Japan. I also printed out a card in Japanese explaining my allergies. And I brought a ton of gluten free protein bars to ensure I didn’t starve if I couldn’t find something safe to eat right away.
I only bring carry on when I travel which reduces my stress. But there are certain things I always take with me. I brought a power bank for charging my phone and it was a lifesaver. I also brought an adapter/converter so I could charge my electronics while in the Philippines and Japan.
Do you have any helpful tips?