Travel Series: Volume 4
Stage 1 of making your travel happen, is planning. Not a little planning, a lot of planning. This is probably the hardest part of travel and ideally starts way before your trip. If you are organized, do a little research and take advantage of some available tools and expert advice, you can make your dream drip fun and affordable. People laugh because I am very visual and often use a spreadsheet during the planning But whatever method works best for you. Here is how I plan for a really big trip.
Where is it that you want to go? Start broad and narrow the scope as you do your planning.
When and or why are you going? Knowing why you are going helps you understand what you hope to achieve during your trip. Is it for a summer break, honeymoon, birthday, etc. This is helpful in developing your timeline and travel style.
Decide what type of trip you would like to take. Are you super independent and just want to grab cheap airfare and hit the ground running, backpacking or grabbing a train pass and letting the plan unfold. If you like more control, you may want to plan each stop carefully in advance or go with a tour group that handles all the details. Some people may be right in the middle. For them there are trips that include planned transportation and lodging, but allow you to do your own exploration.
Budget. Sadly, you do have to develop a budget to use as a guide for planning your trip. Decide how much you are willing to spend all together. Then break that into three categories:
1) Base trip cost for lodging/tour
2) Travel and airfare if not included for getting to the destination
3) Spending money and expenses while on the trip itself
You have to be honest with yourself during this step and not overextend yourself too much. Don’t spend all your money on the trip costs and have nothing left for spending when you go. The R&D stage also helps you meet your budget goals and in a future post, I will help you save money on trip costs and find extra dollars to spend while on your journey.
Research & Development. Once you have decided Where you will go, When you will go why you are going and what style of trip interests you, it’s time to hit the books. The travel guides. Will you book on your own or enlist a travel professional? Read up on best times to go (if different times are an option) and potential travel seasons or deals that will afford you some trip savings. I believe in spending the least possible on the trips cost, so I can use my travel dollars on more fun when I am there. Personally, I am willing to do the extra work and research to save those dollars on the big stuff. If you are not, that is ok too.
Here is how I planned our first trip to Europe:
Where A (broad scope): We chose to visit Italy.
When/why: We planned it for April, the month of our 25th wedding anniversary
Trip Style: After some research, we decided we would feel safest and be most comfortable for our first trip abroad with some guidance. We booked a tour with a company that took care of all the transportation and lodging arrangements. It also provided us with some included meals and activities as well as options for solo exploration and dining. There were many itinerary options for us to choose from
Where B (narrowed scope): Selecting a guided tour style helped with choosing the locations since it required us to pick from around 8 itineraries that were offered from the 2 companies we were considering. This is where my spreadsheet was handy for narrowing down the available options. We could line up the trips side by side and compare costs, travel duration, trip styles and destinations. We started with 3-4 trips, and were able to chose 1 after seeing them visually side by side and considering the most important aspects to us. Trip stops, Number of days and cost.
Ultimately we chose Best of Italy a Trafalgar Tours 14 day “Country Explorer” style trip that took us to as many fabulous destinations in one country as possible. This made our airfare dollars seem a better value since we were staying for a longer period of time and we were able to see many more places on one trip. Trafalgar calls this type of trip a “Country Explorer.”
Since we had been long time members of AAA of Michigan, and we had used them successfully for other travel planning over the years, we chose to utilize a travel agent for the planning process. No regrets here either since it gave us access early to planning materials from the companies we were considering and tour guides for potential destinations. Here’s Elizabeth’s card if you ever need a great Agent who is very helpful and super patient. She’ll keep you on track and get you a great deal.
Eliazbeth provided some great travel tips along the way and the cost was only $25 for their booking fees. With that we got 2 free 2 person excursions while on our trip that were worth lots more than that. Our agent also navigated all the messy parts like syncing the flights and collecting the travel documents for us. She shared that the company we had chosen offers trip deals (this year price for next year trip) during August, but that they offer flight deals in October. So we were able to book our trip in August and wait to book the air until October for our April trip. Lots of savings!!
Our trip turned out great. I asked lots of questions beforehand from friends I thought of as expert travelers and consulted lots of websites and literature for tips and information. I considered who we were, and our wants and needs list then blended all the data together to create a semi-customized trip that provided experiences and memories that were priceless to us at a reasonable price. Every trip you take will be different from the last. Each one should capture the essence of what your idea is for that trip.
I hope this information helps you develop your plan to build your dream vacation. These are not hard and fast RULES, just ideas that worked for me and I hope they will work for you too.
Next post we will talk about ways to save money on your up front trip costs.
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