I love to plan trips! Well, to be honest, I love some of the parts of planning trips. There are a lot of different aspects that go into creating a great trip, and some of them are more enjoyable than others. It’s sort of like going through the 7 Emotional Stages of Travel Planning which can be a real roller coaster.
Selecting the Location
Deciding where to go can be fun and exciting. It gets the ball rolling. Sometimes you choose the location, and sometimes it chooses you. What I mean by that is if you are planning to attend a Broadway show, you know you need to plan your trip to New York. On the other hand, if it’s just time to take a summer vacation, you have to pick from a list of potential destinations and determine which one is best.
Doing the Research
Because of my personality type, I quite enjoy doing the research. I think it is a necessary part of planning any successful trip. Each piece of information that you gather helps you create a strong base for your trip. I like to request local travel guides on line for the selected destination and I may also grab some maps, brochures or tourbooks from AAA (free to members). It is usually a good idea to read blogs. reviews or articles about experiences others have had while visiting your destination. Sometimes that information can help you with selecting lodging, dining or activity choices.
Setting a Budget
This is not one of the more fun parts of travel planning. Still it is important. I like to set a total budget broken into 2 parts. A Hard Budget and a Soft Budget. The Hard Budget is what I expect to spend on transportation and lodging. The Soft Budget is what I plan to spend on dining, activities and miscellaneous expenses.
As a budget traveler, I set my Hard Budget pretty tight which can make it a little stressful until I find a way to make it happen. This means I have to comb through deals, points, loyalty offers and any combination of the above to get the best rates. By spending less on the Hard Budget, I have more money available to spend for the super fun Soft Budget items. Once you line up the deals just right, the stress falls away and you feel proud and accomplished.
Choosing your Dates
Sometimes the date is easy because you are traveling for a particular event, over a long holiday weekend or during a preset vacation time. By and large though, we have to select our travel dates. Most of us travel with one or more people. The more people you travel with, the more difficult lining up dates for everyone can be. I have been there and felt the stress creep into my plans. I find that starting with the person with the least availability and working from there is the best course of action for picking a date for a large group (and I would probably make a spreadsheet, lol).
If it is just you and one other travel partner it is a lot easier. I like to consult my research to find out when the best time is to travel to the selected destination or when are rates the lowest. Once this step is done, you feel some relief.
Once you know where you are going, you have to decide how to get there. You have to factor in the amount of time you have, the distance to get there and the cost of doing it.
A few years ago, when looking at a trip from Michigan to Baltimore for a wedding, we had to decide between flying or driving. Once we considered the time at the airport and the length of the flights then compared them to the total drive time we found that we would only have saved a little in time. But the cost of flying was 3 times that of driving, plus we would have needed a rental car when we got there. We had enough available time to drive, so we saved some money and went the driving route.
If you are flying or renting a car, you have to choose which company to use and find a good rate. Most of us have a few rental car companies and airlines that we prefer or have loyalty accounts with and start our searches there. We are comfortable with these choices because we have had positive past experiences that make us feel confident that we will again. But it can bring a little more anxiety if you have to go outside your favorites and pick from the large pool of other carriers. Lets call that Fear of the Unknown or apprehension. Not knowing how your experience will be or if you will have issues with this new player in your travel game.
There is also the possibility that you will struggle with finding rates that fit into your Hard Budget. We all like to try to find that price we think is a good value. It brings satisfaction when you do. On top of finding the perfect rates, you might have to arrange flights and/or connections to line up just right logistically. It can get complicated sometimes. We like to set ourselves up for a win with enough wiggle room to confidently make connections or reach our destinations on time.
It can seem like trying to put a square peg into a round hole! Very frustrating. But once you fit all the parts together for your plan to work, relief slowly emerges.
Finding the Right Lodging
Now you know where you are going and how you are getting there so it’s time to figure out where you will stay. Like choosing an airline, if you have favorites or belong to a hotel loyalty program, you will probably start there. Hopefully you will find the perfect hotel at a good rate. If not you have to start sifting through the very long list of possibilities which can be tedious.
There are a lot of questions that need answered in order to find the right fit. Hotel or AirBnb? How much is left in your Hard Budget to spend on lodging? What do you want/need to be near? Will you use this lodging for hanging out and relaxing or just as a base of operations? What are your must have features (pool, gym, dining, bar, breakfast)? Is your head spinning yet?
Eventually you pare down the selections and make a choice which brings back a calmness and you start to feel like you have this trip plan under control.
Planning your Itinerary
Both planning and not planning an itinerary can be challenging. If you don’t have some rough ideas in the bag, you can get to a place where you flounder about what you should do next. On the other hand over planning can strip away all the joy and make a trip feel like joy.
Put on your Zen hat for a minute and try to find the balance. Put together both a list of “must see/do” items and a list of “options”. Make sure you get to do the things your heart is set on so you aren’t disappointed when you leave but don’t try to force too much into a small amount of time or you can become overwhelmed. Having the “options” list can give you ideas to fill any lulls that come up without pushing you over the edge.
The best advice I can offer for a happy and enjoyable trip is:
- Be in control of your trip, don’t let it be in control of you
- Don’t sweat the small stuff
- Keep calm if something doesn’t go just right….take a breath and find a Plan B or a workable solution that puts you back in charge
- Be sure to let go, relax, and enjoy yourself and the company of your fellow travelers
- And as my husband would say when I am fretting over how much something unexpected costs on a trip “it’s only money and we will make more tomorrow”
Dream, PLAN, Save, Adventure!