You’re going on a holiday! Or planning to take one. Awesome and exciting news, but now what? There is so much information out there these days. Between Pinterest, Instagram, travel blogs, youtube and review sites like TripAdvisor, travel planning can get overwhelming fast. While having access to millions of pieces of valuable information is great, sometimes it’s too much.
In this post, I’m sharing my go-to resources and step-by-step guide to planning any trip, vacation or holiday. Whether it’s a weekend getaway or a 6-week holiday, this method will work for you.
Travel planning can become overwhelming very quickly if you don’t have a method to stay organized and stay motivated.
Each time I’m planning to travel myself, I always start with referencing this list of tips I’ve collected from planning my own trips and holidays over the last several years.
Before I get into it, I should qualify myself so that you can determine whether I’m legitimate enough to be sharing my advice! In the last 5 years, I’ve solely planned and taken several 5-week trips to southeast Asia and Europe.
And for the last 10 years I’ve been frequently travelling western Canada, the United States and enjoyed several trips to Mexico.
Whether it’s a weekend road trip or a bucket list holiday, I’m sharing my best travel planning tips, tricks and advice for any trip you’re taking.
Some links in this post contain affiliate links. If you click one of them, I may receive a small commission at no extra cost to you.
The Most Exciting Part of Travel Planning: Inspiration
There are different reasons for choosing when and where to go on a trip, so it’s important to identify where you fit in to help you stay organized and within your scope. First, ask yourself where you’re at:
Do you have a weekend, a week or more to go somewhere but you need to choose a destination from scratch?
Are you building a trip around a set itinerary? Perhaps you’re already travelling to visit friends & family or headed somewhere for business
Are you planning a trip around a unique or favorite place to stay? You’d be surprised how often this happens! Sometimes you find a cool Airbnb, somewhere to go glamping or even just a favorite hotel.
Are you planning a trip around cheap flights you booked?
I’ve fit into each one of these situations and there are different timelines and planning involved with each.
I bring this up at the beginning, because many people get excited about a trip or get a burst of inspiration, but then get burnt out with trip planning quickly.
So let’s dive into my travel planning method and resources below!
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How to Research for Your Trip
Research is the beginning stage of planning any trip, and often the most exciting. So once you’ve decided where you’ll be traveling, how do you find out what kinds of things you can do?
I like to get a sense of a destination from across different platforms online.
Use different websites and apps to help you get a better sense of what types of activities and sights there are for the type of travel style you’re interested in.
Pinterest: My Number 1 Site for Travel Research
My first stop in doing any travel planning is Pinterest. Pinterest is basically a visual search engine and it’s full of extensive travel posts and articles by fellow travel bloggers.
Start with a broad search, such as typing in the name of the city or country you’re planning to visit. You’ll notice that Pinterest will then recommend more categories to help you narrow down your search.
I usually read the first few posts that capture my attention and then continue to narrow down my search based on what I find out in my research.
Tip for staying organized and motivated when travel planning:
The best thing about Pinterest is that you can save the ideas to your own travel planning boards. Then you can refer back to them at a later time.
It’s easy to get overloaded with information and forget important details.
Create specific travel boards on your Pinterest profile with all the great articles you read so that you can reference them later. Doing this keeps me from going crazy!
You can also invite your friends to collaborate and view your boards.
So if you’re traveling with friends and creating an itinerary together, you can easily save and share great travel articles about your upcoming destination.
Instagram for Travel Research
I also love using Instagram for researching my travel plans. You can search via geotags or hashtags for your upcoming destination. This provides another angle to the information you’re seeking.
It’s also one of the best trip planning resources for finding timely information. For example, some blog posts or reviews can be a year or two old (or more) by the time you’re reading them.
But you can search Instagram in chronological order.
And Instagram has grown so much in the last couple years that more and more users are now posting great tips and information to complement the photo they post, so you can actually learn a lot of great tips this way.
Google Reviews and TripAdvisor
When you’ve determined activities or places to visit, I love using Google reviews and TripAdvisor to read more information. I use both of these platforms regularly in two ways:
To determine if something is worth visiting or not; and
To read up on all traveler tips about how to have the best experience.
TripAdvisor not only has reviews, they have forums for every destination. I usually browse through the destination forums or search for something specific.
You can even pose your own questions that are usually promptly answered by destination experts.
Another great feature over at TripAdvisor is the all new trip planning element.
You can now save activities and information to your profile to keep all your ideas in one place. This can also be shared with your friends and family.
How to Determine Your Travel Budget
Now that you’ve got an overview of your destination and the types of activities you want to do, it’s time to think about your budget for the trip.
At this point in your trip planning process, you should start to gather a sense of what things cost and what your budget should be. Doing this will help the rest of your trip planning at this stage.
Depending on what your budget is or how much you plan to spend (or not spend) will help you narrow down your itinerary and help you pull things together.
Transportation: Think About ALL Costs
Whether you’re flying to your destination or taking a road trip, there are always extra costs. Plan for them!
If you’re flying, you might need to either rent a car, or take a taxi, Uber or Lyft. Or you might need to hop on group tours or bus tours. These all cost different amounts.
If you’re driving or taking a road trip, keep in mind that fuel prices can differ significantly from state to state or province to province.
Remember that if you’re traveling to or within Europe and you’re thinking about renting a car, most vehicles are manual transmission and you’ll have to pay extra for an automatic transmission vehicle.
If you’re traveling to a city with an excellent subway or metro system, it’s usually worth buying tickets for the length of your visit (24hrs, 3-day pass, etc.).
Rome2Rio is probably the best site out there to determine the best method of transportation between destinations.
Plug in your ‘point a’ and ‘point b’ and it will tell you all your options for getting there and how long it will take.
Accommodation Tips for Developing Your Travel Budget
Start looking at accommodation prices. I always start with Booking.com to get a sense of what accommodation prices are looking like for my preferred travel dates. What a lot of people don’t know about using Booking.com is that you can search specifically by Villas, Guest Houses, B&Bs and apartment style accommodations.
Then I usually check Airbnb, VRBO and Homeaway to round out my overall search and determine how much vacancy is still available.
Before I commit to hotel (or overall accommodation), I try to determine the best neighborhood/area to stay in. This has major budget implications.
Sometimes staying further away from the center of town is the best option for cheaper accommodations. But you also have to consider extra costs related to time & transportation to get back and fourth. Sometimes cheaper not always worth it. And sometimes it is.
One of the best things I love about using Booking.com is that many places offer free cancellation.
So if I’m still in my research phase and notice that there’s not a whole lot of vacancy, I like to scoop up rooms that allow for free accommodation and then I have a more peace of mind knowing that I have a bed booked but can change my mind if something better comes up.
I’ve booked everything from beach side Mexican villas, to off-grid cabins in the middle of the forest to cool hotels in Banff with underground hot tubs. All found on Booking.com!
How to Build Your Travel Itinerary
By this point you’ve pretty much decided where you’re going, how long and what types of things you want to see, do and eat.
One of my biggest travel planning tips is to not book too many things in advance! If I try to pack too many things into each day before I’m at my destination, it’s almost always a let down. 2 reasons:
Either I end up doing it all and am too exhausted by the end of the day/week trying to cram it all in.
I can’t fit everything in like I had planned to and become disappointed in my travel planning abilities or myself as a traveler.
Sometimes, it’s hard to tell how long it will take you to travel between destinations. Sometimes you spend more time than you allowed in your schedule.
This could either be by choice because you end up loving the attraction/experience way more than you thought you would, or maybe lineups and queues were a lot longer than anticipated.
Story time to explain why this is my biggest travel tip!
Let me explain why I refuse to book and plan my entire itinerary in advance.
On my first visit to Paris, I was only visiting the city for about 3 days. In my first full day there, I had planned to visit L’Arc de Triomphe, the Eiffel Tower and the Notre Dame Cathedral (as well as a couple other places).
I stayed in Montmartre, which is gorgeous and a very Parisienne experience, but a longer ride on the metro from all of these famous Paris attractions.
The first stop of the day was L’Arc de Triomphe. As I got off at the correct metro station and started to make my way through the tunnels and up the street, there were federal police blocking every exit.
As it turns out, the french President was in town that day and was moments away from parading down the Champs-Élysées (the famous high-end shop-lined avenue that leads to the Arc).
At that point, the Arc wasn’t accessible to the public until the President’s address was finished.
While I hadn’t planned to spend a lot of time in this area besides its main attraction, I figured it’s not very often that the president is in town. And as politicians are always fashionably late, I ended up hanging out here much longer than expected.
After leaving the area to beat the mass exodus of the crowds when the President was closing, we did end up making it to the Notre Dame and the Eiffel Tower.
But didn’t have time to visit the Arc, so that had to be moved to the next day. No big deal right? Well the next day we had planned to visit the Palace of Versailles. Ok, bump it to the following day.
Well, turns out the following day was Monday, which is the one day of the week when many museums are closed. Didn’t know this before visiting Paris!
After a couple of travel experiences similar to the one above, I now plan my trips accordingly. First, build your list of absolutely must-do activities and experiences.
Remember that there may not be time to cram everything in, so go through the exercise of what you don’t want to miss on the trip. Then make a second list of your ‘would like to do if there’s time’ list.
With your must-do list, check the hours of operation by a quick google search.
This is where I read more reviews to find out the best tips of what time of day to visit and things to bring with you, appropriate clothing attire, whether it’s cash only, etc.
My Favorite Travel Itinerary Tool
I love using Travelchime. It’s linked with Google Maps so you can save all of the places you want to visit (like restaurants and attractions) as well as your accommodations.
You can also make notes and share with your travel partner(s) so that everyone has access to the itinerary.
For my must-do list, I always book online ahead of time. This guarantees I won’t miss out, and you often save a little money by booking online ahead of time. Here are my favorite booking sites for short tours and day trips:
Urban Adventures offers unique day-tour itineraries. You can choose between food & drink tours, active tours and even create you own.
Get Your Guide is another great booking site where you can browse through all the available tours for the city or region you’re visiting.
At the very least, each of these sites are another great planning tool in your research phase.
It’s a great starting point to find out what kinds of awesome things you can experience!
When you’re building your second list of ‘things to do if there’s time’ I always look for free things to do. There are always free things like walking tours or street art, etc.
Pinterest is usually the best place for this. These are great things to know ahead of time to have on hand if you find yourself with some extra time and wanting to explore more of the area while sticking to your budget.
I do the same things with restaurants and types of food I want to try. Some places have famous restaurants that you’ll want to book a reservation ahead of time.
And sometimes I like to take a quick look at the top rated places to eat close to the ‘must-do’ attractions I’m visiting.
The reason I do this is I’m very prone to getting ‘hangry.’ I’m sure a lot of you have experienced this!
This hits me especially hard when I’m travelling because sometimes your days are so jam packed you get hungry at odd times and traveling on an empty stomach can be disastrous.
So I like to do some homework ahead of time because sometimes when you’re in the moment, it’s hard to know what’s good in the area, especially if there’s a language barrier.
If all else fails and I don’t have a good idea of where to eat, ask a local and this usually results in an amazing recommendation.
The Best Travel Booking Resources
When you’re ready to book your flights, accommodations and tours or things to do, below is my list of trip planning resources and tips that I used every single time.
How to Book the Best Flight Deal
If you haven’t already booked your flight, get on Skyscanner now! I love using this site because it finds and compares all the best flight prices and will provide suggestions about where you can save money if you’re flexible with your schedule.
There are even a few secret hacks to help you get the best prices using this site.
Travel hack for finding cheapest flights: with Skyscanner you can select a whole month for your travel dates and it will automatically suggest the cheapest flight dates.
You can even select this option for finding the cheapest flights anywhere in the world if you’re looking for some wanderlust inspiration!
My number one flight booking tip: download the Skyscanner app now! Trust me on this one. Download the app and set your alerts (found in the top left corner when the app is open).
It will monitor and track prices and notify you when a good price comes up for the destination or dates you want.
Secret tip for checking in for your flight: arrive at the airport nice and early. Instead of going to the automated kiosks to print your boarding pass, wait patiently in line to speak with one of the agents to assist you with check-in. Always be friendly and efficient.
Politely ask if it’s a full flight. If it’s not, you could again politely ask if an upgraded (or better) seat is available.
Sometimes you might not always get upgraded, but sometimes they will find you a row in which you’ll be the only passenger. This is still a good outcome in my opinion!
The Easiest Sites to Use to Book Your Accommodations
Booking.com is my go-to site for booking accommodation. If I’m looking for a hotel, it always seems to have the lowest rates, the most options and many include free-cancellation to allow a little more flexibility.
My best tip for find great places to stay: use the map feature. Sometimes if you’re unfamiliar with an area, it’s hard to tell where things are located within proximity to each other.
Use the map feature and zoom out and move it around to open up more options of surrounding areas that might work for your trip.
For instance, on a recent trip to Las Vegas, my friends and I opted to rent a house through VRBO. As there were 10 of us, it worked out to be around $25USD per person per night!
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Things To Do a Week Before Departure
Start packing! To avoid over-packing, I like to lay out everything I want to bring.
Then I look at it and realize that I have way too much, so over the course of a couple of days I challenge myself to reduce my pile to half! It’s also a good time to make sure you’ve packed important travel accessories to make your trip go that much smoother.
Download Google Maps for the city, road trip route or region that you’re visiting. Why? So that you can access it offline, as you may not have Wifi right away.
On Google Maps, save or star your accommodation so you can show your Uber driver easily if you’re traveling somewhere that there might be a language barrier.
If you want to guarantee Wifi access, consider purchasing or renting a pocket wifi device, like Skyroam. You can connect up to 5 devices and you can carry your wifi with you everywhere you go. Perfect for when you’re on a train or a long road trip and would like to do some travel planning!
Buy your travel insurance. No one likes to buy travel insurance, but for the extra few dollars, the peace of mind is worth it.
I use World Nomads on my trips to Europe and Southeast Asia. You can choose between standard and explorer plans, and pricing is different based on where you’re going how long you’ll be travelling.
It takes 2 seconds to get a quote, so you might as well plug in your details and then you can always decide later.
World Nomads is a great fit for the adventurous or active traveler, because they cover specific activities and sports equipment.
A Recap of Travel Planning Websites and Apps I Use:
Travel Itineraries and Tours:
If you liked this post, feel free to save it to your travel planning board!