Are you looking to travel soon but don’t know where to start to create your dream holiday? Here are my tips for planning your trip from scratch.
The drawing board
There is nothing more exciting than to plan a getaway. No matter the destination, any trip is exciting. Exploring new countries, cities or areas in your home country. Every time I visit an area, even if it is a place I have visited many times, I find new hidden gems or things to do. One of my main tools is to follow my eye and move away from the crowds. It is amazing what you come across. Once you have established where you want to go, the fun starts.
Now you have established where you want to go, it’s time to look at the finer details before creating your master plan. I like to be efficient and love to use handy tools. There is nothing better than the good old spreadsheet for budget, duration, places to visit and time of year to go.
My spreadsheet would include the following:
- Destination ( this also could be the places to visit in a city or area)
- The date you plan to visit the destination ( if this is part of a trip, it would be the arrival date)
- Means of travel. This could be flights or car hire. If you use your own car, you need to add ferries and tunnels, too if needed,and documentation you might require.
- Accommodation, add a name for references and add another column for extra notes.
- You can create as many columns as you want, as this is your master plan for your visit, which you can save on your phone, too, for easy access. Always ensure you bring a printed version whilst travelling, just in case you lose your phone or computer.
- Cost of the destination. At the bottom of your spreadsheet, you can create the total to keep your budget on track. It might be useful to create two columns, one for deposits and one for final payments, so you know how much you still need to pay.
You can’t travel without My maps by Google maps
My favourite travel buddy is my maps by Google maps. Take it from me, it’s brilliant, and I use it all the time. For work, city breaks and longer journeys. When planning a city break, I add places, restaurants and cafes I like to visit. It doesn’t mean I will visit all of them, but at least I know where they are. So if I am nearby, I can pop in. It’s free and easy to access both on your computer and phone. I also save it as a file ( screenshot), as internet connectivity isn’t always great when you are out and about. I’ll add it to my travel document folder so everything is in one place.
Planning your trip starts with inspiration. Many people still like to travel the traditional way using travel agents, but if you are just like me, you like to plan your own visit. I only use specialists if a destination is a bit more challenging. It is good to be in the safe hands of someone in the know. You will get better rates as they have a bigger buying power and often have good deals, so that it might be more cost-effective. I have used specialists visiting India and Vietnam and will use one for our trip to Japan to get the most out of our holiday.
Let me inspire you
TripAdvisor used to be one of the biggest inspirations for travellers over the last 20 years, but things have changed. Instagram has taken over, but it can be restrictive. Influencers tend only to show the most popular places but hardly touch on the more exciting places to visit off the beaten path. So what are my tips to get the most out of your journey?
- Instagram – Make a folder of your destination and save places to visit, restaurants and other tips.
- Influencers – Choose them wisely. If you like fancy places, many influencers cover this. If you are keen to see the real destination, make sure you do your research. It’s not easy to find them on Instagram. Do your research online and find good travel bloggers. They often have an Instagram or Facebook account too. However……this is not always the case!
- Travel bloggers – This is my main source of inspiration. I tend to go for the local bloggers, who know the destination inside out as they live in the area. Searches I use are ‘travel blogger, food blogger, off the beaten path, interesting walks etc.’. Just search for what you are looking for.
- Subtstack – This excellent website lets independent writers and podcasters publish directly to their audience and get paid through subscriptions. Some very interesting travel writers have decided to stay away from social media and only publish here. They often have websites too.
- Travel programmes – Netflix has some great travel inspiration these days. I can’t get enough of the street food and food programmes.
- Friends – The cheapest and easiest way. Chat with your friends about recommendations.
- Travel magazines – Don’t rule these out, as especially specialist magazines can be a wealth of information.
- Travel guides – Unfortunately, these books are often outdated. They used to be excellent, but since the popularity of the internet, they aren’t as good anymore. Check their publishing date to find out if they are worth buying.
Where to stay and book? It all depends on your budget and what you want to get out of your holiday. Although I use local rental websites at home to book the perfect home away from home, my favourite two portals for booking abroad are AirBnB and Booking.com. Not only does their attractive offer appeal to me, but the flexibility too. I can book a long time ahead without a huge commitment. Sometimes they are a bit more expensive, but not having to pay the full sum or a substantial deposit does pay off. If you are regular with Booking.com, you can earn points and get better deals.
Tours and experiences
Finding the right tour or experience can be challenging, especially if you are using the internet. Big players are always on the top of the page. TripAdvisor only promotes its own tour operators, who have a big commission. I am always on the lookout for authentic tours and experiences. It is what I do back home! Here are my tips.
- AllTrails – I love using this app, especially for walks in the countryside. However, please note that many of them are uploaded by users, and they are not always accurate and safe, so please check the route before you set off.
- With Locals – I have used this website many times for excellent local guides. I stay away from big tour operators and don’t like being herded around in big groups. Most of the time, they are private parties only or smaller groups. You will get a lot more out of your tour. Exploring by yourself is great, but if you want to get more out of your time and learn about local food, traditions and the best places to visit, I highly recommend With Locals.
- Local tourist sites – I do check these out, but the listed accommodation and experiences are paid members, so you will not get the small players in the market here who can’t afford this fee. Look around as you might stumble across independent websites with a much better offering, reflecting the destination off the beaten track. Research is the key. Don’t get stuck on the first page, but through to the next one, and you might come across some interesting and unique places to stay and experiences.
- Spotted by Locals – This paid app is an excellent tool if you are looking for places where locals hang out. I have come across some interesting finds, which weren’t mentioned in any of the blogs or destination guides.