So you want to travel… but where do you start? Every amazing trip needs some kind of plan, even if it’s just a rough budget, a destination and a flight booking.
In this comprehensive guide, we’ll take you through everything you need to know to plan and pack for a smooth and enjoyable trip.
What’s Your Planning Style
Depending on your personality, you’re going to plan your trip in different ways;
Some people just hate planning and prefer spontaneity. They’ll just book a return flight and plan their accommodation and sight-seeing day-by-day. While this approach means you can take advantage of unexpected opportunities, like going to stay in a hostel with some friends you met on the beach, it can also mean a lot of stress.
Accommodation might be booked up long in advance, leaving you to bunk down on a park bench. You also end up spending the time you could be relaxing planning your next move.
Then there are people who plan the most minute details of their trip. This has an advantage in that you can sit back and relax while you’re traveling, having done all the work beforehand. But if your plans are two rigid, one missed train or cancelled flight could throw everything out of whack.
Generally, a mixture of the two is recommended. You want to have enough structure that you can relax, but not so much that you feel like a robot following a list of instructions. As a minimum, try to book at least your flights, the transport at your destination, and some of your accommodation.
What Kind of Planner are You? Find the right balance to Travel Stress free with confidence you have covered the main aspects of your trip in advance.
Create A Budget
Before you can plan anything, you need decide how much you can afford to spend on your trip. Once you have this figure, it will determine your destination, transport and accommodation choices.
Remember to factor in how much you want to spend on food, sightseeing, entertainment, and gifts and souvenirs. You should also leave a fund for incidental expenses and emergencies.
Also remember your ongoing expenses back home. For instance, you may need to continue paying rent while you’re away or find someone to house sit. You also need to remember that you can’t return completely broke: you’ll need to afford food and utilities when you come back.
Keep in mind that the peak and off-peak holiday seasons can affect the price of food, accommodation and tours. Generally, peak season is during the summer.
If you like the buzz of crowds and don’t mind paying extra for warmer weather, then try traveling during peak season. If you want a budget trip and don’t mind braving colder weather, aim to travel off-peak.
For more on budgeting, check out these resources:
Choose A Destination
This may seem obvious, but you need to decide where you’re going! You may already have a burning desire to see a particular place, but if not, consider your interests and what kind of experiences you enjoy.
If you love nature, scenery and bush walking, national parks could be for you. If you like the hustle and bustle of the city and visiting the big attractions, aim for major cities like London, Paris, New York, Rome, Singapore or Beijing. If you plan to visit several destinations, make sure they follow a logical progression, to avoid wasting time and money re-tracing your steps.
The destination will also be informed by your budget. If you can’t afford overseas flights, you might consider going interstate. You may also want to consider the exchange rate – if your currency is stronger than the currency of your destination, you’ll have a cheaper trip.
Choose Your Transport
Once you have a destination, you can pick your mode of transport. If it’s overseas, the obvious and fastest choice is a flight. However, if you like taking things slow and soaking in the experience of sea travel, you could book a cruise ship.
On land, trains can often be cheaper than flights. But do your homework, because sometimes they’re the same or more expensive. Trains are also good if you are environmentally conscious – as long as they are electric, rather than diesel, they create 29 times less carbon emissions than the average domestic flight.
(Source: The Guardian)
Trains allow you to watch the passing landscape, but you’ll have to account for the extra time in your itinerary. Intercity coaches are another cheap option for budget travelers, but of course you pay for this with further increased travel times and much less comfort.
Also keep in mind how you will get around your destination once you arrive. You might hire a car, or stick with public transport and taxis. If you go with the latter option, investigate what kind of tickets you’ll need and where you can buy them.
Useful websites for comparing flights:
Choose Your Accommodation
Accommodation can make or break a trip. The last thing you want is to find a hair in your bed, or mold in the bathroom! The difficulty is that you can’t find out for sure what you’ve paid for until you arrive. To avoid nasty surprises, do your homework – scope out reviews on sites like TripAdvisor and ask friends for recommendations.
The type of accommodation you choose is also informed by your budget and preferences. If you want a laid-back holiday and you have the money, resorts and luxury hotels are perfect. For those who like some independence and want to get a taste of living local, renting an apartment through sites like AirBnb could be ideal.
If you’re a backpacker on a budget, a hostel is always fantastic to meet like-minded travelers. Although watch out – some hostels in prime locations in the major cities can be quite expensive. Also be wary if they’re charging rock-bottom prices. There may be some major hygiene or maintenance issues, or it could be located in the middle of nowhere.
What To See and Do?
With a destination in mind, you can make a rough list of sight-seeing priorities. You should do this in conjunction with choosing accommodation, so that you can try to stay near your chosen attractions. Many attractions charge fees, which you should account for in your budget.
Don’t make your plans too rigidly, as they may change a you hear about opportunities from locals or other travelers you meet.
Travel insurance is not compulsory, but it’s highly recommended. Depending on the policy you buy, it can cover you for cancelled flights, lost or stolen luggage, medical and dental fees, and expenses accrued from rescheduling tours or other bookings.
Remember that depending on where you’re going, the country’s medical system may not be fantastic. You could find yourself paying tens of thousands if you need to be medically evacuated. Even if the hospitals are reasonable, if you’re not eligible for medical insurance in that country, you could still pay hefty sums in the case of a health incident.
Click here for more information on comparing travel insurance policies.
Make A Travel Planning Checklist
Now you’re ready to start packing! If you’re going on a long trip, it’s advisable to start making your list a couple of days early to avoid rushing and forgetting something vital. Though you’ll tailor the list to your own needs, here are some of the most important things to remember.
- Documents and money: This will include things like your passport, any tickets you’ve booked, copies of your passport and insurance documents, travel guides and maps, your driver’s license and travel money. You should take a mixture of card and cash, and disperse it throughout your luggage to reduce the likelihood of you losing it all in one go. You should also email your documents to yourself or upload them to the cloud, so you can access them online if you lose the hard copy.
- Clothing: Your clothes will largely depend on the weather of your destination, which you should check online when you start packing. If the weather is variable, try packing clothes of mostly neutral colors that you can wear in layers. Darker clothes of a wrinkle-resistant material are ideal. Pack comfortable shoes for everyday wear, as you will do a lot of walking when traveling and you don’t want blisters! Add one or two nicer outfits for when you go out for dinner or drinks.
- Toiletries: This includes items like toothbrushes, deodorant, shampoo, personal medication, sunscreen, hairbrushes, etc. Put your liquids in zip-lock bags to avoid a mess in case something leaks, and remember that most airlines have liquid restrictions for carry-on, so put toiletries in your stow-away luggage.
- Electronics: Smart phones and tablets are incredibly useful for taking photos, navigating, and storing documents and itineraries. If you’re a budding photographer, you might want to take your fancy camera and look like a bona fide tourist. If you need to keep up with emails or work, take your laptop. Don’t forget your charger cords.
- Miscellaneous useful items: Traveling usually involves a lot of waiting. Bring some kind of entertainment, like a book/kindle, a tablet with downloaded movies, a journal, or playing cards. You should also take a refillable water bottle, and a few spare plastic bags – they’re always useful for rubbish or for separating dirty clothes in your luggage.
Find The Right Luggage
our luggage is dependent on your destination. If you’re heading for a major city, a suitcase with wheels will suit you just fine. There is a huge variety to choose from –hard or soft shell, large or small, expensive or cheap.
Consider carefully whether you want a hard or soft case. The advantage of soft shells is that they are often very light and you can squeeze more in because of their flexibility.
They also tend to have more pockets and are more accessible. The downside is that their contents can get soaked in heavy rain.
Hard shell cases protect their contents better, and these days, most have four castors that rotate in all directions, which takes the weight off your arm. However, they are not as flexible or as easily accessible.
If you’re heading off the beaten track, such as to nature parks or to a city with unpaved roads, you’ll want to opt for a backpack. Once again there is a huge range, but the main thing is that it feels comfortable when the store assistant correctly adjusts it on your back. You may want to consider your fitness level before buying a backpack, as you will be spending a lot of time carrying it.
Whatever you purchase, you want to ensure it’s of reasonable quality to avoid breakages of the shell or the zips, so check the product reviews before you buy.
Finally, be aware that US Transport Security Administration have the right to access your luggage even if you are not present. If you decide to lock your luggage, make sure it’s with a TSA-approved lock. This will allow officials to open it with a master key, rather than slicing through your zips.
Pack Your Luggage Well
Although you want to have completed your checklist a few days before you leave, to make sure you have everything, you want to start packing the same day or one day before you leave. This will avoid you having to unpack and re-pack to access your essentials.
Planning what to pack and then packing your luggage well can keep your clothes and effects secure and ready to wear when you meet your destination. Effective packing means you don’t carry more items than you need and should keep you clear of excess baggage charges.
Once you start, you need to be as efficient as possible with space. Try filling your shoes with socks and rolling up your clothes, rather than folding them (this is also meant to reduce wrinkles).
Packing ‘cubes’ or ‘cells’ are also useful if you hate your luggage getting jumbled, as it inevitably does. On the other hand, if you are on a tight budget, simple plastic bags will do the job.