Planning a trip can sometimes leave you baffled. Between the excitement and all the gorgeous places on your bucket list, we find ourselves wondering where to begin! The task is all the more mammoth if you’re traveling with equally excited friends who can’t wait to pitch in on the new “7 places to visit in..” article they recently read on a blog! If you find yourself in a dilemma, just breathe and go with the flow. Or.. be smart and use these tips to plan a hell of a trip!
Draft the basics in an Excel. Better yet, use a spreadsheet!
Getting a basic framework in place is a baby step you can’t avoid. The best place to do that is Excel- nay, Google Spreadsheets. For those unfamiliar with this blessing of a service, Google Spreadsheets are excel sheets which allow different users to access them at one time. You need to login with your Gmail account and can add as many friends/colleagues/co-travelers to the spreadsheet using their email address, making it easy to modify the sheet in real-time. This way you won’t have to keep sharing new spreadsheets every time someone edits it or adds something new. Here’s a glimpse of what your framework should look like, including the places you want to stay and how long you want to stay there:
Chalk out your itinerary:
Once your ideas are in place, carve out the itinerary and the means of putting your chosen cities together. Say for example, you’d like to visit a cluster of places that falls on one end of a country and another cluster that falls on another end. Weave it together in a manner that allows you to spend as little money as possible while judiciously covering more places.
Stalk the Tourism Board:
Each country has it’s own tourism board website, and these should be the first you check out for information. It always helps to get a comprehensive guide to the place you’re visiting. The internet is a confusing place that can leave you wanting to visit every square inch of the planet. It will give you travel tips, a guided map, recommended accommodation options, the best time to travel and the important tours and things to do. It’s the closest you’ll get to first-hand information that we all know is most precious!
Figure out what kind of traveler you are:
This might sound like a typical “understand your target audience” question, but it’s true! I was under the impression for the longest time, that we all love a mix of food, culture and a whole lot of discoveries- famous as well as offbeat. I recently discovered that isn’t so, when someone mentioned they prefer nightlife and cities to beaches and mountains. More important than your geographical preferences, is the pace with which you like to enjoy your vacation. I’ve met enough people who prefer waking up leisurely, followed by a few activities spread out during the course of the day, comfortable and convenient; and others who will march out first thing in the morning with their backpacks on their back and a pair of trekking shoes. It’s important to discover where you fall between the two extremes so you can plan exactly what you want your trip to look like, without over doing either.
Choose your travel partner carefully:
This one is so crucial, it could make or break your trip. In Ruskin Bond’s words, “Choose your companions carefully when you are walking in the hills. If you are accompanied by the wrong person- by which I mean someone who is temperamentally very different to you- that long hike you’ve been dreaming of could well turn into a nightmare.” This is has happened with so many of us, and could well be the difference between the ideal and the worst imaginable trip. If you happen to travel with someone who’s travel style is different from yours, the game could be lost. It’s great to have similar interests, and that’s an added bonus. But one could be accommodating about the other’s interests, seldom about the other’s travel habits. If you wake a lazy traveler at 5:00 am, they’ll be on the brink of murder before you know it. Someone who refuses to eat on the go (fast food joints only, please!) could be a buzzkill for one who enjoys indulging in local cuisine off the street.
Identify what you want from the trip:
It’s important to know exactly what you want from the trip you’re taking. Are you looking for a road trip or a culinary experience? Luxury stay or youth hostels? What do you have in mind and how do you picture the 7 days on holiday? Figure it out and stick to your plan. Don’t let anything else lure you into trying to mix everything together into a trip that’s all over the place.
Let’s talk about bucks baby!
You need to budget ahead (way ahead) for the trip you’re planning. You would need to make sure you have enough bucks in your account to get a visa to begin with. Figure out how much money you think you can spare on the trip and work your way backward. Save an additional 25% for hidden expenses you’re sure to encounter on your way. We don’t usually budget for the little things- travel insurance, tips, laundry etc., that come uninvited. It’s best to have some extra bucks to save you from nibbling on leftover snack bags for dinner. Plan the duration of your trip based on your budget allowance as well. It’s easy to think you’re only going once, will probably never visit again.. That’s the devil talking. Resist the temptation and make sure you stick to what you can pay for. I once did a Euro Trip that lasted only 5 days (read here).
Remember to spend some time going through different travel portals. You’ll end up finding some great deals, specially on hotels. Holiday Me is one such portal to use for the Middle East, and it’s one I came across while searching for Shalala Hotels.
Get your ducks in a row:
Define the kind of places you want to stay in, how long you want to visit for and what route and itinerary you want to follow. Then start looking for accommodation: youth hostels, apartments, home stays or hotels, whichever fits best into your budget. Once you’ve chalked everything out in paper and done your research, only then go ahead and book your flights. It’s a bad idea to book flights first and then try to wrap your trip around it. You might find cheaper tours, packages or accommodation if you’re flexible with your dates. Buying that plane ticket will limit your options.
Once the majority of your trip is in place, figure out the sightseeing options you want to check out in each city, your preferred mode of travel, transport to and from the airport and the clothes you want to carry with you. Print all your documents (hotel vouchers, tickets, travel insurance and any other sightseeings you’ve booked online) and you’re all set for your big adventure!