Traveling Tav’s Planning 101
“And this is what the traveler discovers: In this great and endlessly fascinating world of ours, everywhere can be home.”
| Meredith Moraine |
Okay, so you’ve been dreaming of your big trip for enough time now and you’ve decided to take the plunge and GO for it! But, now comes the daunting task of actually planning this adventure… Where do you even begin?! Since we have planned a big trip a time or two, I thought I would share a little timeline of some things that need to happen along the way [which by the way is a lot like planning a wedding, so if you’ve done that – you can do this!]. There’s some things I didn’t even realize I would have to think about, but trust me when I say it’s so much easier than you think. Plus as the months go on, it gets so much more exciting knowing you’ll be at your dream destination soon! All it takes is a little bit of research, a lot of patience, and a whole lot more coffee – So get your favorite mug ready and find a comfy place to sit and let your journey begin!
We started our planning about a year in advance. That’s when we started putting away all our pocket change and tips and really started diving into our research. This is also when we started really talking to people who had been to Europe and asking for advice and getting serious about what a month abroad would look like. This is a rough outline of some of the things to start doing while planning your own trip, but we hope it’s a good place for you to start! Obviously since we have experience with travel in Europe, this blog is primarily about European travel, but most applies to all countries and destinations!
1 year out :
• The funnest part – start to map out your top destinations! Let yourself dream! Make a list of all the places you’ve ever wanted to go – being realistic with your map comes later. For now, just write out all your top cities and if you have a travel partner going with you, have them do the same. As your planning goes on, this will help you weed out all the places that aren’t the same between you two or your destinations change slightly as the style of your trip comes to fruition. Along with your destinations, write out some stuff you’d like to see or things that are important to visit for you in that place. This way you can really determine if it’s someplace that will be worth visiting, and could make all the difference in spending money to see a country that has more things you’d like to see than another. Also think about the time you’d like to travel – are you going in the summer, winter, or shoulder season. I touched on this a little bit in my previous post of saving, but this can really affect your budgeting. A lot of people visit Europe in the summer or winter because thats when the weather is either the nicest or the ambience is the best because of Christmas. We decided to go in shoulder season, which just means we went in between the popular times knowing that the weather could be a little iffy and probably still a little chilly but the prices were the lowest.
• Determine your style of travel. This is one of the most important things you’re going to figure out for your adventure. It is going to help you make decisions on where to stay, where to eat, activities that you’ll partake in, everything! Are you on a cultural adventure or more of a leisurely, educational journey? Are you worried about hitting every museum in each place you’re in? Are you going to have a strict schedule and plan everyday or see where your day takes you? It’s important to figure this out because it will potentially change the outcome of your trip. Whether you realize it or not, there will be certain expectations you’ll have about how your trip is meant to go and if things don’t work out the way you “plan”, will you be able to handle the little stuff along the way?
• Start looking at flights. When looking for options go through an anonymous search engine so your searches aren’t tracked and that way prices won’t go up since you’re searching through the United States. Using a US search engine will be recognized by foreign airlines and agencies, therefore using an anonymous search engine will keep prices regulated and low. The search engine we usually use is DuckDuckGo. All our in-Europe flights were found through Skyscanner, and our actual flights to and from Europe we bought through Kayak. If you have an airline that you normally like to fly through, I would also check their websites and rates because sometimes they are a bit cheaper and offer more perks with cancelations and things of that nature. We ended up waiting until about 2 months before we left to buy our tickets, because we found that the prices were about the same, if not cheaper the closer our dates got. One thing I constantly did was enter a date one month away from today’s date and then I would compare it to the rate of six months to a year from my date currently. That way, I could see if it was cheaper to buy further in advance or if prices stayed relatively low when buying closer to departure.
This trip I actually bought our tickets through Norwegian’s actual site and got tickets for $200 each, one way. I now use the site Momondo to search for the best prices on tickets and I have signed up to get email alerts from Scott Key’s Cheap Flights. He scours the internet for cheap flights all around the world and is a great resource when seeking the cheapest times or places to go.
• Determine the amount of time you’re going to spend on your vacation, which also goes hand in hand with making a budget. If you haven’t already checked out our post on how to save check it out here: Sacrificial Saving – this is a good place to start when figuring out a budget and how much you will potentially spend on your trip. As you’re condensing your list of places to go, you can effectively and accurately determine the amount of per day money you’ll need during the duration of your travels. This part will get easier as the months go on and you will be able to be more realistic with your money when you start to actually plan what you’ll do during your days.
· along with planning budget, you can also decide if you’ll try for travel credit cards and points while planning. We personally haven’t done this, but is probably a good option if you have a lot of things you can pay off or a lot of paper bills that can just go on a card. We don’t have much of those so for us it’s not exactly smart to rack up a lot of expenses and open up tons of cards; but since I’m not well versed in this area you can find a lot of articles on Pinterest to help you out.
8 – 6 months out :
• Start to do your research on the political situations going on in the countries on your list. This could determine whether or not you will travel to certain areas of a country or even travel to that country at all. Make sure to check the government agencies, tourist safety, where any embassies are located, political unrest – those types of things. I would also say as a side note to check more than one source – sometimes the media isn’t the most honest, truest place to get information with political agendas and what nots, so look for unbiased accounts from other travelers or blogs and sources that maybe aren’t just the national news.
• Start to get your gear together! Or at least start to figure out what type of gear you’re going to need. All we took was a backpack, so we researched A LOT what we were going to take so we could effectively fit what we needed without over packing. When you determine your type of travel style, your gear will definitely reflect that. Decide whether you will be on the go and want the ease of having little so you can see much, or if you’re staying long term in one place and can handle carrying a suitcase around. I am an over packer but I was so proud of myself for only packing what I truly needed in my backpack and making it work. I am so thankful we decided to do our trip this way because it was so much easier to get around – especially with all our plane and train hopping, not to mention the couple times we had to sprint to our transportation. The single most helpful blog for planning what to bring was The Savvy Backpacker, specifically their post for a women’s packing list (found here). I adapted this list to fit my own personal needs and packed only what I needed in my own pack (my packing list found here). They also have a really helpful post on what type of backpack to use, and we used that to decide which ones we would buy. Their posts all across the board are helpful so make sure to check them out for all your planning needs! We bought our backpacks and packing cubes from eBags – when you sign up for their emails you automatically get a 10% coupon which will save you some moola! Some of the other places we love for gear are ::
REI – especially the online outlet, that’s where I bought my weatherproof hiking pants for 50% off! We also bought the membership to get some money back at the end of the year from our purchases. We bought our small daypack here and some odds and end travel items.
Sierra Trading Post – Probably our favorite store, ever!! We have one of these in Reno that we frequent just about every weekend to see what new deals they have. We’ve also bought some stuff online that we couldn’t find in store and instead of paying for shipping we can get it sent straight to the store. If you sign up for their coupons, they constantly send out 30 – 50% off coupons that can be used in store also. This is where we both bought Kenny’s shoes and jacket for waaaay cheap – I’ll have to write a whole separate post on his packing because he had some sweet gear that worked out really well for all his needs abroad. We also bought a lot of our shirts, socks, and undies here since they are so discounted and travel oriented.
We also frequented Amazon, our local outlet mall, and Ross of course! However, my biggest piece of advice is spending the money to get good travel “gear” over what may seem like fashionable travel apparel. It’s more important to have functionality and clothing that is designed for travel rather than something that you may think is more in fashion in any given country. Your Free People jacket may look really cute now, until it’s pouring down rain and you wish you had bought a better rain coat! You can still be cute and comfy, but steer clear of choosing those things over performance.
• Start learning some key phrases of each country you’ll be in. Most, if not all countries in Europe that we were in spoke English (with the exception of Poland) and it’s pretty easy to get around in a lot of countries if you don’t know the language fluently. But, it really does help you grasp a little more of the culture when you’re at least trying to communicate in the native tongue – even if it’s just to say thank you or please. Duolingo is a free resource to learn some easy expressions if you don’t have the money to buy Rosetta Stone, and my go to app while abroad was Google Translate for anything that we couldn’t figure out.
• Somewhere in between this time frame I would also start looking at the currency conversions in the countries that you’ll be traveling in. Most of the places we were in Europe are on the Euro which was pretty close to equal with the dollar, but the U.K.’s pound was 1.5 to the dollar and Eastern Europe was about 1 dollar to 25 of theirs. It’s important to check this often because this could determine some of the things you buy in advance or wait until you arrive at any given country. The conversions can fluctuate a lot in a year so I check them about once a month so that we can change our budget accordingly.
6 – 3 months out :
• During this timeframe you should start to get the skeleton of your itinerary framed out. It’s time to cut out countries that aren’t realistic and focus on the ones that are. Start to research/book rooms, tickets, tours and anything that will make your life easier while abroad. We didn’t know that all the tickets would be sold out of the Uffizi until we tried to buy them day of and learned that people buy their tickets months in advance. Some things can wait, but if you are really adamant on seeing/doing something I would be safe and get it all together before you leave.
• Get your electronics together! Are you going to bring a camera? GoPro? Computer? We decided on taking my mom’s Nikon point and shoot so we didn’t have to worry about bringing our nice camera with all our lenses. Our iPhones worked out quite well as a camera for us too. We also bought a big 128GB memory card so that we wouldn’t have to worry about running out of space. You’ll have to factor this into your luggage if you decide to bring a big camera kit and bring all the necessary parts and accessories. And if this is something you decide to lug around, I would make sure photography is in your top 3 priorities while traveling because space is so important.
We sold our Nikon this year and bought a Sony a6000 for our Europe trip and our future travels. We researched the best travel cameras and decided on the Sony for its compact size and amazing picture quality.
• About this time you should also decide if you’re going to add an international plan on your phone or if you’re going to link up to wifi for your whole trip. Pretty much every airport, train station, house, restaurant, and shop is equipped with wifi so we didn’t add anything to our phone plans and shut all our cellular data off while abroad. My favorite app for use abroad is called WhatsApp, a free messaging service that also allows for voice messaging, calling, and FaceTime when hooked up to wifi. I also know a couple people who only added international voice calling minutes while in Europe just for emergencies and ended up having to use it a couple times so it just depends on how much risk you’re willing to take with things like that. Calling internationally can be quite expensive, but may be worth it if something goes wrong. I would also order a plug converter from amazon or your local travel store, since the plug-ins are not the same across the world. Also look into whether you will need an electricity converter – you’ll have to check the voltage on the gear that you’re bringing and make sure that it is dual voltage which means it converts in the plug. Europe runs on 240V whereas the US usually runs off 120V so if you try to plug in something without dual voltage it will blow the circuit. The only plugs we had were for our iPhones and our camera which already had a voltage converter in the plug so we didn’t buy a converter, just the plug changer. I opted out of bringing anything for my hair like a straightener or blow dryer, but if you decided those are needed, make sure those are dual voltage or you have a converter otherwise they will just be wasted weight.
I wish I would have had this app our first Europe trip because it was so helpful. It’s called Maps.me and you can download city maps that are available offline. You can also search for things like restaurants or hotels while offline and you can even drop pins so you can find places while you’re out and about. It will route you from your current location to anywhere that you ask it to and tell you how long it will take to get there.
• PASSPORTS! Make sure you have one that is up to date and ready to go. Make sure you have one in general. It takes about 6 weeks to order one, unless you need one expressed and you can go to San Fran and spend way more money and time than needed to get a passport in one day.
1 month out :
• By this time I would have most, if not all your lodging booked. In one of my first posts I talked pretty extensively about some of the places that we used for sleeping, so I’ll just go into a quick little list of our favorites.
Airbnb – If you’re traveling with a spouse and paying for things jointly this is the route I would look at first. It’s a bit cheaper in some places than staying at a hostel and paying for two beds, plus it’s one of the best ways to get a local experience. (AND if you click on my link for Airbnb up there, you’ll get $20 off your first stay!)
Hostelworld – This is a great option to be right in the city centers and close to the public transportation. Plus, this is where you get to meet peeps from all over the world and connect with potentially life long friends!
Hotels.com – We used this one super last minute in Europe, but we also use this a lot back in the States. When you book 9 nights, you get a 10th one free!
Booking.com – This is one of the best websites for finding hotels, hostels, and even bed and breakfasts! Once you have five stays under your belt, you get 10% off all your stays and perks such as free breakfast or free bikes!
• Now is about the time you should have a for sure itinerary. You don’t have to have every little minute planned out, but you should at least know a) where you’re staying, b) how you’re getting there, and c) how you’re getting to the next country. That means you have it semi mapped out for plane rides and how to get to the airports, how to get to train stations and which stops to get off at for lodging, and if you need to rent a car how to get to/from the rental agency. We saved ourselves a lot of time and money by taking overnight buses into a couple cities which meant we didn’t have to buy a hostel room and we didn’t lose time traveling between countries during the days when we could be exploring. However, this also meant that we had to know what country we would be in next, a time frame for checking into rooms, and what to do with extra time since the buses usually get in at weird hours of the night into early morning. It can also be smart to buy your train tickets in advance since they sometimes sell out and especially important for budget airlines that require you to have your boarding pass printed out and ready to go – which can be really hard when you don’t have a computer or printer handy. The little details of the day can be as planned out as little or as much as you’d like. In some countries we had 2-3 things that were a must go and we let the rest of the days chips fall where they may. Things such as restaurants and places to shop we left up mostly to finding the day of and relied on locals to tell us their favorites.
• Tell your bank about the dates you’ll be gone and order currency. We decided that we wanted to take a couple hundred Euro with us so we had cash on hand when we flew into our first country. There are ATM fees abroad, which we had prepared for and factored into budgeting but it was worth it to only have a small amount of cash in hand should something happen or we get robbed or something. If you do decided to go the credit card route, when applying and picking a card I would definitely make sure that you apply for a card that has no foreign transaction fees. Trust me, it is so worth it – when you’re getting dinged $1-10 every time you use your card, you will be thankful you have one that waives those fees! We took 2 debit cards and 1 credit card each (from our joint account) and Kenny had a credit card from his previous bank as a back up. We really only ever used our credit card for anything we had to buy online like last minute train tickets or for some of our last minute hostels but we primarily used our debit card to take out money and then just payed for things with cash. Everyone has a different system and a way that is comfortable for them, but this is what worked best for us. Our bank had to order our Euro for us since they don’t keep it on hand, which took about a week and also had a fee of about $15 – I had a little rant to my banker about the fact that they are charging us a fee to exchange our own money to get our own money back in a different currency which makes absolutely no sense to me!
• Since your lodging and countries should be pretty solidified by now, here’s some advice on transportation. The only time we used plane travel was when we were flying from Ireland → Scotland (and back) and from Ireland → Belgium because it is the only way to get there. When we were on more “mainland” Europe, we took primarily buses and trains. Although it seems better because it may be faster than ground transportation, air travel takes a lot away in the sense of what you get to see. It is so much more of an experience to see the rolling hills and landscape of different countries than seeing the normal cloud scene from plane, and it’s a completely different experience taking an overnight bus and getting stopped by German authorities for an hour and dealing with drunk Berliners at 4 am – these types of things will certainly be determined when you decide your style of travel. When I was setting our countries in place, I had a notebook next to me that I wrote down all the ways of travel and their cost in while I was researching. This helped me determine the fastest, cheapest, and most conducive form of transportation. The most helpful website that saved me so much time was Rome2Rio – a site that shows you all the prices to get from one destination to the other by plane, train, bus, and car! SO EASY. It works in the same way as Skyscanner where it gathers all the info and then takes you to the actual website of the travel company. Here’s a list of some of the transportation we used while abroad:
I may have also mentioned in an earlier blog about Eurail, which is basically buying a train pass for unlimited rail use in an allotted number of countries. They have a couple different pass types – ones that you can use in four to twenty eight different countries – but when we started to add up the prices of our other buses and train rides, we decided it was more cost effective to just buy the tickets individually than buy it on the Eurail. However, I would recommend this if you planned on staying in one or two countries and traveling to all the different regions, or even up to four or five countries and traveling within the borders of those. The prices go up the more days you use it, but if you are staying under two weeks, it could work out to be a bit cheaper in one given country. You can use all the resources I have provided and get a general idea of what it would cost to travel around and then determine the best transportation methods and what works best in your budget.
* One side note with transportation and lodging – in a lot of countries, if you are under the age of 25, you are considered “youth”, so the prices are a lot cheaper. Make sure to check that box when looking things up, and also check the fine print on hostels, because sometime they do not allow anyone over that age if they are considered a “youth hostel”.
This year, we actually bought a train youth card called OBB Vorteilscard in Austria. It cost us about $20 each, but literally saved us hundreds of dollars. It gives you 50% off train travel throughout Austria and 25% on all cross border rail travels. If you plan on using train a lot in one country and are under the age of 26 I would definitely look into these!
• Gather a list of bills and things that will need to be paid while away. If there’s anything that you pay by mail, either have it set up so that someone sends them out for you or consider switching to online billing. Especially keep track if you take a credit card that will need to be paid and make sure you have internet access; we made sure we had most of our bills taken out by direct deposit and we left any bills that couldn’t be paid online with my mom so she could do it for us.
2 weeks out :
• Time to pack and condense, condense, CONDENSE! This is the most important part if you’re taking only a backpack, probably a little less hard if you’re taking bigger luggage. I condensed about 3 times and ended up ditching a few things I thought I was dead set on bringing. It ended up coming down to how many times I could wear it, how many things it coordinate with, and how effective it would be with the elements of weather. We practiced walking around with our packs on our back for awhile to see how we could handle all the stuff we packed and continued to condense on the things we didn’t ultimately need. There was even some stuff that I thought I was going to take that I ended up getting rid of because it wouldn’t work so don’t worry if your wardrobe condenses to less than you thought it would. I took a lot let than I thought I was going to and when I came home, I wanted to get rid of my entire wardrobe because it felt so freeing to only have 10 outfits while away! Now one thing I did do was take two different pairs of shoes, which made things a little tight for my pack and in turn made Kenny have to carry some of the “extras” in his pack. I can’t stress enough how important it is to have good shoes that will free up having to take multiple pairs of shoes for different terrain like I did. This time around I’ll focus a little more on bringing an all around functional shoe so I can free up a little more room for more important items.
• Print out EVERYTHING needed while abroad. This means reservations to transportation, plane tickets, lodging, directions, phone numbers, and everything in between. I kept a folder in my backpack of all the papers that we needed and kept everything in chronological order for easy access.
I still printed everything out to have just in case, but I also downloaded all the apps I could for train, bus, and lodging reservations. All of them I could use offline plus was a lot easier than having to find the paper reservation from our backpacks.
week of :
• Get your playlist together – SERIOUSLY! This is important; it will come in handy when you are on long plane, train, and bus rides where you need some entertainment. And it will create a certain nostalgia when you make it back to the homeland. Podcasts are also something to consider downloading; any of the podcasts you are subscribed to will automatically download on wifi so you can listen to them when offline. Along with your music, bring along a little journal so you can reflect on what you do during the day – especially if you want to write down any things you want to remember, from restaurant names to museums to works of art. I have since lost both of my Europe journals, but it was so fun to be able to read about our memories and reminisce on some of the little details that can be easily forgettable in the midst of the big moments.
• Check into any flights – especially any budget airlines that require a printed out boarding pass – and also your international flights! Put everything in your folder of reservations and put it somewhere safe until you officially take off.
• From this point, all you have to do is settle your nerves and get ready for your dream trip! Enjoy time with your friends and family, triple check all your stuff, and relax until you finally get to board the plane and embark on your adventure!
Anything else you add to your timeline when planning your own trip? Let us know in the comments below!
Happy planning ya’ll!