I'm obviously a bit of a trip planning junky. Crazy as it may seem, I enjoy hours of research, haggling for prices, researching destinations, figuring out local transportation and picking my own tours. One reason I like doing this is that I genuinely enjoy the challenge and it also allows me to customize, but the most important factor is money. I find that with a bit of research and using all available resources I can dramatically reduce the cost of any trip with the do it yourself approach. Honestly, with the use of the internet and advice from other travellers, I don't understand how traditional travel agents stay in business!
After having planned countless trips I have developed a sort of pattern or steps to take before I take off for the great unknown....
1. Decide on the Destination
This might seem obvious, but with so many awesome places in the world to visit, this can be a bit of a challenge. My destinations are sometimes based on where I want to visit but also on my available time, my budget, or my need to be in a particular place for work or family.
2. Work out a rough itinerary of major stops
Depending on where I'm going I like to decide on some of the key places I would like to visit. For instance, three summers ago I was headed to China to teach but spent two week afterwards going to Beijing, Guilin, Kho Phi Phi, Bangkok and Bali.
3. Book flights and/or ground transportation
I usually spend quite a bit of time looking for the most economical or safest modes of transport. I like to compare all of the major booking sites and check for any budget airlines in particular areas. Watching the prices for a couple of weeks is always a good idea. I tend to book on a Tuesday as flights are supposedly cheapest on Tuesdays and for International flights I find about 4 months before departure to be good. I like Ryan Air in Europe and Air Asia in Asia for low prices. Low prices aren't always the way to go though...a couple of years ago a opted to forego a ridiculously low priced Air Maylasia flight and instead took Air Qatar just for piece of mind since this was shortly after Air Maylasia suffered a series of unfortunate mishaps.
4. Research and book accommodation
After ending up in some rather dodgy places, I spend a lot of time checking out reviews and recommendations for hotels, hostels, B and Bs. I tend towards the more modest establishments and have found some real gems this way. Different booking sites do have different prices so be sure to shop around. I tend to like booking.com and Agoda for Asia but I always contact the establishment directly to see if I can get a better price. I've tried AirBNB a few times but have actually found the prices to be more than other booking sites.
5. Send all my itinerary to my Tripit account
I absolutely love my Tripit account. I use the free account and love the ability to quickly check all of my information at a glance.
6. Research activities, restaurants, and places to visit
I like to have a rough idea of some of the activities I want to do in a particular area but I also leave my self some spontaneous time. I record my must do items on my Tripit itinerary.
7. Decide on local transport and make sure I know the costs
Sometimes you just want someone waiting at the airport with your name on a sign but at other destinations it is just as easy to take the local bus and it is much cheaper!
8. Organize my electronics
Load PDF copies of all bookings, maps, tickets, etc onto my iPad and into one of my Cloud accounts...just in case. Make sure my iPhone is unlocked and I know where to get a local SIM Card as soon as I land. (I'm a bit addicted to my data plan!) Load books onto my iPad...a must! (Thank goodness I don't need to lug around paper books with me any more) I enjoy reading novels or any books that pertain to my destination both before and during my trips...it really makes things more interesting if you have a bit of schema to rely on! I also make sure I have the right adaptors, convertors, cords and whatnot for what I'm taking. Generally, I travel with my iPad and iPhone so things are pretty straight forward as these can handle any voltage but I do still need an adaptor for outlets.
9. Organize clothes and any medications I'm going to be taking
I also check out the vaccinations recommended for certain destinations and then ask my GP to give me the necessary scripts...saves on going to a Travel Clinic! I like to pack clothes according to my rule of three...three items of each type of clothing...one to wear, one clean and one I have washed. I have learned through experience that I always end up wearing only a few items while away and having five or six types of footwear to choose from isn't worth lugging a huge suitcase. Being able to avoid checking in luggage is well worth forgoing a closet full of clothing options!
10. Tie up any loose ends
Making sure all my bills are up to date, someone is taking care of my house (and cats), having someone at home having a copy of my itinerary, and organizing my transport to and from the airport just makes me feel more relaxed when I'm away.
After all of this planning, expect the unexpected and have fun! Bon Voyage!