4-Step Guide on How to Plan the Perfect Trip
So, You Want to Travel? Great Choice!
Travelling is amazing for so many reasons, but starting the planning process can be daunting! Luckily, I'm here to help. As someone who has planned many trips—both solo and with friends—I've narrowed the planning process down considerably, and I always start with the same four questions:
- Where do you want to go?
- Who do you want to go with?
- When are you going? (And how long for?)
- How much can you afford?
Together we will tackle these questions and get you on your way to planning your first adventure. Let's get to it!
Step 1: Decide Where You Want to Go
There are two ways of reading that sentence:
- "Yay! Let's get started! I'm excited, let the adventure begin!"
- "URGH! Can't I just get on the plane already?!"
Whichever one strikes a chord with you, fear not! You can adapt these steps to what is best for you! (Disclaimer: This will only work if you are realistic and honest with yourself!)
Now, I love maps—of the world, of cities, of places in general. So my "Step 1" naturally involves grabbing a map of the world and laying it out in front of me! I wholeheartedly recommend that you do the same.
Have a look at the map you choose and cover up anywhere that you have no interest in visiting right now. Simply continue covering up places until you've narrowed down your search!
If my map technique doesn't feel right to you, here are a few other options:
- Ask your friends for their top travel recommendations!
- Think back to the setting of your favorite book, movie, or TV show, and go there!
- Do a little research online to see if there's a particular destination that appeals to you.
- See where ticket prices are cheapest!
Step 2: Figure Out Who Is Going
There are basically two options here:
- You (alone)
- You (with a friend/group)
There are pros and cons to both (and the pros of one seem to be the cons of the other), so it all comes down to preference.
Pros of Travelling Alone:
- More potential to learn/grow (in my opinion)
- Having to figure things out yourself
- Forces you to be more social
Pros of Travelling With Others:
- Safety in numbers
- Less individual responsibility for planning
- Can reduce costs for shared accommodation, etc.
- Already have friends
- Can figure things out together
When I first went travelling alone, I was scared that I wouldn't make any friends; it turns out that I often found it more difficult to tell people I needed alone time!
How Does the "WHO" Change Your Planning?
Safety: Avoid places you'll feel unsafe.
Group Interests: Avoid places that not everyone will like.
Meeting People: Avoid places that are too touristy/remote.
Group Dynamic: Avoid places that don't fit your group's dynamic (e.g. do you want to party all night long? Or hike all day long?).
Challenge: Avoid places that are too similar/different to home, depending on the challenge you want (cultural difference/language, etc.).
Organisation: Avoid places that will be logistically challenging for the group (maybe look at package tours for groups bigger than 4?).
Step 3: Decide When You Want to Go
There are two real questions within this section:
a) How long are you free for?
b) What time of year will you be travelling?
Step 3a: How long are you free for?
This question should make you think about how long you want to be away and how far you are able to go. After all, time is very limiting! You don't want to spend half of your hard-won vacation time getting to and from your destination!
If you have a week off work and want to travel, I’d suggest somewhere that isn’t going to take too long to get to (e.g. travelling from London to Bali for a week is probably not worth it (even though Bali is amazing), so you're probably better off looking for somewhere closer).
If I'm having trouble deciding on a destination, I often look at flight times and think about what my time is worth and how much I want to see. Seeing many places in a short time means moving around a lot. Seeing a few places for a long time gives you more time to take in the culture . . . but you see fewer places!
If your schedule permits, allowing your plans to remain flexible can be a real treat. I recently went to Belgrade and booked 3 nights to explore the city. Over two weeks later, the receptionist of Hedonist Hostel, booked me a shuttle to Bosnia Herzegovina because the hostel was fully booked. I like to take my time and move on when I am ready.
If there are places you want to go but don’t have time to see on this trip, save them for another trip!
My Rough Preference Guide (Flight Time vs. Backpacking Time)
4 days +
1 week +
3 weeks +
7 hours +
1–1.5 months +
Step 3b: What time of year will you be travelling?
Looking for sun in January? Avoid Sweden! Looking for snow at Christmas? Avoid New Zealand!
Not all countries have four seasons in the same way as the UK. A quick Google search will show you when the best times to visit a country are. Important seasons (other than summer, autumn, winter and spring) to look out for are the following:
- Wet/Dry season
- Monsoon season
- Hurricane season
Step 4: Set a Realistic Budget
When planning a trip, it's critical to ask yourself how much you can actually afford (and answer honestly!). Here are a few main factors to consider:
- Getting there (plane/bus/train)
- Travel Insurance
- Getting around
On average, I have found that around £40 ($52) a day is more than enough (after arrival). Depending on the destination, however, this figure might shift considerably; for example, it is possible to travel in Thailand for just £5 ($6.50) a day.
Hostel (With Breakfast)
Food (2 Meals—Streetfood)
Walking Around Markets
Hopefully, there are still areas of your map uncovered! If you have a lot left, then you are lucky—it is time to start putting together combinations of places and figure out which ones really spark your excitement!
My sole aim is to help you plan a trip. Please leave a comment below if you liked the article, think I missed something or want information about another aspect of travel! Bon voyage!
Questions & Answers
© 2019 Antony Pilkington