For those that know me somewhat well, I am very opposed to having long drawn out plans for traveling. I prefer a more whimsical, very light planning approach to travel. This has worked out great for my style of travel, but it has also burned me in some situations as well. There is no right or wrong approach to travel, but whatever fits your personality and style is the best choice for you. Some of the greatest stories and places I have been have often been due to not having set plans, or not driving from destination to destination, but instead opting to explore off on my own and wander down paths that weren't originally in my itinerary.
But for the purposes of this article, and for the sake of trying something new, I am going to do something a little bit different for my next travel. In April of 2017 (so obviously prior to the writing of this article) I am going to plan out my trip more in depth, more than I usually do and reflect on some of those steps I take!
The simple part (though not always) is determining where you want to go.
Some things to keep in mind when determining where:
What season you are visiting in
Low tourist season verse high (This will impact cost and also availability of hotel rooms/hostels/or campgrounds among other aspects of a trip)
Special events or holidays in said region.
Need for visas or special permits (for this trip I needed to arrange for a hard to get permit from the Havasupai Tribe in Arizona to hike to a iconic waterfall.)
Necessary vaccinations (Don't want to get infected with some lovely disease in the jungle!)
Trip financing (How much money do you have to allocate on said trip?)
Duration of stay (Will it be enough time?)
What to bring
Flight aspects/ground transportation etc
These are some of the main aspects that should pop up in your mind when you begin selecting a place to go. These all can have a big impact on whether or not your trip is a memorable one, or a nightmare. Though, I feel like few nightmare trips ever truly happen.
Generally when I do a trip, I try to go off season. I feel like you get the best pricing for accommodation, transportation, food, and more! If you are like most people, you probably enjoy a location more when less people are at an attraction as well. If you go off season to say a scenic waterfall, there will be less people standing around taking selfies to wreck your picturesque landscape. Its absolutely terrible when you are at a very calming scenic spot and having a massive tour bus unload 40-60 people all at once. Goodbye peaceful scenic views, hello screaming kids running around and people getting in the way of photos you are trying to take!
One note for going off season. You may need to bring more gear to accommodate for poor weather conditions. Some places may be closed, and access to some areas may also be closed. Research the specific area ahead of time and make sure whatever you are hoping to do will still be possible!
After your destination has been decided, next comes the fun part, or the stressful part! Planning everything out and figuring out how much your bank account is going to be drained.
First comes figuring out how to get to your destination. With this trip I have been planning to the south west desert region, the first step was figuring out how I am going to get there (by plane). One of the more common questions people ask me is how do I search for flights. There are a lot of websites, and a lot of articles talking about how to get the cheapest flights. I feel as if I do a decent job of doing this. But i think there is no set guaranteed way to get the cheapest flight to your destination. I kind of think these complex algorithms that airlines use to calculate ticket prices fluctuate and change so often that there is no one website or no certain day of the week that tickets can be bought at the cheapest.
I think the best method to finding the best price is checking multiple flight search engines, writing down, and comparing prices. Also to get the best possible price, be flexible on days as well as times you choose to fly out. For my Arizona trip, I was looking at a price range of about $150-$400 USD total for a round trip flight. I ended up with the $150 ticket. This even includes a departure on a weekend day.
So all in all, I think it's best just to compare multiple search engines and check directly from an airline. My favorite go to website for flights/hotels/cars to this day is still Orbitz. I know other people prefer other websites such as Travelocity, Expedia, or Kayak as well. I will often times write down prices, check multiple airlines, check multiple websites, for up to a month sometimes and generally get a good glimpse of the varying prices.
Prices will change throughout the week if you are just browsing prices. Don't get too panicked if a flight for $200 suddenly jumps up to $400. It will probably go back down eventually, unless you are very near to the day you are flying out.
If you start seeing the same low price day after day or week after week, that's probably about as low as its going to go. Take the plunge and buy that ticket.
Planning your trip
Aside from the confusing aspects of finding the cheapest flights, the majority of the planning will be figuring out what you want to do at your destination. Depending on the type of trip I am going on (lengthier stays and or foreign countries) I always buy a travel map and at least one guide. My usual go to is Lonely Planet. I love their guide books. They are good quality, and they also have lots of great tips on specific countries.
If you are in the United States(for my United States readers anyways), and know you will have good service, a map may not be necessary, but usually if I ever go anywhere overseas, a good old fashion map can do wonders. No worries about GPS signal, data usage, or batteries running out with a map! Its a good tool to have in a mostly digital time.
Aside from guide books, I will also frequently search the internet for blogs and websites relating to a specific area. I will look for other's first hand knowledge of a region, and look at their pictures and recommendations. TripAdvisor, Couchsurfing, Fodors, Lonely Planet are just some of these great websites. They can really get you in touch with people from the region, or people who are experienced in a said region. This is a great way to find some hidden gems and or great helpful hints.
I also will frequently look at Google images for examples of areas that I am going to. It also helps me figure out what type of photography I want to do at a destination, and where some good photo opportunities may exist. I have spent hours upon hours at work and at home daydreaming while looking at Google images of areas I am going or have been!
Planning a trip has never been easier than it is now. The internet has provided a lot of great tools and insight for learning out about your specific travel destination, and it does a lot of the work for you. It's really quite wonderful.
Always remember to know whether or not its going to be busy where ever you are heading. If it is busy, it would be wise to book accommodation ahead of time. I often do not take this approach when I am overseas due to the abundance of hostels, but in the United States hostel's aren't as common.
Bringing the right travel gear
If you are heading off into the mountains, desert, a beach resort, or a major city, each area will present it's difficulties and necessary accessories to bring with in order to have a successful trip. Bringing dress shirts and fancy pants won't get you very far in the mountains.
For those who are going to be doing a more rugged and adventurous type of trip, I recommend taking a stop at a nearby REI store. The prices are a bit higher, but they have great quality equipment, and in general it is a pretty neat store. They also have some pretty cool membership benefits. Its only $20 to become a lifetime member at REI, and it pays for itself pretty quickly. Included in its benefits is invitations to their yearly garage sales where you can find some pretty extensive discounts on returned and lightly used gear. REI is definitely one of my favorite stores to shop at. One good runner up to REI would be my favorite online store for travel gear, Moose Jaw.