People often ask how I plan such spectacular trips. Like many of you, we have limited time and money so when we do go on a trip it really needs to be fantastic. I truly love to plan travel, ALMOST as much as I love to travel. If you are willing to put in the work required to plan your trip on your own it will be 100% personalized and everything you’ve dreamed about rolled into one big fantastical adventure made just for YOU.
Planning a big trip can be daunting but I’ve broken my travel planning routine down into 6 simple steps to make this your best trip ever, and included valuable travel planning resources to make it a bit easier.
Table of Contents
How to plan your dream trip in 6 simple steps!
If you’d like to print my free “6 simple steps to planning your dream trip
trip” vacation planning checklist before you get started you can skip there by clicking the link, then come back here and I’ll explain the steps in greater depth.
Step 1: Build a framework
Build a framework for your trip by learning as much as you can about your destination. Study it! it’s fun!
I’m about to fill you in on the best way to make a framework for your trip but first do this. Get a map, most travel books come with them or just print one off of the internet. As you go through your research process and find something of interest mark it down on your map.
Here’s mine. Notice how I added some things in Switzerland and Austria that weren’t far off of our driving route through Germany? That’s how our Germany trip morphed into a two-week highlight packed Germany/Switzerland/Austria trip. We didn’t have to go far out of our way and the destinations were worth a little extra driving.
Now let’s talk about how you find those fantastic stops to fill out your itinerary. I’ve listed the two best types of sources for planning your best trip.
There are lots of good travel guides on the market but these are two of my favorites:
- Rick Steves guidebooks. MY ABSOLUTE FAVORITE GO TO GUIDES FOR EUROPE. In Rick’s own words, he “gives you all of the information & suggestions necessary, for wringing the maximum value out of your limited time and money!” and that my friends, is exactly what your goal should be. Check out this article and I’ll explain why I wouldn’t even attempt to plan a trip to Europe without Rick’s guides: Rick Steve’s Travel Guides, BUY THE BOOK and make your dreams happen.
Dedicated travel sites for your destination. Go to the official travel website for your chosen destination, such as www.chateauversailles.fr, www.colorado.com, or www.ireland.com. A quick “visit ___blank___” google search should do the trick. They list virtually everything you need to know about a destination and many of them will still mail you a paper travel guide.
A picture is worth 1,000 words: The importance of photos.
If you’re using a book and it doesn’t have photos be sure to google them. The description of this church in York England didn’t really grab me, but when I saw photos, I knew I had to see it!
a quick note on images: I prefer the images in Google Maps over the ones found in Google Images. Google Images seems to come back with random results while the photos in Google Maps seem to be more reliable.
Social Media: Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest etc. Once you have decided on a destination (or destinations! I always have a long list) start following related pages on social media for inspiration.
- Atlas Obscura is another great option for planning travel. They catalog unusual and obscure travel destinations.
- Don’t forget designated travel sites. Most every city/state/country has their own website with comprehensive travel information.
- Blogs! I write a blog because I myself use them in my travel planning and find them enormously helpful! Don’t skip blog articles when you run across them in your research. You’ll get insider information most often with photos.
- tripadvisor– after I know exactly where I am going to be the next thing I do is search “best things to do in…” (or something similar) and go directly to the tripadvisor results. This way you will be certain not to miss anything important!
Step 2: additional resources
Don’t stop now! keep building your itinerary with additional resources for planning your best trip.
You probably thought you were done and you probably have a pretty darn good trip in the works by now but I’m here to tell you, you CAN keep going! Remember the more planning you do the better your trip will be and you’ll be less likely to miss anything. As much as I love my guidebooks they are NOT my final step in trip planning.
Here are a few of my favorite resources for filling out my itinerary.
Let’s talk about Google Maps.
I couldn’t plan a trip without google maps. It allows you to plug in several destinations at once, which makes planning out your stops a snap. I love the “street view.” Select this feature and you can virtually drive the street, lane, or highway! Occasionally they even allow you down a trails! I have been able to add more scenic drives to my trip based on what I saw while “driving” the route on google maps street view!
Here’s a ridiculously helpful feature of google maps that allows you to really go that extra mile and make sure you don’t miss any neat spots. Bring up google maps and follow along your route in the “map view.” Notice the little icons on the map. They represent food, lodging, attractions, etc. along your route. This tool allows me to add exciting elements to my trip that are in the vicinity and I didn’t even know about!
Videos are a great tool. I’ve made travel decisions based on video content Some things you just need to see like an alpine coaster, a mountain lift, or a scenic train to decide if it is a yay or a nay.
“Last minute additions can make a trip!”
Pictured below are a few of my last minute additions. They came to me through one channel or another before our departure and turned out to be some of my favorite places on the planet! Go the extra mile (pun intended!) with your travel planning and it will pay off in dividends!
The first two photos are of the Black Valley in Ireland. Want to know more? I’ve got you covered? check out this article! How to see the Black Valley Ireland: Ireland’s Secret Treasure (with photos!)
These next two photos are from an adventure on Ebenalp Mountain in Switzerland. Want to know more? I have all the details you need here: Wasserauen Ebenalp Switzerland, unique experiences and stunning scenery.
Step 3: find accommodations and restaurants
The next step in planning your dream trip is to find accommodations and restaurants that fit your style.
I’m kind of picky about where I stay and where I eat. My tastes run along the lines of cozy, quaint, and packed full of personality… somewhere that transports me, if only briefly, to another place and time. I love to immerse myself in the local culture and naturally the food and service need to be good. Here’s how I find amazing places to stay and eat that suit my “tastes.
Booking.com is my favorite place to search for accommodations. They are a one stop shop, so to speak, for most of your needs. They list hotels, vacation homes, bed and breakfasts, and everything in between. Their map view is a useful tool.
start searching now!
Expert tip: If you are an American Airlines Advantage member, go to booking.com through the AAadvantage shopping portal, and earn 4 points per dollar on your Booking.com stays! Want to learn how to earn free airfare and hotel stays? check out this post: Fly free with points: save thousands of dollars, and make your travel dreams a reality!)
This is probably my favorite Booking.com stay to date:
The 700 year old Gotisches Haus (The Gothic House) in Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Germany. Learn more here: First time in Rothenburg? How to make the most of your trip!
Where to eat
Trip Advisor. Google “best places to eat, in____” then choose the Trip Advisor results. They list all the restaurants in town, ranked from best to worst based on reviews. The photo feature is my favorite part. When choosing where to eat, the taste and quality of the food are most important to me, but atmosphere is as well. The photos really give you a feel for a place.
Step 4: get answers to your questions!
You are going to have questions along the way. Trying to decide on Edinburgh vs. Glasgow? Which Virgin Island should I visit? Best way to get from London Heathrow to King’s Cross Station? Here are some ways that you can get answers to those questions and more.
- Trip Advisor, often one of the first results in a google search, is always a good source of information like this. You’ll get answers to your questions from people who are in the know. Simply ask google and navigate to the tripadvisor query result.
- Blogs don’t forget about blogs. They are full of useful information!
- Go straight to the source. With today’s technology it is easier than ever to get answers. Call, email, message. Just ask!
Step 5: add on cultural experiences.
I like to call this one “when in Rome.”
When in Germany…schnitzel, and brats are where it’s at. Give them a try! Scotland? try the haggis and Scotch eggs. England? afternoon tea! Switzerland? Fondu and a Mountain lift! Whatever it may be, don’t forget to experience the uniqueness of your destination.
Step 6: get organized
organize your travel planning with google docs!
So, you made a note a year and a half ago on a photo of a must see beach. Now you can’t find it. Here is how I organize myself:
Start a Google Docs document for travel/itineraries. I have lots of them. “The United States,” “Tropical Locations,” “Switzerland”…..etc. Whenever I see something that sparks my interest, I make a note in my google doc. It just takes seconds to pull it up later because these documents are searchable.
What is Google Docs? it is a document processing tool, that works with Google Drive, a cloud type of storage, that allows you to store files on a server. You can create word processing documents (similar to Microsoft Word), spreadsheets and more!
You have access to your documents anywhere you are!!!! from your phone, laptop, home computer etc!
I’ve created a free printable checklist for planning a trip with these 6 simple steps for planning your dream trip. Feel free to print it, download it, and use it when planning your next big trip.
Here is a free pdf download of my planning a vacation checklist.
There you have it! How to plan your dream trip in 6 simple steps!
That my friends is how I plan my epic bucket worthy and frankly any old trip in 6 simple steps. I hope you’ll find them useful in planning your very best trip. Good luck! enjoy! and don’t forget your passport!
travel planning resources
Check out these other travel related posts:
can’t travel now? plan a trip anyway!
Even if you can’t travel the act of planning a trip is actually good for your mental health. There are a number of reasons why planning travel is good for you, not the least of them being because it’s fun! It is also a great distraction from life’s stresses, you’ll get a mood boost and more! Want to know more about the health benefits of travel? find out what they are here: Can’t Travel? Plan Travel! 6 great reasons why travel planning is good for you.
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