Useful tools for planning and funding your dream vacation! where to start!
Updated: Apr 21
People often ask how I plan such spectacular trips, I mean they are pretty fantastic! Like many of you, we have limited time and money so when we do go on a trip, it really needs to be just that, fantastic. I am, by no means, an expert on any subject, travel included. However, I love to plan travel, ALMOST as much as I love to travel! I have picked up a few tips and tricks along the way. Here is how you can plan your dream trip too!
(I may mention Europe a lot, because I love it so, but most all of these tips work for anywhere you want to go!)
How to pay for your trip
Save a little.
Have dreams of dining on a moonlit night, while gazing at the Eiffel Tower lit up the distance? Skiing the magnificent Alps? Walking the streets that emperors walked in Rome? What's standing in your way??? Money you say? It may seem a lofty goal to save enough money for the trip of your dreams, yet it is something that is attainable for most people.
So basically, you put away a little money each time you get paid. Obviously, the more you can tuck away the better, but be consistent. When we first decided we wanted to visit Europe, my husband and I each agreed to put away just $25 per week, so total $2,600 per year. Because our travel tastes aren't extravagant, we had enough to go after just two years of saving! If you can make the commitment to do this, and have some patience, eventually you WILL have enough to take the trip of your dreams.
It may not cost as much as you think.
I find that the exchange rate with European currency is rarely favorable to the dollar. However, in my experience, with the exception of Switzerland, I have been very pleasantly surprised with the prices in Europe. Lodging, food, drinks, transportation, entertainment, etc. most always are much lower than we pay here in the US. Of course, this will vary from place to place. Do your research.
One of the biggest expenses you will have. when traveling overseas, is your airfare. We decided to sign up for a travel rewards card, American Airlines in our case. In the span of just 3 years, we have earned enough miles to fly to Europe in high season 6-8 times! Read my article on How to Travel for Free with points.
Another big expense is lodging. If you can split costs with a friend, or two, or more! it becomes much more affordable. Besides, isn't everything better with a friend?!
You have a lot money tied up in your trip. You should give serious consideration to purchasing travel insurance. I highly recommend purchasing a plan that has a "cancel for any reason clause." Most travel insurance plans do not cover pandemics. With a "cancel for any reason" plan, you will be covered for no matter what arises, including "we changed our mind and don't want to go." NOTE: These type of policies usually have to be purchase between 14-21 days of your initial trip payment. In the past, I have used TravelInsurace.com to shop for travel insurance, where you can get quotes from top rated insurers. See their "cancel for any reason" search option.
Now that you know how you are going to pay for, and insure your trip, it is time to get down to the fun part, the planning!
When To Start
Start your planning as early as possible. I spend a lot of time planning my trips. That time spent planning, translates into a trip we were glad we took, and glad to have spent the money on.
Pictured below are last minute additions, inspired by travel photos on Facebook. I had an itinerary lined out, and as if it were meant to be, we were already going to be in the neighborhood of these fantastic places. They turned out to be some of my favorite places on the planet! I guess what I am saying is, when planning your dream trip, go the extra mile, so to speak. It will pay off in dividends!
Build your wish list.
I ALWAYS have my feelers out. See something that sparks your interest on a friends post? Go ahead and ask, "dude, where are you???"
Then....make a note!!!! 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? I mean it could be anywhere right? Here is how I organize myself.
Start a Google Docs document for travel. I have lots of them. "The United States," "The World," "Switzerland".....you get the picture. Whenever I see something that sparks my interest, I open the corresponding document, and "jot down" a note. It takes seconds. You will thank me for it later.
What is Google Docs? it is a document processing tool, that works with Google Drive. Google Drive is a cloud type of storage, that allows users to store files on their servers. You can create word processing documents (similar to Microsoft Word), spreadsheets and more!
Also, how handy is this???? You have access to your documents anywhere you are!!!! Once, I was at a book sale at the library. I quickly pulled up my "books to read/books I have read" document on my phone, to make sure I wasn't buying something I have already read!
Read More about Google Docs here and Google Drive. If you have a droid phone, you probably already have a Google Drive...go find it. You might be surprised to find that every photo you have taken, since the beginning of (cell phone) time, is on your Google Drive! If you don't have one, here are instructions for signing up for a free Google account.
Where to start
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. Read my article on Rick's travel guide: Rick Steve's Travel Guides, BUY THE BOOK and make your dreams happen.
Lonely Planet has good travel guides. Rick mostly concentrates on Europe, so when I get to something on my list that isn't in Europe, I'll be using Lonely Planet.
I always read my guidebook in front of the computer. Google each new subject, look at pictures, they will help you decide if something is a must see. For instance, the description of this church in York England didn't seem all that impressive, but when I looked it up in Google Map Photos, I knew I had to see it!
Social Media: Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest etc. Once you know where you will be, start following related pages on social media for inspiration. Here is where you will see that Instagram worthy photo of something that is a must see or do. For example, I follow "York England" "Discover Tasmania" "Fiji" "Visit Barbados" and MANY more.
Atlas Obscura is another great option for planning travel. They catalog unusual and obscure travel destinations via user-generated content. I like their map feature, love the site!
Don't forget designated travel sites. Most every city and site has their own website.
Old School resources:
Consider using a travel agent. We are those "pick up a car, hit the road, do our own thing" kind of people. I was telling a friend that I didn't plan on traveling to Mexico anymore, because it didn't feel safe driving around on our own. She told me that when they go to Mexico, they book excursions, which is a safer option. She said that they to plan group trips to Mexico, with a travel agent, and get group rates!
After I have collected information, I make up an itinerary that looks something like this. (It may look complicated but it is easy to do in Word or Google Docs, open your document, "insert table" and off you go!)
My favorite Useful planning tools
A picture is worth 1,000 words.
As I said before, don't just read about it, see it! I prefer the images in Google Maps over Google Images. Google Images seems to come back with random results, it may or may not be the place you are looking for. The photos in Google Maps seem to be more reliable.
Let's talk about Google Maps.
I can't plan a trip without it. It allows you to plug in several destinations at once, which makes planning a snap. I love the "street view" feature! Is a road scenic enough to go out of your way? Choose the street view and you can literally drive the road!
Once your itinerary is set, Bring up google maps and follow along your route in the "map view." You will see food, lodging, and attractions along your route. This tool allows me to get the biggest bang for our buck, by adding exciting elements to my trip, that are already on our route!
Videos are a great tool. I added this to my France itinerary after watching this video. I really can't wait to see this for myself!
Where to stay
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. They have a map view, which is a useful tool.
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 my blog 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:
Where to eat
Trip Advisor. Google "best places to eat, in____" then choose the Trip Advisor results. They list all of the restaurants in town, ranked from best to works, based on reviews. I like that they include a photo. 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.
Have a question? any question?
Trying to decide on Edinburgh vs. Glasgow? Which Cayman Island should I visit? Best way to get from London Heathrow to King's Cross Station? Google it.
Trip Advisor is always a good source of information like this. You will get good information from locals....people who have done it, people who know.
Blogs, sometimes you will get lucky, and someone wrote a blog about it! Not finding answers? you can always Call, email, message. Just ask!
"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! Can you tell I like to eat? oh dear. Make sure you experience the uniqueness of the place you are visiting, whatever it may be.
Well that's it for my advice. Good luck! enjoy! and don't forget your passport!
Check out these other travel related posts: