As I wrote it on 24 June 2014 and some additional insights I learned in the last 4 years. Still learning!
1. Before the end of each year, I pick 3 countries/cities I want to see.
I might not have the money, I might not have time, it might be difficult to get a visa... I don't care! I am picking!!! So, looking at the next 12 months, list the top 3 countries or cities you have been meaning to see and why do you want to visit each?
2. Build a rough "must-do". List your top 3 things in each places.
If you ever push through, you have the top 3 to aim for, everything else will be a bonus. That way, you don't feel stressed into jamming your day with so many things to do or places to see. You are on vacation, you are not at work!
What can you get for free? Which can you get on the cheap and which ones are you willing to spend on. What are not to be missed, food, places and activities. The good, the bad and the ugly. Surprises are good for birthdays and special occasions, not so much for travels unless you are my husband who got a surprised dinner at Le Jules Verne in Eiffel tower itself!
4. Calendar is your best friend.
As you go through research, plot your days. How will it look like? From the time you arrive in the airport to bed time. Possible activities, restaurant you've heard off, where you want to dine at, the whole nine yards. Make it your drawing board, make it as messy as you want. It's easy to trim it down later.
5. Find your home away from home. There are a lot of sites where you can do this. My two faves are www.booking.com and www.airbnb.com
Let me break it down to you:
www.booking.com - this is my go-to site when I look at my dream travel destinations. Don't tell them but sometimes I double book or even quadruple book or even more 🤭☹️. Different hotels when I cannot decide which one I like better. One as a solo traveller or couple (1 room) and one for a family of 5 with the nanny (3 rooms).
I choose the "free cancellation" option but I make sure I read the dates and the terms of cancellation right. I then set an alarm a week before the last date to cancel free. If the plan doesn't happen, no issues. If family travel pushes through then I cancel the booking for a couple, free of charge.
The alarm also reminds me to check if I'll get better rates if I pay upfront. Sometimes they do last minute deals too. Ker-ching! By that time, I already know whether the travel will happen or not. I pay upfront and then cancel the other bookings for free! Win-Win!
If we are traveling as a family, this is a serious contender. These are houses I wish I have. I get to call it home for a few days and pretend I'm a local. I create wish lists of cities I want to see. I research for where top attractions are and subway stations. I then pick houses and read reviews. I take reviews seriously because I found out that if you don't, you'll end up in a dirty house with broken stuff, good on photo, horrible-in-person kind of place. Two out of nine so far was disappointing but only because I didn't take the reviews seriously. Guests usually do not write the whole truth but you can sense from the carefully chosen words when they're not really happy and will probably never ever rent that place ever again.
When I'm still interested with a house after a few days of saving it in my wish list, I send the host a message just to get a feel of whether the host is warm or not. I'll be in their house, it will be a reflection of their personality.
AirBnB is more personal, I always book houses that has washing machine and dryer, cooking stove, toaster, heater, AC, more than one bathroom. I will probably not be comfortable to book AirBnB in less progressive cities. Cases like it, my personal preference will be hotels.
*I compare AirBnB options with Hotels for different dates, For a family of 4 or more, AirBnB is the way to go. It’s sometimes 25% cheaper, sometimes up to 50%! You can also move about at your phase, breakfast is whatever you can prepare from your food shopping at the nearby local shop! Again, LOCAL FOR A FEW DAYS!
6. Mix and match.
Weigh what activities are possible. Mixing high involvement to low so you maximise your day but keeping it real, you're only human who needs to rest. And accept it... you don't have 48 hours in a day. Selfies alone take 5 minutes ;)
I use Trip Advisor a lot with this one but not rely on it fully. It is not 100% genuine reviews but it helps build itineraries.
Friends who lurve to explore can help verify worthiness of a place or things to do.
7. Plan the payments.
Once they are all booked, get back in there and do your first review. Time to pay for the ones you're dead set on. Either you pay it in advance or you pay them later, either way, you will pay it anyway.
It's never a bad thing to get it settled as early as possible. The earlier you get it out of the way, the earlier you can soak in the excitement of counting the days until you embark on your adventure.
Also, booking and paying in advance means you're locking in the amount. Rate becomes expensive the closer you are to the date. Really, the key to saving most often than not is all about "time". With time, you can indulge in looking over as many options as possible.
8. Pay according to what you can afford.
Make it fun. Look forward to it every month. Make a colourful chart, reward yourself every time you're able to stick to it and settle an amount. Give yourself a pat on the back or a lollipop or a bucket of ice cream,,, GET YOURSELF REWARDED, DAMN IT! YOU DESERVE IT!
9. A month before the trip. List your "what to bring" in your packing list. Our previous challenge for our Europe trip was to carry one knapsack each.
A week before the trip, review your list and the weather, for sure your list will change.
(PACKING FOR BEST CASE SCENARIO)
You have forgotten your favourite shampoo or your toothbrush? Don't fret,,, wherever you are going, chances are, those people also brush their teeth and shampoo their hair. :) Honestly, my toiletries really means my make-up kit, everything else will just have to come locally. Get out of the house and buy it from the local shop,,, be a local for a few days. It's a good excuse to chat to the small shop owner or talk to him in sign language.. that can work too.
11. Plan some more.
Because you have lots of time to spare before the trip, (that's for doing your homework early), if you want to splurge on some areas of your trip, do so, just don't overdo it. You still need to live the real life after your vacation.
12. Download an audio tour app.
If you are going to Europe? Hands down, Rick Steves.
13. Don't be shock if nothing goes into plan.
This is life. If it goes according to plan, fabulous! If some or all goes haywire, it's an adventure! A story to tell and a darn good memory to last all of ya a lifetime. So what if you left your son up to the next train station ala-home alone? Hope not :P
When you set eyes on a trip, you are already in one heck of a journey. From planning to budgeting to the actual trip including the jet lag and the wanting for another vacation after the vacation. They are all priceless time of your life, non-refundable, one time only. So live your life and enjoy your adventures!
Which are the top 5 destinations you have already visited and which are the top 5 dream destinations you plan to visit?
1. Google Drive
I just helped plan a trip to two countries for 5 ladies (including me) plus one joining us in the 2nd country. That's a total of 6 flights, 2 overnight trains with mixed seating and sleeping berths and 2 houses.
I have a folder accessible to all so when we applied for visa, everything that we need to print out as supporting documents is in one place.
I also use it to keep important documents as a back-up. If I lose a copy, I can easily access it anywhere, I just need a WiFi.
2. Travel Agenda
Summary of your travel. You can make it as detailed as you want but the idea is to have a one-pager you can easily navigate. Glance page or info
3. Excel sheet
It is also your best friend. I usually have different tabs.
Add, delete or use as is. Whatever works for you.
If you have any tips, share away. If you have any question, ask through comment space below.
We used to flip through the pages of glossy magazines or colourful webpages, drool and gawk at gorgeous places we only dreamed of seeing. We used to daydream over the idea of food we might never get to taste. Wondered how each destination feels.