As y’all probably know by now, I travel pretty frequently. Whether I’m traveling for work or play, weddings/bachelorette parties or just escaping the Texas heat, I always plan and research for the destination ahead of time. Since I get a ton of questions about how I plan my own travels, I thought it about time I share a post about how to plan an adventure, so y’all can do the same!
BTW, though I will include a few tips on how I afford my travels, that is not the focus of this post. For some great posts on affording travels, check out this post and this post.
Okay so how exactly does one figure out how to plan an adventure?
Choose your destination
Obviously for work, weddings, bachelorette parties, and the rest of that ilk, this step is done for you so you can just skip ahead to the next section.
You want to decide right off the bat whether this will be a domestic or international trip. International trips require a lot more planning – I recommend starting to plan international excursions at least 2-3 months ahead of time… and that’s only if your destination doesn’t require a visa, any special shots, etc. I try to plan for domestic trips about 1-2 months out (usually more like 2 months if I’ll be partnering with hotels during my trip).
Whenever I can’t decide on a destination, I write up a list of some of my top dream destinations and compare it with a list of things I want to do on this particular trip. For my most recent trip to San Francisco, Yosemite, and Napa, my starting list was all over the place; it included places like Ireland and Scotland, Thailand and Cambodia, Italy (particularly Tuscany), and Charleston (bet you didn’t see that one coming!). Yep, all over the place.
For a while, it was going to be Tuscany… but, when we decided that we wanted to stay domestic, we then realized that we had to include wine as a part of our trip. Thus, having Napa Valley as a part of the trip made total sense. San Francisco was a natural addition as I typically fly in and out of SFO when traveling to Napa, and Yosemite was added because I insisted that we go somewhere I’ve never been before.
When I don’t have as much focus as to where I want to go, I’ll usually price out a few different locations (round trip flights, hotels, transportation, etc) before I make my final decision. I actually did this last year when I went to London and Paris – it was between that trip, Spain, and Croatia, and – obviously – London and Paris won due to some super clutch prices on flights.
Talk to your friends & read blogs
Before I ever book a flight, I ask my friends about their experiences at my chosen destination. Where did they stay? Do they recommend a certain hotel or even a neighborhood? What kinds of activities did they do? What do I have to do while there? Typically, my friends (and fellow bloggers) have some great recommendations. From their lists/recommendations, I’m able to make a high-level itinerary and choose a few hotels to research.
Some of my favorite bloggers to follow for their travel recommendations are World of Wanderlust, Gal Meets Glam, Hand Luggage Only, and The Londoner. I’ve actually made a travel collection on Bloglovin’ containing all of the places I want to visit.
Book your flights
After my high-level research, I head to kayak.com to figure out when I should book my flight. Kayak has this great feature that says if their algorithm believes the prices will increase for your flights. I highly recommend using their +/- 3 days feature if you have a flexible travel schedule – it will tell you when is the cheapest day to leave and the cheapest day to return. Obviously, keep the cost of your hotel room per night in mind (aka don’t add a day to your trip in order to save $200 on flight fees if you think your hotel will end up being $300/night). I typically then head to Expedia or Priceline to purchase, as you can often find extra savings through those.
It is worth noting that I try to use my airline points whenever possible to cover my fares. This past trip, all of my flights were completely covered using points, reducing the overall cost of the trip substantially.
Book your hotel
Many hotels offer discounts if you book/pay in advance, so I highly recommend booking as early as possible. I’ll usually compare pricing for at least 7-10 hotels in each destination before booking.
For bloggers who have a travel vertical: reach out to hotels (at least 5-7 per destination) ahead of time. A lot of hotels are eager to partner with bloggers to help expand their media footprint. Sometimes, hotels will offer you comped or partially comped stays; sometimes, they’ll offer you comped or partially comped services; sometimes, they’ll offer you absolutely nothing. But you’ll never know until you ask.
Plan your stay
Go back to the lists provided by friends and your findings from various blogs. Scour Instagram. Find the places you definitely want to check out – be they restaurants, museums, local hangouts, or even tourist traps. Sometimes, cities even have their own sites that can be super helpful; for instance, I love using NYMag.com to find restaurants and bars in New York City.
Create a very loose itinerary including a few of these places. And then stop. The trick is to have just enough planned so that you have an idea of what you’ll be doing… but not so much that you feel like you’re missing out if you’re skipping plans.
Always remember that half of the fun of traveling is getting lost. You’ll stumble across a hole-in-the-wall Israeli restaurant in Paris that turns out to be delicious. You’ll find the most gorgeous spot in Napa to take a nap. You’ll make friends with random strangers at a bar who keep you entertained all night.
So my #1 tip for learning how to plan an adventure? Don’t do too much planning – it’s all part of the adventure!