We recently booked plane tickets for our spring break vacation next year and we are in the middle of the exciting work of trip planning. I want to share some key steps that we always take when planning our trips. Trust me, if you follow these tips there will be adventures in your future!
Step 1: Look for Inspiration
Before you can plan a trip, you need to be inspired to want to go somewhere.
Every trip starts with an idea, and reading trip reports is a great way to open your mind to new possibilities and get inspiration from other travelers. We love to learn about places that we didn’t even know existed and find out why we may want to visit them.
I especially appreciate detailed trip reports because they help me to see the whole picture of what a vacation could be like. Having an idea of what we might see, where we might stay, what we might eat, and what our itinerary could be can really help me to picture my family in that location.
I don’t like going into the unknown unprepared, especially when I am bringing my kids along, and a good trip report helps me to know what to expect from a trip so I can be prepared and excited. Seeing that others have been there and enjoyed their trip me gives me confidence that my family can love it, too.
Step 2: Keep an Open Mind When Searching for Flights
The only time we set our hearts on a specific destination before we’ve found plane tickets is when we are visiting family.
Usually, we have a few ideas in the back of our minds about where we’d like to go for our next few trips, but we are open to other possibilities. Where we go ultimately depends on where we can find cheap flights.
As soon as booking opens up for the time period we want to fly (usually about 11 months before the trip), we keep an eye on Google Flights, airline websites for which we have miles built up, and other websites like The Flight Deal or Boarding Area that post about cheap flight deals.
Sometimes we will watch flights for months, checking weekly until we find something that is cheap and really excites us. We are always ready to book on the spot when something stands out because prices can change quickly.
When we were planning our recent trip to China, we didn’t know exactly where we wanted to go. We just knew that we wanted to experience China. During one of our searches we found cheap tickets to Chongqing. We had no idea what there was to do around Chongqing, but with a little research we learned about the Yangtze River Cruise and got really excited about it.
Then we went to work figuring out how we’d get home from China and found cheap tickets back from Chengdu. Again, we had no idea before researching that Chengdu is the home of a giant panda reserve and the Sichuan Opera Theater, but those were some of the highlights of our trip.
We discovered each of those activities by first seeing cheap flights then researching what there was to do in those areas.
Sometimes we decide that the trip we wanted is not going to work out and we go back to keeping an eye on new deals. But sometimes the pieces fit together as we research. When this happens, we book flights because good deals don’t usually last long.
Step 3: Location, Location, Location
We’ve found that finding lodging in a fun area can make a vacation so much better, so we make it a big priority to choose a great location. We’ve also found that having a good idea of what there is to do in a town can almost always helps us know exactly where we want to stay.
To decide what we want to see and do, we return to reading trip reports to get more ideas and specific information. We also check Trip Advisor for activity reviews and recommendations, read guide books, watch YouTube videos, or talk to friends who have visited the areas we are planning to go.
We spend time looking at TripAdvisor and Google Maps together to get an idea of where will have a charming atmosphere and the best walking areas. We are very willing to choose more basic lodging or book a rental by owner to be able to stay where we want. Also, we often change locations partway through a trip to get fresh surroundings and proximity to new things.
Some of the fun memories we have staying in ideal locations include the following:
- Staying right inside ancient old towns in Jerusalem, Israel; Tallinn, Estonia; Orvieto, Italy; and Gdansk, Poland. The old towns are always full of character, often with cobblestone pedestrian-only streets and unique shops to wander through.
- Staying right next to wildlife parks in Bali and Costa Rica where wild monkeys came right to the hotel grounds.
- Staying right on the bike path in Kauai for morning walks and bike rides.
- Renting a rustic cabin at a state park on Maui, Hawaii surrounded by tropical plants, geckos, and great walking paths.
- Staying at an inexpensive homestay in Kyoto, Japan with authentic beds (mats unrolled on the floor at night) and bikes that we could ride to temples and other sights.
- Staying at the campground in Walt Disney World.
Sometimes it might cost a bit more to stay in a great location, but often it’s not any more expensive. It may just be off the beaten path and take a little more searching to find.
This process of planning activities and lodging can be fast if we just want to get our trip booked, but often we take our time and enjoy the process of discovering what we want to see and do and where we want to stay. And once we are on our way all the planning pays off in time together, experiences with other cultures, and memories that will last for years.
What things are most important to you when you are planning a trip?