Today we are going to look at how planning a big trip! I go away about 3 times a year for leisure (more if we include work) and the number one reason I’m able to afford to do this is forward planning. For me, travel is a big luxury and one I work very hard to be able to do. Before we get into it, I want to just be clear on what I mean about a “big trip” as that’s hardly a scientific term!
Obviously, there’s lots of different types of travel; travel with friends, romantic getaways, press trips, going somewhere for/with work, family holidays, and last-minute cheapo breaks. And then there are my favourite kinds of adventuring: the Big Trips! Long planned out holidays to places you’ve been longing to visit! For me, a Big Trip has a few key factors:
So, that’s normally what a big trip looks like to me. I’d classify my first Big Trip as New York with a friend when I was 16, and since finishing university I’ve gone on roughly one Big Trip per year. Some examples of those kinds of trips I’ve taken since I’ve been blogging (i.e. you may have read about them) would be my USA trip in 2014, Ryan and me in New York, our recent Cuba trip, and my previous trip to Japan.
So step 1 is choosing a destination. This part never gets hard for me because the list of places I’d like to explore could fill a book! Currently on my “Big Trip” list is Las Vegas, Indonesia, Brazil and Florida. Once you’ve got a dream destination, start gathering info! To me, this looks like checking guide books out of the library, making a Pinterest board of images and guides, and bookmarking any blog posts on the area.
I usually do a search of Google and Bloglovin, plus if I remember reading about a certain place on somebody else’s blog I’ll dig that up too and bookmark it! Something I also do is make a google map of the area. I also have one layer for animals and one layer for vegan places and then the other layers are dependent on place (so, my Japan map has a “temple” layer whereas Helsinki had a “Tove and Moomin” layer which later became a blog guide). The benefit of this is you’ll discover what areas you’ll want to spend most time in. This will also help later with actually planning the trip out!
Hopefully, in reading and learning about the place, you’ll have a good idea of when you want to go. For example, for my previous trip to Japan, we wanted to go late March-April so we could catch the cherry blossoms, whereas with New York in 2016 we very specifically wanted to be there for Christmas! I tend to note down any specific festivals or national holidays as I read about them, and then come back to that later. Don’t forget to take seasons into account here as well. Depending where you’re off to, you want to make sure you’re avoiding rainy season, cyclone weather and so on! I’m always shocked at the amount of people I see visiting Mauritius for Christmas aka MONSOON SEASON.
Once you know theoretically *when* you’d like to go, you can start looking for flights. I normally don’t book the flights on the spot, but the minute I’m interested in somewhere I will start monitoring the flights. My Japan flights for my current trip were £180 (a record low for me) and about £400 last time (it can get up to £850+ for hanami season). For Christmas 2016 in New York we paid £280 return which is not bad- it can get up to £1400+ at the exact same time of year. I’m going to do a separate post on cheap flights at some point (EDIT: HERE IT IS!!!) because it’s become a bit of a personal sport for me.
Next up is to actually start planning out the trip. Note that you haven’t booked anything yet! Again, hopefully, in your reading up on the place, a few things have started to jump out at you. Put these all in your documents and start roughly dividing that up into days. This has been a gamechanger for me in terms of making the most of the time I get on holiday. Holiday’s are expensive and making the most of every single day is something I’m much better at now than when I was younger.
In this way your trip will start to shape up and hopefully, you’ll get a rough idea of how long you’d like to go for – between 10-14 days seemed good for Cuba (we ended up going for 12). It’s also good to look back at your map here (if you made one) and see if there are any general areas you can mark down as somewhere to visit. For Helsinki, we were staying pretty central but I marked off a day for Kallio (this turned into two days when we there) and a day at Linnanmaki, the theme park.
The fun part! There’s no way you’ll be able to plan out every single expense but at least getting down the rough estimates of stuff like accommodation and big chunks of money (i.e. visiting theme parks and attractions). You can easily look up costs for most things in advance via Google. This is important to do because otherwise, your spending can be so hard to guess. I would say be realistic here! For me, the budget isn’t about “what is the least possible amount I can spend” and more “what are the key things I want out of this trip”.
It’s not necessarily about budgeting yourself into the ground but more being prepared for what you might need. I also don’t want to sound like a smug cunt here but it’s also been YEARS since I came home and had essentially bankrupted myself with overspending on a holiday… these days, I know what to expect and how much I’m likely to want spare for souvenirs and whatever. It means more saving in advance but less “oh my God NO” moments when I check my bank balance on the way home.
Okay! So at this point you know when you want to go and how long for, roughly how much it will cost you, and what you want to do whilst you’re out there. Now you’ve got your entire trip planned you can buy the flights to go there..! Sort of. So the benefit of knowing all the background for your trip is you can basically sit around, wait until you’ve got the funds (vital), and THEN… wait for flights to come up. I think I mentioned before that I’d been planning to go to Cuba for about three years. That’s three years I basically had my map, itinerary idea and budget just sat around (that trip went through four previous partners before Ryan lucked in). I didn’t want to spend more than £400 on flights but was struggling to find anything cheaper. At some point I met Ryan, that happened, and he wanted in on the trip, so I was now looking for two sets of flights for cheap.
When I found £330 return flights, it was obviously on budget but wasn’t for quite the time I’d originally planned to go. I knew from research it would still be a good time of year (and crucially we’d avoid rainy season). Plus, I knew if we booked the cheap flights when I found them (only about 5 months before we went), I knew how much extra I would need to save to be able to afford to the trip we wanted whilst out there, thanks to my budget. Obviously, if you’re on a good salary and money’s not as much of a concern, you might be able to just book stuff when it comes up and just spend when you’re out there. But for all you fellow penny-pinchers, having that plan is key. This ended up working out perfectly for Cuba – we had gorgeous sunny weather every day, had both been able to save enough to live like kings whilst we were there.
So, it might seem exhaustive to plan all that but honestly, I love it! Planning the holiday and knowing I’m setting myself up to be really well-prepared makes me happy. I like knowing I’m going to get the most out of a trip, and also knowing I’m not going to potentially bankrupt myself if I book something on a whim. How do you plan trips? In my next travel post, I’m going to go through exactly how I planned my current trip to Japan as basically all of the above went out of the window 😅