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My niece is planning a trip to New York City. It will be her first overseas trip so I told her I would write this step-by-step travel planning guide for her, and YOU, on how to plan your trip!
Travel planning can be overwhelming and time-consuming, and if you don’t know how to plan a trip this guide is for you.
Down below I’m sharing the best travel websites on how to plan a vacation when booking flights, hotels, tours, and attractions.
Plus tips on how to access your money, buying travel insurance, packing tips, finding places to eat, getting visas and immunizations and much more!
Whether you are traveling alone or planning a family vacation, you deserve to go away and create priceless memories without too much stress in the trip planning process.
Down below are the steps I would take and the resources I would use to plan your trip. Hopefully, this will save you some time AND money.
Click on each link below to go directly to each topic or scroll down manually.
Where do you want to go?
Your first step in travel planning is to choose a travel destination that meets your interests and travel budget.
The whole idea of taking a trip is to have a memorable time, to have fun and relax, and not to spend your whole vacation time worrying about money.
If you only have 1-2 weeks of vacation time per year, don’t waste too much of that time traveling to and from your destination. Plan your trip accordingly.
But if you have 2-4 weeks or over a month you can look at traveling further from your home.
When you plan your trip, your destination choices can be affected by your traveling companions.
Sit down with other members of your traveling group and discuss your ideas and interests. Memorable trips are those where each member gets to experience something they love.
Don’t leave it to one person to make all the decisions. Or, maybe you could take turns in choosing a destination each year!
To have a memorable trip, choose a destination that allows you to have experiences you enjoy.
Do you like:
Are you the type of person who likes to sit by the pool all day with a book? Or would this bore you to death? By answering these types of questions you can narrow down your list.
Weather and crowds play an important role when you plan your trip. For your chosen destination, do you know when the high season and low season is?
If you are fortunate enough to be flexible in when you can take your vacation time, good for you! Avoiding peak travel periods is one of our best travel tips for how to plan a vacation.
For more inspiration look at all our travel destination posts on each region here.
Once you have chosen your destination, step two on how to plan your trip is booking your flights. And learning how to find cheap flights will help you to reduce one of your biggest travel expenses.
As a traveling family, if it’s a long haul flight I like to plan my trip so we get to our destination as quickly as possible, with the most amount of comfort and facilities our budget allows!
If it’s your one-and-only dream vacation for the year, and you only have 1-2 weeks, I recommend you pay the little bit extra for a premium airline and fly direct too!
When searching for cheap flights online we always start with Skyscanner, it’s one of our favorite booking sites.
Skyscanner is a comparison site that searches millions of flights from over a thousand airlines, and once you’ve found your flight on Skyscanner you are taken to the airline or agency to make your booking (no extra fees added).
Download the new Skyscanner App, which makes it easier for you to find the best travel deals. It’s an all in one flights, hotel and car hire search engine app!
After you have used the flight search engines suggested above and found your best flight, go direct to that airline’s own website and see if you can get it for cheaper.
Many airlines have lower fares only available on their own site.
Where you sleep is your other major fixed travel expense, so choosing the best accommodation for your needs at the best price will free up more money for activities.
For us, traveling with kids is not about finding the cheapest accommodation, but getting the BEST VALUE for our money! We don’t like to rough it as much as we used to pre-kids.
Depending on the length of our trip and the destination, we chop and change between accommodation styles.
As a family, when we plan a trip that’s longer than a weekend getaway we prefer to stay in apartments. They offer several benefits:
These extra facilities on a long stay can make your trip so much more enjoyable. But if it’s a short city stay, or we’re just traveling as a couple, we’re happy to stay in a hotel.
Our favorite accommodation search website is Booking.com. They have over 1 million properties worldwide in 200 countries.
Besides listing all the major hotel brands, you can find a variety of low-cost independently owned hotels that can be difficult to find elsewhere.
We find their website user-friendly and recommend you start your accommodation search there when you plan your trip.
On the Booking.com website you can search for:
When you plan your trip also consider Airbnb . They are another one of our favorite accommodation sites when I plan my trip.
Airbnb are in 180 countries and you can book entire apartments and houses, or just spare bedrooms allowing you the choice between having the place all to yourself or staying with and getting to know the owner.
Even if you never meet your host, you’ll get to feel more like a local.
We have used it as a way to get low-cost apartments and rent out people’s entire homes. If you are new to Airbnb, we have a $45 AUD credit voucher for you when you sign up here.
What are the transportation options in your chosen travel destination?
Will you need to book a rental car or pre-purchase any transportation passes online? Is there a train or bus service? Are there taxis or Uber? Can you simply walk to most places?
For example, when you visit Sydney you need an Opal Card to get around on public transport. When you visit London you need an Oyster Card for public transportation. Are you planning to travel through Europe by train?
During your travel planning research the transport options for your destination. This will save you time and stress once there.
If you need a rental car, booking online in advance will almost always get you a better deal than if you just show up at the counter. And it’s easier and quicker.
The last thing you want to do after a long flight is deal with rental car companies at the airport and negotiate a deal.
The quickest way to compare rental companies is to use an aggregator site that searches all the major car brands at once and checks which supplier offers the best prices for your chosen dates and location.
We always start our search with RentalCars.com. It’s a site we have booked through several times over the years when traveling from Australia to the USA.
It has saved us time and money in the past for finding cheap rental cars and we continue to use them.
When you plan your trip you’ll want to know what the must-visit tourist attractions are and the best free things to do in your chosen destination.
As much as we like to just show up, some trip planning is a good idea especially if you are visiting a popular destination in the peak travel season.
Research and organize your tickets to any theme parks, zoos, and concerts etc. And many cities also have City Passes that can save you money on attractions. Research those in your travel planning!
Are you planning to:
Plan ahead and book any necessary experiences you would like to have.
Make a list of:
For ideas on things to do in your destination, use these resources:
Viator has a team of travel insiders who handpick the best local tours, attractions, and activities. And they pre-vet them all to make sure you always have an exceptional experience. Click the image below to search for things to do in your destination:
You can learn a lot about a destination through its food and drink, and you can even plan a trip by eating your way through a destination. For some people that is their favorite thing about travel. Is that you?
When I plan my trips I love to discover new cafes, restaurants, bars and pubs when I travel. I like to try the local delicacies, the local craft beers, and coffee scene.
And as a family, it’s important we learn about the family friendly places to eat, not only from a practicality standpoint but from a budget standpoint.
Research ideas for:
If you are traveling internationally and don’t have a passport, give yourself enough time to apply – at least 6 weeks before departure and preferably as soon as you have booked your flights and accommodation.
And if you already have a passport, what is the expiration date? Most countries require that your passport is valid for six months beyond your date of stay and it has enough empty pages for stamps/visas.
What are the visa entry requirements for your destination? Do you even need a specific visa and how do you get it?
As Australians, we can go to many places without a visa, for example, we can enter the USA on a 90-day visa waiver program which allows us to travel to the US for stays of 90 days or less without obtaining a visa.
BUT, we do need to obtain an ESTA travel authorization prior to initiating travel to the US.
Each country and nationality will be different, and again, don’t leave this till the last minute as it could take significant time to organize.
To learn more about tourist visas for all countries and passport holders check out Project Visa – then double check with each relevant embassy’s website!
Are you traveling to a high-risk destination in regards to health?
Depending on where you plan your trip in a particular country, it’s important to get the right advice for any necessary vaccinations before you travel.
Your safety and health are essential, and in some instances, you can’t travel unless you have proof of having been vaccinated.
Talk to your doctor or health care professional knowledgeable about travel vaccines. Visit them at least 2 months before departure as some vaccinations need to be started six to eight weeks before departure and require more than one shot spread out over time.
And take any records you have of previous shots.
When you plan your trip sometimes important documents get misplaced. Companies can lose your booking reservation or there is a communication breakdown between the price you paid and the expected service.
For peace of mind, make copies of important documents such as:
Print out hard copies and save your confirmation emails into a “folder” in your web-based email account. Consider leaving copies at home with a trusted person, and if traveling with a partner each carry copies.
Hard copies of certain documents are important as you won’t always have access to the internet to search email.
US immigration lost our passports when we lived in the US whilst applying for an extension to our visa. Luckily we had copies so went to the Australian Embassy in LA and got emergency passports to leave the country on time, otherwise, we would have overstayed our visa!
These days almost everyone travels with at least a smart phone, plus other gadgets that require connection to the internet and a data plan.
As travel bloggers, we know more than most the frustration at not being able to be connected on the road. But you might just like to update your Facebook account or send emails so family and friends can follow your travels.
This is what we do when we travel overseas:
Research the data plans and SIM card situation for your destination.
One thing you will need is an international travel plug adaptor like this one below by OREI so you can plug in your charger, phone, and laptop. We don’t go anywhere without one of these and it makes for a great travel gift.
We all want ease and convenience when traveling, especially when it comes to accessing our money. We also want to reduce our bank and transaction fees. The more money we keep in our own pockets, the more we have to spend on travel.
International transaction fees can be hefty when using the WRONG credit cards and checking account cards.
Considering there are people reading this from many different countries and traveling to different destinations, it is impossible for us to recommend THE BEST cards or ways for everyone to access their money.
On a previous trip to Thailand, we had an issue accessing our money using our ATM card because our account in Australia was a checking account. For it to work in Thailand it had to be a savings account.
We did not know this at the time. Check with your specific bank regarding this. Or get one of each!
The best option is to have more than one option. When we travel we use a combination of:
Debit cards are a good alternative to credit cards for when you plan your trip overseas. Not everyone has a credit card, but most have a debit card.
Debit cards also come with either a MasterCard or Visa logo so you can use them everywhere MasterCard or Visa cards are accepted.
The other benefit is there’s no risk of overspending with a debit card because it’s your money in the account to start with, not your bank’s money.
Which debit card is best for you?
That depends on what country you come from. We can’t offer advice for every nationality, but you can still apply these tips and seek a card with similar features as the cards listed below!
Best debit card for Australian’s travelling
The card most highly recommended for Australian’s is the CitiBank Plus Account.
This account operates with a Visa debit card so you can withdraw money from your account at any ATM that accepts Visa. If you find a CitiBank ATM, you can use your card free of charge.
CitiBank has an international network with over 20,000 ATMs globally.
Best debit card for Americans traveling
USA residents should consider the Charles Schwab Checking Account.
The Charles Schwab debit card (available through their high-yield checking account) is commonly mentioned as the best travel debit card out there for both domestic or international travel.
You can use any ATM in the world and Schwab reimburses all the ATM fees at the end of each month. It seems that if there was an award for most favorite (and the least evil) bank ever it would probably win.
While you will still be charged by other ATM’s for taking out money, Schwab will reimburse you for the charges at the end of the month.
You’ll almost certainly need a credit card when traveling in order to book flights, rental cars, hotels etc online. Providers require this for the security deposit, plus paying with a credit card provides some insurance and security for you.
If you have a problem with a hotel room or a tour, you can dispute the payment with Visa/MasterCard. If you pay cash, it’s gone.
Make sure when you plan your trip overseas your card is linked to either the PLUS, Cirrus or Maestro networks. This enables you to access cash anywhere worldwide.
And it’s a good idea to carry both a Visa and a MasterCard. We also have an American Express Platinum Edge Card.
Look for a credit card that has:
PIN Number Tips
There are pros and cons to using a travel money card when you plan your trip, and from our research we figured the pros lean more towards ease, accessibility, and reduced fees.
These cards are not a credit card. You load up your own money on the card then access the local currency through international ATMs around the world.
What to look for in a pre-paid travel money card:
As Australians, we use the Qantas Cash Travel Money Card.
For a trip that involves multiple destinations, I think prepaid travel money cards are a good option.
Before you depart, be sure to contact your bank and credit card companies to inform them that you will be traveling, where to and when. This is to stop them putting a freeze on your card if they see unusual transactions from overseas.
“If you can’t afford travel insurance, then you can’t afford to travel”. It’s that simple.
Not having travel insurance is not worth the risk. Anything can, will, and sometimes goes wrong. If it does and you are not insured, you can be up for a lot of money AND inconvenience.
When you plan your trip, don’t shrug off this step!
What happens if:
Travel insurance is designed to cover unexpected medical emergencies and events such as trip cancellation, your personal effects, lost, stolen or damaged luggage by an airline, and other related losses incurred while traveling.
Which travel insurance is best for you? There are different levels of coverage depending on:
One of the best travel insurance companies we have used many times since 2006 is World Nomads. Simple and flexible to use and they cover residents from 150 countries.
And World Nomads allows you to buy travel insurance online 24/7 from anywhere in the world, even if you’re already traveling (love this option!)
Americans check out IMGlobal who can separate travel and medical insurance but are mostly suited to expats living overseas. And Clements also gets frequently recommended within the travel community (especially for covering electronics). Also the big brands like AMEX and Allianz. To compare travel insurance companies, check out Insure My Trip and Squaremouth.
Packing can be stressful when you plan your trip, but the best thing to do is pack the bare minimum because you can always buy it there!
Encourage your kids to choose and pack their own clothes to minimize complaints and to teach travel planning skills.
Select versatile, comfortable and loose fitting clothes and neutral colors that can be worn in multiple combinations so if something gets dirty you only have to change part of the outfit.
Packing cells are a lifesaver. In each packing cell, we roll up each item and arrange clothes based on type and season. And Caz loves her underwear organizer that rolls up and clips together like a little sleeping bag and sits in your suitcase neatly just like packing cells do.
With young kids, pack a change of clothes for dinner, pajamas, or what is needed during the day in case of accidents.
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We missed an important flight from Bangkok to Sydney once because we had it in our head that our flight departed five hours later than it actually did. Whilst we were sitting in a bar in the city the plane flew over our heads.
So, the day before departure, confirm your flight times and your transport to the airport.
And check-in online! Trust me, it’s no fun running through an airport with two young kids in toe because you are late arriving for check-in. To take the stress and hassle out of this, when possible we always check-in online.
We also use Trip It – a cool app that organizes all your travel plans in one place such as flight bookings, hotels, car rentals, and you can even access your itinerary offline, while in flight or to avoid roaming charges when traveling abroad.
Ok, after all our tips and advice above on travel planning, if you’re the type of person who doesn’t like to plan your trip or travel alone, maybe a group tour is an option for you.
Check out these reputable companies:
That’s it. Now you have all the travel info you need to plan your trip of a lifetime.
Go away and create priceless memories and don’t forget – good conversation, patience, laughter and an adventurous spirit!
Please share this with anyone you know who could use these travel planning tips on how to plan a vacation. And share any of your own tips on how to plan your trip in the comments below!
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