How to Plan a Trip That Works – tackling the travel research

The tourist brochures surround Craig on the couch, The Lonely Planet Australia guide sits beside me at my desk, I have multiple browsers open, and a flurry of illegible scrawl on my notepad.

I stop to take a deep breath and recompose. I’m starting to feel confused, frustrated and deeply lost as to how to plan our trip around Australia.

Travel research should not be a negative experience.

This is the part where you start putting your dreams into action. You should be giving fist pumps and feeling a surge of joy and excitement move from your stomach up to your heart.

Travel planning should be fun.

Come and join me on the couch,” Craig calls. “Let’s go through these books together.”

I join him sans computer.

I get five minutes in before I start feeling the surge. “In just 10 weeks’ time we are going to be walking along that beach.“ I point to Hyam’s Beach on the NSW South Coast – it is said to have the whitest sand in the world.

Fist pump. Put it on the bucket list.

I soon realized where my initial frustration was coming from. I was doing the travel research in a topsy-turvy fashion and it was giving me a road map to nowhere.

If you want a travel plan that takes you somewhere, follow our travel research tips:

How to Plan a Trip and Travel Research

quote about luck

1. Collect the travel inspiration

This one is an ongoing process and should be happening months, if not years before you travel. Do it from birth!!

Find the inspiration through travel stories

Create a swipe file of things you really want to do. Don’t research anything yet, just get the ideas flowing. This can come from photos, articles from travel blogs, websites, people, social media. Whenever something grabs at your heart strings, make a note of it.

Bookmark it into your travel ideas folder. Pinterest is a fabulous tool for planning. I’m also good at locking those things I most want to do in my heart.

Check out our travel bucket list on Pinterest.

Do not allow thoughts of why you can’t do something, just put it on your bucket list.

You read about the dream luxury resort in the Maldives. Your heart starts to race with excitement at the thought of you lying on the deck of your bungalow over the water, and then your mind jumps in and says, “You’ll never afford to do that.”

Swat it away.

Do not allow limitation in. If it is something your heart really wants add it to your swipe file without even thinking about the hows. Magic happens every day.

Read more: Why create a travel bucket list

Have a clear idea of your WHY and your travel goals

Why do you want to travel? Why this region? What are you hoping to gain from your travels? What do you want to experience? What are your priorities or must dos?

You really have to be clear or your travel planning will be muddled and long-winded.

Write it out. This is the best way to keep it ingrained in your soul and so you can call upon it when you get stuck in your travel planning.

We can get lost with the myriad of opportunities available to us. We then end up choosing too many things or nothing at all.

Take a step back and ask, Does this experience align with my travel purpose?

If it doesn’t knock it off the list or put it on for something to possibly do if the conditions are right, or for another trip.

2. The how to plan a trip nitty gritty

Use maps to plot out your journey

It is very difficult to plan a trip without giving your brain an overview of the travel route. The brain can connect the dots better if it knows the overall travel plan.

I was trying to use all the inspiration I had collected without having a clear road map first. My brain was trying to connect where this was and how it fit in with where we were going from thin air. Overwhelm and frustration arrived.

I studied the map and circled the places I discovered in my initial travel inspiration collection.

This helped me frame out other potential places to visit. I could see the distances between certain places so I could then make a more informed decision as to which places needed to be canned because they were too far out of the way and which ones could be joined together over perhaps 1 or 2 days.

Only plan the first 1-2 months

You might want a general overview for the entire trip, but only work on in-depth travel planning for 1-2 months at a time. There is far too much that can change and you need to have that flexibility.

We have a general itinerary worked out for our road trip, but at the moment we are only planning for NSW, Victoria and Tasmania. We know we can do the rest when we come closer to going to the other states. Otherwise, the mind gets too muddled.

Work out your time frame

I think it is key to know your time frame for each region.

At the  moment we are just working on Southern NSW and have given ourselves 5 weeks. Knowing this time limit has helped us to plan our driving route and the length of time to spend in each place. Having the map really helped us.

We were able to see that one of our ideas would not have worked out as well as we planned. We saw how we could skip one experience and combine another couple to make it much better.

We are trying to fit in a couple of festivals, namely Melbourne Cup, so timing is really important. The map is helping us to work out how we can redirect our course to fit them in.

Use tourist brochures

Tourist brochures are a fantastic resource for travel planning.

They are free. They have beautiful pictures, which is great for inspiration and the insight you need to see if it is for you or not. There’s also great general knowledge on each region. The brochures are always clearly set out and usually highlight the best reasons for visiting a place.

The off the road experiences you want to have are best learned through those sharing their stories online, or local people.

Turn to the travel guide books – we use Lonely Planet

The travel guide books won’t be a great source for inspiration and stories. We get this from those we know.

The guide books are great for a general overview and the logistics. They can help us to plot out our route and give us a rough idea of things to do and see in an area and the costs. This helps us to know if it is suitable to us and is worth pursuing.

I usually move between the guide books and the brochures to nut out the initial travel plan.

Write out your list for each region

Now you have your map outlined and a better idea of where you want to go and what you want to do, start writing a list of experiences you want in each region.

Asterisk those that are must do.

Include any tours, attractions, festivals and even food or accommodation you might have already noticed.

Now go back to the computer and dive deeper into the travel research

Now you have used your maps and offline materials to get the general overview of where you want to go and you have your list of potentials, go online and do your deeper travel research.

The internet world can be a confusing and frustrating place to get lost in, especially if you don’t know what you are looking for to begin with.

Have your map next to you and your list of potentials. Search for these things only.

  • Start with those travel blogs and websites you already know and trust. See what information they have.
  • Then go to the state and local tourist boards websites. I know the Australian ones are excellent with their information. This can help you create a travel plan that fits with your overall goals, likes, and interests.
  • Then go to your social networks and ask if anyone has any advice or suggestions.
  • And of course don’t forget your family and friends.

Make sure you have a system in place to bookmark any fantastic resources you find.

Go back to your list and cull

Now you should have a really great idea of where to go, what to do and see, where to stay and what to eat. Add in anything you discovered from online.

Consider your time and travel budget and the practicalities of transport and location. (NB: you may not have worked out your travel budget yet. That is okay, some people like to do the planning first).

Start culling your list for what makes sense and for what will give you the most reward from your journey. Make sure it aligns with your travel purpose.

Plot out your journey

Now you have the culled list, you should have a really great plan for your trip. Start plotting it out. Break it down into regions and time groups – usually a week at a time.

Make a plan for how many days you wish to spend in each new place.

Your list of things you want to do should give you a basic understanding. Add in a few days here and there for travel and for rest. It’s important to have those bumming around days on your trip as well.

Research prices

As you are doing this research, it is important that you work out the costs for accommodation, transport, tours, and general daily living costs. You might discover that that whale watching adventure in Jervis Bay is too expensive, the better option might be seeing them offshore in Eden for free.

Booking

Whether you have to book ahead will depend on your travel style and nature.

If you love things organized, you might want to have everything pre-booked. If not, I would allow for flexibility. Book maybe the first couple of nights and any places that are popular.

You may have to do the same with your tours. Consider booking your absolute must dos as these are the things you do not want to miss.

Now you can spend the build up to your trip excited and stress-free. Continue this process throughout the whole travel planning stage until you feel like you’ve created the best possible experience for your wants, time and budget.

Click for more tips on travel planning and travel budget.

How do you best research for your trip?

What websites, books and resources do you use?

44 thoughts on “How to Plan a Trip That Works – tackling the travel research”

  1. Great Tips! I have been doing some research for when my Fiancee and I travel to Australia in September. There is just so much to do and since we are extremely flexible there is so much information out there! Its super exciting, but at the same time super frustrating at times! Love your Blog for travel tips! 🙂

  2. I Always have a map to put my intended destination in perspective. Plus my list is much longer than I’ll have time for, but I like options. And it’s fun to dream and plan. Great suggestions.

  3. I loooove travel planning. Here, in short, how I go about it:
    – decide on my time frame and on how much I’m willing to travel around
    – decide on the region/city I definitely want to visit
    – research that region by using Michelin’s Green Guides
    – add things to my bucket list + put them on Google maps
    – see what’s doable, distance and timewise, with my ‘most important city/region’ in mind
    – drop the things that would be too much of a hassle
    – research the region further to add more things to the bucket list

    Of course, as I don’t travel long term, I’m sure it’s a bit easier for me:)

  4. I can’t express to you how helpful this article is. When you gain a lot of inspiration from travel bloggers (when I do, anyway), my brain spins around like crazy with all of the stuff I want to do. I have a hard time taking my plans down from the clouds and onto paper. These should all help.

    1. So glad it can help! Overwhelm can be a massive problem and I go through it every day almost. This information era of ours gives us way too many things to digest, we have to find ways to filter and hone in on the most important. Having a very clear why will help you to do this.

  5. I spent months and months planning my travels this summer as they were complicated and some were in obscure areas. I did end up contacting local tourist boards way ahead of time for detailed maps and suggestions. And I get a big calendar so I can write what my plans are. That may be old fashioned but it’s a great visual.

    1. G’day Leigh,

      Yes local tourist board websites are good places to start. And once on the ground in your new destination the local tourist office is invaluable. Visual is always good!

  6. Great tips! I love travel planning, but it certainly can get overwhelming or frustrating. I find myself doing more planning for the logistics, like transportation, how long it takes to get to certain places, stuff like that. I read about what there is to do, but I don’t plan that stuff as much. I’d rather wait until I get there to decide what to do when, unless it’s something really important that should be booked ahead. With booking accommodation, it really depends on a lot of factors. Andy and I booked almost every night of our recent trip ahead of time because Europe, especially Italy, in summer can get crowded with tourists quickly and we didn’t want to end up staying somewhere we didn’t like. But last year in Turkey we only booked the first week of the trip and figured out the 2nd week when we were on the road since we were there in April. I’d definitely love to take another long trip and totally wing it though.

    1. Yeah those busy times you really have to book. We are trying to work that out now. We know we have to book in advance for the busy Christmas season and summer but we have no idea where we’ll be and I really want to be winging it. We should have our camper trailer though so we can just sleep in that in the beach car park if we have to. Happy Days!! Still a great choice. I think if you have a back up plan and then wing it something always pops up and works itself out.

  7. As someone who usually does NOT enjoy travel planning, I enjoyed this post. I think my main issue is just lack of patience. One trick I’ve found planning an upcoming trip to Quito, Ecuador is making my own Google Map. I had a list of sites I wanted to see, and placed them all on a Google Map. Then it was easy to see which sites were located where, and in what relation to each other. Maps in tourists brochures are great, I use them all the time, but this way you’re kind of making your own “personalized” tourist map.

  8. There are some GREAT tips here! I never thought of travel research as a process but seeing it written all out like this I realise there really is a lot of thought yet fun that goes into it…I knew there were perks to being an introvert; loving plans and research 😀

    1. Yes! I think it’s a really important part of the process because its where you can save a lot of time and money. You can still have that flexibility, but the research will help you to move quickly when you find deals as you will already know costs etc.

  9. I liked a lot of points said in this article like taking out notes of places one is likely to visit, plan days post trip and take suggestions from social network. Recently i was stumbleupon this really interesting website that allows creating itinerary in minutes. It was so easier for me to understand which place to visit first and information on ticket prizes etc. I found it very useful and i think those participating in this post and followers of your blog should know. Try using this tool on http://www.joguru.com. Itinerary planning was never so easy.

  10. I started reading the post and then dropped over this line “You might want a general overview for the entire trip, but only work on in-depth travel planning for 1-2 months at a time. ” Wow, you have a lot of time for traveling. I’m getting jealous..

    1. Ah yes. We’ve made it so we can create a nomadic lifestyle. It’s great to have this life although it takes a lot of work. Anyone can do it though. We have a book coming out in a few weeks that shares all our tips on how to create the lifestyle of travel you love.

  11. I’ve got to agree with all of the comments here, you have some great tips! Recently planned my first UK roadtrip. Driving for 5 hours straight never bothered me (being Aussie thats pretty normal!) but most of my UK friends were gasping in horror at being in the car for that long!

    Unfortunately I didn’t plan for any additional sightseeing and I had us on a strict schedule. Didn’t take long for that to unravel! Consequently we missed two cities on the return to London. They weren’t must-do’s so they are on the ‘next visit’ list.

    Planning the Greek Islands and like you say, a map gives you perspective. I’ve really needed it for Greece, there’s just too many islands to get your head around!

    I do have a question for you though. You mention to tap into your blogger network for advice. I like to do this, but do you know if there is anyway to search a list of bloggers sites in one go? I find myself trawling though about 40 sites unsure if x, y & z bloggers have been to Greece or written on the topic.

    Any advice you have would be great!

    1. Actually I don’t know how to find this out. That would be an awesome idea for someone to invent! You could try a direct google search, bloggers on Greece or something like that. Good luck and let me know if you discover any tricks to doing it.

  12. These are all great tips! Usually I let my husband plan the nuts and bolts of the trip and then I chime in at the end with suggestions of what to see or where to take the kids. Probably not the best method of travel planning, but it works best for us so we don’t end up arguing over where to go and how to get there, ha!

  13. YJ @ thefancyvoyager

    Great tips here! Love the one on Pinterest. I pretty much do most of the travel research and I love to do it. I usually first bookmark some travel posts on blogs to get an idea of the place and take it on from there.

  14. You need to do so much more planning when travelling with the kids. We just got back from 3 months RTW which was incredible and all went well – to plan mostly. We especially loved the bits when we could include unusual places to stay from QuirkyAccom.com – my website. A jailhouse, a boat, cabins in the jungle … And Japan blew my mind. Great with children, they loved the rituals of robes, slippers, onsens etc.

  15. Great tips, Caz. I usually have problems with timing as there are so many things I wanna see in a really short time frame and I kind of overrate my sightseeing capacity for the day 🙂

  16. These are great tips. In general, I like to do travel research and map out my itinerary using sites like Tripomatic.com. But most of my research is done with blogs, highlighting and saving things of note with Evernote. I wasn’t really happy with the process of finding authentic information, so I built africa.wanderight.com. Africa is a focus for now, but could apply anywhere.

  17. Great points. When we went round the world we did a lot of this forward planning to make it as hassle free a trip as possible so that you can concentrate on enjoying your trip and not worrying about where you are going to sleep tomorrow. For example we booked ahead to stay near Sydney Harbor for Xmas which would have been nearly impossible at the last minute.

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