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

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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?