Where do you want to go?
Your first step in how to start planning a trip is to choose a travel destination that meets your interests and travel budget.
Are you planning overseas travel or a domestic trip at home? Either way, 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.
How much time do you have?
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 taking an overseas trip or traveling further within your home country.
Who are you traveling with?
When you plan your trip, your destination choices can be affected by your traveling companions.
Will you be traveling solo, as a couple, or taking family vacations?
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!
Relevant Post – 10 tips for a road trip with kids and their grandparents
What kind of experiences do you like?
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 of where you want to go for your dream trip!
And keep an open mind. Many people questioned us when we announced we were going to Mardi Gras in New Orleans with kids. We were a little unsure also, but ended up have a blast!
Relevant Reading: 23 Holiday Travel Tips to Keep You Sane and Happy
When to Go?
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.
Read more – 18 ways to save on accommodation
STEP 2 – BOOK FLIGHTS FOR YOUR TRIP
Once you have chosen your destination, step two in planning a trip is to book 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 an overseas trip and 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!
Searching for flights
What sites are helpful for planning a trip online?
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!
Other credible flight search engines include Kayak, Hipmunk, Google Flights, and Momondo.
Go direct to the airlines
After you have used the flight search engines suggested above and found your best flight, go directly 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.
STEP 3 – BOOK ACCOMMODATION FOR YOUR TRIP
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.
If I am planning my 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.
Search Accommodation Deals
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:
Read More – 8 ways to book accommodation using Booking.com
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.
STEP 4 – GETTING AROUND
Another thing to consider when planning a trip is to find out the transportation options in your chosen 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.
STEP 5 – THINGS TO SEE & DO
When you plan a trip you’ll want to know what are the must-visit tourist attractions 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.
Popular attractions like Alcatraz in San Francisco and the Sydney Harbour Bridge Climb are booked out well in advance, so don’t just show up on the day expecting to get in.
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 a trip so you can:
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:
Need help choosing a tour or activity?
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:
STEP 6 – PLACES TO EAT & DRINK
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:
STEP 7 – CHECK YOUR PASSPORT
If you are planning an overseas trip and don’t have a passport yet, 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.
STEP 8 – KNOW THE VISA REQUIREMENTS
Do you know the visa entry requirements for your destination? Do you even need a specific visa and how do you get it?
Each country and nationality will be different, and again, don’t leave this till the last minute as it could take significant time to organise.
If you are worried about how to plan an overseas trip because of visas, you can learn more about tourist visas for all countries and passport holders at Project Visa – then double check with each relevant embassy’s website!
Join our Free VIP Travel Tribe and get our Unplugged Life & Travel Toolkit to help you travel more and create better memories.
STEP 9 – GET IMMUNISATIONS
Are you planning for overseas travel 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.
STEP 10 – MAKE COPIES OF IMPORTANT DOCUMENTS
When you are planning a trip sometimes your 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!
STEP 11 – PHONE & INTERNET ACCESS
These days almost everyone travels with at least a smartphone, 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 abroad:
STEP 12 – ACCESSING YOUR MONEY
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.
How to transfer your money overseas with the best exchange rate
When you transfer money overseas using the banks they take a 4-7% margin AND add fees on top. We’ve found a way to put more money back in your pocket not the bank’s CEO.
Checking or Savings Account
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!
How to carry your money?
If this is your first overseas trip and you don’t know how to carry your money, one of our best travel tips 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 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.
Best debit card for Australian’s traveling
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.
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
Prepaid Travel Money Card
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.
Notify Your Bank
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.
STEP 13 – PURCHASE TRAVEL INSURANCE
“If you can’t afford travel insurance, then you can’t afford to travel”. It’s that simple.
Not having travel insurance on an overseas trip (or domestic) 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 are planning a trip, don’t shrug off this step. It’s one of the most important vacation planning tips!
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:
Best Travel Insurance Companies
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.
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 can check out trusted brands like Allianz Travel and AMEX . And to compare travel insurance companies, check out Insure My Trip and Squaremouth.
For Australians, besides World Nomads check out World 2 Cover (free cover for your children and grandchildren 25 and under when they are traveling with you) and Cover-More.
STEP 14 – PACK SMART
Thinking about packing can be stressful when you are planning 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 minimise 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 organiser 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.
Top 5 Travel Packing Tips:
STEP 15 – CONFIRM FLIGHTS & CHECK-IN ONLINE
Ok, one of our last tips for traveling is to confirm your flight times!
On a previous overseas trip, 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 we travel abroad.
Ok, after all our travel advice above on planning a trip, if you’re the type of person who doesn’t like to travel alone or plan your trips, maybe a group tour is an option for you.
Check out these reputable companies:
Enjoy Your Trip!
That’s it. You are now a trip planner!
You know where to start planning a trip so you can enjoy the travel planning process, and then go away and have the time of your life!
Updated on 01/09/2019