CLICK BELOW TO SHOP THE POST
I get asked a lot how we plan our vacations, particularly for some of our bigger trips out of the country. People are often surprised to hear that we plan everything on our own. I hear of a lot of people who use agencies or companies to plan their trips, but we actually have so much fun doing it ourselves! Planning any trip can be stressful, but especially International trips. It doesn’t have to be though. To help you all plan an amazing trip on your own, I’m sharing my tips for planning your own vacation with you all today. Don’t worry, you got this!
In this post I’m sharing tips for planning your own vacation by breaking down how we book our trips in parts and the order in which we plan ours. Then, I’m sharing tips and tricks for each milestone along the way. We do a little at a time, take a break, research, and come back to it. This way, you’re doing it all gradually and have time to spread out the tasks. It also give you more time to read up on where you’re going to find the best of the best and a good bang for your buck. In my work, we call it chunking or scaffolding, where we give some students tests one question or one page at a time so it isn’t so overwhelming. I always think it’s easier to approach tasks this way! From cleaning our place throughout the week to running errands, I like to do things a little at a time so it’s so overwhelming all at once. Even if you are someone who would rather do it all at once, the order of the steps below will help you in planning to make sure your trip makes the most sense and is prioritized!
CHOOSE YOUR DESTINATION(S)
We always start out by choosing where we want to go. The time of year we will be traveling may influence this, as we’d rather go to destinations when the weather is good. Consider whether or not you like traveling places at peak times (aka more people) or if you’d rather go at an off time. When we’re going on a bigger trip that includes either multiple cities within a country or to multiple countries, we like to look at where exactly we for sure want to go and plan from there.
BOOK YOUR FLIGHTS & TRANSPORTATION
After we know where we want to go, we start looking at flights. We try not to get too attached to a certain itinerary, because flying in one city versus another can make a hug difference in flight price. If you have set dates you have to travel, you’ll be even less flexible. We try to plan our longer trips give or take a day so we can find the best flight deals and times. There are so many amazing websites to look on to find good flight deals! Hopper is one that is super helpful. We often book with miles, so sometimes just calling the airlines and having them help you find the cheapest and best flight.
Once your main flight is booked, look into your transportation from city to city or country to country. This includes any train tickets, drivers, or other flights. This way, all your travel is booked at once and you don’t have to worry about making it from one destination to another. We usually go straight to the train’s websites to book. If you’re doing a driver, be sure to compare a few. Sometimes there are shared rides available in a van and others you can do privately. There will be tons of price options, so shop around! If you’re renting a car in a foreign country, more power to ya– but I’d go ahead and set that up at the same time as your flights, too.
BOOK YOUR LODGING
Once we know our dates in each city, we start looking at where to stay. Some times we like doing an apartment or home rental and others we prefer a hotel. It’s all about locations, what we can find for the price, and what conveniences we want. We’ve found some really cool places on Home Away that make you feel like you live there for a few days. We typically prefer boutique hotels and I often start my research by looking on Tablet for ideas. We have discovered so many amazing boutique hotels on that site, including our wedding villa, and I love looking there first! It’s basically a compilation of really well rated hotels on a website from which you can book directly. They regulate who stays on the hotels based on reviews and standards, so you know all of them are going to be great. From there, we look on Trip Advisor, and I’ll look at blogs for ideas, too. I like finding people who I feel like have similar taste to me, because if they liked something then I probably will, too.
PLAN OUT YOUR ACTIVITIES
Once we know we have somewhere to sleep at night, we plan out any bigger activities. For example, in Paris we know we want to take a day trip to Champagne. We also want to go to the Louvre, Versailles, and take a cooking class. We are going there this summer for a week, so we are planning one bigger activity a day. We typically like to space out some of the more ‘touristy’ things and have some time to relax without big plans some days or part of each day. For example, when going to Rome, I always recommend that people see the Vatican and The Colosseum on separate days, because cramming them in to one can be too much. We prioritize what we want to do and then make our plans from there. If we need to book ahead, then we go ahead and do that.
We typically prefer to be our own guides when possible, but if you want to book a guide, search online on travel sites or blogs and reference Trip Advisor, Yelp, or Google for reviews. I also love buying books for destinations to reference. Plus, I’m a book addict. No really, ask my husband. If you buy tickets to some museums ahead of time you may be able to skip the line. While there are some days we want to wake up with minimal plans and do what we feel, other days it pays off to plan ahead.
RESERVE YOUR RESTAURANTS
Next to what neighborhood to stay in, this is probably where I do the most research. Okay, it definitely is what I spend the most time on. We are big food lovers, so eating good while visiting a new country or city is essential to understanding their culture. Plus, who doesn’t love an amazing meal?! I cross reference everything. Multiple times. I usually start out with a ‘notes’ page for the city in my iPhone and gradually start researching from travel blogs or bloggers I like to follow who may have visited the destination. I look on websites who write about travel or destinations. I look on Trip Advisor, Yelp, and Google. I put all of them into notes and then as I see them recommended or highly ranked, I star them once, twice, etc so I know it was a frequently recommended one.
We also focus on dishes that come highly recommended and what meal(s) the restaurant is best for. I know there are restaurants that I love for dinner but dislike for brunch. Knowing the menu and when to go can make or break your experience! You don’t have to plan restaurants as far out as flights, but we do like to make reservations when possible, so we try to have a good idea in the month leading up for our dinners. For lunches, unless specified that we need a reservation, we usually keep a list of top places and decide the day of based on what we want, where we are, and how we are feeling. I constantly update my lists for cities as I stumble upon new travel guides, which you know if you’ve read any of my travel guides. I always share where we went and what is on my list for next time. Your girl loves her a good meal! Sorry, not sorry.
We always read through reviews to see why people rated it that way. For example, we saw a bad review or two on a restaurant we heard wonderful things about in Brazil and when we read closer, the people just didn’t understand the culture. They were complaining that the waiter wasn’t coming up to check on them, etc. and so they said it had bad service. Well, in Brazil, you signal the waiter to come when you want something because they don’t want to disturb you. I’ve also seen bad reviews for bolognese in Cinque Terre in Italy. Stick to seafood there because that is what the region is all about! We saw one review in Italy that complained because of the number of stairs they had to walk up to get to the delicious restaurant with an amazing view. All in all, look at the reviews closely when cross referencing so you can really understand. When you travel, know the culture and know the region. This will help you understand how things flow and what you should be ordering where.
We make similar lists for bars or places we want to go for a photo opp or for a drink. I keep them all in the same notes section on my phone broken down by category so they are easily accessible when we are actually out and about in the city we are visiting. Organization overload pays off, my friends.
CLICK BELOW TO SHOP THE POST
Now that you have all of my tips for planning your own vacation, I want to share a little about these photos and this look. I saw this ‘I dream in perfect French’ jumper and grabbed it immediately because we had just booked our flights to France for this summer. I’ve never owned a beret before, but figured I may as well go ahead and snag one of those, too. I actually love them now! They make any outfit a little more fun and chic in my opinion. I snagged a few books to help me plan out our trip and they also happened to be so cute! Perfect both for functionality when planning and for decor at home after. I took these photos in the cutest little French cafe in Dallas called Boulangerie. It’s located off Greenville and is so charming! Plus, their croissants are delicious.
I hope this helps you all when planning your next big trip! We love being able to plan our own vacations and explore along the way to make changes as we want. It’s so satisfying knowing that you picked a great restaurant or planned a wonderful experience. XO
PS: If you are a young professional who wants to go on a pre-planned tripped with some other people your age, check out For The Love of Travel. It’s an amazing company with so many awesome trip options! The owner, Tara is not only a great person, but a fabulous adventure planner! There are so many great professionals and companies out there if you’re still feeling overwhelmed and FTLO Travel is definitely one.