One reason why big trips are so hard to make happen is that it takes a lot of forethought, time, and effort to plan. And most of us just don’t have the time to devote to planning a big trip, or even know the steps involved in making it happen. I know it can be intimidating, which is I put together a travel planning timeline to help you stay organized and on track for the trip of your dreams.
As you know, this month is all about turning your dreams into plans, so let’s take a look an approximate timeline you can use to plan your next big adventure! Feel free to adapt it as you need to to fit your own needs and time available. After all, this is about living your dreams, not mine!
If you want this info in a downloadable checklist to keep you accountable, you can download it right here:
One Year Out: Dreaming
If you already took my build your bucket list challenge, you probably have a sense of where you want to go next, or a few ideas of places that are priorities. When you first start the planning process, you get to dream and scheme to think of where you want to go.
I would suggest starting out on Pinterest (follow me here!) and then buying a travel guide once you’ve narrowed down your destination a bit.
I’m obsessed with Lonely Planet travel guides,because they have great itinerary suggestions in the front of the books. I haven’t yet followed one of their itineraries entirely (because what’s the fun in that?), but they’ll give you an idea of locations that are close enough to combine into a single trip, and what period of time might be appropriate to spend in each city.
Then, you can start looking into approximate flight and hotel costs and when you might have enough time (a vacation from school, or vacation days built up from work) to take a trip. Starting early will give you a general sense of your target budget, which will allow you to save a little at a time until you meet your goals. You can also set up alerts on Skyscanner and Hopper to track flight prices.
For more on budgeting for travel, check out my guide to budgeting for travel with Mint.
6 Months Before: Dates and Flights
A few months before your trip is about the right time to lock down your flights and dates. This is such a fun period, because you get to look at hotels, but it can quickly get very stressful.
First, lock down your dates and start shopping for flights. If you can be a little flexible on your dates, do a search where you check a range of days in order to see what the different flight costs are looking like. Google flights makes it really easy to see the lowest flight prices across months just by clicking on the date field to pull up the calendar view.
Hopefully, you’ve already been looking at flights enough to have a general sense of what they will cost.
If you’re loyal to a particular airline, it might be worth it to book with them in order to get the points or use points on your purchase. Check out my guide to travel loyalty programs for more on that.
Then, it’s time to start looking at hotels. I always read reviews on TripAdvisor, even if I’m not booking through them. Sometimes, booking a hotel room on the hotel’s website is a little less expensive or includes additional options like having breakfast included, so be sure to check around if you’re concerned about getting the best deal.
3 Months To Go: Internal Travel
About 3 months to go is the time you’re going to want to start thinking about traveling between cities, if you’re planning on doing that on your trip.
If you’re booking trains, (my preferred way to get between European cities), check out the Man in Seat 61. It’s a great website, loaded full of every detail you want to know about getting between cities on a train. I’ve only used it for travel in Europe, but it has helpful details for places around the world.
Check Google flights for the best deals on short internal flights, but be sure to check out the airline regulations about carry-on bags, because some of the regional carriers wont be fond of your massive carry-on.
This is also the time when you can start brainstorming activities, tours, and experiences you’re hoping to have in your destination. Read through your guide books for ideas on the top activities to do while you’re on your trip.
1 Month Before: Lock Down Activities
About a month before you go (though possibly longer for some major attractions, like the Eiffel Tower in the Summer), you’ll want to set up your tours and activities. I would encourage you to think across a range of possibilities, depending on your interests. For instance, you might order a museum pass in Paris but also book a cooking class.
It’s always fun to do some unexpected things on your trip. We did a 3 hour long olive oil seminar in Greece and it was one of the best things we did.
Be creative and, again, TripAdvisor is a great place to look for reviews on things to do in a given city.
1 Week Before: Packing
Now is the exciting part! It’s time to pack your bags. Don’t freak out and buy every single thing you think you might need unless you’re 100% sure that you wont be able to find a store where you’re going. If I can get random stuff at Pharmacies in Greece and France to help when my extremely sensitive skin freaks out with bites and rashes, you can find ibuprofen if you end up needing it.
If you left packing to the last minute, check out my fast packing guide here. And don’t forget your passport!
Download your travel planning timeline checklist right here:
Tell me in the comments: Where are you headed next?