Travel Planning Tips

The other day, my younger cousin asked me how do I plan for a trip.  She is spending some time abroad for school and wanted to plan some weekend and day trips to various parts of Italy.  I've sent her some of my crazy detailed itineraries in the past, and she knew I spend a lot of time doing research.  That led me to think that I should blog about my planning process.  I often rely on the internet, friends, and family to give me input on where to go and what to do.  Let me break it down for you:
  1. Pick a Place to Go. Sometimes circumstances choose this place for you, but if you have an open slate and are looking to plan a trip with no prejudices, try this method.... Think of what type of trip you want to take, or something specific you want to do or see.  Keeping that in mind, try a google search on "Places that ..." or "Best place to ... ".  For example, if I'm looking for a great place to ride in hot air balloon so that I can cross it off my bucket list, I'd use "Best place to take a hot air balloon ride".  The result set will come up with lots of websites that have already done the work for you and you can pick a place to go!
  2. Decide when you want to go. Again, you may have no control over this.  Your job or life might have to choose this for you, but you do want to double check a few things, like what the weather will be like while you're there and are there any special events you need to be aware of.  Usually I rely on for monthly averages and look for a tourism website (most countries, states, cities, etc have this) with a calendar of special events.  You probably don't want to visit Alaska in the winter, or go to Egypt in the peak of summer.  Also, if you plan to hit a place during the very beginning or very end of a non-peak season, you'll get a great deal and have decent weather.
  3. Book your flight.  I often use websites like to find the airline with the best deal.  From there, I typically book directly through that airline to ensure the best customer service if something goes wrong.  Some companies will refund your money if the cost of the flight decreases, but some will not.  Up until recently, Orbitz used to send you a check automatically if the cost went down.  Now, they issue you an Orbitz credit.  Look into the policy at each airline and be aware as to whether you need to notify them of a decrease in price, or if it is automatic (not likely). 
  4. What do you want to do?  This is where the fun begins.  There are tons of websites with activities and reviews.  Some of my favorites are listed below.  A good website will also include sample itineraries.  I also like to search travel blogs to see more detailed experiences and overall impressions.  Pull together a list of your favorites and move to the next step.
The last thing you want to do is Plan an Itinerary.  This is not an official step because, lets be honest, it will not work for everyone.  You can include as much or as little detail as you need here.  I typically block off time segments, not specific times, for things I want to do.  I also like to include address and contact information so that I can have it all in one place.  Print out all of the corresponding important documents, like confirmations, and include them in your itinerary packet.  Lastly, bind everything up and pack it in your carry on.  This is your bible during your time away from home, so don't lose it!

In addition to this page, you can find more specific posts containing travel tips on my blog here.  If you have any questions, just write a comment below and I'm happy to answer!

Good luck in your travels!

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