• Megan Kate

How To Plan A Big Trip: 8 Fool-Proof Steps | Travel Tips

Updated: Dec 1, 2020

A "big" trip is something most travel lovers dream about. Whether it be "big" as in for an extended period of time, or "big" in that you're heading to a place you've been lusting after for a while, most of us have some sort of trip in mind that we'd love to do one day. While the time before a big trip usually just consists of saving absolutely every penny possible, there's also another (great) thing that needs to happen during this time too: planning!

Whether you're booking a one way ticket and just winging it, or organising every step of the way, some degree of planning will need to be involved. When I interrailed through Europe I had nothing but a start and an end date, where as when I travelled the USA I needed to plan all flights and accommodation in advance. Both styles of travel have their pros and cons, and both might leave you wondering where to even start. Planning a trip is one of my favourite things about travelling, and I've gotten pretty darn good at it over the years. So today I'm going to give you my fool proof, step-by-step guide on how to plan the perfect trip, no matter how much planning you may want to do. Anyway, let's begin:

Step 1) Pick Where You're Going

Okay it sounds obvious but first of all: do you want to travel around 1 country? Multiple countries? Multiple continents? The level of planning you'll need to do will depend on how specific your dream trip actually is.

Step 2) Initial Research

No matter how much planning you want to do for a trip, it's never a good idea to go there with 0 idea of what you want to see once you've arrived.

For any kind of big trip for example "Australia" or "South East Asia", my first choice for initial research is to read through Lonely Planet guides. You can get mini guides on specific countries, or more general area guides such as 'Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos & Northern Thailand'. They even have guides for the well known travel routes such as 'East Coast Australia'. Then, you need to get browsing the internet. Simple searches such as 'Best Places To Visit In Italy' or 'Top Sights Thailand' are a great place to start, or you could be more specific if you know what you want from a trip, for example looking at National Park locations or coastal cities etc. YouTube videos and blog posts are always a really great resource too.

Step 3) Mark Each Place On Google Maps

I think TripAdvisor has a similar feature but my go to is always Google Maps. Save each place on here that you think you'd like to see while on your trip, as this will come in handy later on. You can access the map with all your saved places on through any device by just logging into your Google account, which is also great as a "just in case" for if you lose your phone/ laptop etc- at least you won't lose your plans!

Step 4) Pick A Rough Route

From looking at your marked out map, you should be able to pick a route that makes sense. For example for our Croatia Trip shown in the top 2 images above, it made sense for us to do a straight route down the coast, starting and ending in different cities. From this we then knew which airports to look at flights for, and we knew that even without planning much more at all, we could stick to this rough route and know we weren't wasting time going back and forth or looping back on ourselves. Other trips such as one we've been planning for Colombia require more of a loop route, probably starting in Bogota or Medellin, as that's where most flights from the UK would arrive.

Step 5) Route Length & Transport Options

Now we need to look at the logistics of your trip; there's no point going somewhere for a week when your budget limits you to 24 hour busses between towns, so now you need to have a look into the following: How do most travellers get around your chosen destination? Would you rather spend more money on quicker transport options? Are there multi-trip passes that can save you money and hassle? Have a look at the transport options in your country/ countries of choice and start to think about how long you may need to be out there for, this will also help you work out your spending later on.

A few examples:

-The train connections in Europe are quick and easy, and usually not too expensive if you travel second class. Trains and busses are probably your best option when travelling around here, but buying an Interrail/ Eurail pass may work out cheaper.

-Most backpackers travelling eastern coast of Australia will tell you to use greyhound busses between cities, and the Hop-On-Hop-Off pass may work out cheaper for you.

-The USA doesn't have the best transport links for travellers, so in this case you are probably best hiring a car or flying between cities. This will up your cost but will also save you tonnes of travel time.

-In Thailand, most backpackers will get the over-night bus or train from Chiang Mai to Bangkok. This journey can take anywhere from 12 to 15 hours but will only set you back a few quid. However if you'd rather save time, you can take the 1 hour 15 minute flight between the cities but it will cost you at least double the bus fair.

If you're looking at a couple of over night busses/ all day travel days, make sure you factor these in to your trip length. Once you've done this you can pick (on average) how many days you want to spend in each must see place and Voila, you have your trip length!

Eg: (8 places x 3 days each) + (2 full travel days) + (3 days extra to play with) = 29 days away, ish. Call it a month!

Step 6) Work Out Your Budget

Ah yes, the part of travel planning that everyone get's the most stressed about. I always split my budget into 2 sections: money I will need when I'm there, and money I need to spend before I go. Adding both of these together then gives you the amount you'll need to have saved up before embarking on this dream adventure. Here's how to work it out:

Money You Will Need When You're There:

A) Your Daily Spending. The money you need for food, accommodation, travelling between places and sight-seeing. There are some great resources out there for working this out, for example Nomadic Matt lists his recommended 'boujee' and backpacker budgets on all of his destination pages, and Christianne at Backpacking Bananas does great breakdown videos explaining how much you need when visiting destinations such as the Philippines or Colombia. Using any basic search engine or travel forum/ Facebook group to ask the question should give you some easy-to-find results too.

B) Extras. Are you learning Spanish in Madrid or Diving in The Caribbean? Are you doing any spendy excursions or group travel? It's always good to factor these in as extras when working out your budget.

C) Return Flight. If you're booking a one way ticket before you leave, make sure you take enough money with you to book a return ticket home. Have a look at my Skyscanner tips here to learn how to make sure you get the cheapest fare possible.

Money You Will Need Before You Go:

D) Visas. Do you need one for your country/ countries of choice? How much are they? Can you buy them on arrival? These are all good things to look into.

E) Flights. Either a return flight or your one way ticket, make sure you factor this in.

F) Insurance. How much is it? Do you need extreme sports cover? Do you need worldwide cover? (World Nomads is a good option for this) Do some research and figure out how much it's going to cost.

G) Vaccines. Not all vaccinations are free and you'll probably need some if visiting a country far from your own. Speak to your doctor about the recommended shots and how much they will cost.

H) Extras. Do you need walking boots? A sleeping bag? Thermal clothing? Some adventures require more new equipment than others. Maybe you need to invest in a backpack or some more suitable wardrobe pieces, all these smaller purchases add up and will need to be added to your overall amount that you're saving for.

A + B + C = How much money you need to take with you.

A + B + C + D + E + F +G + H = How much money you need to save up.

Step 7) Get Booking!

If you're winging it while on your trip, you're pretty much done. You've figured out how long you want to go for, you've saved up enough to go, you've got a rough idea of where you're heading; all that's left to do now is get it booked! Here's what I recommend you arrange before you head off, even for those hoping for a spontaneous adventure:

Pre- Trip Checklist

1) Book your flight(s)

2) Book your first (and last if you've booked a return trip) night's accommodation. This will save you a lot of stress when you arrive.

3) Pay for your visas and insurance.

4) Have your vaccines

5) Arrange a (preferably no fee) spending method. Eg- get yourself a Monzo Card, sign up for an account that won't charge you for international transactions or at least arrange with your bank so they know that you're heading abroad.

Step 8) If You Need To Plan In More Detail...

Some trips require more planning, whether you just prefer a planned out trip, you're on a tight time schedule or your chosen country doesn't allow you much room for free-flow travel (such as the USA). Depending on how much detail you want to plan, I have 2 fail safe methods I like to use:

Method 1- Planning What To Do In Each Place

This is the easier method out of the 2, as it basically just requires a deeper amount of research than what you did in step 2: read guide books, watch YouTube videos and get Googling. Some blogs I love to use as reference are Nomadic Matt, The Crazy Tourist and The Culture Trip. Searching for things such as 'free things to do in...' or 'cheap things to do in...' is also great as it will obviously save you money, but I also find that these posts suggest much more chilled/ local things to do rather that just the tourist hotspots. You can also find budget city guides right here on Megs Gap Life, if you want some personal recommendations.

Mark each thing you discover onto your Google Maps like you did before and then you're set. I personally like to 'save' (in yellow) sights and activities, 'favourite' (in pink) places to eat and drink, and then 'flag' (in green) ideas of where to stay, just so that I can tell each thing apart. The flag idea is also great for once you've booked your accommodation as you'll always have easy access to the address should you need it.

Method 2- Planning A Set Itinerary

Now for some areas of the world, winging it isn't really an option. For example when I travelled the USA for a month, I discovered that they only have a couple of hostels per city, the inter-city travel was basically all going to have to be done by pre-booked flights, and a lot of the bigger attractions out there required booking in advance, too. This basically meant pre-booking everything involved. At first I was really quite stressed, what if I forget something? What if I mess the dates up? How do I organise what's been paid for? But then I sat down and chilled out for a second, bunged all the information into a spreadsheet and came up with an idiot-proof plan to get everything sorted. Since then I've used this method on multiple other trips such as our (sadly now cancelled) Croatia Trip and it's worked a treat. So here's how I do it:

I'm someone who, if I don't have something written down, will immediately forget about it; and so when I start to plan a trip I need to make sure I have every single piece of information written in front of me.

- I start with the date, and then write down what is happening on that date, what needs booking for this to happen, if I've booked it, and how much money is still left to pay on said thing.

- Things that still need booking before I go are highlighted in yellow, and any money owed is written down separately. This amount can be changed as and when I pay for things, or if I'm paying for something when I arrive I can keep the amount there to remind me to take this money with me when I go.

- I don't really like to pre book activities, as I like to keep my days as free as possible, however some things like the Alcatraz Prison Tours need to be booked in advance or you simply won't be able to do it. Anything like this I write down, too!

- Like I said, I have to have EVERYTHING written down, so I also have a second list of things that I need to arrange such as visas, insurance, vaccines and new purchases that need to be made before I go.

And there we have it: the 8 steps you need to book the holiday of a life time. These steps are honestly fool proof and can be applied to trips of any length, anywhere in the world.

Do you have any must-follow rules when booking a trip? I'd love to know, and make sure you're following me over on Instagram to see my next big trip in real time. Meg x