There are enough articles and videos all over the internet guiding you through this exciting yet tedious process. For Smaran & I, it’s always so much fun because not only do we plan everything together, we even get to know more about our interests when it comes to activities, places we want to visit, etc. Of course going down the travel agent route is much less hectic and maybe more foolproof but I personally, love researching about a place before we visit it and booking every single thing ourselves, gives us lots to look forward to! We’ve kind of developed a routine when it comes to planning travel so I decided to share these basic steps with you!
Stage I : Zeroing in of the location
Now, we ideally start planning our trips at least 2 months in advance. Of course sometimes we just wing it if its a short trip but if its going to be any longer than a week, we’re definitely planning ahead. Pros of planning ahead? Better hotel deals, cheaper airline fares, enough time to sort visas, enough time to prep ahead! This is also the time we start zeroing in on the country/area we’d like to visit. Once we’ve zeroed in a country, we’ll decide which cities we’d like to explore within it and how accessible they are from each other. This is also determined by our interests & geographical constraints. For example, last year when we travelled to Spain for 2 weeks, although our initial plan was to hit the South of Spain, we figured that the time of year we were travelling (Mid-May to June) wasn’t the ideal time for the south. Hence, we stuck to the northern and central part of Spain. You have no control over the weather but visiting a country in the wrong season can totally ruin the experience, so we try to avoid that as much as possible.
We draw out a rough plan of where we’ll start and which city we’d finally exit from which helps us draw out a rough framework of the trip so that we know how many days we’d actually need to cover everything we want. We also, cancel out certain places if we feel like they are too out of the way, not interesting enough to us or if we’d like to leave out for a separate visit all together! Do a thorough research and once you’re ready with the location, it’s time for stage II!
Stage II : Budgeting
Now this is important for us. Every year, we set aside a certain amount that we would like to spend on travelling. We’ve realised that it’s easy to go over board and setting realistic budgets help us plan effectively. We’ve also determined, where we don’t mind spending those extra bucks and also where we can definitely save! For example, we’ve learned over time that, taking a suitable airline is very important to us. Shortest duration, less layover time, None or 1 layover, good airline, is something we always focus on. So if that means that this may not be the cheapest option available, we’d still take it! But we’ve also noticed that when we book in advance, the best option is often the cheapest too!
Depending on the number of days we decide to travel, we split the budget into 4 main categories- airline & visa, hotels, internal travel & food, miscellaneous. So once we’ve set a goal budget, we’ll allocate 25% to the return flights & visa, 35-40% on the hotels, 25% for internal travel & food and rest for miscellaneous expenses. This helps us to decide effectively on everything while staying within the budget. Obviously you may sometimes go a little over the set amount but this way, at least you’re well within the range you set for yourself. We noticed that whenever we’ve missed this stage, we ended up spending 100-150K more than we should have!
Stage III : Booking
We book our airlines first. This means that we have finalised our entry and exit destination and also the dates we’d be out for! We’ll then divide these days amongst the different cities and start booking hotels. So say for our trip to Spain, we knew that we wanted to spend at least 3-4 nights in Barcelona and in Ibiza each. So we cut down on the number nights from other cities and planned accordingly.
We always using Booking.com to book our hotels. Again when it comes to hotels, we’ve learnt that it’s ideal to stay close to the city centre as it saves you lots of cash on internal travel, time and makes everything accessible on foot! We’ll read reviews via tripadvisor.com, check ratings, check their website or instagram page and once we’re satisfied with all that and if the price meets our daily limit set for hotels, we’ll book it! You’ll notice that again, when you book in advance, you’ll get better located hotels, better looking hotels at much better prices! We also steer away from the usual big names and choose boutique hotels. They are cosier, more hospitable and more accommodating (of check in- check out times)! We do the same process for every city until we’ve booked all!
Stage IV : Visa
By stage IV we pretty much have everything figured out. The dates, the flights, the hotels, which makes it easy to provide all the information required for the visa. Most countries require confirmed tickets and hotel bookings to grant a visa. We’ll start the visa process about 30-40 days in advance, depending on how long that particular embassy takes to grant it; For example, most Schengen countries take 7-8 working days where as United Kingdom could take 15-20 days working days where as a lot of Asian countries or say Maldives, provide visa on arrival! The other reason to start early is, depending on the time of year, you most likely will only get an appointment for a much later date than expected!
Stage V : Packing, Forex, Cross checking, Internal travel
Once all of the above stages are met with, now comes the rest! Packing appropriately keeping in mind the luggage constraint, activities & number of days. Lugging around extra luggage is the last thing you want to do if you’re going to be checking in out of 5-6 hotels and travelling a lot! I try to pack items that can definitely be worn in several ways! This is also the point where we’ll check if any of the internal travel or tickets to a concert/ historical place need to be bought in advance due to high tourist periods! This makes it much easier and less stressful when we’re actually there as everything is pre-planned.
We of course carry some amount of the currency in cash but for the most part, we prefer carrying a multi currency forex card. You can swipe it, you can withdraw from it ( though there is a charge for it ) and it works everywhere! There have been situation where we’ve literally been stranded on an island because our credit and international debit cards failed to get through due to certain reasons! Hence to avoid any such nightmares, we just stick to this foolproof option! Once all of this is done, we cross check every detail, take hotel booking print outs, passport copies & visa copies (to be safe), travel insurance and off we go!
This may sound like a tedious process to most but trust me, once you get a hang of it, not only will you enjoy the process but will also realise that you’re having a more fulfilling experience and are actually saving enough money to plan the next trip! Hope this helped! If you have any good travelling tips, don’t forget to leave them below!