One of the things that I miss the most from our normal life (before coronavirus came last year) is the excitement for an upcoming travel. I love researching a new place, planning what we can do and see there, where we can taste the best local food, and how we can make the most of our time there. However, I am aware that planning a trip can feel like both the most exciting AND the most overwhelming part of travel. Sure, creating a Pinterest board full of gorgeous pictures is fun, but then you start trying to figure out the actual logistics and it hits you … oh god, this is SO MUCH WORK.
So, with view of potentially more travelling in the coming months, I decided to share my top tips that I used while planning some of our favorite travels from the past years. These can be applied to any trips, abroad and domestic, in any season of the year, no matter what you like to do while traveling. So I hope they will be useful for your next trip – if you have used any of them, please feel free to share your experience in the comments below. I would love to hear from you.
TRAVELLING DURING CORONAVIRUS TIMES
I decided to put this tip on the first place in my list because it will determine everything else included in this post – Covid-19 has complicated things a bit so you must check in advance what are the local restrictions before deciding on your destination. A great resource is the Skyscanner website where you can see all the restrictions at glance but please do remember to consult the local government advice for up-to-date information.
As the situation is dynamically changing everywhere, it is important to be ready to make last-minute changes. The most important part of any trip you plan during Covid-19 will be flexibility, according to Nisreene Atassi, the global head of communications at Brand Expedia. We have all grown accustomed to paying for the cheapest flights and hotel rooms, but in the current climate you should be ready to pay extra to guarantee your vacation is fully refundable – this applies to flight tickets, accommodation, any museum/other attractions passes, etc. Read the text in the small letters in your contracts/booking confirmations as it will most probably include the most important information for you.
In addition, while choosing your destination I would suggest that you avoided coronavirus hotspots and locations that are famous for their crowds. The World Health Organization (WHO) suggested that rates of Covid-positive tests be less than 5 percent before visitors are welcomed—a rate experts agree creates a safer environment. Except current number of Covid-cases, I would suggest checking accommodation in remote locales over more populated ones and fewer crowds over bigger ones. So a cabin getaway, a home in a less well-known beach area, a hotel in a National Park would be safer options than big chain hotels and questionable Airbnb apartments.
Personally, we have avoided traveling abroad in the past year and we don’t plan on changing that in the near future. So we have focused mainly on domestic travels, choosing our destinations carefully based on the current state of the pandemic.
KNOW YOUR TRAVEL STYLE
It’s through many conversations with people who love traveling as much as I do that I’ve realized something: everyone’s travel style is as unique and different as their personalities. Some people are spontaneous, some like to have a day-by-day itinerary, some are happy just exploring a city on foot with no real plans to speak of, and some just want to sit on the beach and relax – doing stuff isn’t their idea of a relaxing vacation. I feel strongly that there is no right or wrong way to travel, just different styles and preference, all of which are valid.
So, what’s your travel style? Kaloyan and I prefer to plan our travels in advance – we love spending hours and hours researching a new place, deciding on what we can do and see, browsing Pinterest and Instagram for ideas, and then sitting down and putting it all together in a single itinerary. We need to know what we will be doing every day so that we can prepare properly, take appropriate clothes and essentials for the travel, and book any sightseeing in advance. However, we still leave a bit of room for spontaneous things – for example, when we were in Paris in 2019, we planned a day on the river island of Île de la Cité and the nearby Latin Quarter and even though our itinerary was packed with sightseeing we still left a bit of room to just explore the area on foot. When we were in Bratislava, we planned so little that we had all the time to just wander around and enjoy our time without having to rush.
Striking a balance between over-planning and under-planning is what works best for us and after years of traveling together, we’ve perfected our method. Think about what you like to do the most while away and you will see what is your traveling style.
CHOOSE YOUR DESTINATION
We always start our travel planning with choosing our destination based on the two points above – you need to choose the place based on the current travel restrictions and Covid-measures and your personal travel style. Once you know these two important elements, you can answer the below questions:
- How much time do you have? If you only have 1-2 weeks of vacation time per year, don’t waste too much of that time traveling to and from your destination. Plan your trip according to the time you have available.
- Who are you travelling with? Will you be travelling solo, as a couple, or taking family vacations? Sit down with the other members of your traveling group and discuss your ideas and interests. Memorable trips are those where each member gets to experience something they love.
- What kind of experiences do you like? To have a memorable trip, choose a destination that allows you to have experiences you enjoy. Do you like relaxation or adventure, beaches or mountains, summer or winter, cities or countryside?
- When to travel? Weather and crowds play an important role when you plan your trip so take into consideration high and low seasons.
Once you have chosen your destination, it’s now time to book as many things as possible for it, starting from your preferred mode of transportation. I am fortunate to live in Europe because we can choose among planes, trains, and busses to travel across the countries on the continent and each of these modes offer discounted or cheap ticket options. For example, we traveled by train to visit Venice in 2017 but relied on a bus to get us to Bologna the same year. So know your possibilities and don’t limit yourself only to flights.
After that you need to consider your accommodation. In the current climate, it might be more reasonable to consider locations that are a bit further from the crowds in the busy cities but if you are still longing for a city break, why don’t you take a look at your some alternative options – for example, we stayed in a cozy apartment in Budapest instead of a big chain hotel and we were really impressed with the cleanliness of the place. So, look around, read the reviews carefully and I am sure that you will be able to find a place that will feel a bit safer than an enormous hotel.
Last but not least, check if you can book in advance any places that you would like to visit, especially if they are on the higher price range. It is definitely a better idea not to carry much money around so if you can tick off any payments in advance, don’t hesitate to do so. Additionally, pre-paid tickets often give you a quicker access to the location so you won’t have to wait on a long queue to enter it. Read the official website carefully and check your options.
GET TRAVEL INSURANCE
Once you have booked as many things as possible, it’s important to protect your investment by getting travel insurance especially in the Covid-times. If you have to cancel your trip for some unknown reason, you can recoup the cost of your bookings with insurance. And I highly suggest you get travel insurance period – it’s such a small investment for peace of mind, it’s just not worth the risk. Anything can, will, and sometimes goes wrong. If it does and you are not insured, you can be up for a lot of money and inconvenience.
HOW WILL YOU GET AROUND?
Another thing to consider when planning a trip is to find out the transportation options in your chosen destination. Will you need to book a rental car or pre-purchase any transportation passes online? Is there a train or bus service? Are there taxis or Uber? Can you simply walk to most places?
For example, when you visit Paris, you will definitely need a public transportation card to get around as the city is huge. This is not the case for Bratislava, though, where you can go solely on foot and still see the best parts of the city. Research the transport options for your destination in advance and this will save you time and stress once you are there.
THINGS TO SEE & DO
When you plan a trip you’ll want to know what are the must-visit tourist attractions and the best free things to do in your chosen destination. As much as we like to just show up, some trip planning is a good idea especially if you are visiting a popular destination in the peak travel season. Popular attractions like The Louvre are booked out well in advance, so don’t just show up on the day expecting to get in.
Research and organize your tickets to any sightseeing places, theme parks, theatres and concerts, any experiences you would like to have. Don’t forget to check restaurants and places to eat and drink as those may require reservation as well – like the Hungarikum Bisztro restaurant in Budapest which we visited in 2018. And don’t forget to check different sources – travel blogs, Pinterest, Instagram, and guide books are just a few options where you can find the best places to visit.
PLAN YOUR ITINERARY AND FINALIZE DOCUMENTATION
And finally it’s time to plan your itinerary! We have always used “My Maps” to outline our travels (you can see examples here and here) and save all important information like travel instructions, ticket prices, photo ideas, etc. In this way we have everything that we need for each day of our trip organized in one place. You can download an offline version as well so that you don’t need to rely on Wi-Fi/Mobile Data all the time.
In addition, we save all the necessary documents (like tickets, booking confirmations, flight information, etc.) both on our phones and on our email cloud so that we can have an easy access to them at all times. Sometimes we print out hard copies as well as you won’t always have access to the internet to search email. Make enough copies of everything that is important for your travel for your own peace of mind.
So that’s it! I hope that this post has been useful for your next trip. Let me know in the comments which tip is your favorite one. Do you have any other tips of your own?