I love travelling but I’m not that great with spontaneity. I think it’s partly due to my anxiety and partly due to my compulsiveness and LOVE of research, but whatever the reason, I need to plan plan plan before I can relax about taking a trip.
I spent several weeks researching and planning my big European tour (the longest continuous time I would have ever spent travelling continuously) and I felt so much better upon leaving and changing destinations. Hopefully, my steps will help you too!
Step 1: Where/when do you want to go?
- Do you have a break from work or school coming up? Do you just need a vacation?
- Where do you want to go? Do you want a quick getaway or do you want to cross something off your bucket list?
In my case, I had a 5-week break from school and I wanted to see as much of Europe as possible before I moved back to the States. So my friend and I picked a start and end date that worked well for our schedules and for the prices and started planning.
If you’re just heading to one city, it will obviously be easier than if you want to hit up multiple countries. I had a huge laundry list of countries and cities that I wanted to visit, but obviously, I had to save some for later due to time and money constraints!
My advice: Pick what you yourself absolutely need to see. You can always go back.
Step 2: Getting there (and changing places)
- Plane, train, car, or even boat?
Our trip was done entirely by train. This was because we didn’t want to spend time heading outside of cities to airports, and lose hours going through security, dealing with delays, and having to head back into cities. Train stations in Europe are all in the city centre, or within walking distance of it. We also didn’t want to worry about bag sizes or ridiculous extra fees, so we decided trains would be the easiest and most time and cost-effective means of travel for us.
However, travelling by train meant that a lot of our destinations were dictated by the price of train tickets and/or ease of transfer from one city to another. For example, we skipped Geneva and chose Luzern instead because it was several hundred Euro cheaper to get to from France.
My advice: Compare the cost of plane and train prices and think about how you want to get to and from your destination. Obviously coming from overseas you’ll need a plane. But beyond that? Consider a train! Sometimes they’re cheaper and more convenient, and you’ll get to see some beautiful scenery on your way! (I can’t speak for travelling by boat or car as I’ve never done either before)
Step 3: Create a Google doc!
- This will be your trip planning lifeline!
- It’s a great thing regardless, as you can access it anywhere you have access to a computer, but even better if you’re travelling with friends. They can help you plan too!
Step 4: Research everything!
Yes, I know this sounds daunting to most. To my research-loving self, this sounds like so much fun.
I used my Google doc to list all of our destinations and then our plans under each destination. We listed our arrival and departure times and places as well as our accommodation. I also used this list to write down what I absolutely wanted to see and possible places to eat.
This sheet was our lifeline. It reminded us of things to do when we were too tired to brainstorm. It gave us amazing places to eat that we otherwise wouldn’t have found on our own. It helped us navigate confusing train timetables in foreign languages.
Now…where do you get this research?
Telling you to research is one thing, but actually doing it is another. Check out these resources:
- Blogs: Chances are, someone has blogged about where you are going. Bloggers, in my opinion, provide more interesting and personable information about different destinations. Yes, most of them are through a rose-coloured filter, but they can give you a good idea (and some amazing pictures) of where you’re going. How to find them? A Google search will do: simply search for your city and ‘blog’ or a certain attraction and ‘blog’ and usually hundreds will pop up!
- Travel websites: I’ve written about these before, check out this post!
- Friends: Ask on Facebook! Chances, are you have some well-traveled friends or friends of friends who would be happy to provide advice.
- Apps: I’ve also written about travel apps before. Some are more useful whilst actually travelling, but check them out nonetheless!
Step 5: Book
Easier said than done, book everything! My friend and I started by booking our first and last train tickets as it gave us a concrete set of dates to work around. Then, after we figured out what dates we wanted to be in which locations, we started booking accommodation and travel between cities.
Be sure to coordinate with your AirBnb hosts and save all your receipts and confirmations! We kept a record of this on our Google doc.
Step 6: Finalise
- Map everything you want to see or restaurants you would like to try. To do this, go to your Google Maps app, type in the location, click on the banner at the bottom of the screen and click the button that says ‘SAVE’ with a little star above it. Now, your location will actually be starred on your map, so even if you can’t pull up specific directions, you can at least follow streets to know you’re heading in the right direction!
- You can actually use Google maps whilst on Airplane mode with your wifi turned on (but not actually connected). This will show you your location and help you get places.
- Pack: Make sure you pack weather-appropriate. Just because it will be April, doesn’t mean that it won’t SNOW while you’re in Vienna. Pack for contingencies. Bring something waterproof for when it inevitably rains. Also, download plenty of music or audiobooks for your journeys.
Car is by far the easiest and cheapest way to travel within North America as you know, of course. Overnight buses are the way to go in South America, especially in bigger countries like Peru and Brazil. But, I will definitely consider train the next time I go to Europe. If you ever get down to Greek Islands, then that is where you can try out the ferry experience. It’s pretty cool, actually.