How do I plan my travels (guide to every step of the way)

I travel a lot, actually in the last 6 months I have been traveling 59 days, it is like 2 months out of 6 or if you prefer 1 day out of 3. Here are the places I have been:

You can imagine no travel agency could keep up with my travel needs. I know what I want and I plan my own trips. But even planning requires time on it’s own so I developed a method that works for me and I am about to share with you.

I love to travel especially to new places. I usually prefer the destinations that are not discovered yet, which means that are not so crowded but on the other hand the infrastructure is not so good, people usually don’t speak English and it will be hard to find transport to get from one place to another. And not to mention you don’t have internet, which frankly is the worst of all.

It takes me a few days to a few weeks to plan a trip, depending on the length and the information I already have of that place.

After planning so many trips I have a validated system that works great for me. It is always about the money, because if money would not be an issue you would go anywhere, with no restriction of time and resources you can afford to plan as you go along. If you are in that category, please stop here. For the rest of you, please do read along.

When I start to plan a trip i do the following steps:

  1. Research the destination
  2. How do I get there?
  3. When to visit?
  4. Choose local transport (how do I move around)
  5. Find places to visit
  6. Think of the itinerary and time needed to discover that place
  7. Budget
  8. How many trips one should take in an year
  9. Other travel hacks

1. Research the destination

I like to see travel spots, interesting places to visit, nature wanders and amazing phenomena, just to relax and entertain myself when I am not on the road. I usually go on Pinterest and just browse the images, pin what I like and discover new places. My Pinterest account is Touraeu. As you can see I organize my pins by countries, usually by countries that fascinates me or that I already made my mind to visit or even to places that I have bought the tickets. Pinterest helps me discover new places that are still unknown. If the mass media is talking about them it is already too late to go there, the masses have arrived.

Every time I see a place that I like, I put a save them also on my Google Maps  account so when the time comes to visit that place I have the pins already in place. You see a print screen of my map. My boyfriend says that my map has “chickenpox”, but that chickenpox is “contagious” and took at to some amazing places.

2. How do I get there?

Interestingly enough, choosing a destination is mostly based on transport. And you will go: ahhh, what? Well, it’s true. I choose a destination that I can access without breaking the bank.

First I have to decide between flights or ground means of transport like car or train. I choose the transport accordingly to the distance. If it is in Eastern or Central Europe I would  consider going by car or train, if it is further (and if there are available routes) I always go for the plane. I would love to add cruise or yacht to this list of options (maybe when I will go to Greece).

2.1. Getting there by plane

For the trips I plan with plane I have a rule: for European destinations I don’t pay more than 100 euro for plane tickets (per person) and the further I go, every 2-3 hours of flight will add 100 euro to the cart. So when we flew to Thailand on the route Bucharest – Doha – Chiang Mai for 11 hours we payed 400 euros per person for the plane tickets, which fits my rule.

Sometimes I choose a destination based on discounts at plane tickets. So in a way I can say that airway companies run my life. For example I knew I wanted to be somewhere on my birthday and when the time came with a 20% discount on Wizz, I didn’t miss the change and I search for a few destinations (including Stockholm, Paris) and I settled on Georgia for a fabulous amount of 45 euro / person (that’s a bargain 😉 .

I research flights on:

  • Vola – especially for flights leaving from and to Romania. I like Vola because it gives you connections that otherwise you wouldn’t find (this is how we found the trip for Morocco)
  • Momondo – for more international flights

2.2. Getting there by car

If I go with a car or train I don’t consider the expenses as much as I do the time. How much time do I spend on the trip getting there in such manner I can optimize to make as less possible, but not to get there already tired. When we planned our trip to Slovenia Google says it is a 15 hours drive, but that is too much to drive in one day if you are already tired . So we split it in 2 days: Bucharest – Budapest and Budapest – Ljubljana.

2.3. Getting there by train

Train is a great option as you can travel long distances at night and you save money on accommodation. It is great combo because in the end you will pay less.

We went to Budapest by train, it is a special feeling to sleep with the noise of the train wheels on rails. I would love to discover Europe by train..

3. When to visit?

For me it is always clear: I don’t like the summer heat and I don’t like the crowds, so I travel most in the shoulder seasons: April, May, June and September. If you don’t have special preferences about the weather, you have to take into consideration the weather in that particular country.

4. Choose local transport (how do I move around)

From the beginning you need to know if you are going to rent a car or use the local transport. I will not go into details about car renting as I went through this process only 3 times and I still have some things to figure out. I will tell you more about the public transport.

4.1. Research the railway system

It is always good to research the railway system of a country and see what there is accessible by train. Search in Google by the phrase “country + railway map” and filter by image. This is what you should get:

Thailand train map
Source: Thai Railway

For example in Thailand there are 4 main railway lines. This says a lot and I knew how to plan my trip according to this information.

4.2. Research the internal flight system

Search by “country + airports” on Google Maps or on Google Search and filter by image. This is what you should get:

Thailand Airport on Google Maps
Source: Google Maps

Continue your research and check which airport is active and connected with other internal airports.

This are the backbone of the trip, the rest will be filled by buses and some creative local means of transport.

4.3 Transport options

I use Rome2Rio to discover all the possibilities between 2 places. This is how you discover the connection with all means of transport and choose the best combination that works for you.

5. Find places to visit

I know people search first where they want to go and what they want to visit, but you have to know how to get from one place to another. Sometimes you have to give up a place just because it is remote and you would spend too much time on the road to and from that place, when you could do much more in the same period. Of course it helps overlap this processes of transport infrastructure  research and destination picking so you have an idea of places you want to go and how to reach them. And the brain will do the rest of the connection.

6. Think of the itinerary and time needed to discover that place

When establishing what to visit I always make a list of 3 or 5 places that are a must see. Based on this I know the main length of the trip. For me in Thailand it was the White Temple in Chiang Mai, Sukhothai and the Mae Klong Railway Market.

I will talk now about choosing destination. When I choose a place to go, I usually choose a country and I don’t focus on neighboring countries. One country at a time. It is easier because you don’t have to research visas and other information, you don’t have to pay different taxes: road tax, visa, etc.

I always prefer the natural landmarks over the cultural ones, but I try to keep them in balance because a country is made of both. For example in Thailand it is hard to ignore all the temples and architecture uniqueness.

I saw that usually I visit the countries from North to South but I have no idea why  do this.

One of the most important aspects of your trip planning is the planning for each day. When we brainstormed for Toura we defined a special type of point to mark the end of each day, so in the end we would know the duration (number of days) and also we would know what to fit in a day. Based on this special type of point you can see one day at a time (each day has a different color):

7. Budget

I usually plan with 50 euro a day per person. Of course this is variable depending on where you go. If you visit Italy, France and other Western countries, probably it will not be enough, on the other hand if you go to Bulgaria, Georgia, Albania, Thailand or even cheaper countries, this money will take you much further. But the 50 euro per day is an orientation I use as a reference and then I multiply or divided according to the country.

8. How many trips one should take in an year

As many as possible, obvious.  But sometimes you have limitations like money or time or other priorities, so you have to work with what you have. I recommend taking one big trip every year (2 – 4 weeks) to a great new destination, add 2 or 3 small trips (5 – 10 days) and the rest you fill from you weekends and your free time.

9. Other travel hacks

9.1 Multiple airport

I like to plan trips with multiple flights. This is great because from your country, not all the destinations may be available, but from the airport you are flying to there is a chance you can access at least one new destination. So the trip would be like A to B, B to C, C to D and D to A. You can add on your itinerary other stops like E F, G or you can make some of the distances between departing cities with other means of transport (Car, train or bus). We did this in our 11 days Italian trip: we flew to Naples and 11 days later we had a ticket back from Milan. I do this because I don’t like to go on the same route again, so this always works for me because I get to discover more places and don’t get bored in the same place. We did this in Morocco also: we flew to Marrakesh and flew back from Fes.

9.2 Enjoy your stops

If you have to make a stop to change the airplane always take the connection with the smallest waiting time (if possible 2-4 hours) but if here is no connection it is better to take the longest in order to get out of the airport and visit that city also. Some on the biggest companies provide free city trips to the city (Turkish for Istanbul, Qatar for Doha, and so on). To wait 5+ hours in airport is not pleasant so go for either of the solution (the smallest or the biggest waiting time). If it is the return flight always go for the shortest wating time because you will be tired and not in the mood to visit something new, you just want to get home.

Conclusions of your trip planning:

Choosing a destination is a matter of being open to discover serendipitous places that are in the world, watching the flying offers and being spontaneous to just buy the tickets and go.

Stay curios and stay alert. The plan it will change, but the more you know and the better prepared you are, the easier will be to adapt to travel challenges.

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