Planning a Trip


Every trip starts with picking your destination (or destinations). My own list of places I want to go is endless and ever changing, so narrowing it down can be difficult. When picking your destination, you want to think about a) how much time you can take off work and b) how much money you are comfortable spending.  Different destinations come with different price tags. While I always travel with a budget, you have to face facts that Paris is always going to cost more than Lisbon. 

Once you have your destination, think about what you want from this trip. Are you trying to escape work and just want to relax, and want minimal planning? Are you going somewhere you've always dreamed about? Are you heading off for a crazy adventure? Do you want to party? Do you want peace and quiet? Do you want a beach or a city or something in between? This helps you get the most out of your trip. When I went to Thailand, I wanted a crazy trip filled with the unknown. I could not even tell you why I picked Thailand. I just knew I wanted to get out of my comfort zone, go somewhere with good food, good beaches and a culture I had never experienced. 

It's also important to think about your timeline and speed at which you travel. I like to cram as much in as possible, see the sights, find the hidden gems, get lost, and hang with the locals. If you have a more laid back approach to travelling you might not want to plan everything, if you have only a few days in one spot, maybe you want to pre-book all your tours. The most important thing is to have fun, and travel at your pace. You do not have to go to every major museum in London, or visit every castle in Scotland. Pick activities that will maximize your enjoyment while you travel. Don't feel guilty if you've flown all the way across the world and decide you just want to walk around and enjoy the vibe of the trip but instead of seeing the sights and touristy places. On the flip side, if you like to plan, and you like tours and you want to hear all about the history, then do it! Travelling is very individual and you should not be made to feel like you missed out because you did it your way.

When I start to plan a trip the first thing I do is google the country. It is important to know what is happening politically and environmentally and to learn a little historical context for countries you are visiting. Most governments offer travel advisories, and it is always good to check and see if your government recommends travel to the country you want to go to. On top of checking government advisories I do independent research, checking travel blogs, Trip Advisor or The Lonely Planet. A lot of places have travel advisories against them for Canadians and Americans but they are usually still safe to travel. You also need to check if you need a visa to visit. Last year, I went to Australia for one of my best friends' weddings, and I assumed (wrongly) that as a Canadian and thus part of the British Commonwealth, I would not need a visa to enter Australia. Luckily I realized my mistake just in time to apply for an online entry visa. You should also always check with your doctor. Some countries require vaccines for entry or are experiencing an outbreak of a disease you do not have at home.

Once I am sure I am going somewhere, I begin to look at airfare.  Even if I'm not travelling for a year, I like to see what the ballpark figure is. You might get an amazing deal in a few months but it is also key to have a realistic expectation of what you're going to pay. I also like to review the airline. For example, when I booked my flight to Bangkok I found an amazing deal on a small Chinese airline I had never heard of. After researching the airline, reading reviews* and checking the crash rates, I quickly realized they were not an airline I would feel comfortable on. I used www.airlinequality.com to check reviews of airlines. Doing research on where you are going, and what kind of service you can expect, is crucial, especially if you are using your entire allotted vacation time from work - you want to have a good time.

After getting an idea of how much airfare is, I start looking for accommodation. My two favourite websites are HostelWorld and Booking.com. I use hostels ALL the time. I love the social aspect, I love that they tend to be cheaper, and I love that you can book a room that is shared or private. There are many hostels not listed on HostelWorld, but they do have a TON of places for nearly every destination. They also ask their users to rate a hostel and to give their age, home country and type of trip they are on (for example, round the world trip, romantic get-away, work trip etc). This gives you a pretty good idea of how their review relates to you. If someone is my age and backpacking, then I know that their review probably will mean more to me than a couple who went on a romantic weekend-get-away. Booking.com also offers a wide range of discount rates for hotels, which I like to use for shorter trips, or weekend-get-aways.

Once I know that there are accommodations in my desired location, I start to look up itineraries. I want to know what and how long the average traveller stays in this location. It is important to note that everyone is different. You might LOVE somewhere and stay for a week, while I might only spend two days there. Still, it is helpful to see what are considered the "must do" activities of any given destination. One of my favourite resources is other travel blogs. I love to see what other travellers have done. I also love The Lonely Planet and the New York Times. The New York Times for most major cities have an article titled "36 hours in...". On my recent trip to Lisbon, I relied heavily on the restaurant recommendations from 36 Hours in Lisbon. Their recommendations were astounding, and they had a good mix of budgets.

One last note, while it is important to check the local weather and best time of year to visit, DO NOT let the weather bum you out, you can not control it. All you can do is make the most of you vacation. Weather happens, make sure you know what to expect in terms of temperatures and seasons but remember that things happen. When I was in Portugal this past June, I expected hot & sunny days but was met with mostly clouds and lower than average temperatures. Sure, I wanted to be on the beach every day but I had to adjust my expectations and found other things to do while travelling in Portugal and I had the BEST time. 




*A quick note on reading online reviews, ALWAYS take reviews with a grain of salt. I love reading TripAdvisor but I always consider that I don't actually know the reviewer, maybe they are experts on what they're reviewing, maybe they are first time travellers, maybe they are a 60 year old man, maybe they are an 16 year old girl. Everyone is going to have a different perspective and a different attitude, what could be a bad experience for them, might be something you never would notice. 

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