Steps to Planning the Perfect Trip

March 10, 2020

Planning for a trip can take a lot of work and time. With excitement racing through our veins in a desire to see everything, it can also feel overwhelming. After years of planning trips from all over, I finally figured out a system I use for all of my trips. These four steps really dial in my focus on what’s important for me to see and do while also being prepared for a new place. It allows me to be present in the moment while on vacation instead of glued to a computer searching for what to do next.

Make a List

What do you want to see? Why are you going to this particular destination? This list is meant to get you to focus on what’s important to you. I have two sections on my list when planning a trip; my non-negotiables and everything else. For example, seeing the Berlin Wall while in Berlin, the London Bridge in London, the Raod to Hana in Maui, and the Alhambra in Granada were non-negotiables when visiting those places. To me, those places wouldn’t have been the same without visiting these landmarks. Food can and should be on the list as well. What do you want to eat, what’s a culturally special dish to the region?

This list is also intended to help guide further research into a region. Once I have begun my initial list, I begin diving deeper into my research. Read blogs, watch YouTube videos of other travelers to that region, look up the best restaurants to get that special dish you want to try, and reach out to others who have been there. Since you’ll be adding to this list constantly with the more research you do, create a Google Doc or use a notebook that you’ll have with you at all times. I really like creating a Google Doc since I constantly edit it as well as share the list with those I’m traveling with.

exploring Alhambra

Create a Map

This is my favorite part of the whole process and makes a huge difference while traveling. I’ve been making a map for each trip we’ve taken for over a year now and I honestly can’t believe it’s taken me so long to do this. The map shows me exactly where everything from my list is in relation to each other. This allows me to plan out my days, be more efficient in my travels, and find a central location to stay in during the trip.

To begin creating your own, go to Google Maps on a computer or laptop. From there, click on the three horizontal lines in the top left corner which becomes a dropdown. Click on Your Places. Four options appear, click on Maps. Click on Create Map to make your own personalized map. Use the search field to begin finding your must-sees and save them to the map by clicking the + Add to Map in the bottom left of the box that pops up. You can save things in separate layers, which I use when we’re visiting different cities or regions within an area. You can also share this map with others you’re traveling with and make it available on your phone.

Escaping the pouring rain with a beer

Make a Schedule but Keep it Flexible

I can’t stress the importance of being flexible while traveling. Shit happens, it just does. So although I plan out our days with our shorter trips, I give myself grace knowing that it may all change once we get there. Keeping flexibility in mind, I like to create scheduled days in which to do things. I take things grouped together on the map and figure out a good flow for each day. This is also good to do well in advance so you know when things open and close. I buy tickets at this stage for anything requiring a ticket to ensure I get them for when I want and schedule my days around it.

Once I have the days planned out, I do a little more research on best restaurants, cafes, and bars around the areas we'll be each day. This way we have lots of options when our stomachs begin to growl while we’re out. I make sure to have at least four to five different options. This is also where it pays off to be flexible. Some of the best food I’ve had while traveling have been random finds simply by walking by, the ones filled with locals. Those are the places worth stopping at!

using public transportation in Prague

Figure out Public Transportation Beforehand

This step is one we have figured out the hard way. It can be overwhelming trying to figure out a new public transportation system, especially in a foreign country in which you’re still learning the language. We have missed our stop, got on the wrong line, and were yelled at for who knows what in a language I didn’t yet know. It adds to the experience, but you learn fairly quickly what not to.

Before we travel now, we make sure to look at a few things when it comes to public transportation. We first look at the routes via the website itself and using Google Maps. Where the routes take you can make a huge difference. Public transportation played a huge role in our time in Prague, allowing us to see parts of the city that would have been too far to travel to on foot. We also look at pricing. Often there are discounts when you buy a package of tickets or a weekly pass. If you’re taking public transportation at least once a day, a pass typically makes sense and saves you money. We reference our schedule and see how often we’ll actually be needing it before purchasing a pass.

watching the moon rise over Prague

Although there is beauty in unplanned moments on a trip, a lot of planning and work goes into it before you even arrive. Making a list of what you want to see, creating a map, and being prepared allows you to focus on what’s important to you in a new city. Trust me, the planning, research, and time to do so is so worth it.