“In Winter, I plot and plan. In Spring, I move.”
We travel a good bit. A lot of times, we’ll announce out travel plans to friends and family a couple of months beforehand. I’m aware it seems like we wake up and go, “Alright, we leave tomorrow?” That’s never the case. Y’know, unless we wake up and go to Asheville then hell yeah. Let’s leave first thing.
All of our travels start with a small idea typically a year to two years in advance. Take our California trip for example, that started out as a passing comment. We discuss and decide well in advance before I start the planning process. So, here’s the breakdown of what I do, because as Alex has mentioned before: “You’re just so much better at it than I am.”
Step 1: Where in the world are we going? (a year to two out from your adventure)
Anywhere. No, seriously. Go Anywhere. Obviously, if you’re going overseas, make sure you know the current political climate, the threat levels put out by the State Department, and have an idea of where the U.S. Embassies are. Other than that, go. However, for this post, I’m just going to keep referencing US trips. Just make a list of places you want to see and then start at the bottom of the list. That way, by the time you hit number one, you’ll be a seasoned traveler.
Step 2: Overall Costs (a year or two out)
This is the part most stop and whine about. Oh don’t worry, I do too. Alex definitely does. We’re not going to let it stop us though. I mean, do you really need that second pair of shoes Karen? Or can you put that cash in a jar for the Paris trip you’ve always sworn you were going to take?
Just because you can’t afford it right now, doesn’t mean you can’t later. We postponed our trip to California twice. Tuck away five to ten dollars each paycheck. If you’re think you can afford more, do it. As long as you’re still able to live and make your bills. You should never go broke trying to afford a trip. Be responsible.
I always research a few things during this step: Flight prices, rental car prices, hotel costs in the cities I’ll be in v. Airbnb (I prefer Airbnb, but I know some people find it creepy), activity prices, food costs, and gas prices. God, I cannot tell you how much Cali gas prices hurt. It’s why we ended up with an economy car even though a small SUV was cheaper upfront.
Step 3: The Waiting and Saving Game (a year to six months out)
Armed with my new information, I present it to Alex and I let him decide whether or not we can take it in my given timeline. Like I mentioned before, we postponed California twice. It happens. Don’t be discouraged. You’ll get there. In the meantime, put together your must sees and where you must eat (most important to be honest). Reach out to anyone you know who has been there, ask them for recommendations on where to go, what to see, and check into when peak season is. Adjust your plans around it. There’s nothing worse than going on a beach trip when everyone else and their mother is also on their beach trip.
Remember, during this time is when you should be saving for your trip!
Step 4: Watch Your Flights and Book ‘Em (four to two months out)
I have never never never bought the first plane ticket I came across. I’m a dedicated Southwester when it comes to flying domestically. I have been since I was eighteen. Two checked bags for free? Bring it on. Airplane shaped cookies? Even better. Just like every airline, their prices change constantly. Which is why, I track it and wait to buy until at least two to four months out. Southwest has ticket sales throughout the year. I just grabbed a roundtrip, nonstop to Denver for $200 in April after sitting on it for a few months to watch the prices drop.
California was my biggest prize though. Two roundtrip, nonstop from ATL to LAX for $570. That’s right, I got us tickets for under $600 to California. For anything overseas, I’d recommend setting up Google Flight Tracker. It’ll keep an eye on those prices and send you updates when they change.
Step 5: Get Your Car Rental and Accommodations (three to two months out, preferably after the flights booked)
Ignore the car rental if you’re going to a city with good public transit. No, I’m not kidding. Use the bus and trains. It will be cheaper in the long run. I lived five minutes from DC in college and never needed a car. Any time I’ve gone to NYC, we’ve always used the metro. Parking is expensive in major cities. You could potentially be saving hundreds of dollars by stepping out that little comfort zone. Remember that.
Onwards to accommodations! I love Airbnb. We’ve used it a few times now and have always had the best experiences. To me, immersing yourself is part of the trip and being able to live like a local during your stay makes a huge difference. Again, I know some people find staying in someone else’s house super weird and uncomfortable.
If I’m looking for a single night hotel, I’ll book it on Expedia and be done with it. I know a lot of people HATE Expedia, but I’ve found awesome deals on it. If it’s anything more than a single night though, I like to book directly through the hotel’s website. Sign up for the rewards programs too. We had to stay a night in LA and arrived super early to our hotel. Thankfully, I was a long time member of IHG and we were able to check in at noon.
Step 6: Write Out Your Itinerary and Packing List (a month or two out)
Mental notes are great and all, but once you have it written out you’ll be able to get a clearer view of your budget and it just makes it feel more real. I personally like to hand write it out…cause I’m weird and like the hand cramps that come with it. There are websites that have downloadable templates for you though.
After all these, we’re usually ready for our trip. It’s just a matter of buying anything we might need beforehand and waiting for the day to arrive. Just remember, this is one of the endless ways to travel. We’ve just found it works well for us, especially since Alex is not someone who likes doing things on a whim. Travel well and travel often lovelies!