The first time I decided to travel alone, I realized that I had no idea what I was doing. I didn’t even think to plan my trip. When I was younger, I was always traveling with my parents and they would always coordinate the flights, the hotels, the whole itinerary. I just had to show up. But now that I’m traveling alone, I discovered that I had no idea what I was doing, and where to even begin.
I had a few places of where I wanted to go in mind, and I thought that I could just book a plane ticket to that first destination, find a place to stay for the first couple nights, and figure out the rest as I went along. I ended up planning the first few weeks, and planned the rest as I was there. It worked out, but through that experience, I’ve learned that it’s way better to plan ahead, and I’ve come up with a step-by-step list to help you better plan out your trip.
- 1 Step 1: Decide Your Destination!
- 2 Step 2: Decide How Long Your Trip Will Last
- 3 Step 3: Research your Trip Expenses
- 4 Step 4: Save Money For the Trip
- 5 Step 5: Sign up for Travel-friendly ATM and Credit Cards
- 6 Step 6: Book Your Flight
- 7 Step 7: Figure Out Where You Are Staying
- 8 Step 8: (Optional) Book Your Tickets for Transportation During The Trip
- 9 Step 9: Research and Plan your activities
- 10 Step 10: Purchase Travel insurance
- 11 Step 11: Pack
- 12 Step 12: Have Fun 🙂
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Step 1: Decide Your Destination!
This is the most important step. Choosing a place to go creates an actual goal to reach. Some factors to consider when you decide where to go are how much time you have to travel, and how much money you want to spend. If you have no idea where you want to go, look for inspiration online! Browse through location pictures on Instagram, ask your friends where they’ve been to, or if you’re brave, just randomly choose a place you’ve never been to!
Step 2: Decide How Long Your Trip Will Last
How long can you travel for? Do you only have a weekend? A week off from work? Are you currently in between jobs? You can’t figure out how many destinations you’re going to, or how much money to budget, if you don’t know the length of your trip. Fortunately this step is easy most of the time because it’s usually decided for you.
If you’re planning for long-term travel, I’d suggest you start with two months so you can confidently have at least two months of leeway to continue planning when you start your trip.
Step 3: Research your Trip Expenses
So now that you know where you want to go, and how long you will be traveling for, the next step is to decide how much money you are willing to spend, and how much money you expect to spend. I recommend first coming up with a figure you are comfortably spending. Then, divde that by the number of days in your trip so you have an estimate of how much you will spend each day. Think about what you will be spending money on each day: food, housing, transportation, and tourist activities.
Currently, I’m traveling around Europe with my girlfriend. Since we are traveling for almost five months without too much money saved up, we decided that we would strive to stay under 3000 euros a month for the both of us, not including our initial airplane tickets. Once you have a certain number, you can divide that up by the number of days you are traveling. In the case of our budget, it was around 100 euros a day. Then you can start researching places to stay, whether it’s hostels, Airbnb’s, or hotels, depending on your budget. Now that you have a budget estimate, it’s time for the next step of your trip planning.
Step 4: Save Money For the Trip
If you’ve already got the money necessary for this trip, that’s awesome! Feel free to skip this step (but if you’re interested in some money saving tips anyways, read on ahead)
One of the best ways to save money is to write down all your daily expenses, whether it’s with a money-tracking app, the notepad app on your smartphone, or even just a physical notepad and pen. You’ll be surprised at how much money you actually spend each day. People spend little bits of money here and there, which adds up to a lot. A coffee in the morning with a pastry, then a lunch with some snacks, water bottles, it all adds up! Once you start recording how much money you spend and start seeing how much money you could be saving, it will motivate you to spend less.
Cook your own meals.
This is another big one. Nowadays, I think eating at restaurants is becoming more and more the norm. With all the food pictures posted on Instagram, and all the advertisements about the new Ramen shop that opened in your neighborhood, it’s tough to resist eating out. It is also convenient to not have to spend time cooking, buying groceries, and washing the dishes (the worst part). But the money you save from cooking your own meals is astonishing! Not to mention healthier as well. Buying food in bulk from the grocery store, and learning to cook your own meals will cut the amount you spend on food by at least half.
If you have extra free time where you are just watching TV at home, or scrolling through Facebook, find a way to make money on the side! Driving for a ridesharing program such as Uber or Lyft is an easy way to make extra cash. Another way is to find a part time job. What skills do you have? Tutoring students in subjects you are knowledgeable in such as math, programming, or writing, or coaching in sports you excel in can generate a good income as well.
Make your own coffee!
This is a no brainer. Spending between $3-6 dollars a day on coffee is way to expensive. Buying your own coffee machine, or just brewing ground up coffee with boiled water is an easy way to save around $100 a month. It’s not as delicious as Starbucks, but the money saved is worth it.
Step 5: Sign up for Travel-friendly ATM and Credit Cards
Research credit and debit cards designed for traveling. Decide what perk you desire the most, whether it’s points for free flights, or for free hotel reservations, different cards have different perks depending on what you are looking for. I recommend getting a card with no foreign transaction fee, as that 3% adds up after awhile.
As for ATM cards, I recommend no fee ATM cards, and the one I use is Charles Schwab. They rebate you any ATM withdrawal fees, everywhere around the world.
Also, remember to notify the card companies that you will be traveling. If not, it’s very possible that your card will be declined for suspected fraudulent activity when you use it abroad. Just give them a call, and tell them the dates you will be traveling, and they will happily set a travel notice on your card to prevent this from happening.
Step 6: Book Your Flight
Try to book your flight at least two months in advance, as tickets are usually cheapest at this point. My favorite websites for easily finding the cheapest airplane tickets are:
It’s a good idea to compare the fares and tickets you find on different websites, as sometimes there are errors. Also, sometimes one fare might be cheaper on a different website. Skyscanner usually has cheaper deals when you book through different travel agencies. I recommend doing some research online when you select a travel agency, sometimes their policies may not be as friendly as others. I’ve used travel agencies in the past, and they’ve worked just fine, the only difference was that they saved me money!
Another good tip for booking flights is to check out low-cost budget airlines. Flying with these airlines can save you hundreds of dollars. I bought a one-way ticket from WOW Air from San Francisco to Amsterdam for only $180. These budget airlines also have promotions, so keep an eye out for those, check deals websites such as Slickdeals.com where they will definitely pop up once in awhile. However, these low-cost airlines don’t usually have the most comfortable seats, don’t offer in-flight meals, and also charge for any extra luggage besides your carry on.
Step 7: Figure Out Where You Are Staying
You have a few options for housing depending on how you are traveling. If you are traveling for a longer period of time, want to be more flexible, or you are traveling alone, a good idea is to book hostels on Hostelworld.com with a refundable deposit, or for homes through Airbnb.com with listings that have a flexible cancellation policy, so if you do decide to change your reservation because you want to stay longer in one place, you can easily change your reservations with no extra charges. However, this method is usually more costly, as you will be booking only a few days or weeks in advance, so less places will be available and the cheaper places will most likely be booked.
If you want to save more money, you should research where to stay in a similar fashion, but plan earlier, this way, there will be many more options available, and for cheaper prices. In my opinion, using Airbnb and hostels are the most economical, since hotels are usually quite expensive, and unless price isn’t an issue to you, staying in an Airbnb or a hostel will save you a lot of money.
Step 8: (Optional) Book Your Tickets for Transportation During The Trip
If you are traveling to multiple locations, you should check out travel accommodations for those as well. If the places you plan to visit are far away, you will most likely need to take a plane. I recommend using the same method for finding flights listed above.
However, if the destinations aren’t too far from each other, it’s a great idea to take buses or trains. These two options are far more economical, don’t require you to go through the hassle of going to an airport. They also allow you to view the scenery of your destinations as you move from one place to another. Depending on where you go, there are many different train and bus travel agencies that will show you the prices and options for these travel accommodations.
In Europe, a popular choice is GoEuro.com, which I frequently used to find buses for traveling around countries. Another option is to just search on Google, just search up “Origin ‘to’ Destination busses” or “trains”. Usually the top few results will have accurate time, date, and price information you can use.
Step 9: Research and Plan your activities
Research the places you want to visit! Many times I felt that I only knew one or two famous attractions in the places I planned to visit. Check out Google Trips or TripAdvisor to find other activities and tourist attractions that are popular. Choose the activities that you are most interested in; the places you want to see, the restaurants you want to dine in, any tours you want to join, etc. Keep in mind how much money you are willing to spend as well. Tours and tickets for entering tourist attractions can add up and be quite expensive. Planning your activities also helps you decide how long you want to stay in each place you visit.
Step 10: Purchase Travel insurance
It’s never a bad idea to purchase insurance. Travel insurance is one of those things you don’t think you will ever need, but when you do need it, you’ll be glad you have it. You never expect to get hurt, but these things often do happen. Especially when you are doing adventurous and sometimes crazy things you aren’t used to abroad. Fortunately, travel insurance is only a couple dollars a day. You can research online for best insurance companies.
Step 11: Pack
My best advice for packing is to pack light! First, it’s very common to bring things that you won’t need, and will end up never using on your trip. I recommend bringing 5-6 pairs of shirts, underwear, and socks, one pair of shorts, and one pair of pants. Also don’t bring too many shoes, as they take up lots of space. You really only need one solid pair of shoes that look presentable, and are comfortable for walking.
Another tip is to travel with only a backpack and a carry on bag. By doing this, you can avoid having to pay extra fees for checking in your luggage. If you are taking multiple flights throughout your trip, you’ll end up saving a lot of money. It’s also nice to not have to lug a giant luggage everywhere.
Lastly, if you are traveling overseas, make sure your passport is not expired!
Step 12: Have Fun 🙂
After all this planning, go on your trip and have a great time! Make sure to bring your passport, sunscreen, your wallet, phone, and maybe a camera. Head on to the airport, and get ready for some outdoor adventure!
Whether it’s for the weekend getaway, a weeklong trip, or months of traveling, hopefully this post is useful to you. After my first trip, I learned that great planning makes a world of difference for saving money and having a great time.
If you have any travel planning information you’d like to share, I’d love to hear them! Email me at email@example.com