You and your friends are thinking about taking a trip. You’re totally pumped, and can’t wait to explore a new city… but then you realize you’ve been burdened with the dreaded planning. What part of town are you going to stay in? Airbnb or hotel? How are you getting there? What restaurants are you going to, and what excursions will you be doing? Are you renting a car, using public transportation, or getting a car service? Yikes. You’re totally lost and you haven’t even gotten there yet.
I think when people are contemplating a trip, the one thing that really deters them is the thought of having to plan and coordinate it. Luckily, in the age of the internet and more importantly social media, there is a plethora f travel information at your fingertips. Yet, with this vast amount of tips and advice, trip planning can be an overwhelming process where you may feel stuck in a jungle of information.
As I plan for my next big trip to Bali, Indonesia, here is how I'm staying organized.
1) Choose a Planning Platform and a Destination
One of the first things I do when considering a trip anywhere is start a Google Docs. This is a great program that allows you to include your fellow travelers into a blank document so that you can begin to add your travel research, flight options, locations ideas, and duration of the trip. I choose to color code names so that everyone knows who is imputing what advice. A lot of times I’ll begin a Google Doc with one destination in mind, but after I do my research and pick a budget, I decide to go to another city. When we planned our 13 day trip to Bali, we were originally going to Mykonos, Greece for 8 days - sometimes the adventure is not dependent on the location.
Things to consider...
Before choosing a destination, there are a few things that need to be considered.
Do you need a travel visa to visit this destination?
Will you need to get any vaccinations?
Is your passport up-to-date?
Will I need to get an international phone plan?
For Bali, we later found out that there are multiple vaccinations we must receive before going. Luckily, we live in an area where there is easy access to traveler clinics. As for an international phone plan, we are looking into getting 30 day sim cards at Telkomsel. These cost between 7 and 12 USD.
Once I have booked flights and accommodations, I move over to TripIt, which keeps all of your booking information in once place. However, I still keep my Google Docs for adding loose-based plans.
2) Book Flights
Our flight booking experience for Bali was unexpected to say the least - thanks to Hopper. Hopper is my favorite go-to app for booking cheap flights anywhere in the world. Although there are other sites that offer flight deals, I like the idea that Hopper stays away from 3rd party sellers and shows you only deals directly from the airline. Another great thing about Hopper is their flexibility feature while booking dates. Instead of choosing in the dates you want to travel, it shows you a month-to-month color coded calendar of when flights are the cheapest. However, always check the airlines website directly before booking through Hopper to make sure there aren’t better flight options available.
I had spent weeks searching for the best deal on flights to Athens, Greece when planning this trip. On a whim, I began “watching” flights on Hopper to Bali around the same time just to see what the price difference would be. They were cheaper! After realizing that Bali is a much more affordable place to travel in comparison to Mykonos (and after a couple cocktails), we booked our tickets to Bali through Singapore Airlines for less than 600 USD.
Some other sites that offer a similar service include...
Pro Tip: Always fly internationally out of a major airport. It is often much cheaper to buy flights separately from your local airport to the International airport you choose than to buy tickets from a smaller airport. While I currently live in Syracuse, NY, I always fly out of JFK and then separately purchase tickets from Syracuse to NYC. I’ve found that the cost difference can be in the thousands.
3) Choosing Accommodations
Once you pick a destination and book your flights, you need to decide on a neighborhood, or area to stay in. I always advise that you book your flights before booking a place to stay, as flight prices often vary depending on the day you fly out and back.
Apartment-style accommodations are my favorite way to travel while in groups. I always check Airbnb and VRBO first. They typically offer the best options at the cheapest prices if you’re booking with multiple people.
If you’re a solo traveler, check local hotels and hostels depending on your travel style. Airbnb also offers shared stays with private rooms that are a great option for those trying to save money on their travels.
As we are traveling with seven people, we decided on renting private villas in Canggu and Ubud through Airbnb. The price? Less than 150 USD a night total. Due to a lack of metro systems and public transportation in Bali, we also decided to order private car services directly through our villas for around 40 USD a day. Want to see where we’re staying? Check out Villa Markisa and Villa di Sawah
4) Activity Planning
My favorite place to look for things to do while in a new destination is Pinterest. There are an array of great blog posts with travel tips, restaurant recommendations, and main attractions. I usually try to choose the activities that are listed on multiple blogs as key things I want to do while there.
Another place I recently have been going to for travel advice is Facebook. I belong to the private group “Girls LOVE travel” where you can ask questions and give your own tips to fellow travelers. This is great for getting insider knowledge from a huge community of like-minded people who enjoy traveling as much as you do.
Airbnb Experiences also offers a great list of excursions and activities to choose from.
Reading travel guide books is another great way to get travel advice for a specific destination. Rick Steves and Lonely Planet guides are great for planning, and something I always pick up (I have Rick Steves’ guide on Stockholm sitting on my desk as I type. I know he's weird, but I love him).
Ask the locals! Don’t be afraid to strike up a conversation with the locals while on a trip! Ask waiters, tour guides, and taxi drivers about the best restaurants, things to see, and must do activities. This is where I’ve gotten some of my best travel advice from and found things to do that weren’t in your typical travel guides.
For our Bali trip, we have chosen to do the Mason Elephant Park and The Monkey Forest in Ubud and surf lessons, yoga, and a day trip to Nusa Penida while in Canggu. Of course, we’re still in our research phase and may switch out activities for others once we get closer to our trip date.
Again, use your Google Doc to list possible things to do to share with your other travelers. Make sure to do your research to see if you’ll need to pre-buy tickets or arrange transportation.
5) Where to eat
One of my biggest mistakes I’ve made before traveling to a new place is not reading reviews on the best restaurants in the area. While eating isn’t always top on a travelers list, I’m a big foodie and wino. My trips are often revolved around my dining experiences. As I do with planning activities, I try to aim for restaurants that are mentioned by multiple people. I checked Pinterest and my favorite Instagram traveler’s MariefeandJakesnow’s Bali blog for restaurant advice. Some places we intend to try include The Lawn, La Brisa, Kafe, and Ibu Susu.
Some other places you can look for restaurant reviews are...
Instagram food guides - Most cities have food guide instagram accounts that are great resources for finding local restaurants. Some accounts that I follow include @Bali_foodguide, @Stockholmfoodguide, and @London.foodguide.
Travel guide books - Always bring your Travel Guide Books with you on your trip. These often have restaurant recommendations listed. Bringing my Rick Steves’ Florence guide with me on my trip there was a godsend when choosing places to eat at.
6) Build a final itinerary
Using either your Google Doc or Tripit tool, build an itinerary for each day. Pick what you would like to do and a general basis for how long it will take you. Also add in free time to enjoy the area. Lastly, I usually list restaurants options for each day that are close to the attraction I’ll be at so that I’m not scrambling to find a place at the last minute.
Of course, this itinerary is never fully followed. This is just a schedule of things that you can do so that you don’t find yourself in a foreign country not knowing where to turn.. Don’t feel bad for steering away from your plans in pursuit for something else! Sometimes the best experiences are the ones you didn’t expect to have!
How do you plan trips? Let me know your trip-planning advice in the comments below.