Picture this: you’ve planned an amazing trip. The hotels and flights have been booked, you’ve bragged about it on Facebook for months, and gone shopping for all the holiday essentials. You’ve packed your suitcase with more things than you need, consulted Pinterest a few more times to add extra excitement, and the day of departure has finally arrived. In your haste to get going, you forgo breakfast, not even caring that the airport food will seriously dent your bank balance. You take a few pre-trip selfies, throw your suitcase in the car and head off to the airport, only to realise when you arrive at the check-in counter, that you’ve forgotten your passport.
While I usually try to keep a positive mindset, the story of the forgotten passport is more common than most people realise. So how do you actually plan a trip? What is the process involved, and how do you remember to book all the flights, hotels, cars, transfers, vaccination appointments, get the passport and visa applications in? Phew… no wonder people start to forget things.
So as a seasoned traveller, it’s my responsibility to spread the word. My civic duty to preach about proper holiday preparation. So, in the spirit of travel enjoyment, please enjoy my comprehensive guide to trip planning.
The ‘going on a trip’ moment
Also a bit of a ‘dur’ moment, but where are you going to travel? Who are you going with, and when are you going? These are essential, without stating the bleeding obvious, because they determine the rest of your travel planning timeline. Most people’s budgets can only accommodate one region at a time, so don’t plan to see America and Europe if you can only afford one of them. Pick one particular place, and plan to immerse yourself fully in the culture. The other continent is not going anywhere, and is always available for future trips.
The second most important question of the ‘going on a trip’ phase is, how much money do you need? How much time will you need to save this amount? Once you’ve answered all these questions, then you can proceed to the next step.
Six months before…
I am a very organised person, and like to get the essentials sorted straight away. Normally, I would recommend getting a passport the minute you decide to travel overseas… that way it’s sorted, and there’s time to deal with any issues that might arise in the application process (because humans do make errors, I look forward to the robot era). However, I have also renewed my passport six months before a trip without any issues.
Six months before travelling is also a good time to start thinking about your flights. Naturally, booking your flights way in advance will save you a bucketload of money. I have also lay-byed flights before, where I literally paid a deposit, and paid off the rest of the flights at a later date. Check with your travel agent whether this is an option for you.
Once you’ve sorted out the main flights (i.e, getting you from home to your destination and back), then you can start to think about your internal transport. Are you going from place to place, and how are you going to get there? If you’re over 25 and like driving, then car hire might be an option. But if the idea of roadtripping gives you the shivers, then see what deals you can get for internal flights. And to make the planning process easier, draw yourself a map. Like so:
Taking the train from Vancouver to Seattle
Flying from Seattle to Salt Lake City
Driving from Salt Lake City to Eden
You get my drift. This map can also be used for organising your hotel bookings, which should be approached with the same mindset as organising your flights.
Lastly, check out what visas you need to enter your country of choice, and start the application process. Equally important as your passport.
The weeks before…
Can you feel the excitement brewing yet? The month before you travel is absolutely crucial in getting things organised.
Firstly, you should sort out your travel insurance at this point. I have no sympathy for people who travel without said insurance, get sick and then ask for donations from home because they can’t pay their medical bills. Yes, this might seem callous, but if you can afford to travel, you can afford travel insurance. And that’s all I’m going to say about that.
The fun part: go shopping for appropriate clothing and a decent suitcase. When shopping, make a list of what you need, such as thick socks or a swimsuit (lists are my solution to everything in life). Keep an eye out for decent deals online, as items like snow jackets and boots can often go for a good price in the off seasons. Make sure your suitcase meets the measurement requirements, particularly if it is a carry-on.
The month before your trip is also a good time to get any vaccinations you might need. The Smart Traveller website is an awesome resource for listing what jabs you need for each region of the world, so check it out. Again, use common sense. Getting a simple vaccination is better than contracting a horrible disease like typhoid or Hepatitis A. Google it, and you’ll understand why.
Lastly, think about how you’re going to access your money overseas. I recommend both a prepaid credit card, and a sensible amount of cash, particularly if you’re going to a place where tipping is required. I would never recommend having just one of these… read my posts about money and travelling to discover why.
Once you’ve decided which form of money you’re going to use, order your prepaid credit card online, or go to the bank and convert your money to your desired currency. Your bank might take a few days to get the currency you need, so it pays to be organised.
The day before…
Consult my ‘What to Pack’ List, and start organising your suitcase. I’ve always been a person who can pack the day before a big trip, but if this idea makes you anxious, then start packing as many days in advance as you want. We make the rules, after all.
Also, make sure that you weigh your suitcase, to avoid any unnecessary repacking at the airport, and purging of clothing and onesies. Do not put your passport in your check-in luggage! Place your passport and your medication in your handbag or backpack. Or better yet, buy yourself a passport wallet. They are perfect reassurance for the people who are petrified of losing their passports (like me!).
The day of…
Double-check your flight details. Place your medication and passport in your passport wallet, and then check that its really there. Then check again, just to be safe.
Go to the airport. Sip a cold glass of wine. Enjoy your trip 😉