There aren’t many things I enjoy more than planning vacations. Call me crazy, but I love the lists, research, and scheduling that goes into it almost as much as experiencing the trip itself. Give me my iPad, an Excel spreadsheet, and wifi and I could peruse SkyScanner all day.
While planning, I find my Type-A personality is actually a blessing instead of a curse. I’m a firm believer that chance favours the prepared meaning that I’m the one who not only always has a Plan B, but also a Plan C and D. Just a note to the ‘go-with-the-flow types – I’m aware that most people aren’t quite as rigid as I am with plans, but this method works for me. You may prioritize certain aspects of your travels different than I do, these are just my personal suggestions. If I had the guts to buy an open ended plane ticket to a foreign country I would, but I know myself and that sounds like stage one of a minor panic attack :)
My next big trip is going to be backpacking across western and central Europe. Like many other recent grads I feel as though it’s a right of passage to be able to say I roughed it in hostels. I’m hoping to be able to spend 2 months taking in all the sights, culture, and food I can.
The first thing I did when I started conceptualizing my trip was print out of map of Europe. If you’re a geography whiz you can probably skip this step, but I found it useful to be able to visualize where each city was in relation to the others. I then went through and highlighted the cities that I wanted to see – don’t hold back, you can pare the list down once you take time and money into consideration.
At this point you need to start looking at limiting factors, the main ones being time and money. Both will unfortunately dictate the extent of your trip, with money usually being the most unforgiving. Once you determine a rough budget you’ll be able to determine how long your trip can be.
The beauty of Europe is that there are so many ways to stretch your dollar – one site I found useful was TrekHard, which has a calculator that will show you an estimation of your daily cost per country based on a number of factors such as accommodation and transportation. It’ll also give you an idea of which countries are more expensive so you can either limit the days you spend there or avoid them all together. I originally wanted to stay in Zurich for a festival, but after seeing how much it would cost decided Prague was a much more viable option! The time of year you travel will also come into play, summer will be much more expensive than winter for obvious reasons.
After deciding on the where and when comes the fun part, IMO – scheduling. To get stated you’ll need the map you highlighted, a list of each cities’ main airport or bus/train terminals, a calendar, pencil and LARGE eraser – you’ll be doing a lot of revisions. My absolute favourite flight app is SkyScanner, it’s similar to Kayak, but specializes in flights within Europe. You have the option of “watching” flight searches and they’ll send you emails when flight prices change. The explore feature is amazing as well – it’s really useful when you’re trying to find the cheapest way to travel between cities – it lets you choose your departing airport and then shows you the prices of flights going into surrounding airports… if you’re really brave you could theoretically plan an entire itinerary using it! I redid my itinerary 8+ times during the planning process, it was a lot of extra work, but this way I ensured I was taking the most economical route.
Trains are another option to consider when going between cities in close proximity. Eurorail passes, especially with student and off-season discounts, are extremely affordable. Overnight trains also kill two birds with one stone, you avoid paying for a hostel and wake up in your next destination!
When looking for somewhere to stay I turned to Hostelworld and Airbnb. Both are great because they include reviews from people who have recently stayed there. When reading through reviews I scan for three main things: location, amenities, traveller tips/suggestions. The location is always most important to me – I’m looking for somewhere that’s close to the metro/public transportation lines. Second thing I look for is an overview of the amenities – were the showers clean? were there any recent bedbug complaints? were the people at the front desk friendly and helpful? As I’m reading the reviews I also like to write down any suggestions the commenters have left, these could include anything from what time is best to see the sunset or the name of a fantastic restaurant around the corner. If there seems to be a never-ending list of reviews try and keep to the most recent – I usually go as far back as year then call it a day. I wouldn’t want to be judged presently by how I was a year ago so I figure the hostels shouldn’t be either.
What steps do you take when planning your trips? Are you more of a planner or a go-with-the-flow type?