Updated: Mar 21
Traveling out of the country takes planning! Even traveling to the next state over takes a little bit of thought. In this post, I'll take you through my process for how I plan trips and make itineraries. Hopefully these insights and tips that I've learned can help you when planning your next international vacation!
Step 1: Research the Location
Looking up information on your travel destination may seem pretty obvious, but you'd be surprised how many people skip this step before actually booking flights or accommodations. This step is important because it allows you to discover attractions you may want to visit or excursions you may want to do. It also helps you figure out what you'll need to do to get into the country to make your travel relatively stress free.
Take a look at the US Embassy page for your destination
The US Embassy webpage for your destination includes a ton of information about COVID-19 entry requirements, travel alerts, and contact information for the embassy in case you're ever in an emergency overseas. I always check this page to make sure that I know the correct documentation that is required to travel abroad.
Scan Vlogs and Blogs for "Must-See" Attractions and Excursions
Vlog and Blog searches on YouTube and Google are gold mines for discovering places and attractions to add to your travel itinerary. Vlogs are especially helpful because they provide visuals and context better than any written text or 2D photos ever could. Typically, I will search a phrase on YouTube such as "Best things to do in [destination country]" or "top attractions [destination country]". If I find vlogs that I find interesting, I'll save them in my collections or will follow the YouTube channel. I'll also make note of specific destinations, such as restaurant or hotel recommendations, in a Google spreadsheet that I create for each trip. Travel blogs, like Passport Noire, are also extremely helpful, and can inform you of the dos and don'ts for travelers similar to you, especially travelers from the United States.
(Note: My Google Sheets for trip planning are infamous. LOL. Below, see how I use Google sheets to help me gather destination ideas.)
Visit Official Tourism Sites
Many destinations will also have an official tourism website sponsored by the country's government. These sites offer valuable information on the most popular activities to do, restaurants and establishments to venture to, and sites to see.
Step 2: Book Your Flights
Now that you have an idea of where you want to go and the things that you could possibly do at that destination, it's time to book your flights! My favorite place to search for cheap flights is Google Flights. I especially love Google Flights because you can easily compare flight prices during different times of the year. If you are a budget traveler or are always looking for flight deals like me, this is particularly helpful for deciding the best time to travel.
Budget Travel Social Media
Living in Dallas, I also follow Instagram profiles such as Cheap DFW (@cheap_dfw), which is a travel blog that focuses on helping folks find cheap airfare. They post low cost flights from DFW airport to many destinations around the world. Here, I found $190.00 roundtrip flights to Cancun during the month of May. Be sure to keep these kinds of social media profiles in mind when looking for flight deals.
Airline Rewards Programs
Airlines like Southwest are not as easily found in Google Flights search engines. To see their best deals, I registered for their reward's program and get periodic emails about flight deals directly through the airline.
Step 3: Book Your Accommodations
Google Hotels is an amazing resource for finding nice hotels and resorts for an affordable price. Places like Expedia and Hotels.com are also fine, but Google Hotels aggregates price data for all of these types of budget search engines. When I'm looking for accommodations, I'm typically aiming for four-star accommodations at three-star prices. Similar to booking your flights, reserving your hotel rooms and finding reasonable prices depends on the time of year and proximity to your reservation dates.
I also reserve often with AirBnb if I am looking for luxury stays at an affordable price. Scoring luxury apartments and condos are even easier through AirBnb if you're booking with a group. Simply search the destination that you'll be traveling to, enter your stay preference, and voila! You'll have an array of options at your fingertips. Check out this 7 bedroom, 5 bath luxury cabin that we stayed in for 5 nights in Breckenridge, Colorado. This place runs over $600.00 per night, but split that between a group of 6 people....well...you do the math. AirBnb is definitely my go to when I'm looking for 5-star on a budget!
Step 4: Map it Out on Inspirock
Arias actually introduced me to Inspirock during our first vacation together to San Diego. I have been using the Inspirock website ever since to plan all of my itineraries and vacations. Inspirock is a trip planning website that helps groups plan collective itineraries. You can add travelers by email to your specific itinerary and add specific destinations to a calendar. The site also has the functionality to give suggestions for attractions you may want to visit. You can select a number of activity preferences: popular attractions vs hidden gems; slow-paced vs medium-paced; and you can also select the types of places you would like to visit, including museums, beaches, shopping destinations, etc. The website can then build a sample itinerary based on your preferences. From there, I will keep the suggestions that I like and eliminate the ones I don't. I'll also import my flight, accommodation, and excursion reservations into the trip planner so that all of my travel information is centralized in one location.
Once everything is imported into the calendar, I can simply pull up the itinerary on my trip and go from there! Below is a sample itinerary that Arias and I created from our recent trip to Mexico. Attached on each itinerary item is individual ticket or reservation information so that these details are easy to retrieve on the go.
Well there you have it! The most important tools and websites that I use to help me plan international vacations. What are some of the most important resources that you use to help plan vacations? Let us know in the comments below!