HOW TO: Plan a Trip

Planning a trip anywhere, let alone a new country, is at the same time exciting AND daunting. It can be stressful or it can be fun. We’ve had a dozen amazing trips since our international move and I thought I could share with you how I usually approach planning a trip.

(*for the sake of simplicity, I’ll use Copenhagen, Denmark as an example. You, obviously, should go wherever you want to go, but our trip to Copenhagen has put it in my top 5 cities so I can definitely recommend it.)

Things to think about:

  • inspiration… where are you most wanting to go? what looks amazing? what invigorates you?
  • timeframe… is your travel window long enough to make it worth the trip? too long? will you run out of things to do? will you have too much to do?
  • budget… how much do you have available to spend? are you willing to make sacrifices & compromises? or are you looking for a 5 star experience?

copenhagen nomadic matt

So with these things in mind, I start doing some research. Once I have decided on a location, I have a few resources I go to first. I almost always have a look at the travel guides on Nomadic Matt‘s blog as a starting point. I find that I can quickly answer several of the aforementioned “things to think about” questions with the information I find here. He has information about places to visit, what to expect in terms of cost, budget tips, and ideas for accommodations.

Like I mentioned in my Tips for Your First Visit to Europe post, a great place to start is to have a look at the 36 hours in Copenhagen/48 hours in Copenhagen guides on The Independent/New York Times websites. These itineraries offer realistic time frames for your trip. Even if you are staying longer, this is a great starting place in terms of must-sees and must-eats when you are beginning to pull your itinerary together. I would say that I incorporate about 70-80% of the suggestions from these guides as a starting place and then tweak the trip to our interests and to the length of our stay. So far the guides have not led us astray.

copenhagen

Also, I have been able to find TONS of travel blogs with suggestions on Pinterest. A quick search for “things to do in Copenhagen” or even just “Copenhagen” returns tons of resources with must-sees, tips, don’t-do’s, and more. I usually grab a few of them by pinning them to my travel board (can you guess the next 2 places I’m going?!?) and take a look when I have time. Some of these posts are from travelers like myself or from locals which means you get a great mix of ideas and tips. We try to see a few of the classic sights (Little Mermaid Statue, Royal Palaces, Botanical Gardens, take a boat tour, etc) and some off-the-beaten-path places (Christiania, Mekkeller and Friends, Paper Island).

copenhagen book

Finally, I am very fortunate to work in an international school with a travel section in the library. It is like a dream to be able to walk upstairs and check out a guidebook or two for my trips for free. We have had good luck with Frommer’s Guides, Lonely Planet, and Rick Steve’s. I usually cross reference the suggestions in the book with the associated websites and TripAdvisor or Yelp. You can purchase the books from any major bookstore, Amazon.com, or even download them to your Kindle or Tablet! The hard copies usually come with a foldout map and little language guide (with basic greetings, please, thank you, numbers, food vocab, etc). If we don’t feel like carrying the book around sightseeing, we usually still tuck the foldout map in a pocket or purse for quick reference.

 

copenhagen google doc

I keep a Google Doc (that I can share with my co-adventurer or other travel buddies on the trip) with the following categories:

  • travel info (flight #s and times, train platforms and times, etc)
  • day by day itinerary
  • food ideas
  • drink ideas
  • shopping ideas
  • sightseeing ideas

With WIFI, I can access it wherever we travel or, if I am off the grid, I can screenshot it to keep it in my photo gallery on my phone. Keeping all your information in one place is a great way to brainstorm, draft, and edit (yes, I am an English teacher) throughout the planning process. For any firm reservations or other important information, I highlight it or change the font color.

For accommodations, we typically book through AirBnB. People offer their apartments (or vacation properties) for rental for budget-friendly rates. The website is user-friendly: you can narrow your search by number of people, budget, or even area in the city you want to stay. We find that we can save money by buying a few snacks/breakfast items and eating at the apartment or flat. We also think it gives a better feel of a town because you get to experience a true neighborhood, as opposed to a tourist-filled street of hotels. We have had great luck with both the hosts and the properties. If you want to give it a try, start here (and we both benefit!).

beer & a fireplace = life is good

a cold beer + a warm fireplace = life is good

Something to keep in mind is not to overbook your trip. Leave some space… for a few reasons. Overbooking your trip leaves absolutely no flexibility and if anything goes awry, you will be super stressed out. Things change, weather changes, opening hours of restaurants/bars/museums change unexpectedly or are posted incorrectly. By leaving a little breathing room, you are able to roll with unanticipated bumps. Give yourself some options or make sure to plan a few alternatives. A flexible plan also gives you some time to do some general exploring. Of course, you will want to hit the highlights but I find that the best way to really get a feel for a city is to turn off onto a (safe-looking!) side street and just stroll. We like to pop into art galleries, tea rooms, and pubs that look interesting and inviting. Less annoying tourists and more meaningful experiences, in my opinion.

This is really only a skim-the-surface overview of how I go about planning our international travels. In the interest of breadth & depth, I can post a follow up with more details about the nitty gritty logistics. How do you start planning a trip? What resources do you use or find helpful? Share in the comments below! Love & light & happy travels!