Travel is exciting and transformative. It removes prejudices and ignorance, is rejuvenating, and creates some of our most profound and lasting memories. In short: it is important. So why do so many of us allow others to make our travel plans when planning is the single greatest investment you can make for your trip?
Travel planning serves so many functions towards having a successful trip. It gets you excited and motivated. Along the way, you learn a ton about your destination. You’ll familiarize yourself with all its aspects – when to go, general information, culture, language, currency, terrain, sights, activities, flights, lodging, transportation, potential hazards, and how and what to pack.
More than anything, planning allows you to tailor your trip to exactly how you want to see and experience your destination. Lastly, planning raises your level of confidence in your ability to travel before departure.
[Note] What we are not advising with this article is to plan out every aspect of your trip down to the minute; instead we are highlighting the things you will learn about the destination you’re planning on visiting and how you can use that information to make better decisions with your time while you’re there.
So here are 15 reasons why you should be obsessed with planning:
Table of Contents
Planning When to Go
One of the first questions we all ask ourselves after deciding to travel to a destination is, “When do I go, and for how long?” The short answer is: you can really go any time of the year, but as you begin to plan things out you’ll be able to narrow down your dates and length based on many factors:
- When can you go? (Work and other obligations)
- Going for a specific festival or special event? (has set dates, but leaves you at the mercy of other factors)
- High or low season (Affects cost, crowds, weather, and closures)
- Holidays (More people means more expensive, and larger crowds [it’s a supply and demand thing])
- Availability (Routine closures of major parts of your trip [hotels, activities, etc…])
That last one is something a lot of people overlook and is something you should really do your homework on. Don’t be like that infamous family that traveled all the way across the country only to discover the amusement park, the whole reason for their trip, was closed for renovations. “Sorry folks; the moose outside should’ve told ya!”
Planning your trip yourself allows you to find all these factors and figure out the best possible time for you to go that allows you to satisfy the majority of the things you wish to see and do during your stay.
Read any guidebook and the general information will be among its first subjects. This includes information that will be pretty relevant to you during your stay, such as:
- Local time-zone
- Units of measurements (metric vs. imperial)
- Climate and weather
- Driving side of the road
- Visa restrictions
- Tourism Information Services and Resources
The general information section contains the nuts and bolts of your destination and informs you of the necessities that are vital to a successful trip. It is the foundation of all other decision making and directly affects the rest of your planning decisions; that is why it’s placed at the front of guidebooks.
This is the kind of information that should be easily memorized as it’s often repeated throughout the planning process.
Something that can come as a bit of a shock when you arrive is the stark difference in a culture so you should at least get a sense of it from planning to help alleviate any apprehensions.
Cultural influences can include
- Primary Religion(s)
- Political leanings
- Economic situation
- Preferred alcohol
- Visual aesthetics (the common patterns and colors used)
Another important aspect of a place’s culture is what they are not, and to that, you should look at their closest neighbors. For instance: France is not Germany and Germany is not France. Many places have historically been in conflict with their closest neighbors and have created drastically different cultures as a result.
Culture lies at the crossroads of all these examples. It’s hard to clearly define and constantly changing.
Culture creates context and gives a place an identity. Experiencing a different culture from our own changes the way we think, can eliminate prejudices, and promote tolerance. It’s like looking through a pane of glass; some part of ourselves is reflected back and we can’t help but contemplate what we see in the reflection. This makes us a better, more rounded person.
Planning introduces you to a culture by giving you some easily-digestible examples that act as conduits for understanding that culture better. Above all, it curbs culture shock.
Take it easy. Don’t start sweating just yet. There’s nothing to fear about learning to speak a foreign language; you just have to approach it logically.
In the previous section we mentioned language as an aspect of culture, and while we could have left this point there, or even under the general information section, it is important to note that it is its own beast. We also talked about culture shock in the previous section, and nothing really affects that more than being dropped in a place and not being able to understand anyone or communicate effectively.
While it is foolish to think you are going to learn a language fluently for a week or two-week vacation, it is in your best interest to learn at least a few key words and phrases. (Chief among them, and of the utmost importance to you for obvious reasons, “Excuse me, [Sir or ma’am], where is the toilet?”)
The fact of the matter is that language is the best way to connect with the people who live where you wish to travel. They will be extremely happy that you have taken an interest in their culture and you will see a transformation in their demeanor when you try – and you should!
It makes you feel worldlier, it’s fun, it’s challenging, and also quite humbling!
It also gives your destination a soundtrack. Sounds are an important part of building vividly lasting memories on the subconscious level, and language acts as a vehicle to relive your trip in the future.
During the planning process you can take the time to learn a few words and phrases, such as “Aloha” in Hawaii, “¡Pura Vida!” in Costa Rica, or “Oi ya cunt!” in Australia (That last one is actually a term of endearment, seriously!)!
Planning gets you at least familiar with the language, and that goes a long way in curbing culture shock.
Like language, currency could be under the general information section. However, there are a few important things to know before you go that planning can help you understand a whole lot better.
- What is the currency used?
- What is the exchange rate?
- Is your currency accepted?
- Are they a plastic (card) society, or does cash reign king?
- What is the economic situation like? (This affects how much things will cost you)
Planning out your trip will help you answer all these questions so you know what’s accepted, you’re prepared for the expense, and so you don’t get ripped off.
The goal is to get you familiar and comfortable with using money on your trip.
If I asked you to give me a tour of your city you could probably drive me around fairly confidently while knowing most of the major sites and how to get to them. One of the great things about the planning process is this information comes to you organically as you pour through your guidebooks, maps, and online resources.
Some of the things you should learn are:
- How big the country is
- The layout of a particular city
- The distance between some cities
- Specific regions
- The type of terrain you’ll encounter along the way.
Planning out your trip will help you to start visualizing your destination and how things are laid out.
Sights and Sites
In writing this post we realized that we didn’t really know what the difference between the two connotations of the words was; so we Googled it to set the record straight.
Sights are what you and I travel to see – they are the points of interest unique to a location.
Sights may include:
- Churches and Temples
- Streets or intersections
A site is a specific thing and how it relates to its location on a map. They refer to the location of a specific point of interest – “The Memorial Site is located at 3rd. ST. and Capitol Blvd.” This probably doesn’t exactly clear things up for you (it doesn’t totally for us either).
Regardless of which one you use you’re going to want to know what there is to see, and where they are in relation to each other so you can group them together when sightseeing (or is it site seeing?)
This is the most fun part of planning your trip: finding out all the things there are to see and do at your destination!
In planning, you’ll figure out how to get around to each sight (Bus tour, Rental car, Subway, walking, etc…). It also helps you determine how long to visit each site. Researching your destination allows you to determine what sights are “can’t miss,” and what you can skip.
The goal is to figure out the Top Sights you wish to see in the amount of time you have available to you. Planning really helps you narrow down the list to the cream-of-the-crop.
What are activities and how do they differ from sights? Activities are the things you do at your destination. They are the add-on type things that usually cost a lot more money per person.
They can include (but are by no means limited to):
- Activities that get you out (hiking, snorkeling…)
- Excursions – usually guided (ziplining, spelunking, canyoning, horseback riding)
- Sporting Events
- Entertainment (Theater and other shows)
Activities are the things we splurge on the most when planning out our trip, and you are probably really interested in learning all the things you can do. This is the most fun part of planning your trip: finding out all the things there are to see and do at your destination!
Planning out your activities is probably the easiest way to get anyone involved and excited to open a guidebook. Once you start to itemize all the things there are to do, you are going to want to take note of a few key factors of each one, such as:
- Location of the activity and if you can link them up with other things to see
- Can you be picked up? Do you need a rental car to get there?
- Forewarns you of activities outside your comfort zone
- Helps you with time management
- Helps you determine what to pack
- Helps determine your budget
- Helps you decide on where to stay
The last three items are really key factors in the planning process because after you determine what you want to see (sights) and what you do (activities) you’ll start to shift from planning your trip to booking your trip.
This section is pretty straight-forward, but still an important part of the planning process. The bad news is that your flight is probably going to be the most expensive purchase of your entire trip, and is going to impact your budget the hardest.
However, there is a silver lining: when you book your flight it is often the first purchase you have made for your trip and upon doing so you cross the threshold from “thinking about going” to “I’m actually going!”
You have set the dates for your trip, and this should be seen as a moment of excitement and personal victory. Your plane ticket should be seen as a necessary expense, and nothing more.
When choosing your plane ticket there are several factors that you can use to determine the right flight for you, such as:
- Cost (Cheapest)
- Fewest layovers
- Gets you prepared for the length (USA to New Zealand, for example)
- Best time for you (morning or night)
- Preferred airline (does anybody really care about this anymore other than rewards members?)
- Are there any luggage restrictions (an important factor that you really need to read the small print for)
- What are you not allowed to pack
- Which airports to fly in and out of
To be honest, the biggest factors are going to be the first two, and you’re going to want to find a flight that is at a reasonable intersection between both of them (Time and Money).
The goal is to get you to your destination in the quickest amount of time at the best possible price!
Once you have a good idea as to all the things you wish to see and do on your trip, you can then start to figure out where you are going to stay. The reason to wait until this point in the planning process is that your lodging should be centered around your sights and activities so you don’t waste precious time transporting yourself around.
Trust us; this is a huge mistake people make.
We get it; you found an amazingly cheap hotel right on the beach, but did you factor in the time you are going to be in the car getting to your destinations? Do your research and plan it all out. There’s a reason those hotels are so cheap.
Another reason to wait to this point to book your lodging is you’ve waited until booking a flight, have researched your activities, and now have a much better understanding of what things are going to cost, and how it affects your budget. As lodging is probably the second biggest expense behind your plane ticket you are going to have to go back through your list of activities and narrow it down to a more reasonable list to fit your budget.
Most people do these steps backward and are completely blindsided when their trip ends up costing them two or three times their budget.
Once you have an idea of your budget, and the location you wish to stay, you can factor in a few other items to determine your lodging:
- You’ll want to know if the area is safe
- What type of place to stay (Resort, Boutique, Budget, Vacation Rental, Air BNB)?
- What type of amenities do they offer?
- How close is it to the things you wish to see and do?
- Do you need to stay at multiple locations during your visit?
The goal is to find the best lodging that suits your needs at the best possible price and location for your trip.
One of the easiest aspects of your trip to forget about is how you are going to get around, and while most people automatically plan on renting a vehicle for their stay, we like to start by looking at a destination’s public transportation system (Busses, Trains, Taxis, Uber, etc…). We start by asking ourselves the following questions and then researching the answers.
- Do they have it?
- Is it reliable?
- How do you use it?
- Is it safe?
- Is it extensive?
- What are all the modes available to me?
- What are their schedules?
The goal is to determine if Public Transportation is a viable option for you on your trip.
A good guidebook will have all this information available to you, and there are many apps available for mobile devices that allow you to book tickets and look up schedules, among other details.
There are many reasons to consider utilizing public transportation:
- You don’t have to drive
- You don’t have to navigate an unfamiliar place
- You don’t have to worry about parking: an absolute headache that comes with some destinations
- You can focus on the scenery instead of traffic and signs
- It saves you money
It can really help you determine if you can get by without having to rent a car, even if only for a few days, which can save you a lot of money for enjoying other things during your trip.
We love using public transportation. Nothing makes us feel like a local, or that we truly got down into the nervous system of a destination, more than utilizing it.
As stated in the previous section, we like to see if public transportation may be a viable option for us. Then we use that information to determine whether or not we need a rental car, and/or for how long. Just like public transportation, we ask ourselves the following questions, and then research the various rental agencies to choose the best car for us:
- Do you need one?
- Can you drive there (the country)?
- What type of vehicle? (4-wheel drive vs. a sedan or convertible)
- How expensive?
- Will you need additional insurance?
- Where can you pick up and drop off?
Like with lodging, purchasing a rental car is going to drastically affect your budget, and you are probably going to have to go back and narrow down your list of activities even further.
(If we are being completely honest, and a bit reckless in suggesting this, we would rather go a little bit into debt to do all the activities we desire, because we realize that you only live once, and probably not going to be returning to this destination anytime soon – if ever.)
Regardless, doing your own research allows you to find the right vehicle and make the best decision for your trip.
Oh, how we hate having to mention this topic. Look, the team here at Go See The Place consider ourselves to be highly adventurous, try-anything-types of people who don’t even like to consider allowing fear to deter us from traveling, but we do acknowledge the real world presents a series of hazards.
These hazards may include (but are certainly not limited to):
- Gypsies (scams)
- Health Concerns (diseases)
It is your responsibility to know what potential hazards may be present at your destination, so do your research.
A good guidebook will include little known, hidden, or unique hazards that might be present, as well as what vaccinations you might need to get before your departure. “Better safe than sorry!” is a great mantra so long as it does not prevent you from traveling.
The goal is to know the hazards so you can avoid them, and to know what specialty gear you may need to pack so you don’t ruin your trip by being unprepared.
NOTE: WE DO NOT CONSIDER PLACES AFFECTED BY WAR, TERRORISM, OR ANYTHING ELSE AS SERIOUS AND LIFE THREATENING TO BE A HAZARD. THESE ARE REASONS YOU SHOULD NOT TRAVEL TO A LOCATION, AND WE CONSIDER THIS TO BE COMMON SENSE.
Now stepping back from the serious topics, we can get back to the fun… oh crap, not packing!!! All joking aside, packing is pretty important and can be pretty fun if you try and view it as motivating and exciting for your trip.
Honestly, packing can be a whole philosophy, and we do our best to ensure we’re only taking carry-on luggage. That is a topic for another time, however, and you are probably more interested in what to pack – not how.
Consider the following:
- You need to know what type of clothing to bring and how much to be comfortable (climate and weather)
- You’ll want to know if there is any specialty gear you’ll need to bring
- Are you bringing too much stuff?
- Does everything fit within the luggage restrictions of your flights?
- Do you need a power converter?
- What are you going to have to buy once you’re at your destination?
Knowing most of the aspects of your trip by this point should help you figure out what to pack:
- Specialty gear
- Cables, chargers, and batteries
The goal is to bring everything you need without packing anything unnecessary to ensure you can focus on having fun.
Tailoring your trip
By now we’re sure you are starting to realize that there is a lot that goes into planning a trip, but that it is fun and extremely rewarding for the success of your vacation. There are a lot of important factors that can be easily forgotten, and the only way to ensure that success is to take control of the planning yourself.
Planning is the single greatest investment you can make for your trip.
The most important reason is it allows you to tailor your trip;
- Do and see only the things you wish
- Set the pace – How many things you are going to do or see per day
- Choose how many different places you wish to go to when at your destination
- Choose where you want to stay
- Decide how long you want to spend at each place
This is the culmination of all the things you’ve done in planning your trip thus far.
Planning your own trip builds confidence in your traveling abilities, the things you’ve booked, and the decisions you’ve made. It helps to eliminate fear and anxiety in traveling somewhere unknown, but the most important thing:
YOU ARE IN CONTROL!
So, what do you struggle with when planning your vacation; do you enjoy it, or hate it? We’d love to hear your thoughts and opinions on the matter in the comments below, or drop us an email!
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