Have some PTO to burn but no idea where to go? Or have the perfect location but that’s all you’ve got? Keep reading to find out how to plan the perfect trip.
Look, I get it. There’s so many places in the world to see and things to do but who has time to plan for all that? My goal is to take the headache out of planning a trip by breaking it down for you to show you how easy it is to plan your perfect trip. While there are hundreds of travel blogs and itineraries out there (including mine, thanks for reading!), sometimes you just want to curate your own perfect vacation. In this guide, I’m outlining how to plan your perfect trip with the most magical resource out there: the Interwebs.
I’ve planned trips across the country, in my own home state, to international cities, and my pride and joy: a 6 week road trip across the Western USA. My husband gives me 10/5 stars (although maybe he’s just saying that, but I don’t think so?). Lucky for you, I typically share our itineraries and guides on this blog. But we aren’t you. You aren’t us. What we like to do might not be what you like to do. If you like dogs, hiking, finding hidden gems, and taking bucket list trips feel free to just steal my itineraries and go have a blast! But if you want to know how to plan your OWN perfect trip, I’m outlining step by step how I plan below. Let’s jump in.
- Decide what kind of trip you want to take
Beach or mountains? Adventure or relaxing? The world is a gigantic place (as you know) so it will help if you narrow down what kind of vacation you are looking for. From there, you can decide what area of the world you want to go to–stateside or international? Maybe you’ve seen pictures of somewhere or heard from a friend an area of the world you NEED to go.
It can be overwhelming. If you’re like me, your travel list is about 1,000 places long and you have no idea where to go first. My advice is to pick 4-5 of you top most desired trips and go from there. Each trip will likely cost different amounts and take different amounts of time so you can choose the trip that fits your budget and timeframe. Also consider the time of year you want to travel and what the weather will be like in your destination. For example, a trip to Arizona or southern Utah might not be as enjoyable in July as in April or November.
If you happen to be planning a longer road trip like us, start by making a list of places you know you want to go. Before I “officially” started planning our 6 week road trip, I had a list of places on the Notes app in my phone. While we definitely aren’t hitting everything on the list, it helped to have an idea of where we wanted to spend the most time.
Okay, this is arguably the lamest part of planning a trip but it’s very necessary. You need to be realistic not only about how much you want to spend but how much you can afford to spend. I will never ever ever recommend going into debt or using credit to book a vacation (unless you can pay it off right away). It’s just not worth it. Save up! If you want to do a budget trip, that’s fine! Camping is a blast and typically very affordable. Want to do a luxury trip? Totally cool, too. Just make sure you have the cash for it.
Determining your budget will also help guide you as you start making your itinerary. Perhaps there’s a restaurant at the top of your list but it’s just toooo pricy. That’s okay–there’s most likely something just as tasty within your budget. Excursions, parking, museums, and food all cost money (you know this) so that could also guide your location. A private all-inclusive island vacation will cost waaaaay more than a weekend camping trip.
Pinterest was allllll the rage when I was in high school but I still use it often! It’s usually the first place I go when I’m planning a trip. After I’ve figured out where I want to go or have a general idea of what area I want to visit, I search the places in Pinterest. I pin everything I see such as weekend guides, long itineraries, hidden gems, etc. I’ll go back and narrow it down later.
For our road trip, I have a Pinterest board of each state we’d be going to or going near. Even if we aren’t actually hitting in on our trip, you never know when you’ll be able to squeeze something in or want to take the time to navigate to a certain hidden gem. No Pin or blog post will ever have YOUR perfect itinerary so I think the real fun comes when you can take a bunch of different itineraries to make your own ideal trip.
Instagram is also a great resource. I follow a BUNCH of travel bloggers, RVers, Travel and Leisure, and travel magazines that give me ideas. I will “save” Instagram posts for inspiration. The more you save, the more curated your explore page becomes!
By now, you should have narrowed down where you want to go and have an idea of how you want to spend your time there. Not sure? Take a look at what areas you’ve pinned most. Maybe that’s where you need to venture first!
4. Start planning!
The real fun begins now. It’s time to start teasing through all your pins and saved post to actually plan your trip. Depending on what you’re doing, you may have a more relaxed itinerary. If you’re going to an island paradise to relax, you may just want to enjoy the beach all day. But if you’re headed somewhere like a national park or city, you’ll want to have a more structured agenda to make the most of your time.
Use your pins to determine what you want to do each day. Make another list of restaurants, markets, neighborhoods, hikes, museums, etc. Once you have this list of things you absolutely want to do, your trip should start falling together. For example, if you know you want to hike a 7 mile trail, you need to block 4-5 hours one day. Then, fill in the other half of your day with market visits or museums.
Pull out a map of the area you’re headed to and group activities that are close together into a single day. National parks and cities can be REALLY spread out, so you’ll want to divide your tim. No one wants to be in the car or train the whole time. Google maps is my favorite resource. I’ll typically do a destination to destination search.
You most likely won’t be able to fit in everything you want to do in a single trip, so you’ll have to prioritize. However, keep your list because you never know when plans can change! Always be flexible and ready to adjust your plans. Weather, traffic, and a myriad of other things can change everything in a minute.
5. Book transportation and accommodations
I’m sure this is a no brainer. You know if you need to fly or drive to a destination. Don’t forget about trains! They can be a really cool option but often take a lot longer due to frequent stops.
Sign up for Scott’s Free Flights, Google flight tracker, and use apps like Hopper to get deals on flights. Domestic flights are typically best priced about 3 months out and international flights about 7 months out.
For accommodation, I use a simple Google search. I read tons of reviews to make sure we won’t get murdered (joking, kind of). I love using Airbnb and VRBO because we like to take Benny everywhere we can. Although, I’m not one to turn down unique accommodations if it’s in our price range! If you’re camping, we love using Campendium and HipCamp. We also use BLM/dispersed camping land on national land because it’s usually freeeeee.
6. Pack your bags and enjoy your trip!
Planning a trip is almost as good as going on the trip for me. Hopefully this guide made it easy for you to plan the perfect trip!
Planning a trip to national parks
Itineraries on various blogs will be your best friends while you plan for a national park. National parks are usually BIG, especially the more popular ones like Yellowstone and Grand Canyon. Things are very spread out so it’s helpful to get advice from someone who’s been. This can help determine what area to tackle in one day to limit drive time. Each national park also as a website, but in my experience they’re not very helpful.
National parks can also be very crowded, especially during the pandemic. People are flocking to the parks to get in a vacation they can spend outside. The parks have responded with reservations at certain more popular spots. You’ll often have to wait in long lines to enter, experience plenty of traffic, and hardly any solace. If you still want to be the only person at that picturesque mountaintop, be prepared to get up early.
This is a great time to plan a road trip because the bigger national parks are pretty remote. Rent a car and plan to knock off some other bucket list cities or state parks along the way! I’ve used Trippy and Roadtripper in the past, but googling “places to stop between X and Y” have worked the best for us. It’s how we found Bear Lake in Utah!
Planning a road trip
Google maps, Google maps, Google maps. I’ve used Google maps approximately 938752 times over the last 6 months while planning our road trip. Just because something is in the same state doesn’t mean it’s easy to get from one place to the other. If you’re headed on a popular route like California’s Highway 101 or the Blue Ridge Parkway, it’s easy to find guides and itineraries. If you’re headed on a longer or more off the beaten path trip, it just takes a little more planning. Luckily, we live in a world with seemingly limitless connectivity so it’s pretty easy to use your phone’s GPS to navigate form place to place.
The process is pretty much the same though. Use Pinterest to gain an idea of where you want to head and then use Google maps. Make sure you plan accordingly for how long the drive from one place to another. Be ready to practice patience. Spontaneity is also a good thing here–you’ll pass many gorgeous sites and you don’t want to miss it by being in a rush!
Don’t forget to factor in the cost of gas!
So, are you ready to plan the perfect trip?
My top planning tips
- Be a dreamer. We wouldn’t be taking this 6 week road trip if I didn’t have a dream to travel the world for a year. My husband talked me down from that (mainly because Benny couldn’t go)… we decided on this road trip that some people will never do in a lifetime!
- But be realistic. A one year trip is not realistic (for US–but you should go for it) but 6 weeks felt comfortable.
- Be flexible and spontaneous. You never know what new thing you’ll want to do when you’re out traveling! Try that weird food (fermented shark in Iceland, anyone?) and that scary hike (google Angel’s Landing in Zion). Travel is for experiencing new things.
- Look at several different resources when planning. Scour multiple blog posts, guides, and books. Everyone has a different perspective and yours will be unique too.
If you ever need any help on how to plan the perfect trip, please reach out! I’m happy to help. Let me know if you use these tips to plan your trip, I’d love to hear success stories!