Planning your next trip is an exciting process, but sometimes, the enormous amount of options and recommendations we find online can turn this moment in a stressful situation.
The time and money available will force us to choose between the activities and places offered by our destination, sacrificing some things that we would like to experience.
In this guide, I’ll tell you what I do to make this process the most organized, fun and stress-free.
1. Google Search
“Top activities in Barcelona”, “Best places in the Philippines”. These are some examples of what we should enter into the Google search box when we need to start planning our next trip.
What helps the most, in my opinion, is to look for lists with images. My post the “The 5 Best Spots in the Philippines” is a good example of the kind of articles I look for. A ranked list of the places that, to the writer, seemed to be the most important of the destination. With pictures of the places and a brief description of each one.
If you’re an enthusiast of, for example, scuba diving, you can also do a more specific search like “Best places for diving in Indonesia”.
Another specific search worth doing is when you are going to your destination in a particular station or time of the year. Example: “The best of Japan in winter” or “Sydney in new year”.
We will open the results we find in new tabs. As we read and look at the photos, we can write down in a piece of paper, every place that catches our attention.
If you write down a place for a specific reason, besides the place itself, you can note it next to it’s name so you can remember later. For example: “Jigokudani Park (bathing monkeys)”.
Once our research is done, having seen around 15 different pages and blogs, we can go to our precious map.
2. The Map is Everything
In my opinion, the most fun part.
Before getting started with this, we need to make sure that we are logged into Google on our computer and also on the GoogleMaps app on our phone, both with the same account. You’ll understand why later.
Open a new tab and go to “maps.google.com”. We’ll enter one by one all the places we have written down on the previous step. When we find each place, we save it. To do this you have to go to the left side of the screen, click “Save” and tag it with a star.
Little by little, we will begin to see an overview of all the points that we want to visit and the distances between them.
For a more specific explanation of how maximize GoogleMaps utilities, visit my post “The 9 Best Travel Apps“.
3. The Painful Part
Time to make sacrifices. When we are done tagging all of our interest points with stars, we will realize that some of them are too far away from the others. This may force us to take a flight if we want to visit that place. A flight forth and a flight back, this means time and money. Are we willing to invest so much on this place? Sometimes the answer is yes, sometimes it’s no.
It’s never nice to give up on visiting a spot we want to see, especially when we’ve traveled from so far away and we don’t know if we’re ever going back there, but sometimes it’s a necessary evil.
I’ve had trips where I didn’t want to sacrifice any of the amazing spots I’ve found online, but I ended up rushing through it all and not really enjoying it as much as I could have.
After we make this horrible decision, crying and with our hearts broken, we will remove from the map every stars that we won’t be going to. Don’t worry too much about it, you will have an amazing time anyway.
Once we’ve completed the painful part, we can go to our phones, open the GoogleMaps app and, if you followed the instructions at the beginning of step 2, you will now have all the stars marked on your mobile device.
The next thing to do is to download the offline map so we can use it when we are traveling and don’t have an internet connection. To do this we must go to the menu inside the app and select the ”offline maps” option. It will take a moment to download and after that you will be able to access it at any time when you are on the road.
4. Setting Up The Route Plan
Once we can visualize on our map all the places that we want to visit, we can move on to planning our route.
Where you should we start? What place after that? We will plan our route always trying to optimize our time, so we spend the least amount of it on transportation and the most of it at the spots.
A recommendation that I can give you here is: if possible, put the least important place at the end. Why? Let’s suppose you have 15 days and points A, B and C marked on your map. You arrive at point A, spend 5 days there and then continue to point B. You planned to stay 5 days there also, but you fall in love with the place and want to stay a couple more days. If point C is the most expendable one, you can enjoy 2 extra days at point B without worrying about the time taken from C.
5. How Long On Each Place
Following up on the recommendation above, it’s time now to decide how many days we are going to spend on each place.
At this point we will probably have to make a few more sacrifices. We might find that there are too many points of interest for the number of days available.
We need to try not to be very strict with this part. It’s nice to be surprised along the journey. If you listen to tips from locals or other travelers, you might get to know places you wouldn’t have found online
The general idea is that our schedule isn’t too tight. This way we can leave room to make decisions on the fly. That’s the way I do it, and I highly recommend it.
6. Time To Open The Wallet
Another painful part, but not as painful as part 2.
Traveling is my priority in life and I have accepted that traveling costs money, sometimes lots of it. I try to minimize my expenses but you’ll always have to spend some cash. But never forget that money spent on travel is not lost, it is invested.
But hey, enough on philosophies, it’s time to pull out our credit card and start booking. Remember what we talked about in the previous steps, try to leave your schedule as loose as possible. Only make the absolutely necessary bookings. This way then you won’t be tied up to flights or hotel bookings.
How amazing it is when you receive the first booking confirmation email. It’s the signal that the journey is already underway. The time is now to relax and enjoy.