Planning a trip can be stressful if you’re not sure where to start or you’re afraid you’ll forget something important.
I have to admit that I love travel planning, but part of that is because I use a detailed checklist and the most helpful websites. So, if you don’t know how to organize a trip and you want to avoid feeling overwhelmed, I’ll help you out with this guide. Below, I’ll share the steps I typically follow as well as the best apps and websites to book your flights, tours, and accommodation so you can travel cheaply.
Guide to planning a trip in 10 easy steps
These are the steps that I always follow when I’m planning a trip, although I might skip one or two depending on the type of trip and where I’m going:
- Search for flights
- Apply for a visa
- Book the accommodation
- Set up your transportation
- Decide which attractions to visit
- Book a tour
- Get travel insurance
- Apply for a commission-free credit card
- Buy a SIM card
- Pack your suitcase
Remember that, depending on the destination and your reason for traveling, you may not need to do all these steps. So, rather than worrying about checking off a long to-do list, enjoy the process of planning your trip itinerary. For me, making a travel plan is almost as much fun as traveling itself!
Things to do before planning a vacation
Before I give you a detailed look at my checklist for planning a trip, I want to point out that choosing your destination is the real starting point. Not only is deciding where to go an important part of any travel plan, but it’s also a good idea to learn some crucial information about it. For example, you should research things like the best time to visit and what the weather will be like when you go.
Once you’ve chosen a destination and you have a solid timeline for when you’ll visit, you can begin the trip planning process. If you want some travel inspiration, here are some beautiful places to go, as well as some information about them:
1. Search for flights, the first step to planning a trip
Once you’ve chosen your destination and travel dates, one of the first things to do to organize your trip is to look for flights. This is usually one of the most tedious steps, but you can make it much easier by reading our guide on how to find cheap flights.
We always use Kiwi and Skyscanner since they make it super easy to find the best prices on flights. Moreover, if you’re not sure where you want to travel but you want to take a cheap trip, you can choose the “Anywhere” option and see the best deals, listed from the lowest price from your selected airport.
Kiwi and Skyscanner also show you the cheapest dates to travel, which is extremely useful if you have flexibility in your trip plan calendar. Don’t forget to activate flight alerts to receive notifications when a ticket price changes. That way, you can jump on the best deal before it runs out.
While I hope you don’t have to use it, AirHelp is a handy website to turn to if your flight is canceled or delayed. This company handles the claims process for you, although they will take a commission fee from your compensation. You can learn more about how to get compensate for delayed flights in our guide, where I show you how to get up to $600 in compensation.
2. Apply for a visa, a must-do when planning a trip abroad
Step number two of planning a trip is to check what type of documentation you’ll need to enter the country you’re traveling to. Even if you already have the proper paperwork, double-check that it won’t expire before or during your trip.
For example, if you’re planning a vacation to Europe, you should be fine with a valid passport, and travel insurance for Europe. The same applies if you’re visiting Australia, New Zealand, and most countries in South America. But be aware that most countries in Asia and Africa require a visa.
For those cases, I highly recommend going to the iVISA website to check what kind of documentation you need for your destination. We’ve used iVISA several times without any problems and consider it to be one of the best travel planning websites.
3. Book the accommodation, an important step in any trip plan
Another crucial part of organizing a trip is booking your accommodation. There are lots of trip planning apps to help with this, although we almost always use Booking. Here, you can find hotels, villas, apartments, and other types of lodging to suit any budget, which is why we consider it to be one of the best options.
The main advantage of using Booking.com to plan our travels is that we can pay right on the website, and cancellations are usually free until 24 hours before the trip. Also, if you use the website frequently, you can upgrade to the Genius plan, which offers the best deals and discounts. So, if you want to find cheap hotels anywhere in the world, even if you’re planning a multi-city trip, I highly recommend Booking.com.
4. Set up your transportation, an essential part of any travel plan
The next step in this trip planning checklist is to think about transportation once you get to your destination. You can either use public transportation or rent a car.
We prefer renting a vehicle because it grants us more freedom to explore places that might be off the beaten path. That said, some cities and countries have very good public transportation systems, so it’s up to you. When creating your travel itinerary, think about the destination and what you want to do during your trip. That should help you decide whether or not to rent a car.
If you decide to go with a rental, I recommend going through RentalCars. Without a doubt, this is the best option for renting a car, especially if you’re not used to organizing road trips. A nice thing about RentalCars is that it shows you a comparison of different rental websites, so you’re guaranteed to find the cheapest rental cars.
Of course, if your planned travel route is more like a cross-country trip, take a look at Motorhome Republic, which offers the best prices and conditions for motorhomes. We’ve used this app several times to plan trips around Iceland and the United States, and it’s always been a positive experience.
Again, many cities and countries have great public transit networks, so if you plan on getting around by bus or train, you can get low ticket prices on Omio. Simply enter your destination, and the website will compare bus and train tickets from different companies to find the best deal for you. You can even search for the cheapest or fastest route. Flixbus is often listed on Omio since its prices are some of the lowest and they operate all over the world. We’ve used Flixbus on several trips around Europe, but you can also use Flixbus in the U.S., Canada, Brazil, and more.
Finally, you may be planning your vacation to an island destination like the Canary Islands, where ferry transport is more common. In that case, I recommend getting your tickets through Direct Ferries, which offers excellent ticket prices for all kinds of time slots. We’ve used this site for our trips to the Canary Islands and Indonesia.
To sum up, organizing your transportation can be a bit stressful, but these travel planning tips and websites will streamline the process for you.
5. Decide which attractions to visit, the most fun part of planning a trip
Among all the steps for planning a trip, choosing which attractions to visit is one the most enjoyable. Step number five in this travel planning checklist is looking at which attractions and activities (free and paid) are available at your destination.
If you’re going to see a show or a concert, Hellotickets can be useful in reserving tickets in advance. That said, if you’re visiting a city that has lots of things to do and offers attraction passes or cards, I recommend getting one. This way, you can access several top attractions while getting the maximum savings. So, if you’re visiting a popular city, check if it offers the Sightseeing Pass, the City PASS, or the Go City pass.
Depending on the destination, some of these cards may also include certain tours or tickets for the sightseeing bus. So again, I highly recommend this option, especially if you’re planning a vacation in a metropolitan city.
Regardless of where you’re going, I suggest making a list of all the tourist attractions you want to visit to better organize your trip. Remember, it’s usually better to focus on seeing things that really interest you, rather than trying to cram as many attractions as possible into your itinerary or planner.
6. Book a tour, a key step in many tourist plans
The next thing to do when planning for a trip is to book any tours you’re going to take at your destination. A tour or excursion can help you discover little-known places and learn more history about the city you’re visiting.
While not every destination calls for a detailed tour plan, some places are known for incredible excursions, like seeing the Northern Lights in Iceland, or taking a walking tour through New York.
When we’re creating a travel itinerary and we know we want to take a tour, there are two websites we use. First, Civitatis offers interesting excursions and some free tours around the world, while GetYourGuide has an extensive list of tours in practically any destination.
Using these online trip planner websites is super easy since all you have to do is enter your destination and hit the search button. You can filter the results by category, price, duration, and more, so they’re two of the best trip planning apps out there.
You don’t want to skip this step, especially if you’re not sure how to plan a trip or you’re visiting a place for the first time. Booking a tour or two will help you make the most of your trip, and since a guide will lead you, it’ll be an informative and entertaining experience.
7. Get travel insurance, something you can’t forget when planning a trip
Another must-do when you’re travel planning is to get travel insurance coverage.
No one likes to think about it, but unforeseen events can and do happen while traveling, and in those moments, having travel insurance makes all the difference. The worst-case scenario would be getting sick or hurt while abroad and not having any of your extra medical expenses covered.
Currently, we have annual multi-trip insurance with Heymondo, which is the best travel insurance on the market with the best coverage-to-price ratio. You can even get a travel discount with Heymondo just for being our reader.
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In addition to medical assistance for injury or illness, Heymondo covers baggage loss or delay, medical quarantine expenses, and more. You’ll also have Heymondo’s 24/7 chat, which is available to help you should you run into an emergency while abroad.
I can’t recommend travel insurance enough, and while it’s probably the least enjoyable part of planning a trip, it’s the most important. This is particularly true in countries like the U.S. or Japan, where medical treatment is very expensive. Plus, if you opt for trip cancellation insurance, you’ll be covered if an unforeseen event prevents you from traveling.
8. Get a no foreign transaction fee credit card, another important part of your trip plan
Another important thing to remember when planning your itinerary is to get a travel credit card. If you’re going abroad, you’ll want a card with no foreign transaction fees, so you can make payments or ATM withdrawals without the pesky currency exchange fees. Fortunately, you can take advantage of some great options on the market.
We use the Revolut debit card, which you can get for free and use at ATMs and stores around the world. With Revolut, you can withdraw up to $1,200 a month from foreign ATMs without fees, as well as exchange up to $1,000 a month.
We also carry a Wise credit card with us, which comes in handy when we need to withdraw more money and want to avoid extra fees. With Wise, you can spend money in over 50 currencies.
For more information about the Revolut card and the Wise card, I recommend reading our full reviews of each.
9. Buy an international SIM card, a must-do when you plan to travel
One of the most common concerns we hear about how to plan a trip is related to mobile data. We’ve looked at all the possible options for getting Internet for travel, and have found Holafly to be the best solution.
The Holafly eSIM card, which you can get here, is a prepaid digital SIM card that you can use to get Internet while abroad. It’s cheap, quick to arrive in your email inbox, and allows you to keep your number on WhatsApp and other mobile apps.
All you have to do is select the country you’re planning a trip to and choose the eSIM card that best suits the number of days you’ll be there. Depending on the destination, you can find cards for five to 90 days. After selecting your eSIM, you’ll receive the digital card via email, and you can scan the QR code to activate it. This means you can even buy it when you’re already abroad, so it’s the most convenient option.
There’s no doubt that the Holafly eSIM card is the best mobile data option, but you can learn more about it in our full review.
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10. Pack your suitcase, the last step when planning a trip
Now that you’ve done all the tedious steps to plan your itinerary, all that’s left to do is pack your suitcase. If you’re traveling for the first time or you need new luggage, you’ll have no problems finding backpacks and suitcases on Amazon.
For longer trips, we’ve been using this large suitcase (30 inches) for years, and it still holds up. When we’re planning a trip for the weekend or the short term, we use this small suitcase (21 inches) and this carry-on bag.
If you’re curious about how we plan for a backpacking trip, we follow the steps above and depend on this backpack (80L), which is ideal for longer trips. If you’re taking a backpacking trip and want some tips, check out our guide on how to prepare a backpack for long-term travel.
Whether you’re packing a suitcase or a backpack, remember to check the temperatures at your destination so you can bring the appropriate clothing and footwear. Also, don’t forget your toiletries and a small first aid kit since even getting ibuprofen while abroad can be difficult. Other essentials you can’t forget while planning your trip include your passport, wallet, phone charger, and power bank.
These days, you can keep most documents on your phone, but I still recommend bringing along physical copies of your boarding pass, reservations, and insurance policy just in case.
Finally, if you find yourself in a scenario where you don’t have a place to keep your suitcase and you don’t want to drag it around the city with you, you can opt for a luggage storage service. We’ve used Nannybag and Bounce a few times and it made all the difference in how enjoyable our trip was. I also recommend keeping Apple Airtags in your luggage so you can locate it in case it gets lost or stolen.
Bonus step: Pack your photography gear, an essential part of our tour planning
One of the best parts of traveling is seeing amazing landscapes and architecture, which brings me to my bonus travel planning tip. If you love photography as much as we do, don’t forget to bring your camera and other gear with you. We always pack the essentials, especially for our photo tours, and we always keep our equipment well protected.
If you don’t have travel photography gear, you have two options. You can buy what you need on Amazon or B&H Photo, or you can rent the equipment from LensRentals, which I recommend if you’re only going to use it for that trip.
You can get all the details on where to rent camera gear in the U.S. in our guide. I think renting the equipment is a great idea if you’re not a dedicated photographer and don’t plan on using it too much. Plus, you save 15% in LensRentals with our code ATLAS15.
Other tips when planning for a trip
Now you have all the top tips for planning a trip from start to finish. Before I say goodbye, I want to recommend some trip planning apps that can make organizing your trip even easier.
Maps.me has become a must-have for us, even on our weekend getaways. This online travel planner app gives us maps of places all over the world, which we can access even when we lose Internet connection.
Another great tool is TravelSpend, which makes planning a trip with friends super easy since you can organize the travel expenses and determine who pays what.
Of course, travel planning is a process that takes time and effort, but if you follow the advice in this guide and use the websites I mentioned, it’ll be much easier. If you have any questions or want to share your trip planning experiences or tips, leave me a comment below. I’d be happy to hear from you!
Until then, good luck, and have fun planning the trip of your dreams!