Grace Lower | Mar 23, 2021
For better or for worse, I’m a planner by nature. Before going to college, I poured over degree requirements, agonized over courses, and made a detailed list of student organizations to check out during my first semester. Years later, while gearing up for my big move to Philadelphia, I had not one, but four color-coded spreadsheets to organize my packing lists, service providers, emergency contacts, and a fledgling Philly bucket-list. I operate best when I have a sense of structure, and my travels are no exception.
Right now, I’m getting ready to take my first solo trip to New York City. Before figuring out how best to spend my weekend in the city, I decided to take a good, hard look at my planning habits. After cataloging my own practices and picking up a few new tips from travel experts (thanks, Google!), the eight methods below stuck out the most. I hope to stick to them while planning my upcoming trip so I can enjoy the adventure ahead, rather than worrying about the unknown.
One of the simplest ways to get better at travel planning is to 1) find someone whose travel habits you admire and 2) figure out how they do it. Maybe they’re a backpacker with an incredible blog—read up on their advice posts and take notes on any practices you’d like to try. Or maybe they’re a friend from high school who’s constantly posting updates from glamorous destinations—try reaching out to them for their favorite tips. Even people who you wouldn’t normally think to ask, like your parents, your professors, or your coworkers, could have a wealth of advice. Find out what works for other people, then see if you can incorporate their tips as you plan for what’s next.
For me, there are few things more satisfying than crossing items off a to-do list. From packing lists to pre-flight checklists, I’ve found that checking off tasks as I go keeps me clear-headed and organized, rather than scrambling to remember everything I have to do before I go. All you need is a piece of scratch paper and a pen, and you’ll be one step closer to your travel goals in no time!
While physical lists are a useful tool, many travelers prefer the convenience of travel apps and other digital platforms. Some apps, like Google Trips, offer tools that will help you plan your trip down to the minute, while others, like Hopper, monitor flights to ensure you’re getting the best deal. If you’re not sure where to begin, try using a familiar cloud-based system like Dropbox or Google Drive as a place to store important documents related to your trip. When planning for my own trips, I like to share a blank Google Doc with my fellow travelers. This essentially creates an online collaboration space where we can all contribute our ideas.
Planning the perfect trip takes time, and sometimes, it’s helpful to get a digital nudge. Schedule any important errands well in advance, then set reminders for them on your phone. You’ll get instant notifications when it’s time to get your passport, when you should start looking for flights, when you need to apply for your visa, or when you should make reservations at that popular restaurant you’ve been eyeing. A little bit of work up front, along with your virtual reminders, will help you stay on track throughout the planning process.
One of the markers of a successful trip is when you come in under budget. And thanks to the wealth of online resources available, searching for deals has never been easier. Take time to compare flight prices across a handful of platforms—including airline websites. Search for great deals on hotels, or recommend Airbnb to a friend to get $20 off your stay. You can even plan your meals around specials or happy hour prices. If you’re willing to put in the time and creativity, you’ll be able to enjoy your trip without dreading a blow to your bank account.
Travel plans have a way of sneaking up, and the last thing you want to do before your big trip is to be frantically Googling “Best Places to Eat in D.C.” from your airport terminal. Instead, spread out your planning process in the weeks—or months—leading up to your trip. Block off an hour a week to strategize and curate the trip of your dreams. If you’re tempted to put it off, try holding your planning sessions at a cute local coffee shop or bakery. Then give yourself a reward for a job well done!
Grace Lower is a recent college graduate with a love for writing and an incurable case of wanderlust. When she's not exploring new places, Grace enjoys teaching English as a Second Language, making terrible puns, and running incredibly long distances at incredibly slow speeds.