My friends tell me that I am over planning my trips and probably they are right . Most of the time when I plan a long trip, I start to do it few months in advance to be sure that I can book the accommodation I want as well as to prepare myself moneywise. As an example I will use my planned 3 weeks train- trip to Scotland.
10 steps to plan a spectacular trip
1. Learn about the destination
I think that the best starting point for planning your trip is to learn about the destination as much as you can. You can do it in many ways:
Watching traveling channels on YouTube
I felt in Love with the Scottish landscape through the series Outlander. After watching it I decided to learn more about the country itself, but also about its history.
My favorite channel on YouTube is Rick Steves Europe. In his 20-minute videos he shows the destinations in a way that you want to go there and check it yourself, but you do not get so much information as to make you bored. I highly recommend it.
Reading guidebooks about the destination
Many will probably say that the physical guidebooks became a relic from the past. Maybe it is true with all information that you can find in Internet. However, I am an old-fashioned person and I love the smell of a new book, where I can find information, highlight the most important facts and take it with me everywhere.
I read a lot about different guidebooks that you can find in bookshelves. Many travelers recommend Lonely Planet’s ones, which I do not like myself. Watching one of Rick Steves’s video I noticed that he also wrote a guidebook about Great Britain. I decided to check it.
I ordered my copy of the 22nd edition through bookdepository.com and that was one of the best decisions I have made. The book is amazing. You can find in this book all the important information about the destinations, attractions, accommodation for every budget, hike paths and much more.
Contacting a local tourist board, reading blogs and following social media connected to the destination
There is no one that knows more about a destination that the organization that is responsible for promoting the places as touristic destinations. That can be a Tourist Board, a local tourist organization or maybe you can find it with different names in different countries. In Scotland this organization is called Visit Scotland (http://visitscotland.com).
Nowadays, there are many travelers that have been already in the place and can give you some tips about the cost of life, type of transportation or even tips on how to enjoy it without spending too much money.
2. Decide what would you like to see and how many days do you need to do it
Now you know everything about the destination that you plan to visit. It is time for step number 2. After gathering the information about the places you could probably visit, it is time to choose the ones that are most interesting to you and estimate how much time do you need to see them all. I would say, it is almost never possible to see everything if you do not plan to stay several months 😊. Me and Carlos wrote first all the things that sounded interesting to see and then we prioritized them from the ones that we absolutely must see and the ones that we can skip.
3. How do I get there? How much will it will cost?
Ok so now you know where you would like to go, which places to see there and how many free days you will need for this trip. Step number 3 is to find how to get there and how much it would cost. Do you need to go by plane? Or maybe is there other option?
I live in Stockholm so the quickest option to go to Scotland from here is by plane. Booking plane tickets can be tricky. Every time I ask myself the same questions: Is it the best option? When is the best time to book it? Which airlines should I use?
Many people would say: use websites that compare prices like Momondo, Skyscanner or many more. I do not use them, because as a person working with flight tickets, I know that many times the prices that you find on those websites has expired already, and most travel agencies has a policy of 24h period when they can inform you that the booking could not go through. For system security travel agency use Pay and Book option on those websites. What does that mean? That means that you pay after all the system checks and if there are tickets available.
I do not say not to use it at all. Personally, I think that Momondo is a good place to check which airlines are going to your destination 😊. After you know which airlines are going there, you can book the tickets directly from their website or visit your local travel agency and ask maybe they have some special offer.
The best rule is to buy flight tickets in advance, so you have bigger chance to catch the cheapest options due to availability. Closer to departure, the tickets are more expensive. There is no such thing as last-minute discount on regular flights 😊.
The issue when you buy long time in advance is that the airlines have the right to make time schedule changes and sometimes it can disturb your plans. Remember that always you can say that you do not like the change and ask about other option 😉.
4. Decide maximum budget and book accommodation
Planning long trips is not easy. The one thing that is easy about it is to spend too much money. I am careful with spending money and I like to have control about my budget before traveling. Of course, you are not able to plan everything in advance, but it is good to count the things that you can.
Before making budget planning I check around how much would cost us the accommodation (as you know, I like travel budget but comfortable), train tickets, plane tickets, cost of food and other expenses.
After that, I put a maximum amount that we can spend per person. On this trip I decided that the whole trip cannot cost us more that 30 000 SEK (around €2860) per person.
To keep track on my budget I use an excel sheet prepared by myself where I put all my expenses day by day. You can get it by subscribing to my newsletter 😊. Inspiration for this excel sheet was the one that I used to work with preparing group trips on one of my internships. I changed it though, to customize it better to my needs.
Ok now you know how much you can spend on your accommodation, so it is time to find it and book it.
Finding a perfect accommodation for yourself is not an easy task. There are a lot of types of accommodation: B&B, hostels, hotels or even private apartments which have become very popular lately.
I love to plan my trips by myself and I mostly use this three websites to find accommodation: booking.com (Click here to book your next accommodation), hotels.com, and TripAdvisor, where you can check the prices between the two previous websites. There you can find reviews and pictures from other travelers.
For this trip I chose mostly Bed & Breakfast because that is what Scotland and UK is known for. I think that it is a good thing to support small, family business and it makes the traveling sustainable.
5. How you will travel around? Car, train, walking? How much will it will cost?
There are so many ways to travel around Scotland, as well as everywhere in the world. I think that the important thing is that the way how you travel fits you and your budget.
Do you like to be independent from time schedules, and love to drive a car? Rent a car and explore the world with your own rules. Remember though, that there are places like Scotland where they have specific rules about driving and I do not mean only the left side of the road .
Are you more a train/bus person that likes to sit comfortably reading a book or simply enjoying the landscape without stress about driving rules? Many places around the world are perfect to travel by train, coach or ferries.
You can explore almost whole Europe using an Interrail Pass. Or if like me, you would like to enjoy the beautiful Scottish landscape, you can choose in UK their own “Interrail Pass” called BrittRail.
When you know how you would like to travel around do not forget to put it to your calculation sheet , to keep an eye on the expenses. Accommodation and cost of travel are usually the biggest expenses on your voyage if you do not want to use hitchhiking and sleep in the park
6. Do you need to pay for attractions? Do you need to book them in advance?
Now you know exactly where you will stay and what you would like to see and visit. It is time to see if your activities will cost you money, and if yes, how much.
Of course, you can find plenty of activities that are for free. Many cities offer museums for free (some of them every day, some of them only in special days – check the information on Tourist Board or attraction’s web sites), or free walking tours around the city. It is not that they are completely free, however you decide if and how much you pay for your guide. You can also take your guidebook and walk around on your own.
On our trip to Scotland we will use both free activities as well as paid full-day tours with guide to learn as much as we can about the history of Scotland.
Remember that it is very important to book in advance the attractions (if possible), mostly those ones that are popular. By doing this, you can be sure that you will not miss the one that you really want to experience. I thought that I am booking everything way in advance. 5 months before our travel almost everything is booked. And you know what? I was already late to book first-class seats in the Jacobite Railway (Hogwart Express).
7. Cost of life there. How much would food cost, local transportation etc.
Step 7th depends on the type of accommodation that you choose and the standards of your travel.
If you are planning to stay in a hotel or B&B without access to the kitchen, you will need to learn more about how much would it cost to eat lunch and dinner in a restaurant and which type of restaurant you need to choose to be ok with your budget.
If you decided to stay in one AirB&B apartment with kitchen, so probably you will try to cook your own food. With this option, I think it would be more important to check which supermarket is best to make shopping in, and to learn how much approximately would food cost.
To know approximately how much I need to put in my calculation for food, I checked several websites like for example https://www.globalprice.info/ . I got lucky during planning my trip to Scotland, because in September I met people that live in Scotland, so I could ask them about the costs of life.
8. Pay everything that you can in advance.
A three-week trip to Scotland needs several accommodations, therefore several hundreds of pounds to pay it. I do not like to have that much cash with me (not every accommodation accepts card payment with check-in) so I try to pay the things that I can in advance. That also helps me to know how much more do I need to save to have enough money for my trip 😊.
If you pay in advance that does not mean that you cannot cancel your booking. If you choose to book a flexible rate, so even when you paid everything you can cancel it and get the money back according to the rules of your booking. Mostly it is convenient while booking through booking.com or those type of portals.
9. Insurance? Do I need it?
If you need or not to buy extra insurance depends a lot on your specific situation as well as on the destination you are planning on visiting.
To check if you need to buy travel insurance you need to answer these questions:
Is my health insurance valid abroad?
Being Europeans gives us the advantage that our health insurance from home would work while we travel around Europe (remember that only in countries that are within the European Union).
Do I have already travel insurance?
Many credit cards as well as home insurances (in Sweden) have included some form of travel insurance. If you have it do not forget to check the rules that apply. Many banks have restrictions about how much of the travel has to be paid with the credit card, for how much they will pay and what happens if you need medical transportation back home.
I checked for example my home insurance and I have to say that I am surprised that I got a good deal with my travel insurance for me and for my partner. The problem is that there are still many restrictions, and because we will hike in the mountains, I decided that we will buy an extra travel insurance that will cover the things that my home insurance does not cover like extreme sport accidents or our luggage.
10. Packing list. Backpack or luggage? Do I need a special charger? etc.
Yay!!! Everything is planned and booked. It is time for the last step – packing list!
Packing for a long trip is not easy, because you need many things, but you do not want to take 3 bags with you. Before packing you need to answer these three questions and make a list of the things you need to take with you.
The first question is how would you like to travel? Will you stay in a hotel and would like to travel with luggage, or you plan to go around and it will be more comfortable to take a backpack?
Most of the time I travel with my blue American Tourister luggage, that is perfect for me. However, for the travel to Scotland I am still not sure if that would be the best option. We plan to stay in several cities, so luggage can be annoying to carry around, mostly while traveling by train. I will let you know when I have decided if I take backpack or luggage.
The second thing is to know which type of activities you will do and what type of clothes you will need there.
I always start by doing research about the weather where I plan to visit. I learned that in Scotland you never know what weather will it be, so it is good to be prepared for every type situation 😊. Rain jacket and sunglasses are already on my list 😊.
If you know that you will mostly hike around then take comfortable shoes, proper jacket and t-shirts with you. If you know that you will have a special dinner, or visiting the theater, then remember to take proper clothes with you for those type of activities.
- The last question is: is there any place where you could wash your clothes?
In many accommodations you have a place where you can wash and dry your clothes. If there is no such a place on your accommodation do not worry. Many cities have the option of public laundry rooms, where you can do your laundry by yourself or even drop it in the morning and pick it up ready after lunch.
When you can wash your clothes that means that you do not need to take that many clothes with you, which saves space in your luggage or your backpack 😊.