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The Obssesive Planner’s Guide | How to Plan Trips for First Time Travelers
“But Siarra, how do you plan your trips…?” One of the most common questions I get as a travel blogger (after, “do you make money?” and “how do you become a travel blogger?”) is how do I plan trips. Seriously, someone asked me just last week… How to plan trips when you’ve a first time traveler. Whether you plan to head out solo or put together a group vacation package–when you’re new, this process seems daunting. Well never fear! Your Obsessive Planner is here! Planning a trip isn’t as scary as it may seem, even if you’ve never really put one together before. Hopefully, this Obsessive Planner’s Guide will help calm your panic attack and begin to lead you in the right direction. Then you’ll soon head off for new adventures in the next great city of your choice. So, without further adieu: How to plan trips for first time travelers: 1. Um, Pick a Location. This is actually the hardest step. lol. I mean, theoretically, you can go ANYWHERE! I know, that’s exciting right? But hardly helps with the anxiety of trying to plan. So let’s narrow this down a bit for first time travelers… Are you staying in-state (for US), domestic, or going international? Some like to start with intra-state travel. Not quite as daunting. In fact most start here–family vacations, school trips, etc. But when you plan, you can extend your sights beyond your home state… Domestic travel is a good starting place as well. Or, perhaps I’m bias because that’s how I started. I’m partial to domestic travel. For Americans, it’s often set aside and not counted as real travel because you didn’t cross an ocean. Let me quell the naysayers–crossing rivers is just as exciting. lol. Or you can do it big and get that passport! Honestly, international travel opens up the world for any pair of eyes. Suddenly you realize how big the world really is. And how small you are in comparison. Truthfully, travel changes perspective. Are you choosing one city or several? Maybe you want an Eastern European tour? Or a road trip down the major cities on Pacific Highway 1 in California. However, nothing wrong with a simple trip to one place. In fact, for first time travelers? The Obsessive Planner suggests you stick with one place to start. Much less daunting, right? I can hear your heart slowing down… Pick a place you’ve always wanted to visit Because why would go somewhere you don’t want to go? Actually, until I started traveling, I had a limited number of tourist locations on my bucket list. But, travel opens up worlds, remember? Now I have locations I never even thought to visit–places I’d never heard of before. But to start? Pick that popular place you’ve been dying to go. Ask friends for places they’ve enjoyed. Don’t have dream location? Well, Google is your friend! Just search for “top places to visit…” and pick from there. There’s no shame in choosing a popular bucket list location–how do you think most of us started? Or, for the spontaneous traveler that breathes inside you, get a map, close your eyes, and point. Go wherever your finger lands. I admire you because the planner in me could never do this… And for those who don’t want to narrow down one place? Make a list of all the places you want to visit in the state, in the country, in the world. Put them in a jar. And, when you’re ready for your next adventure, pull the next location out and go! 2. Decide When to Leave Now, truthfully, when and where go hand in hand. In fact where you go can change based on when you leave. Some prefer to head to the beach in August. Others wait till January. So I understand. However, for first time travelers, consider a few things when planning trips: Weather If you’re not a fan of snow, going to Colorado in February isn’t for you. Try after April instead. If you don’t want to bake in the sun, heading to beach in the middle of the summer doesn’t sound best. Beaches in September are fun. Weekend is good–but popular. Most travel on a weekend. So do I. However, weekend travel is slightly more expensive than weekday travel–a factor to keep in mind. So you’ll have more crowds. And, travel during holidays makes the expense skyrocket. Especially Thanksgiving and Christmas. In fact, for my first time travelers? The Obsessive Planner recommends you don’t travel during those times. lol. Crowds give me anxiety so I can’t… You employed? Make sure you can take off… Some jobs provide vacation days, others have weekends off. Taking off may be easy for you, while for others it requires a full contract and a blood signature. Either way, you need to narrow down your When. Unless you’re traveling for the rest of your life…and I’m jealous. A tip for First Time Travelers? Pay attention to Peak Season, Shoulder Season, and Off Season. Peak season is a time of year when everyone is travelling to particular location. Off-season, obviously, is the opposite of this. Shoulder season is between these two. And the seasons can vary depending on the location. However, summer is peak season just about everywhere. Why? Sunny weather. Warm temperatures. So understand that no matter where you go, if you go in the summer, you’ll likely pay higher prices for everything. Off season is typically in the winter (excluding December and places prone for snow). Costs are reduced and you’ll have fewer crowds. However, not everyone enjoys traveling in the cold. I highly recommend traveling during the shoulder season. Personally, I travel all year, but for first time travelers? You’ll enjoy the shoulder season prices and generally, you won’t freeze or fry. 3. Decide on Your Budget. Okay, so some may think is should be the first step. And that’s fair; I’ve already alluded to costs in previous tips. For this Obsessive Planner’s Guide on how to plan trips for first time travelers, budget comes later. I think you should pick a place and then plan a budget around your dream location. Otherwise, you may find that the budget limits your trip when it doesn’t have to. Include transportation, lodging, food, events, and emergencies Decide how much you are willing to throw down for each and STICK TO IT. For international travelers, please research the exchange rate for your destinations–this can impact your budget. Google has a good exchange rate tool–I just used it! Luxury, tight, or in between? This varies for everyone. Some are luxury travelers–and I envy you! Others are budget travelers, moving from place to place on $20 a day. Most fall in between. But your budget is personal. Make your trip fit your needs–make sure your lights still work when you return! Credit or Cash? Well, now…there aren’t many places I’m bringing cash to. But to each his or her own. Credit is another daunting concept… but the beauty of credit is, points. Depending on the card you choose to use, credit can give major rewards for travel–including free trips! 4. Decide How Long to Stay 2-3 days is most common. Especially for us weekend travelers. However, for if you’re crossing time zones–more than one–The Obsessive Planner suggests adding a day or two to deal with jet lag. For international travel, this is a must! Traveling across time zones gets exhausting, let me assure you. You will thank yourself later if you give yourself a day to rest after you arrive. Oh, although it’s a later tip, when deciding how long to stay, please consider lodging costs. They will stack up the longer you stay. 5. Decide How to Get There: Trains, Planes, and Automobiles. Personally, I fly to 90% of the locations I travel. After a year of this life, I’ve grown used to–actually, addicted to–flying. But not everyone enjoys flying (if you need tips for dealing with flight anxiety, go here!) Luckily, you can drive to most places; although your journey takes longer. And trains exist in pretty much every part of the world. I encourage everyone to try train travel once in your life. I love it…almost as much as flying. But how do I decide which one? Look at your budget, assess your comfort zone, and choose. Don’t be afraid to combine some! Driving Driving your car is likely the cheapest. And if a road trip is in the cards, I say go for it! Of course, keep in mind, you can’t always drive everywhere, i.e. from Atlanta, GA to Barcelona, Spain–definitely factor that into your decisions. Train Travel I love trains. You get the pace of driving without having to sacrifice enjoying the view. At least once, experience a ride taking longer than 24 hours. Coastal Starlight via Amtrak was my first and I don’t regret the experience! Flying Flying doesn’t have to ruin your budget. Several airlines offer affordable flights, especially if direct. Some airlines specialize in penny fares and some people capitalize on those fares. Also, check out sites like Skyscanner–they provide thorough comparison of flight costs depending where you’re flying, what airline you take, and when you take off. Obsessive Planner’s suggestion for first time travelers? Whatever airline you travel, join their rewards program–get some perks and frequent flyer miles while you go. 6. Decide Where to Stay–Hotel, Hostel, Airbnb? You’re a first time traveler planning a trip. You picked your place, decided when to go, wrote out a good budget, and just booked your flight. Now…where are you staying? Again, this is personal. I know travelers who don’t know where they will stay until they arrive. Others, like myself, book before we take off. As for where? Hostels Disclaimer: I’ve never stayed in a hostel. But, hostels are the cheapest bet. Don’t let the scary movies talk you out of staying–the world has a lot of good, safe hostels. Just research and read reviews. Hostels are a preferred method for international travel, especially for those with a tighter budget. And they are a great way to meet new people! Airbnb For the purposes of this post, I’m also including Vacation Rentals by Owners (VRBO) Disclaimer: I’ve never stayed at a true Airbnb. I have, on the other hand, stayed at several properties via VRBO. I will highly recommend both, especially if you want to minimize costs. I’ve researched Airbnb for a while now and if you really want a “live like a local” experience, this is the way to go while saving money. You can choose to rent out a room for your stay–and get to know your host family. Or you can pay for an entire space for you and your crew. Just do your research on each place you find. Hotels For the purposes of this post, hotels include condominiums, cabins, lodges, resorts, etc. I’m a hotel girl. Room service, turn down service, the light is always on for you…lol. I just prefer it. However, hotels will carry the highest cost in most cases. That’s the biggest con, in my opinion. Room + fees + parking (if you have a car) + taxes = $$$. I budget for hotels since I prefer to stay here rather than an Airbnb or hostel. Depends on your comfort level. Tip for First Time Travelers? Join Hotel Rewards Programs For the same reason you join airline reward programs–get some perks for that stay. I have rewards for several major hotel chains in the country. However, I also encourage you to detour off the chains and find smaller hotels, old hotels, ones that still have their quaint charm. At times, this leads to lower prices with an added luxury you wouldn’t expect. I love old hotels; in fact, I prefer them. As for booking? I’m an advocate for booking directly with the hotel–I get my points and lower rates. However, you can also use sites like Expedia, Kayak, or Booking.com to secure your best rate. Government...