I love to travel, it is one of my very favourite things to do. I get such a thrill from visiting new places and returning to old favourites, experiencing different cultures, tasting local foods, listening to foreign languages and seeing amazing landmarks. It's the best!
I personally believe that half the fun of a trip lies in the planning and have been known to begin making plans 18 months in advance of the holiday! Fortunately my family are more than happy to leave all the planning up to me, so I get to research and make plans...cancel plans...adjust plans... and generally immerse myself in all the details for months at a time. I thrive on it! I do make sure to have regular "meetings" with the family about our plans, so that everyone is included and has a say in what we will be doing.
The first thing I do when we have decided to go on an overseas trip is to create a folder for that trip in Dropbox and I create a spreadsheet to go in that folder. Typically my spreadsheet would have the following tabs: Itinerary, budget, savings, flights/rail, accommodation, excursions, visas, to do list and packing list. I generally also create a tab for each city we will be visiting. At this point we usually sit down as a family and decide exactly where we want to go and each family member usually gives me some idea of any particular things they would like to do etc and I take note of all these things.
Then the fun part starts! I research, spend loads of time on Google Maps and mess around on the internet for hours and hours, until I come up with a workable itinerary. Below is a portion of our itinerary for our trip to the Med in 2014 (I blogged about it here)
I then work out a detailed budget and ensure that we can actually afford to do all the things I have dreamed up. It's at this point that reality usually bites (and the exchange rate does me no favours!) and I have to tweak things and basically make it all work together. When working out my budget, first up I will get a general idea of the price of flights, typically looking on Travelstart, the Emirates website and our local flight website. I snip the relevant bits of information and add them to my "flight and rail" tab. If we are cruising or doing a tour, I'll look online and get prices for those as well. I also work out the logistics of how we are going to get from A to B. We enjoy traveling by train from place to place, so I add those train trips into my budget too, as well as to the "flight and rail" tab.
Tied in with the budgeting is the choice of accommodation. I rely heavily on Tripadvisor and Booking.com when planning our accommodation - I read lots of reviews on both sites to help me choose hotels that tick all the boxes i.e. they appeal to us, are ideally located and fall into our price range. I have found some outstanding little boutique hotels this way - we way prefer small, characteristic hotels to the big chains.
A big chunk of our budget goes to excursions. Here again, it's a matter of personal preference, but we like to go on private (just our family) day-tours with local companies when we visit a city for the first time. I do a lot of research into tours and tour-operators (again, I rely heavily on Tripadvisor) and have come to depend on some tried-and-trusted tour operators in the various countries we have visited. If we are cruising (which is something we really enjoy) I also use the forums on CruiseCritic for pointers with regards to places to go and things to see. I spend lots of time researching the places we are visiting, to establish what the "must-see" things are, before I book any excursions. While doing this research I will post all sorts of snippets of information and links into that city's tab on my spreadsheet.
To-do listIt's at this point that I will start creating the "To Do List" on my spreadsheet. Here is a snippet of the list I created for our 2014 holiday:
PackingI also begin my packing list early-on in the planning stages. I have a standard packing list that I use (I'll blog about that some other time), so I paste that into my spreadsheet and then as the trip gets closer, if we think of things to add to it I do so - by the time we actually have to pack, the packing list is completely sorted.
Trip BinderAbout 3 months out from the planned trip I buy 2 binders (I usually use these Flip Files). I print out a copy of the itinerary, our transport (flights, rail etc) and all other relevant documentation such as accommodation confirmation and tour details and store a copy in each Flip File. I file it day-by-day so that on any given day, all I need to do is grab all the contents of that day's pouch, slip it into a plastic sleeve to carry with us for the day and off we go. I keep one Flip File in my luggage and Grant keeps a copy in his. That way if one file gets lost there is a spare as back-up.
VisasWhen I create the Flip Files mentioned above, I also make a binder for our visa applications as a lot of the documentation I put in the Flip Files is required for our visas as well.
So that is pretty much the process I use. The spreadsheet is the key to all my planning. Once our trip is over I keep the folder in my Dropbox and I find I often refer to previous spreadsheets when planning future trips.
Hope this is helpful!