How to Plan a Trip, Part 1

Planning a Trip by Natalie Parker

Mr. P and I plan all of our trips together and this week we’ll peek under the hood to show you how.  Planning a trip from scratch can be very overwhelming, so we break it down into tasks.

First thing’s first.  We’re not tour people.  We only take tours when we have to (like a day tour to Champagne).  I’m not saying tours are bad, they’re just not for us.  If taking a tour is what will get you out of your comfort zone, do it!!

Planning a Trip is Like Building a House

We both decide the location.  He is in charge of framing out the house, laying the foundation, and building the walls.  I’m responsible for finishing the house, putting in floors, picking out furniture, and decorating.

In this first post, we’ll discuss the Mr. P tasks of framing the house.  That means how to get there, where to stay, and how much time to spend there.  Tomorrow we’ll cover my tasks.

I’ll use our most recent trip to Germany and Austria for Christmas as an example.  When we started planning, all we knew is that we wanted to visit the Munich Christmas Markets.

How Much Time Should You Spend There?

Decide how much time you have to work with.  How many days can you afford to spend on the trip?  It could be that you don’t use all the days you can afford, but get a decent idea of what’s possible.

Example:  for our Christmas trip, we wanted to use paid holidays as much as possible but be back by New Year’s Eve, so we had the week of Christmas plus a couple of days after to play with.

Research the basic attractions and activities.  What is it you want to do there?  Understand what is available and how much time you need.  I love the Frommer’s guides for this.  They are free online and help us understand how many days we need, plus what sights we care and don’t care about.  We also check TripAdvisor, our favorite travel blogs, and friends who have been before.

Example:  for our Christmas trip, we read that many Christmas Markets in Munich shut down on the 23rd or 24th of December, so we needed to be there a couple days ahead of that.  We also read that Munich is pretty dead between Christmas and the New Year, so  we’d have to head somewhere else on the 26th.  Mr. P looked at day trips from Munich to get an idea of what was close by.  That’s how we landed on Innsbruck!

Planning a Trip by Natalie Parker

How Will You Get There?

How can you get there?  Understand what’s possible first.  Who flies there?  Can you fly direct?  Can you fly to one spot and take a train or car to the next place?  Mr. P loves using Hipmunk as a starting point for flight research.  If you know the local carriers for that country, visit their websites.

Example:  we’d have to fly to Munich and ideally could do it without a connection.  Innsbruck was only a short train ride away and trains left a few times each day.

How long does it take to get there?  Are you looking at overnight flights or train rides?  What time would you arrive in a city?  This will help you consider how many days are travel-only and what days you will still have time to sightsee after arriving.

Example: we wanted to avoid an early morning flight so we decided we’d arrive in Munich in the afternoon.  That would give us time to visit one Christmas Market in the evening after getting settled.  Since the train to Innsbruck was short, we could eat breakfast in our apartment, catch a train, and still get to Innsbruck for a late lunch.

Are there cost differences between days, carriers, or layovers?  Do some flight searching and understand your options.  These choices are really personal.  Are you on a strict budget?  If so, non-direct flights will probably be cheaper.  Do you have one person who can’t sleep well on planes and another who is terrified of flying (that’s us)?  Then you want to get non-stop as much as possible.  Sometimes you can save by flying on certain days.  Sometimes carriers only run certain routes on certain days.

Example: although we prefer direct flights, a direct flight home from Munich was astronomically expensive, so we had to take a layover in Philadelphia.  We also found it made sense to take the train back to Munich from Innsbruck for one night and fly home out of Munich.

Where Will You Stay?

Where, as in, what location.  Basic online guides like Frommers and blogs are great for this.  If you are going to a city, what neighborhood do you want to be in?  Does it make sense to stay really close to the action?  Or could you spend less and put yourself a short train/tram/walk away?  How important is the neighborhood?

Example: we didn’t want to stay too far from the action in Munich or Innsbruck.  Still, we were fine with a short tram ride so we could pay less for a nicer place.  In Munich, we looked at places just outside the city center close to train/tram stops.

What type of place should you stay in?  I’ll cover apartment versus hotel in a separate post, but do consider this.  Do you have loyalty points that can get you a free room?  Do you have small children that would do better in an apartment?

Example: in Munich, we rented an apartment because the city would be mostly closed on Christmas day and we wanted a place to relax and cook Christmas dinner.  In Innsbruck, we wanted a bit more service so chose a hotel.

That’s it for Part 1!  Planning a trip can seem really daunting, but breaking it down into smaller tasks makes it a bit more manageable.  Tomorrow in Part 2 I’ll cover how we plan what we do during the trip.


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