We are often asked about how we plan for our travels, so here are a few tips and tricks:
- Keep lists of ideas on your phone, even if you have no plans to go there (...yet!).
Luke and I have on-going shared lists of random places around the world. Everywhere from London to Georgetown, Virginia. Whenever we happen upon something great on Instagram, Facebook or Pinterest, we save the idea into our shared Notes app. Nothing fancy or complicated. Just a plain list of random restaurants/cafes/activities that catch our eyes. The list is divided by country, and if we are traveling to that country, then it is further divided into the cities or regions that we will visit. So even if we aren’t necessarily going to that place yet, we have ideas for where to go. Or, if anyone we know is traveling to a specific place and asks us for recommendations, we usually just copy and paste that list to them in a text or email. That way the list is already organized by city and we don't have to rely on wi-fi to sift through a list of pinned ideas on social media platforms.
- Watch for deals.
We are always, always watching for flight deals. And with travel being “the thing to do” these days, airlines and online travel agencies have increasingly become competitive with prices. One of our favourite sources is YVR Deals, through which we’ve been able to score crazy deals like $35 return flights from Vancouver to LA, or $490 return flights from Vancouver to Madrid. We’ve recently heard about Scott’s Cheap Flights (thanks, Carmen!), and we’ve come pretty close to booking a few deals there too. Bonus tip: sometimes, airlines allow you to stay at their flagship country for an extended period at no added cost. Case in point: when we visited Germany with our whole family back in 2015, we flew via Iceland Air and stayed in Iceland for an extra 3 days without having to pay extra for the extended layover.
- Explore alternative transportation methods.
When Luke and I backpacked through Europe in 2014, we looked for cheaper ways to get from one place to another. After a lot of research, we discovered that we needed to work on a combination of cheap flights (holla Ryan Air!) and getting a Eurail Pass to get around all the countries we wanted to go to. We even tried a few overnight trains which saved us the cost of a couple of nights of accommodations.
Keep in mind that sometimes even with the Eurail Pass you need to make reservations for your journey. When we were working on this, the international systems became a little too confusing for our comfort so we connected with an agency to help sort it all out. We highly recommend doing this because it’d be a shame to miss trains because of a misunderstood fineprint. Check out EurAide for rates (they’re quite affordable!) and more information. However, now with two kids in tow, “alternative” travel methods are going to look a little bit different -- I reckon overnight trains with bunk beds will not go well with an infant and a toddler. Do what works for you and your family!
3. Plot your route on Google Maps.
Once you’ve committed to a trip and booked your flights, it’s time to take out your trusty list that you’ve been working on over time. You’ll realize now how handy it is to have all the places you’ve saved in one simple list rather than having to scour your pins from different social media platforms. Start looking up where those saved places are -- and decide if it’s worth stopping in during your trip. You don’t have to decide every single thing you’re going to do while you’re traveling; it’s important to leave room for some spontaneity too. But if you’re like us, then you’d want at least a few things planned in advance. Basically we decide on the handful of “must-sees” and “must-dos”, book tickets to those in advance (if needed), and plot a few “miscellaneous” interesting places to see along the map, like cool cafes and recommended restaurants. Then, when you get to that city and you’ve hit the “musts” on your list, you can decide which of those “miscellaneous” cool little things you feel like seeing that day. Bonus: if you have all these places pinned on your Google Map, then it’s faster and easier to decide in the moment which place you feel like checking out. Be sure to save your map offline so you have it accessible wherever you are (with or without wifi).
4. Don’t be afraid to use the “S word”.
Spreadsheets, of course. Things will start to crystallize once you start committing to places that you’ll visit during your trip. We’ve been using this simple spreadsheet that gives us a quick summary of where we will be, when, and how we plan to get there. It’s also easy to refer back to it when we’re in the process of booking our accommodations - one easy page tells us when, where, and for how long we need to book a place. This also gives us an idea of how much we are spending on the trip so far. Here's a sample screen shot of our Spain & Mexico trip plans.
5. Try to get a phone plan.
Rogers has an amazing feature called “Roam like Home” which allows us to use the exact same phone plan we have here in Canada in various places around the world. The charges aren't too bad (usually capped at $100). It’s nice because it’s pretty hassle-free, without needing to change your sim card. However, there are some countries with super cheap sim cards and even cheaper data plans - places like Mexico and the Philippines. If this is the case, try to get at least a little bit of data so you can have Internet for things like Google Maps while you navigate the city. Save your travel Instabragging (ahem, Instragramming) for when you’re connected to free wi-fi.
6. Download a few apps before you go.
There are way too many travel-related apps out there. You don’t need to sift through and download them all (try not to be glued to your phone while you’re on your adventure!). But, there are a few that we’ve found handy along the way.
Every time we book something, we send it to our Tripcase account. It’s just a matter of forwarding the confirmation email to Tripcase and they will gather everything for you in one final itinerary that can also be printed. All your flight/accommodations will be listed in one app. We also like exporting a file of all the details and sending a copy to our family in case of emergencies.
- Rick Steeve’s audio guides.
This was especially handy in Europe where we wanted to learn a little more about a city but didn’t want to join a group tour. We downloaded an audio city guide to our phones while we had wifi at our Airbnb, then followed the audio walking tour using our headphones.
7. Have printed records for safekeeping.
Before you go, print off confirmation emails for the various things you’ve booked. While we often just use the emails on our phone, sometimes our phones run out of battery or there is no cell service. We err on the side of caution and just have printed backups of everything. We also have copies of passports and ID spread out in our luggage in case we lose our identification.
Have any of these tips worked well for you? Anything else you'd add? Share them in the comments below!