So, you've booked a trip & are ready to GO! But wait, what are you even going to do when you get there? I think the homework & planning deters a lot of lazy people from traveling in the first place, so it's important to have an idea of how and where to start -- some sort of method to the madness is the key! Today, I'm sharing with you my method to all my madness & hope you find it helpful!
Let's start from ground zero -- what are you even interested in & what's your travel style? Are you like my dad who packs days completely full & likes to see as much as possible & take advantage of every moment? Or someone who likes to completely relax on vacation & slowly savor every moment or indulge in relaxation poolside with a cocktail? Maybe a mix of the two? That's definitely where I fall.
I don't like to overpack my trips. I like to pick 2-3 main things to accomplish & see each day. This would include things like a hike, tourist site, cooking class, etc. I find that I end up doing a lot in between activities anyways when it comes to grabbing a drink at a bar, going to a restaurant, etc., so I don't include meals in my 2-3/day list.
I really pride myself on my ability to find the BEST things to do on trips, and as you can see in all of my curated travel guides, certain things are more important to me than others -- this is where we all differ. I like to find cute, trendy cafes, cool restaurants, do active things outdoors, etc. I tend to steer away from things like museums (not always, but usually). This is where everyone's different. Joe and I love to workout on vacation, but even some of our most active friends hate the thought of that while traveling. Everyone is truly different -- just like with fashion, everyone has their own travel style. So, before you even begin planning, make sure you know what it is that YOU love to do on vacations.
PS: the fact that everyone has different travel styles is important in picking your life partner in crime. My best recommendation is to travel internationally together for an extended period to make sure you two can handle each other, even when you're put in an unfamiliar place, outside of your comfort zone, jet lagged, and on the go.
So, how do I find where I'm heading and what does my process look like broken down?
1. PICK YOUR DESTINATION
This could be chosen through a variety of things. Inspiration on photos is probably the ultimate one I use. Saving posts on Instagram or pinning pins on Pinterest (say that 5 times fast!) is a great place to store your travel bucket list. I always have a running list of places to pick that I found through social media photos. I also sometimes just don't feel like going somewhere too mainstream & want to pick a hidden gem spot I saw a beautiful photo of once years ago & I always find these places from social channels.
Finally, there's recommendations. I LOVE recommendations. I typically ask my friends & family, or my followers (as most of you are travel fiends) what their absolute favorite place is & add that to my list. Recommendations are the BEST way to find cool spots, especially because you have someone to refer you to the best places within that city & save you a lot of the busy work or "travel homework" as I call it. I typically trust people who travel a lot more than those who don't because who doesn't love vacation?! Nobody ever has a bad time. That's why I ask people who have been a lot of places to pick their #1 and tell me what it is vs. someone who has been to one place and loved it.
2. CREATE A SHARED GOOGLE SHEET
You're about to get a lot of recommendations coming your way & find cool places on your own that you want to see in step #3 below. So make sure you have an organized way to keep track of it all. My husband is great at this & usually kicks off this process for #TeamPeters. Share it with anyone else joining you on the trip for everyone to throw their ideas in there on one, consolidated shared doc. We typically break our items up into a MUST do & a MAYBE IF WE HAVE TIME list (think Appendix slide from your work presentation ppt.) See my template above, or **click here to download my template** for your own use.
3. START YOUR RESEARCH
Where do I get my research? I literally start by asking for recommendations. I typically reach out directly to people I know who have been to said destination. I also will typically post a status asking for recommendations (don't you love how that's a specific option now on Facebook!?) & post an Instagram Story asking for recs (my Instagram community has the BEST recommendations!!!). You'll be surprised how many recommendations you'll get. Those who have been already are dying to share their love for the place with the world & #humblebrag that they've already been there (you know we're all guilty), so I find it to be an amazing way to learn about a new place!
Next, I get lost on Instagram. Instagram is my favorite travel tool. I will search the destination city & go to that page & check out the posts (typically I'm drawn to high quality photos, which usually end up being bloggers' or photographers' pages who often link back to their own sites w/ more info!). I'll get totally lost down a rabbit hole while doing this, and it's pretty mindless research, so you can easily do it while simultaneously watching some trashy TV like Vanderpump Rules (my personal fave) or something. Looking at pictures is the most authentic way to find cool spots & top restaurants -- you're literally looking at what you'll see first hand. I'll have no idea how I ended up where I am at the end because I just keep clicking through or finding more location specific hashtags to click into from the location posts, etc. I also use the recommendations that friends or readers give me & use that as a jumping off point on the Instagram rabbit hole method (as I just decided to call it). You're all Insta pros by now I'm sure, so you get the gist here.
Finally, I'll look for travel blogs. I try to steer clear of major travel sites initially like TripAdvisor, Frommers, etc. The major publications are pretty generic I find, and are meant to please a wide range of people -- old to young, artsy to not, rich to poor, etc. I like to find content that's created by someone who appeals to my personal demographic a little more. So, I'll go to good ol' Google & search "what to do in [CITY] travel blog" or "[CITY] travel blog." You can get more tailored by typing in "couple travel Barcelona blog" for example, if you want ideas that are great for couples, or "20 something things to do in Paris blog". The key is adding in blog to your long-tail Google search. These recommendations are a little more unique as they're coming from a blogger and real person vs. a company, which I find more authentic & are always how I do my research to find some mainstream things to do along with some more off the beaten path unique ideas.
I take all of these recommendations & findings during the research phase & pop them into the shared doc. One line for each item. Next, group them into a MUST DO vs. a MAYBE IF WE HAVE TIME list. Finally, group them by proximity. How can you be most efficient about time based on the location of these individual activities you want to do?
4. PICK X AMOUNT PER DAY
Pick your number that you feel comfortable with. You don't want to be too exhausted that you come home from vacation as sick as a dog & you also don't want to go to somewhere exotic & all you have to share with your friends when you came back is how cool the hotel pool piña coladas were. Pick a number that you feel comfortable with, and start assigning dates to the line items - again, based on proximity is best! If you're already in a specific area, you can knock out more with less time by doing other things nearby.
Like I said, my range is 2-3 set things per day & then I wing the rest. We'll refer to our MAYBE IF WE HAVE TIME list often & try to fill in some gaps when we have spare time and spare energy. Meals don't count toward my 2-3 things as I was going to eat that day anyways (shoutout to FOOD!) My favorite part of the trips are literally getting lost in the local areas & just wandering and finding yourself stumbling into the cutest little stores, cafes, parks, etc. So PLEASE SAVE SOME TIME for spontaneity! Don't over book yourself. The other reason I lowball this set number it to set expectations for myself. I don't want to feel stressed & rushed to get to all the things I was planning on doing if it's just not in the cards. With only a couple things on my list, if I decide to go in a different direction after or in between, that's A-OKAY & I'm not panicked that I didn't get to something since I wasn't set on doing so from the get go. Underpromise, overdeliver.
That's it. Once you get down whatever process works for you, you're going to be much more efficient with this & find WAY cooler things to do. Not only does it take the stress out of planning, but having somewhat of a game plan makes your trips go so much smoother and they ultimately are more enjoyable!
FINALLY - ENJOY YOUR TRIP!
PS: where are you headed next?! Comment below & let me know -- inspiration for my own bucket list! :)
Next, check out my favorite travel hacks post!