Part-time traveller, Full-Time Brummie

A Brummie Home and Abroad Guide to Travel Planning

A Brummie Home and Abroad Guide to Travel Planning

Occasionally I’m asked how I go about planning and researching trips. Okay, once. I was asked once. But that question was asked. “How do you plan your trips?” And it’s an excellent question. Especially when multiple locations, accommodations and getting from A to B is involved. I’m not going to turn this into a step-by-step guide because there are others out there who do this better than I could, but this is my quick guide to travel planning.

*This guide to travel planning focuses primarily on independent travel rather than through travel agents or tour companies, but most of the principles are still relevant 😀*

** This blog post contains affiliate links. This means that if you use this link before making a purchase on that site, I get a tiny bit of commission at no extra cost to you! You can find out more here**

Where do I want to go?

Mr Fletche and I have a very long travel wishlist, so often we’ll pencil in ideas years in advance. Some years are all about maximising our annual leave time with short-haul European trips. Other years are built around a long haul destination, with shorter, cheaper trips either side.

But where do I want to go? 

We’ve got a country. Great! But a country is a big place. This is where reading travel blogs comes in handy. Google where you want to go, stick “travel blog” or “itinerary” after the name and then spend hours reading about where other people have been, what they recommend – and what they don’t. I always have Google maps open so I can see where places are in relation to each other, and whether it would be feasible to visit multiple locations in one trip.

Ok, I know where I want to go…now when? 

We’re lucky because we don’t have to work around school holidays, so we’ll often choose to go away in June or September. This works well for Europe – an all year round destination as long as you do a bit of research regarding temperatures and climate. If you want to go a bit further afield, make sure you take into account rainy/hurricane seasons – although if you’re willing to take a bit of a risk you can often get great deals.  We’ve visited Dominican Republic and Kenya right on the edge of the rainy season and had great weather on the whole!

Location decided? Tick! Annual leave booked? Tick! Now how do I get there? 

If we’re planning on flying, Skyscanner is our best friend. Pop in dates, preferred departure airport and destination, and it’ll search through multiple airlines to compare and identify the best deals. If you can be flexible on dates, or on departure airport – or even on your destination – then you can play around and find the best options for you. We’re happy to fly from other airports if we get a better deal than from Birmingham. Although always remember to factor in additional costs such as getting to another airport, parking and a potential overnight stay.

Whilst you’re searching for flights, prices have a horrible tendency to rise – as we’ve found from experience. On the other hand, never go back and check prices after you’ve booked. Murphy’s Law guarantees that this is the only time that flight prices will drop.

Of course, flying is not your only option. For France, Belgium or the Netherlands, the Eurostar is a fab option. Or if you live within reasonable distance of a port, how about taking the ferry?

Where to stay? 

Make sure you consider a wide range of accommodation options. In some places a hotel will be cheaper; in others, an apartment or guesthouse may be a better option. For research we tend to use Booking.com, and often we make our bookings through the site too. Often bookings have a free cancellation policy, which is handy should your plans change.

When using Booking.com to plan where to stay, I search for available accommodation for our dates in the various locations, then filter for maximum price and customer reviews of “very good and above”. Depending on our plans, I may also filter for items like free parking, or breakfast included. I then do a preliminary shortlist of the accommodation I like the look of, based on description and photos.

Comparing the options on Booking.com against TripAdvisor reviews then allows me to build a list of potentials to be handed to Mr Fletche for final decision (usually accompanied by a note from me going “you decide…but I REALLY like this one..”). Don’t rely wholly on TripAdvisor reviews though. Consistently good scores are sufficient for me, and the occasional one star (and five star) reviews are usually taken with a pinch of salt. (No bathrobes and slippers? Squeaky floorboards? Small rooms? We’ve dealt with worse!)

AirBnb is a great option in some places, but make sure you check out local policies first. Letting out accommodation for short-term rental is frowned upon – and even illegal – in many large cities.

7 different locations in two weeks? How are we going to move from place to place? 

We’ve been lucky to do some amazing North America and Europe road trips, and although I’ve mainly planned the destinations, Mr Fletche has been responsible for the finer details of route planning, car hire and indeed the actual physical movement of us from one location to the next. I am still yet to test out my driving skills on foreign land…I am an excellent passenger and navigator though.

If you’re hiring a car, make sure you play with options such as pick-up and drop-off points, particularly if they are not the same location. Often there will be one-way charges incurred if you’re dropping in a different location, and these can be costly. Which means you may have to be flexible and change plans if necessary. Also be generous with drop-off times – it’s preferable to drop your car off earlier than booked than to have to rush to return for an earlier drop-off.

In 2015, we used the train to travel around Northern Italy, and it was so easy…I would definitely recommend! A bit of sensible pre-booking and we even managed to get first class seats from Venice to Florence for cheaper than standard class (including free sparkling wine!). And the train/underground options from major hubs in France, Belgium and Italy mean that using one place as a base to travel is perfectly feasible.

And finally…what do we do when we’re there? 

Planning our sightseeing itinerary is one of my favourite things! Those travel blogs get another thorough reading and I put together a list of recommended sights, restaurants and bars from these. I’m also a fan of guide books – even though the internet makes them largely redundant these days, I like to flick through and mark pages. I plot everything on Google Maps so I have a clear idea of what sights are in the same area or direction – and most importantly, where we can stop for coffee, lunch or a sneaky alcoholic drink! I’ve found this planning is vital in large cities…without some sort of day by day plan in San Francisco, Paris or New York we would have been meandering aimlessly.

Because we’ve travelled together for almost 9 years now, we know what we like to do most. Neither of us are that bothered about museums and galleries (although we made an exception for Florence), but we do like churches, towers or buildings with spectacular views, and gardens/parks. Mr Fletche likes early mornings out and about photographing local life; I like afternoons in a cafe or bar with a glass of wine, either reading a book or just people-watching. We both like simple but tasty food, and we’re not averse to trying out the local cuisine; sometimes in a touristy bar or restaurant, sometimes in a small back street place that looks like a tourist has never set foot inside before.

Although it’s nice to wander around experiencing everything anew, I do recommend doing some research before you go, particularly things like opening times, admission fees and menus. In Europe, a lot of public buildings for example are closed on Mondays. Consider contingency plans for bad weather. Check restaurant menus, particularly if you have any special dietary requirements. Consider pre-booking tickets for shows or attractions before you go to save precious holiday time queuing.  Book a table well in advance if there is a particular restaurant you may want to eat at (you could even book at a number of places, as long as you are courteous and cancel those you no longer need).

But sometimes the best plans are no plans. We were so tired in Boston that we ended up just sitting in the Public Garden for hours in the sunshine rather than trying to fit more “must-sees” into our last couple of days of our trip. After all, the Freedom Trail is going nowhere…

So that’s how we approach travel planning. It’s not necessarily the right way, or the perfect way, but it’s worked for us so far. A bit of research, a bit of flexibility, and a bit of confidence to try something new is all that’s needed! What are your top planning tips?

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26 responses to “A Brummie Home and Abroad Guide to Travel Planning”

  1. Kenza says:

    This is a great article that I found super useful.
    I think it’s really important to plan ahead of an upcoming trip in order to avoid bad surprises.
    I like to be organized and planning a trip is, in it own way, a trip to itself.

    Thank you for sharing. 🙂

    Kenza from http://travelwithkenza.blogspot.com/

  2. […] On the blog: I was still updating old travel blogs, so you can find Boston, Budapest and Salzburg in January.  I also pondered whether I was A Traveller or a Tourist (and concluded I was a bit of both), took a lighthearted look at my Recurring Travel Habits and gave some (hopefully) useful Travel Planning Tips. […]

  3. Ritu says:

    Some forward planning is pretty essential, but great tips of consideration here!

  4. I kept nodding as I read this.

    Is there anything as great as sitting in a busy square, late afternoon, with a glass of wine, and people-watching, at the end of a demanding day walking through a city?

    Seems like you’re doing it in style! Brilliant.

    We’ve had two stints overseas from our little home here in Adelaide- one to St Albans in England, and the second to Singapore, both of which gave us tremendous chances to travel. Highly grateful!

  5. arv! says:

    I alwayss find that planning for a vacation to be super experience. searching for info and finally settling down to choices builds the excitement. Great and resourceful write up!

  6. I loved using SkyScanner when I lived in Ireland- always up to date, and very easy to use. Now that I’m back in North America, I find that Google Flights is a bit easier (although our flights are typically $500-1500 CAD, so not really much savings…). My biggest question- how do you guys decide if you disagree on where you want to go??

  7. Anna says:

    Nice post! This will come in helpful when me and my friend book our next holiday!

  8. Sounds like perfect organisation to me! Going to forward to my student son and friends – they never seem to make plans come to fruition…..ha, ha, ha

  9. blondieaka says:

    A great article and some really good points….me ..I just book and go 🙂

  10. Lisa Orchard says:

    Useful post. Thanks for sharing your tips! I’ll be using some of them when I plan our next vacation!

  11. Yes, our travel is always planned, and we now have housesitting bookings for next August 🙂 Many months ahead, which reduces the stress considerably. Though a bit elasticity in plans in always needed as they never all go to plan. I sometimes think that the travel plans are nearly as much fun as the destination! Good points Em.

  12. What great advice you’ve listed here in your guide. I like the idea of sometimes having no plans and just winging it too!

  13. […] Original Source: The Brummie Home and Abroad Guide to Travel Planning… […]

  14. […] But it can also be stressful. Even when I’m taking my own advice like the wisdom I dispensed here and here. And this time, after a year where we’ve moved house – me, for the first time […]

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