Tools and Tips for Planning a Trip
While we were planning our trip this time around, I got TONS of emails from all of you with questions about how to plan a trip like this one where you travel through multiple countries for nearly 3 weeks. From the many trips I have planned over the years (I am the trip planner between Mike and I) I have learned a lot. I have gathered websites to make the process far less painless, preventing me from caving and jumping on a tour bus. The thing with planning your own trips is that you will always see and experience things more authentically and in a way that speaks more to you than a tour. Don’t get me wrong. There are some really amazing tours, and depending on how adventurous you are, they range in depth and price. We have never purchased tickets for any, but there are a few I will suggest in our Spain and Portugal wrap up post with all our recs that I would definitely say are good options!
That being said I am hoping this post will give yall more confidence in planning your own adventures whether they are near or far. I also plan to add some suggestions to the post that yall give in the comments below. I will also add suggestions as we continue to travel and learn ourselves.
Here are a list of the tools we suggest for getting control over your trip and feeling like you are going in with a good game plan. I love to make a rough plan of days I will be traveling, where I will stay, and a list of highlights in the cities I am in. Below are tools I have used in the past or have been recommended to use by frequent traveling friends who know how to stay organized while on the move.
Evernote: This is awesome for almost anything. We used it to track websites, places to stay, communicate with those traveling with us, and everything else you can imagine. We had a whole folder that included a note for each city. We made a list of our itinerary here as well to share with family members. It was really great to have because it still loads offline when you don’t have internet or service. We also used it during the trip to keep track of the places we did go that we found while wandering the city.
Google Calendar: We used the calendar to organize our trip visually. We shared the info with those traveling with us and our families. It was very nice to have this to keep us in the know especially when we would forget the dates and times we needed to hop on a train or nab our rental car.
Google Maps: If you have a gmail account take advtange of this NOW. If you are traveling and want to remember all the places you want to visit, then start saving these places in Google Maps. You then are able to see that you have a lot of things you want to explore in a certain area. Thus, you may want to get an apartment or hotel in that area.
Tripadvisor: I am a big fan of Yelp within the US and use it pretty religiously when we travel, but in Europe and in the international world Tripadvisor is king. Download the app and create an account. You will be able to see if friends have stayed or eaten at specific places as well as get a wide range of suggestions from hotels, attractions, restaurants, and more. It is a must when you are traveling anywhere.
Lonely Planet: I have been a fan of this site for a long time. Though I think their app needs some major overhauling, I am a big fan of their suggestions. They typically are little more on the hipper and edgier side while also offering very classic and traditional ideas as well. They also give great info on the culture, if you need shots or other medical things, or need to find transportation. It also provides a massive forum area. Nearly anything you can imagine is on here. There are others, but this is always my starting point. I haven’t been steered wrong yet.
Anthony Bourdain: We are huge huge fans of Anthony’s not just for his honesty, but because of how we experiences a place when we travel. He does it well, but also doesn’t miss the reality of the culture he is in. Also, he is a chef, which means he will never recommend bad food. He doesn’t have every place but we always check to see if one of his shows has been shot in a place we are going. You can also find more of Anthony on his show on CNN, Parts Unknown.
Atlas Addict: I recently came across this site and am glad I did. I am always looking for guides that are different than the average “10 things to not miss…” I want to know more than that and I want to know about the hole in the wall restaurant you would never find unless someone told you about it. I like getting guides that feel deeper and more honest. I love that these guides do that.
Travel Mindset: If you haven’t seen Travel Mindset I suggest changing that, especially if you either travel often or simply have wanderlust. Travel Mindset offers the real stories in travel. This site partners with travelers to share stories and collaborates with brands and cities to send writers in to share their experiences. It is very cool and there are tons of great suggestions.
Airbnb: Top on our list when we travel to new places is to find a way to stay in an Airbnb apartment or home, why? Not only will you have an authentic experience and meet locals, but you will have a unique and fun time staying in a one-of-a-kind place. I love a great hotel, but they can tend to not feel unique to where you are like an apartment can. We have stayed in nearly 20 different apartments at this point and have enjoyed our experiences thus far. If you want a more authentic place or are looking to split a space with friends while you travel, a lot of times apartments can end up being the better deal than a hostel where you share a bunk room and bathroom with 8 strangers.
Hostel World: Don’t worry this isn’t what you think if you are someone strongly opposed to hostel life. This site pulls up apartments, hotels, hostels, guest houses, and B&Bs. They also have some of the best prices. Hostel World is killer in Europe, and we have booked through the site about 5 times. We have had great experiences every time.
Bookings.com: A great place to hunt for deals if you are looking for a more hotel feeling. I use this a lot in the US in particular but have had friends use it all over the world as well. There are some great deals as well as something to fit every star level and price point you can imagine.
Skyscanner: If you are flexible with travel this is an awesome site and app. For instance, we recently decided to go to NYC next month. We placed that we were flying out of Raleigh to NYC and it gave us the option to go anytime within a month’s period. It instantly showed us the cheapest days and times to fly. Also if you know you have a week vacation and want to go somewhere you can place your destination to anywhere for a set time. It will give you tons of options of places with great deals. It is killer!
Rome to Rio: This site will blow your mind. Seriously because it blew mine. Basically type in any two locations and it will tell you how to get from one place to another, look up prices for plane, train, cabs, buses, and subways to give you the total cost of what it will be to get there. I fell in love with this little city-to-city planning site.
Rail Europe: If you are really good at navigating the world of train ticket buying and/or you bought a Eurorail pass than ignore this suggestion. If you are not a stellar navigator, than let me tell you this may be a good option. We had a lot of trouble using the Portugal rail system website and the one in Spain as well, so I ended up using this website a couple times. The price is a little higher, but it saved a ton of money and gave me a peace of mind especially when we got closer to the trip.
Easy Jet, Ryan Air, Vueling: Sometimes the cheapest way to get around in Europe is to fly between cities. Sounds weird, but it is true. We used all 3 of these airlines and all 3 were good experiences. Below I have suggestions about what to plan for, but I don’t feel you are winning or losing with any of these options. They all provide a decent discount flight experience.
Taxi Fare Finder: Before I need to use a taxi, I always look up what the taxi should cost so I know what to expect. It also helps to dodge scams. This site is pretty spot on and helped us save probably 20 euros in total because we acted more educated and direct about the cost with our driver.
Triposo: I found this app for a small price in the app store. You can download each city you are in and use the map offline. It also has a small list of recommended restaurants, hotels, sights, and other things to do in each city. It also will help you find your way throughout the city as it works on a compass.
City Maps to Go: This is another app similar to Triposo. I used both of them because they offered different things and different cities as well. So make sure you check both of them out.
Subway Maps: This is an app you can use offline for every subway system in the world. Just search it while connected to internet. This will help you easily navigate your way through each city so you are not standing at the maps in the stations 100% confused.
Other Tools to Check out:
Duolingo: This awesome app/game will help you refresh a language you are roughly familiar with or at least help you get acquainted enough with a language to make the locals think you made an effort. Mike and I both refreshed for about 3 hours on our flight and we were pretty good at keeping up with Spanish while traveling.
The Peach Truck’s Posts: Our friends at The Peach Truck in Nashville went on a 5 month trip around the world. After, they wrote 4 posts (1, 2, 3, 4)about traveling and why you need to do and how. Check them out before you book your next trip. Great tips and great inspiration.
Como Consulting: Our friend, Hayley Salvo, lives in Seville and gave us tons of awesome recs and suggestions when were planning our trip. She runs a consulting company on how to move to Spain. If you are thinking of doing an extended trip or even are considering a move for school or to live full-time I highly suggest contacting her and her business partner.
This will be an ever growing list so check back from time to time to see what we have added here, but this is a lot of what we have learned.
– Everyone asks how to pay for trips. I don’t like to give money advice because everyone is different, but to begin, start a savings account or separate place you can place a little money in from time to time. A little goes a long way.
– I don’t recommend this for everyone but we use a couple credit cards to help us get miles. We use a capital one Spark card for our business. Mike also has a United credit card, and I have a Delta. They offer killer promotions and give you free bags. In the end for the small fee they work out well, and we don’t place much, if any, on them other than our plane tickets. We currently have gotten over 100,000 miles jointly through just having these cards without doing much more than put 3 months of groceries on them, which we pay off right away. We currently have over 80,000 points on our Spark card from just placing everyday business costs on the card over the past 3 years. This is not right for everyone but this is often how we purchase plane tickets. There are tons of articles about making these cards work best for you if you search around.
– Look to go during low seasons or on the beginning or end of high seasons. The weather is typically good but more risky, but the prices everywhere are more affordable.
– Fly on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Always cheaper. Always.
– Remain flexible when possible. If you know you want to travel during a certain period of time many sites offer flexible dates so you can find the cheapest ticket.
– For the most part, apartments save money in the long run as you have a kitchen where you can cook on your own and plan ahead for food so you are not eating out every meal. Also you can buy your own wine and that is always cheaper than buying drinks at a restaurant or bar.
– Plan your routes and travel method before you have zero access to internet. ALWAYS. Too many times I have made this mistake. I refuse to pay the crazy fees when we are international so I always look up how we will get from point A to point B. This also means that I plan costs, back up restaurants, and things to do.
– I have learned a few things that help me make sure flying doesn’t ruin me for a few days no matter how long the flight. First, drink water as much as you can the day before and while you are enroute. I hate airplane bathrooms, but if it means I am jet-lagged the next day I will handle it. Water is half the issue with getting jet-legged when you travel. Skip the alcohol as much as possible no matter if it is free or not. Also have a sleep mask and even if you can’t sleep on planes, close your eyes and zone out with some music. Closing your eyes and letting your mind rest is better than not. Finally, splurge a little for the comfort seat on flights that are overnight. Thank me later.
– Always pack snacks. Keep granola bars, dates, nuts, and anything that helps you get through hunger. Sometimes meals cannot be served on flights because of turbulence or you are wandering streets and cannot find your way. Keeping food on you will keep you from making bad decisions and from getting hangry, which can lead you down some ugly roads….literally.
– On trains try hard to face the way the train is moving especially if you get motion-sickness. I have learned the hard way too many times.
– If you fly budget airlines and have 2 bags read their carry on guidelines. Budget airlines will nab more money from you than you may have paid for your ticket if you have a bag that is the “wrong size”. They each have different rules so look every time. Ryan air is the worst for this. If you pay for the bag to be checked before you will save a ton of money as well.
– Every country is different, but I always suggest reading other people’s experiences about food and what made them sick. I have never gotten sick (knock on wood) while traveling internationally. Many times in Europe their food is even fresher than what you get in US restaurants so I usually am okay with eating in a more risky manner in countries like that. In China that was a different adventure. Every place is different so check in so you don’t spend too much time being ill.
– If you want to save money, choose one meal a day to eat out or to spend most of your budget on. Spain was great because of the tapas and pintxos. Most every country has safe and good options for “street” and “fast” foods. Don’t feel you have to splurge on all your food.
– Always research water drinkability. There were parts of Spain and Portugal where they suggest at least filtering all the water. Water can be scary if you are not aware. Even showering with your mouth open could mean getting very ill. Most hotels cater to taking care of these issues, but still have the knowledge of what you are getting in to.
Like I said this list and these tools will continually be added to and I would LOVE LOVE LOVE any of your recommendations as well. I know many of you are frequent travelers yourselves and I would love to know how you plan your trip.
Next up I will be rounding up all of my suggestions in the cities we went to in Spain and Portugal. Yall have been asking and I am trying to get it together to share as there were so many awesome places, many we didn’t get to experience. I also will have lists of places to stay through Airbnb for you to sift through.