Published in: Credit Cards | Oct. 4, 2019

The Fast, Easy Way to Plan a Great Vacation

By:  Lyle Daly

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Travel planning doesn’t have to feel like a chore.

Travel planning should be a fun process that gets you excited for your upcoming trip. But for many of us, planning a vacation can quickly go from fun to stressful.

You need to map out an itinerary, find affordable flights, figure out a place to stay, and have some activities lined up so you can make the most of your time off.

With all the setup involved for a vacation, you could find yourself feeling overwhelmed and exhausted before you even go anywhere. 

roller bag packed for vacation

Image source: Getty Images

I’ve gone through this myself, so I know how frustrating it can be. To avoid this problem, I like to separate my travel planning into different stages and handle them in order of importance. It’s made the entire process much simpler for me, and if you have a tough time planning your trips, it could do the same for you.

Start by figuring out the most important details

Your starting point is to decide on a few details that will give you the outline of your trip. For the typical vacation, think about these three things:

  • Destination(s): Start with a region or country, then narrow down where you’ll go within that area.
  • Travel dates: Even if you’re flexible and don’t need to travel on specific dates, you should have a general idea of when you’ll depart and come home.
  • Any popular activities you want to do: If your trip is going to revolve around any activities that are in high demand, such as hiking Machu Picchu or visiting Disneyland, make reservations early.

You should also set your travel budget at this point, as the amount you can spend will play a big part in your planning.

Find your flight

Now you know where you’re going and when you want to be there. With that information, you can book your flight.

It’s easy to fall into the trap of spending way too much time hunting for deals here. To avoid that, stick to one travel booking site. If you already know the airline you want to choose, just go to its site and search from there.

You shouldn’t spend more than an hour or two on this process, whether you’re booking with cash or travel rewards. In that much time, you’ll have an accurate idea of flight prices on the dates you wish to travel.

Instead of wasting hours looking for that elusive deal that might save you $50, grab your credit card and pull the trigger on a ticket that works for you.

Set up your accommodations

With your flights booked, you need a place to stay for your trip -- or multiple places if you plan to go from city to city. If you’re doing the latter, this is a good time to hammer out how many nights you’ll stay in each place.

It shouldn’t be too difficult to choose accommodations. Here’s how you can do it for each area you’ll be visiting:

  • Decide which type of accommodation you want (and can afford). The most common options are hotels, hostels, and vacation rentals.
  • Consider your must-have features, such as a kitchenette, a pool, or a location near the city center.
  • Pull up 5–10 places that meet your criteria. Compare them and book the one you like the most.

Finish it off by picking out some activities

You can typically save the activity booking for last unless you want to do something popular that's likely to sell out.

Your personal traveling style will play a big role in how much of your trip you book in advance. You may want to have a solid game plan to follow every day or you may prefer the flexibility of having an open schedule.

Most people fall somewhere in the middle. They’ll plan a few things to do everywhere they go, but they’ll also leave time open so they have a chance to be spontaneous.

Even if you don’t book anything beforehand, it’s still a good idea to put together a list of potential things to do.

Building your trip from the bottom up

By planning your travel in distinct stages, you can eliminate the stress of having so much to do. Focus all your attention on the most important parts first and then work your way down to the smaller details.

Also remember that you don’t need to figure everything out in a day. As long as you’re not booking a last-minute trip, it’s fine to give yourself a couple of days between each step. That time off can help you stay excited about the travel planning process and keep it from turning into another item on your to-do list.

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