When you book a trip, whether you’re seeking adventure or a relaxing vacation, the preparation period that involves research and planning is an essential factor in the success of said trip. Based on an online survey conducted by the Chief Marketing Office Council’s GeoBranding Center in partnership with AIG Travel and TravelZoo, the importance of research and planning to improve a travel experience was a major recurring theme among those who traveled.
In fact, 50% of respondents said advance trip planning and research through a trusted online source was the best way to relieve travel stress and anxiety. As with most things, travel preparation requires time and strategy. In order to use this time most effectively, you should consider the following tips.
Don’t – Wait Until the Last Minute
With so many different websites and people to consult when travel planning; you want to give yourself at least two months before your trip so you can make sure to cover all your bases and weigh your options.
The more rushed you feel when making plans, the more likely you’ll miss out on some opportunities that you accidentally overlooked or didn’t get a chance to look into.
Do – Make Reservations
Even if you feel like you don’t have to reserve certain meals or activities, having a reservation helps you have an organized plan for your day. While you may want some portions of your trip to be more up in the air and unstructured, having specific times set aside to be somewhere or do something helps you better prepare for those moments when you don’t have a plan.
When traveling, there is no more relieving feeling then waking up knowing your plans for the day rather than searching through Yelp last minute to see what you should do next.
Don’t – Get Advice from “Top Ten lists”
When you first book your trip, you naturally search through websites telling you the “The Top Ten Hottest Restaurants in Chicago Right Now” or the “10 Things Not to Miss in San Francisco.” Don’t fall into those traps. Typically, these lists are filled with standard tourist destinations or are riddled with hidden advertisements.
When you’re visiting a new place, you want to immerse yourself in its culture and get a sense of what it’s like to live there. While tourist destinations may be something you want to explore, it’s good to have a mix of tourist activities and hidden local secrets. Unfortunately, you will not find those secrets from top ten lists.
Do – Consult Reviews and Ask Your Networks
Rather than searching Top 10 lists, reach out to coworkers, family, friends and friends of friends to get a first-hand opinion on what to do and what’s not worth your time. When looking into restaurants, make sure to utilize OpenTable and Yelp for reviews from tourists and locals on where to go and what to order.
Don’t – Rely on Your Travel Partners to Plan
In most cases, if you want something done right you have to do it yourself. Of course, you’ll need to consult with the people you’re traveling with for their opinions before you reserve anything, but if you’re waiting for them to take the initiative and do their own research you’ll never get it done.
Take responsibility for your travels and make sure you’re making the most of the time you’re spending in a new place.
Do – Use a Google Doc
Get your travel partners involved in your planning process by using a Google Doc to list all your options as you begin to build out your itinerary. Let them leave their comments, suggestions and opinions so it becomes a team planning process and gives them encouragement to participate.
Google Docs is a free service that allows you and those you share your document with to write, edit and collaborate at the same time, wherever you are. It’s an ideal tool for getting your thoughts in one central place rather than unorganized email chains and group chats.
Don’t – Ignore the Culture
If you’re traveling abroad, you’ll naturally expect to encounter cultural differences. But you don’t want to set yourself up for culture shock. The last thing you want to do in a foreign country is be ignorant to cultural norms and end up offending someone you don’t understand.
Do your research ahead of time and visit sites like Culture Crossing to get a basic understanding of communication styles, gestures, cuisine, etc.
Do – Check Your Bank’s Point Systems and Travel Rewards Programs
While you want to have a budget in mind, you also don’t want to cheap yourself into a below-average travel experience. That’s where your bank can become your friend. Depending on the credit cards you have, the points you’ve accumulated might help pay for parts of your trip. Some cards, such as the Chase Sapphire card, have their own travel booking portal (Ultimate Rewards) with discounts on hotels, flights and car rentals just for being a card member.
If you’re a frequent traveler, you should make a point of researching the credit cards that can best assist with your trips and which have the best travel rewards programs. If you spend the time to educate yourself, you will end up enjoying the five-star treatment for a fraction of the cost. Break the system, not the bank.
Travel planning is a time-intensive project, but is not meant to overwhelm you. That’s why you should give yourself ample time to explore your options and make decisions one at a time. If you do it right, having a travel itinerary on hand will make your next trip exceptionally less stressful and much more organized. Take the time now to have a plan (and maybe some back-up plans) so that once you’ve actually reached your destination you have a tool to guide you through your surroundings.