How to Plan Your Own Trip
The process of planning your trip can seem daunting at first, but don’t let it intimidate you! I call my planning method the Loosely Structured Itinerary, because it’s detailed and organized but completely flexible. By doing it this way, you’ll allow yourself the comfort of having orientation and direction without locking yourself into a set plan that can't change with your experience. In my opinion, it’s the best way to quiet an anxious mind while still maintaining the integrity of the backpacking experience. So go ahead and follow these 5 simple steps to plan a trip of your own.
1. Decide on Non-Negotiables
The first step to planning a trip is making some non-negotiable decisions. I've narrowed them down to three essentials: Budget, Duration & Destination.
Creating a Budget
Hostel (1 night) + meals (3) + activity (1) = Daily budget
(Daily budget x # travel days) + flight cost = Trip budget
To create a realistic trip budget, you need to estimate how much money you’d spend on a daily basis. To do this, combine the average cost of 1 night at a hostel, 3 meals and 1 activity. Then, take the sum and multiply it by the amount of days you plan to travel, and add the average cost of flights. That will give you a total number that you can work off of.
I’d recommend being rather conservative with your budget, because by picking something moderate, you should know what you’re going into, but feel comfortable going over a bit if plans change en-route. When picking your number, keep in mind flight prices and local currency values.
For reference, my 2 month trips to Southeast Asia and South America cost about $4,000 USD each in total.
Check out my Budgeting page for cost-cutting tips to keep your trip affordable.
Picking a Timeframe
Your timeframe will be largely determined by your budget and your work schedule, and it will influence a lot of other decisions for your trip. If you only have a week to travel, for example, you’ll want to stick to countries that are closer to you. You don’t want your 7 day trip to Singapore to be comprised of 2-4 days worth of flights. If you have a longer timeframe, you'll have no problem sacrificing a day or two to flights. As the only non-negotiable that’s sort of inflexible, you’re going to have to work everything else around this factor.
Picking a Destination
Climates and weather in other parts of the world are far more intense than what we’re used to. Tropical countries, for example, often have wet and dry seasons. You don't want to go somewhere only to find out that the hikes you planned are closed for the wet season. Also, look into the holidays and celebrations that take place in your countries of interest ahead of time. If you want to be in Rio for Carvanale, Thailand for the Full Moon Party, or India for Diwali, you’ll want to plan around that.
PS- don't forget: the seasons are swapped in northern & southern hemispheres.
If you’re trying to stay thrifty and under that $40 a day mark, you’ll want to pick a country that will be able to stretch your dollar quite far. A country with a favorable exchange rate will make you feel more comfortable splurging on extras, and will allow you to be slightly more flexible with your budget.
Decide on your destination based on the type of trip you want to have. Looking to rough it through mountains and see camp out under spectacular glaciers? Check out Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia, Switzerland or Austria. Looking to dive through coral reefs and laze around on the beach? Look into Thailand, Cambodia, Australia or Belize. The internet is your friend here. Do a bit of research to see if your destination fits your expectation.
So now that you’ve decided your non-negotiables, the next step is to get Googling. I recommend checking out the following:
Daily cost of living
List of 5 top sights to see
List of 5 top cities to visit
Health information- recommended vaccines, drinking water quality, mosquito warnings, altitude.
Cultural norms- i.e. haggling, dressing modestly, throwing toilet paper in the garbage instead of the toilet.
Safety info- treat this as a way to be an informed & smart traveler, not as a deterrent for your trip.
Doing the research will not only help map out your travel route for you, but it will prepare your expectations so you won’t be caught off guard by cultural norms or health issues.
3. Map out your Route
This step, for me, is the most important one. Knowing my travel path helps me feel much more at ease while away, and gives me direction and orientation in an otherwise disorienting environment. Formulating your route is genuinely as simple as connecting the dots.
All you have to do is:
**Keep in mind, your origin and destination cities can be the same! The only difference will be that your route will be a loop, which is totally fine!
Pick an origin city (the city you’re flying into)
Pick a destination city (the city you’re flying back from)
Connect the dots with sights & cities you want to visit
4. Divide out your Time
Now that you have a route, you can divide out your total travel time into approximate days per city.
Honestly, the reason I recommend this step is so that you can get a general sense of how long it will take you to go from point A to point B. It will add structure and organization to your route. However, remember that this is a loose guide. You can and will stray from this itinerary, and that’s okay. Be okay with not getting to everything, and be okay with adding detours here and there. Remember that the beauty of the loosely structured itinerary is that you have your plan, but have the freedom to change it.
5. Book the Bare Minimum
My general rule of thumb is that you only book the following ahead of time:
Your first hostel
Why just those? Depending on high season and availability, you should have no trouble booking hostels and domestic flights on a whim, and believe me, you’ll want the freedom and flexibility to do so. Having your ticket in and out of the country will give you security and put your mind at ease, but knowing that you have the ability to change your plans based on recommendations and reviews will open you up to far more opportunities.
For advice on picking hostels and how to book them, check out my personal recommendations.
And That's it!
That’s all there is to it! With all the research, it may take a little while to get this plan down pat, but it’s well worth it to prepare and give you some serious reassurance that you have a sense of direction during your trip. Safe travels!