9 Easy Steps For Planning a Trip You'll Never Forget

9 Easy Steps For Planning A Trip You’ll Never Forget

By James Granahan

Planning a trip is probably both the most exciting and the most intimidating part of travel.

When you sit to make your travel plan, there are so many possibilities!

An endless list of opportunities, destinations and adventures await you!

But with so much choice and so much to think about… where on earth do you start?

Planning can be scary. So the last thing I want to do is overwhelm you with 100 more suggestions.

That’s why, for this article, I’ve thought through everything that goes into planning for an incredible trip…. and boiled it down into a 9-step "smart travel" planning guide that you can take action on.

Each of the steps in this post will help you not only plan your trip, but ensure that you plan the kind of trip that’s going to be most meaningful to you.

Follow the steps in this guide and I promise it will make planning your trip easy, instead of overwhelming. So you can focus more on enjoying your adventure and less on the practical details of trip planning that just “have to” happen.

Ready to get started? Download the FREE 9-Step Travel Planning Checklist now so you can follow along as you read.

Download Your Free 9-Step Travel Planning Checklist!

Use this free checklist to make planing your next incredible adventure exciting instead of overwhelming!

9 Easy Steps For Planning A Trip You’ll Never Forget


Find Your Travel "Why"

Young woman sitting on a rock with backpack and looking to the horizon

The biggest mistake most people make when planning a trip comes at the very beginning.

What is it?

Not stopping to think about why you want to travel in the first place.

This is the first step to planning your perfect trip because it allows you to match your destination with the experiences that are most meaningful to you.

It is one of the easiest ways to make your travel more enjoyable.

So, have a think about it? What is it that motivates you to travel?

  • Adventure?
  • New experiences?
  • Learning about history?
  • Visiting famous world sites?
  • Learning about different cultures?
  • Hiking in faraway mountains?
  • Meeting new and interesting people?

The potential list is endless.

For me, it’s hiking and learning about history. I love getting out into the mountains and exploring different landscapes. And I love learning the stories of ancient civilisations and visiting the sites of  important historical events.

So I choose destinations to match…

  • In  2019, I travelled around Egypt learning about Ancient Egyptian history and exploring incredible tombs, temples and pyramids
  • In 2020, I’ll be hiking in the Peruvian Andes, where I can combine my love of history and hiking by learning about Inca civilisation while tackling a challenging 8 day trail

Your travel motivation could be anything.

When I was in Egypt, I met a fellow traveller whose motivation was diving. She had travelled all the way from Australia to Egypt because the Red Sea, on the Egyptian coast, is known as one of the best diving locations in the world.

She matched her motivation with her destination. And she had an incredible trip as a result! You can do the same.

You may be tempted to assume you know what motivates you to travel, but don’t skip this step!

Take a couple of minutes now to write down your main motivations to travel.

Getting this crystal clear in your mind is the foundation of an incredible trip.


Research Possible Destinations

travel destinations

This is where the fun really begins!

The second step to planning a trip is researching possible destinations. This is the part most travellers love because it is an opportunity to dream and explore!

If you’ve followed step 1 of this guide, you’ll already know what most motivates you to travel, so as you research possible destinations, bear that in mind.

Look for places that match the kinds of experiences that are most meaningful to you.

As you do your research, it’s good to take notes so that you have something to refer back to when it is time to make your final decision.

Download the free 9-Step Travel Planning Checklist now and make your notes there or grab a pen and paper.

Don’t forget to also research the “boring stuff” like visa requirements and vaccines for your possible destinations.

I know, I know… this stuff isn’t sexy. It’s much more fun to spend all of your time looking at incredible photos or reading about exciting adventures. But the practical stuff is important too. It’s what will determine whether you can go on your trip in the first place!

So by all means, spend most of your research time on the exciting stuff... just don’t forget the practicalities.

This step of planning a trip is a big one and can take some time. Don’t rush it. Take a few hours (or even a few days) to do your research and get excited about possible destinations.

That way you’ll be able to feel more confident when you move on to step 3...


Evaluate Your Options and Make a Decision

You’ve thought about your motivation, you’ve done your research…

Now it’s time to pull the trigger and make a decision.

This might be the hardest step of all. It’s the one that travellers often get stuck on.

Focus more on being decisive and less on trying to make the "right" decision

Trust your gut, make a choice and roll with it.

Remember, the destinations you don't choose will still be there for a future adventure. You’re not saying no to anything… just “see you later!”


Make a List of Things to Do on Your Trip

trip planning list

Now that you know where you’re going, take a few minutes to go back to your research notes and make a list of what you want to do on your trip.

This doesn’t have to be perfect. You’re not trying to create a fancy itinerary. The best things you experience on a trip are often the surprises!

The point of this step is simply to make sure you know what the top “must-do” things are for you, so you can factor them in when you’re booking the trip.

For example, if you want to go hiking or do other outdoor activities, you’ll need to book your trip for a time of year that’s suitable.

Or if you’re planning to visit a lot of famous historical sites, you may prefer to travel “out of season” to avoid the crowds.

(EXPERT TIP: Don’t travel in Western Europe in the summer. Go in spring or autumn when the weather is still nice but there are far fewer tourists!)

Making this list is also another excuse to get excited about your adventure… so do it! This is supposed to be a fun process!


Decide How Long Your Trip Will Be

planning a trip

There’s one final step you need to take before you book your trip….

Based on your research, you should have an idea of how much time you’ll need to make the most of your chosen destination.

Depending on where you’re travelling to and what you want to do while you’re there, this could be anything from a couple of days to a couple of months.

To figure out exactly how long your trip will be, ask yourself the following questions:

  • How long would I like to go for?
  • How long can I afford to go for?
  • How long do I need to go for, to make the trip worth it? (When you factor in cost, travel time, etc.)
  • How much time can I get off work for my trip?

By time you’ve finished answering those questions, you should have a clear idea of how long your trip will be. And you’ll be ready to start booking flights, arranging accommodation and asking for time off work.


Book Your Flights and Accommodation


Here we are, at the point of no return… it’s time to make your bookings and lock in your trip.

You might be tempted to skip ahead to this step, but don’t. There’s no need to rush! Take the time to work through steps 1-5 first and I guarantee you’ll have a much more rewarding and enjoyable travel experience as a result!

When you are ready to book, you’ll probably have plenty of options to choose from.

When booking flights, I like to search for options using Skyscanner. The site is simple to use and makes it easy to factor in different factors such as cost, number of layovers, etc.

If you need to book overland transport like buses and trains, your best bet is to find the websites of local companies and buy directly from them. I normally use Rome2Rio to help me find out what the options are for travelling overland.

When it comes to accommodation, I normally use local hostels and hotels for short stays and Airbnb for longer stays.

Airbnb has revolutionised the travel industry in the last decade, but if you don’t need a kitchen, small local hotels or bed and breakfasts are often better value.

Staying in a locally owned hotel or hostel is also a great way to meet local people as the owner of a small B&B is often more present than the average AirBnb host these days.


Make a Packing List

packing for a trip

I suggest you leaving your packing a couple of days before you leave. But during the planning phase of your trip, it’s worth making a packing list so that you are organised and prepared in advance.

It’s better to make your packing list now instead of last minute in case there’s anything you need to research or buy before you go.

For example, I need to buy a sleeping bag for a big hiking trip later this year. By making my packing list early, I know what I need and I have time to buy it.

If I’d left my packing list until the end, I’d probably have a pretty stressful time scrambling to find the right sleeping bag last minute.

There are 3 golden rules to follow to make sure you’re properly packed for any trip. Here there are:

  1. Find out what you need - Think about where you’re travelling to, the length of your stay and the kinds of activities you have planned for your trip.
  2. Pack light - If you’re not 100% sure you’re going to use something during your trip…. Don’t bring it!
  3. Make a checklist so you don’t forget anything

First and foremost, spend a bit of time thinking about what you actually need to pack for your trip. Depending on where you’re travelling to, what time of year you’re going and what activities you plan to do, your packing list will change.

So look up the average temperatures, rainfall, etc. in your destination for the time of year you’ll be travelling and take this into account when making your packing list. For example, Spain is a hot country most of the year but if you pack shorts in December, you’ll freeze! You still need a coat, hat and gloves!

Secondly, I strongly recommend you pack as light as possible. This doesn’t mean travelling without stuff you need. It just means ruthlessly eliminating things that aren’t absolutely necessary for your trip. You’ll thank me when you’re not lugging massive heavy bags through the airport!

I travel with a checked-in bag now so that I have extra space for my hiking gear but up until recently I had been living on the road with only a standard cabin bag and my backpack. You might be surprised how much of the stuff you’re packing isn’t really necessary when it boils down to it.

Finally, make sure you create your packing list in a checklist format. So when it comes time to pack your bag later on, you can simply check off each item as you pack it.

It’s not the end of the world if you forget something. You can almost always buy anything you really need when you land anyway. But if you can avoid forgetting stuff, it will make your life a lot easier!


Learn About Your Destination Before You Go

woman learning

I believe that the best way to make your travel adventures more meaningful and enjoyable is to learn about the places you’ll travel to before you go.

Learning about your destination before you travel there allows you to better understand and appreciate everything you experience on your adventures. It also allows you to connect with local people, make new friends and understand the lives of people in different parts of the world.

I like to call this the “Anti-Tourist” approach to travel, because it's the exact opposite of what most tourists do.

So how can you apply the “Anti-Tourist” approach for your next trip?

The easiest way is to spend some time learning about the local history or culture of the places you’ll visit. You could do this by reading a book, watching documentaries or even just by doing research online.

For example, when I travelled to Egypt, I decided to learn about Ancient Egyptian history. Before I booked my trip I knew very little about Ancient Egypt. So I decided to take a course.

Over a period of about 2 months leading up to my trip, I listened to a series of audio lectures on the history of Ancient Egypt so that when I arrived I’d be able to understand and appreciate the pyramids, temples and tombs I visited.

The result?

A truly unforgettable travel experience.

By the time I went to Egypt, I was able to understand so much more of what I experienced.

  • When I saw statues of pharaohs, I could identify who they were
  • Instead of looking at carvings on temple walls and thinking “oh, that looks nice!”, I was able to decipher their meaning
  • And because I knew what to look for… I enjoyed visiting hidden gems, including a couple of magnificent tombs most tourists don’t even know exist!
james at nefertari's tomb, egypt

That little bit of effort in advance of my trip made my experience ten times more meaningful.

A little learning before your next trip can do the same for you.

If you want to learn more about what it means to travel as an “Anti-Tourist” and how to do it, check out my free video series: 3 Insider Secrets for More Meaning Travel


Get Excited!

james in split, croatia

The final step of planning for a great trip is to spend some time getting excited about it before you travel.

Allow yourself to daydream. Read books and articles, look at photos, research the local culture.

This is how you extend the joy that travel brings you beyond the days or weeks you’ll be travelling for. It’s a way to get literally months of excitement and happiness out of every new adventure.

It's Time To Start Planning Your Next Adventure!

So there you have it - everything you need to know about planning an incredible adventure!

Planning a trip doesn't have to be a big intimidating task. Sure, there’s a lot to do and a lot to consider, but planning a trip should be fun! So don’t forget to enjoy the process 😉

If you follow the 9 steps in this post, you’ll cover everything you need to make sure you’re 100%  ready when it’s time to jet off.

And to make planning a trip even easier for you, I’ve created a FREE 9-Step Travel Planning Checklist that you can use to action everything you’ve learned about it.

Download Your Free 9-Step Travel Planning Checklist!

Use this free checklist to make planing your next incredible adventure exciting instead of overwhelming!

So now it’s over to you. Time to get started!

Resources Related To This Article

The Anti-Tourist Club

The Anti-Tourist Club

Smart Effective Learning

The Anti-Tourist Club is a training and support centre for curious adventurers who want to do travel differently.

It is where Anti-Tourists like you and I come together with a common mission: To put learning at the heart of our adventures and unlock the kinds of meaningful travel experiences most tourists never have.

What was your big takeaway from this article? And how will it affect how you plan for your next adventure? Leave a comment below and let me know!

3 insider travel secrets video series

Get the FREE Anti-Tourist Travel Secrets video series

Sign up below to receive my FREE 3 part video series that teaches you 3 Anti-Tourist secrets to make your next trip more meaningful.

james square 128px v2

MY TRavel Coverage during the coronavirus

Even though travel is on hold due to the coronavirus outbreak, I want continue to inform and inspire visitors to this site who want to learn about the world as much as they want to travel there. I believe that now is the perfect time to prepare for the incredible adventures we'll have when this is all over. So join me in using this time to learn more about the places you plan to visit when we can travel again.