Anyone who knows me knows that I hate jumping the gun on my travels. I have this weird notion that until I'm actually sitting on the plane, there is still a HUGE chance that a trip will not push through. It's part of my job and I think it helps ease the sad disappointment in me when it doesn't happen.
Part of my job (well...most of my job nowadays, really) is to plan trips for huge groups and be the trip leader. It's scary and fun, and always so rewarding. This time around, I'll be the tour guide for my family if/when we go there this May, a thought which is scary and exciting at the same time.
Before you go around like a headless chicken with the planning, here's a handy dandy little flowchart/checklist I always follow in my planning. It's pretty basic but has a few tips mixed in!
Choose country of destination Sounds easy, but trust me, when you're racing to book flights to certain destinations, it becomes a complicated thing--especially for big groups. When you and your friends choose a place to go, make sure you have a backup just in case you can't go to a certain place at the time you want. For example, our Bali trip was originally a trip to Chiang Mai. It wasn't until we were booking flights that we realized that Chiang Mai was too expensive to fly to on short notice so we ended up in Bali.
Set budgets and dates Too early, you say? It's always good to have a starting point for your research, so you know how much you have to save/set aside before going. Generally, when I have an initial budget, I add like 5-10k to set aside just in case. Your basic budget should include--food, visa costs, plane ticket costs, estimate of hotel stay and a general budget for transportation and attractions. Obviously this will change a LOT as you continue your planning, but it's good to have and edit as you go along.
Dates are hard too. As you make your plans (especially with flight booking), You find out that the date you wanted originally is more expensive than the most inconvenient date ever. So a bit of leeway is recommended, especially when you're planning around the holidays!
Apply for visas Depending on where you've chosen to book, applying for a visa can come before or after flight buying. When flying on budget airlines (piso fares!), you tend to book first then just get a visa later, which is good for countries where the costs of getting a visa aren't too hight and not too complicated (i.e, Japan, Korea, Taiwan).
But for big trips, like the one we're about to take, applying for visas are the equivalent of...well. Any government process, really. Plus they can be pricey, so we usually try to get visas before booking flights just in case we don't get approved.
While every country's requirements vary, there are a few requirements that are consistent:
- Affidavit of Support (all minors and people like me with no money need this!)
- Employment certificate, which I have on file already
- Previous passports, more importantly if you have previous visas (this helps the application process become easier--the more visas you have to other countries, the more likely you are to get approved quickly)
- Bank Statements or Latest ITR
- Schedule of Stay and Booking, if available
Book flights and hotels While you're waiting on your visa, it's a good time to start hunting around for hotels. Most airlines and hotels have this new feature where you can reserve a booking without paying for it until a certain date.
Always make sure you have a copy of your passport on file when you're booking! Just so you don't scramble around the house when the airlines ask for your passport info--those websites cancel your booking when you leave it alone for too long. I actually have an Excel file in my laptop of my whole family's passport info, for such cases.
When booking hotels, cheaper isn't always better. Try to get a general idea of which area is best for tourists. In Bali for example, the hotels in Kuta were really cheap, but a bit rowdy and unsafe than Sanur, where we stayed. In London, there were hotels offering good price all the way in Islington, but Kensington was more central, so we would rather stay there than be too far off.
Lay out your itinerary And I mean lay it out! For every trip, I always do a day by day breakdown, researching as much as I can, including subway stops and restaurants. So when I research, I always have a copy of the subway map handy to figure out which places are near each other. Even restaurants, opening times and events, ticket prices (if available) are also on this piece of paper.
Sometimes booking shows or certain activities online/beforehand can save you a pretty penny!
When we walk around, you will see me carrying this, and a city map, like a true tourist. :))
Pack your Wardrobe After consulting the weather, and blocking out a long stretch of time for packing (as I am wont to do), it's time to pack your wardrobe! Less is more, I always say. A Pair and A Spare has an excellent guide here!
That's it! Get ready! :)