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My Travel Planning Process Step By Step

In the past couple of years, I’ve managed to pull off 5 domestic trips and 3 international trips all for vacation and leisure. I was able to go on these trips without breaking the bank. Traveling doesn’t have to cost a fortune. It’s all about planning and taking advantage of tools that are right at our fingertips!

For this post, we’re looking at a 14-day trip to the Philippines — Manila + Cebu!

How I Plan My Trips

Note: Being that I’m quite meticulous, this guide is a bit extensive. However, I hope at least some of it helps you with your travel plans. Enjoy! 🙂

Make a list of places I want to visit

I have a growing list of cities and countries I want to visit. I use this list to determine what trips I want to make and when I’d like to go.

Pull from the list occasionally (i.e.: when you feel like you “need” a vacation)

I do this yearly and usually pick 1-3 places I’m dead set on visiting. Usually these places are ones that I’ve always wanted to visit or trips that my family also want to go on. Last year my trips were my solo trip to China and family trip to the Philippines. A couple of years ago I took trips to Seattle, Vancouver, and Los Angeles. If you’ve got more of a wandering soul than I do, pick as many as you think you’ll have time for.

Figure out the best dates to fly to and from each destination

In the past, I used to pick a destination without even thinking about the dates. I would just make sure that the trips fell on long weekends that I had off or fill up vacation days I haven’t used. It’s great to fit in a trip when you’ve got time, but we also have to be practical with our budgets.

Instead of punching in dates and purchasing my ticket right away, I utilize the Google Flights price graph to determine what time of the year has the lowest airfare. I also use the Hopper app to do this and compare between the two.

Now that you know when the best time of the year is to fly, you can create a schedule if you’d like. I usually plan to go on the trip with the cheapest airfare first and the most expensive last.

Create a budget and determine estimates for each trip

This is the part of the process that gets a little messy and a bit overwhelming to say the least. Just remember to look at one trip at a time!

Also during this part of the process, I plan out my excursions. I determine if there needs to be any reservations made beforehand, how much admission tickets cost, what mode of transportation we’re using to get there (train, bus, etc.)

My travel estimates usually includes:

  1. Airfare + $100.00 (in case of price jumps or travel delays)
  2. Travel Insurance (not required but highly recommended)
  3. Food
    1. Average price for meals
    2. Consumer prices for food available at markets or convenience stores
  4. Transportation
    1. Train/bus passes (if cost effective)
    2. Train ticket costs
    3. Long-distance/overnight bus costs
    4. Car rental (if public transportation is insufficient)
  5. Lodging
    1. If traveling with family: I do a cost comparison between hotels and Airbnb. Almost always, Airbnb is cheaper.
    2. If traveling alone: I do a cost comparison between hotels, Airbnb, hostels/guesthouses/dorms.
  6. Excursions/sightseeing
    1. Ticket costs (admission, etc.)
    2. Tour costs (if available and not expensive)
    3. Additional transportation costs (if any)
Planning Tip: Create a list of all the places you want to see and do. Highlight the items you must do (i.e. would regret not doing) and prioritize them. It’s your vacation! Have the most fun! This is a good way to make the most out of your trip and to cut expenses, ultimately saving you money that you can use for other things on your trip.

Create a savings schedule to save for your trips

Now that you’ve got estimates for each trip, what I typically do is add up all of the totals. This gives me the amount of money I will need to save in total to ensure that I can make all of these trips happen. Or, if you’d like to save for one trip at a time, you can move on with just one trip total.

You’ll want to look at how much income you’re bringing in and how much you are spending. Based on your trip total, create a schedule that shows how much you should be setting aside every week or month (depending on how much time you have to save). For example, if a trip total comes to $2,000.00 and you’ve got six months to go for the trip, but 4 months until prices jump, you’ll want to set aside $500.00/month or $125.00 a week. This might sound daunting, but it’s quite easy to cut down on unnecessary expenses, especially when you’ve got a goal and keep with the right mind-set.

If you’re more secure with buying airfare sooner than later, but haven’t got money set aside for airfare yet, I suggest saving up for your airfare first and then saving for the rest of the trip. In these cases, I go with the same formula. Say my airfare is $450.00 round trip but my personal budget shows it’s best to buy two months from now. What I do is add an additional $100.00 to the airfare as it’s shown on the day that I researched, making room for price jumps. So $450.00 + $100.00 = $550.00, I have two months to save. That means I’ll have to make sure I set aside at least $68.75 a week.

Saving Tip: Sometimes saving seems less of a struggle when you change perspective. If you’ve got $1,000.00 airfare but only have two months to save, think about saving daily. For $1,000.00 airfare, you’ll only need to think about saving roughly $17.00 a day instead of $500.00 each month or $125.00 a week. Doesn’t that make it sound easier? 🙂

Note: I’m not a mathematician nor am I that great with math but this formula has worked for me. 

Book tickets, make reservations, keep your budget in line

After booking my tickets I make reservations with my lodging of choice as well as any tours, museums, outings that need to be booked in advance. In the midst of saving, I sometimes book these reservations as I go.  Most of the time, I book lodging and excursions at least one month in advance.

I keep a spreadsheet for my budget that has estimates on one column and actual amounts on the other. As I make reservations, I enter the actual amounts and my budget readjusts accordingly. I typically save this spreadsheet on my tablet and bring it with me along my trip, making sure I calculate totals at the end of each day. I’m used to having a daily routine, so I guess this is a way to help me keep up with one while I’m away from “the real world.”

Fly away!!!!!

Now that you’ve got your budget in check and know exactly what you’re going to do on your trip, you’re ready to take on the world! Please note that this post was just a general guide for my personal process. Everyone has their own process and this is what has worked for me over the years.

What’s your travel planning process?

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  1. Hmm, I could really use your travel planning tips. I can be a bit spontaneous so I tend to not pay attention to some details (such as expenses on food and attractions), I just go with the flow sometimes. Hahaha.

    I didn’t know about Google Flights though! Thanks for sharing, this is going to be really useful for my future trips 🙂

  2. This is some great advice. Especially the saving part. I’m trying so hard to save money recently, and this sounds like an easier way of doing it.

    I’ve never really travelled far (I’ve never left the UK) so I’m not very used to planning trips. I’ve been on a few within the UK, but they were before I had to pay rent and bills, so I literally could spend all my wage and didn’t have to think about budgeting properly. I’ll definitely be reading this again if I plan a trip!

  3. I’ll take note of these!! I keep thinking about going out of the country by myself. I hope I gather enough courage after graduation and before I’m too old to go on adventures. Hahaha!

    • Ah, it’s never too late to travel! Don’t limit yourself, you can do anything at any time in your life. 🙂

  4. Hi, I’m really surprised by all the planning that you make before going in a trip and I must say, I don’t tend to do that much planning. That’s why I mostly go in tours and they have everything prepared, jeje.

    • Totally! Sometimes, for me at least, it’s more cost effective to plan and book things on my own.

  5. Weeeee! We have the same travel process. Except for me, the booking of the tickets go first because of the piso fares! Hehe Then, the rest of the process follows. So we make sure that we book the trip a few months after the sale so we have time to save 🙂

    Ochi | Ochi In The City

    • Scoping out flight deals is good, too! But sometimes they make me feel limited. I have a list of places I really want to visit and more often than not, there aren’t any good deals. Hahaha! Wish we had piso fares in the US!

  6. I definitely like to plan my trips. Making a lost of things to-do is awesome and ensures you get the most out of it! I don’t do the same financially sadly. I just kind of save money in general and spend it when I want to. I shall try your money tips! 😀

    • I’m totally one of those people who has to plan out every little detail, down to the mode of transportation we’re taking to and from each spot. I guess I have wanderlust but I actually don’t like literally wandering, not knowing what I’m doing. hahaha

  7. I definitely got my mom’s wanderlust, but with three kids (including an ASD child that would not fare well on a plane) we mostly drive. We’ve driven across the country from Virginia to California a few times, and when you plan the driving portion so that it’s like a fun roadtrip, instead of “losing” vacation time to travelling it becomes a part of it.

  8. Most of the time, our trips are spontaneous so I only have a week to 3 months ahead of preparation hahaha
    For trips that require plane tickets, we’re on the lookout for promo fares. And we now that promo fares are always months ahead. We don’t save starting the day we book, but we allot around a month or two for saving. We both support our families financially so we have to consider that too.

    Right now, we’re saving for a trip this summer. We bought our tickets last year but we only started to save this January, but we’re still not serious about it, we even had a lot of unnecessary expenses haha we only have almost a month left before our trip and we haven’t even saved up half of our target budget hahaha

    There came a time that Gerald was amazed with my budgeting skills, because despite our poor planning/saving and overspending, I still manage to come up with our target budget. Maybe I work better under pressure? I don’t know haha

    So excited for your trip to PH! 🙂 I looked at your itinerary and it seems to me that you’re staying around Makati? I might see you around Hehe

  9. These tips come in handy for our upcoming [you-already-know-where-yet-to-be-revealed] trip in May! I did learn to look into Google Flights from Jan, and that’s how we monitored the price changes since the beginning of January! We (my sisters-in-law, Roan, and I) were uncompromising on a certain price point, and when we found the perfect time and price, we literally booked our flights right away!

    I’ll refer to your travel estimates when we start finalizing our itinerary! Thank you, Yen, for sharing these tips! :*

    • Hopper is really good, too, because it tracks on demand/live! You also get a heads up when prices are dropping and when you should purchase. I like it a lot!

      P.S.: If you want a cheap way to travel in between, use the BoltBus. 🙂

  10. My travel planning process is a tad more spontaneous than yours! Hehe. I spend all of last year saving up a decent amount for my travel fund then wait for airline promos aka piso fare. From there, I look up which cities are included in the sale and pick my favorites from it (or sometimes the cheapest, not even caring what country it is) and book it. Travel date should at least be two months in advance. The next step I take is book rooms on a buy (reserve) now, pay later principle since some hostel/hotel rooms offers discount if it’s only a week away. If those are cheaper, I take the discounted room and cancel my prior reservation. After that is the extensive research about what place to visit, how much transportation is, how much the food is, and how to make the best deals while in the country/city. This is the time I finalize my itinerary and have a visual map of the place in my mind so I won’t get lost. Then I just have to wait until I’m set to travel! 😀

    • I want to drop everything and be able to leave when I want! But I can’t do that! It gives me anxiety hahaha! I like knowing exactly what I’m going to be doing and where I’m going. I also don’t like being lost. huhuhu

  11. My travel planning process is a bit more spontaneous LOL Like I do sort of save for a trip, but not really. I just look at my savings and go, “Yeah, I can afford a trip!” and then plan from there. With Sokcho last November, I decided to go in September, and I booked my room first. The room was so cheap, so once that was booked, then I started planning my actual itinerary. Because it was in-country, I knew things would be affordable, so I just figured I’ll set aside $500 for the whole trip and only spent $300 of it. I also tried to figure out all the bus routes and whatnot, but that proved to be naught when the Korean map didn’t have the right bus stops LOL

    Same thing with my Osaka/Kyoto trip. It was talking with one of my bosses that got us to look up prices and hotels and then booked 2-3 months prior to our trip, haha! And I saved money starting then and figured out what we should do and all the little titbits like transportation and whatnot.

    Your travel planning process is a good one, though. I should follow something like that XD

    • I wish I lived in Asia! I would be city-province-prefecture-country hopping so much! Hahaha

      Spontaneous is fun but I can’t do it! =8

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