You probably already have an idea of what you want to do, but if you’re anything like me, it will evolve in the months leading up to it and while you are researching and planning.
Start with the following:
- How much time you have.
- Your budget: you want to pay most of it off with cash before you leave, credit cards are reserved for emergencies and semi-emergencies (like sales at your favourite clothes shop).
- Destinations: is there just one or several?
- Do you have to be at any particular place at a particular time? For example are you going to a wedding in Vancouver, a festival in Italy or a family reunion in Auckland?
- Do you want to avoid being in a particular place at a particular time? For example being in Cancun during Spring Break or Times Square on NYE.
- Is it realistic with your kids? You are probably not going to be able to hike the Inca Trail with your 2 year old twins.
Then you start to nut it down on your spreadsheet. How many flights will you need to take? What is the best order to do them in? What is there to do there? If you are going to drag your 8 and 10 year olds around a museum, you better be taking them to a water park the following day.
Check out the weather: I was going to visit New Orleans while we were in the USA but ended up canning that idea because I read it was unbearably humid for most of the summer. I don’t live in a place with hurricanes so I rarely consider it, but many cities or islands are susceptible to them at certain times of year so you want to avoid that. You also probably want to avoid heavy rains, really cold temperatures (unless you are going skiing) and other extremes.
Check out our school holidays and the school holidays where you want to go. This is a major influence on price of flights and accommodation and also of how busy things are.
Once you’ve decided a rough time, you start hunting for flights. You can do this up to a year before you leave. I run things through SkyScanner and Expedia as well as going directly to the airlines websites. Remember you are looking for a happy medium between price and a convenient time with minimal stopovers.
At the same time, you need to be looking at accommodation and decide on your accommodation before you book the flights just to make sure it can all match up.
Put it all on the spreadsheet then start filling in the smaller details like what you will be doing each day, any smaller flights you will need to take, transport to and from the airport, public transport or a hire car while you are there, any activities you can book before you leave home (and any available discounts or packages).
Lastly you sort out the finer details like which currencies you will need and how to get them, travel insurance, and what little things you might need to buy before you leave. Then you make a packing list and you get really excited!