How To Plan A Trip: A Step By Step trip planning guide

How To Plan A Trip: A Complete Travel Planning Guide

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How To Plan A Trip: A Step By Step trip planning guide

Do you want to know how to plan a trip? Are you wanting to plan but don’t know where to start? Do you want to plan a journey, an adventure trip, or a vacation and want helpful tips? Planning travel can be an overwhelming process, but don’t worry!

As someone who’s been to over 26 countries and lived in 3, I’ll show you my tried and true process of how to plan a trip. I’ll show you how easy travel planning is, I can do it, and so can you!

Included below is a comprehensive step-by-step trip planning guide. Included in this travel planning guide are; how to set a travel budget, how to plan a travel itinerary and time time-saving and helpful trip-planning tips. I will break down the planning process and look at all the things to consider when making travel plans. Let’s get started!

How To Plan A Trip: A Complete Travel Planning Guide

south america machu pichu photo
Machu Pichu, Peru

Stage 1 Of Planning A Trip

Everything starts with an idea. First, you will find inspiration to go to a destination. After that, you can make that destination a goal. Finally, make your goal into smaller actionable steps, and get you to that destination.

Step 1: Of Planning a Trip


So, where can you find inspiration for travel? These resources always give me the most inspiration.

Travel Magazines: CN Traveler

Travel publications tell compelling stories and have beautiful imagery. I love CN traveler magazine and have been a subscriber for some time. Their articles are well-written and share an interesting angle.

Travel Magazine: National Geographic

As a photographer, I find National Geographic magazine so inspiring. Oftentimes, I’ll read an article and feel drawn to a destination. Feeling inspired, I want to experience it myself. This is the power of compelling documentary photography.

Anthony Bourdain’s Travel Show

Anthony Bourdain is a gifted writer and journalist. I admire his ability to connect the people to the food and the location. The way he narrates is down-to-earth and unpretentious. His sense of humor and no-bullshit persona is brilliant and so captivating. I can’t count how many episodes I’ve watched and booked marked the restaurant or city he visited.

Rick Steve’s Travel Show

I remember watching Rick Steve’s show on my local tv network growing up! Still, his show and he is a huge inspiration. His show was the first glimpse of the world of traveling and his familiar voice and the classic holding-his-back-pack-over-one-shoulder never gets old! He has covered all the major destinations so it’s a source I still use for inspiration.

Create a Bucket List

  • Create a bucket list of all your dream destinations. Write down your bucket list on paper or in a journal. Studies have shown that you are 45% more likely to reach your goal if you write it down. So, write it down.

Pinterest Is a Great Resource for Travel Inspiration

  • I have folders of all the different destinations.
  • It’s such an easy way to organize all your trip ideas.
  • I have discovered so many places I haven’t heard of. When I find something of interest I save it to my board.

Instagram is another great source of inspiration

  • Out of all social media outlets, Instagram is my top tool to find inspiration
  • Create a folder on Instagram and save your inspiration in them.
  • A beautiful image of a location most of the time will have a place tagged on Instagram
  • I have mine organized per country. For example, I’ll have a “Japan” or “Iceland” folder and will save interesting or beautiful locations in those folders.


Stage 2: How To Decide Where To Travel To


The beauty of travel is it is a process that teaches you so much about yourself and the world around you. It takes you out of your comfort zone and opens your heart and eyes to the vast and open world beyond what you’re used to.

It can feel scary, but it’s also one of the most exhilarating experiences.

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Oftentimes, it’s a spontaneous feeling, I want to go somewhere, and I’ll invite a friend. It’s an adventure trip for the heart and an exhilarating journey for the soul. Some of my most memorable experiences have been traveling.

I always go back to my why–it’s to discover something new; about myself, about others, and about the world.

How To Plan A Trip: A complete Travel Planning Guide | www.cocotran.com
New York, NY

Step 2: The Why Of Your Trip


Finding your why; there is no right or wrong answer to this. It’s an answer only you can answer.

It doesn’t have to be exact words either. Sometimes, it’s a feeling.

Oftentimes, your intuition knows the why before your mind does. If it feels right and something is drawing you in, lean into it!

  • What’s the reason you seek out this place?
  • Why do you want to go here?
  • Is it because you have seen a beautiful image on Instagram?
  • Did someone recently rave about this destination?
  • Do you want to challenge yourself in some way?
  • Do you want to go see a historical sight?
  • What’s the reason you want to visit?
  • These are the questions to ask yourself.
  • Knowing your why will keep you motivated and will make this trip meaningful

Step 3: Planning your Trip


At this stage, you start to put a plan in motion and decide where to go

Consider logistics and practical things for planning your trip

  • Do you have time off at certain times of the year?
  • Do you have any prior commitments in your books already?
  • Consider the time of year you are traveling. Factors at the destination such as; weather, tourist season, holidays, and conferences.
  • Want more helpful tips? Check out this travel hacks list.

Tip: Check Your Passport Expiration. 6 months of validation is needed to travel internationally! See More Tips

How Long will your trip be?

  • Do you have enough vacation time?
  • Keep in mind your greatest days you can take off from work
  • Are you taking an international trip or a domestic one?
  • For international destinations, two days will be traveling.
  • 10 days is the minimum I’d recommend

Who Do You Want To Travel With?

It will determine what type of trip you’ll have.

  • Is it an adventurous trip?
  • Is it a friend cross-country road trip?
  • Consider the time of year you want to travel and who is available to go with you.
  • is it a relaxing beach vacation?
  • A trip you are celebrating something?
  • Do you want to go on a solo trip (I have done a few of these and highly recommend it!) If you want to go, I encourage you to go. You don’t need to wait for others to go.

How to make a travel budget

The type of trip and location will help you determine a realistic budget. Some parts of the world are more affordable than others.

For example; your dollars will stretch further if you travel to South East Asia or Eastern Europe compared to more expensive destinations such as Australia or Japan.

Related: How To save for a trip

I tend to have a destination in mind from my bucket list, and I build my budget around the cost of airfare and average destination cost.

  • Do a Google search on the currency conversion. Typically, if the currency is strong, and the economy is strong, thus it will be more expensive to travel there
  • Is it an island? Islands are going to have a higher cost to travel to
  • Set up price alerts on Google
  • Find a deal or a sale
  • Groupon has travel deals
  • Scott’s cheap flights is a great way to find cheap flights

Read on: more travel saving tips and budget tips

Pick your Destination:

  • After following the steps above, you should have a clear idea of where you want to go.
  • With a budget, the time of year you can travel, your schedule, and who you are traveling with, now is the time you select your destination!
  • Now you can start to do more focused research on the destination and plan for your travel itinerary.

Stage 3: Plan a Journey and Gather Information


how to plan a trip : map and journal travel planning

Start Your Research

At this stage of the trip planning process; you should have a destination in mind, who you’re going to travel with, what type of trip it will be, and a rough idea of how to save for your trip. Now it’s time to commit and start digging deeper into your travel plans and researching the destination.

Step 4: Browse Flights – Look at What Month To Travel


The first thing I do after I choose a destination is check flights. It’s important to do Google Flight’s month to month flight comparison and see what the flight prices are like and when is a good time to visit.

Things to Consider:

  • Look up the destination on google Google flights and set up a price change alert. Check out this article to learn how to set price alerts for google.
  • Check out this article on How to find the best flights on Google Flights
  • Get an idea by browsing Google month view.
  • Which month is best for your destination and what works best for your schedule?
  • This step will also let you know how your budget needs to be
  • Skyscanner is also a valuable comparison tool and has the ability to set price alerts.
  • Do a google search on the currency conversion. Typically, if the currency is strong, the economy is strong, so it will be more expensive to travel there
  • is it a popular tourist destination?
  • Is it a small town in a remote area?
  • These are all factors that will determine the final cost and month to travel.

Tip: Travel during shoulder season! Read more helpful tips

Select Your Travel Dates

Now that you have an idea of what month you want to travel and your schedule. It’s time to select your travel dates.

  • Traveling on a Tuesday or Wednesday is typically best for flight prices.
  • Keep in mind for international trips, arrival and departure days count as a whole day of traveling. So adding 2 more days to your travel dates to have enough time is ideal.

Read on: how to find cheap flights

Step 5: Check your Frequent Miles and Points


using travel credit cards and hotel and airline loyalty points is a smart and savy way to travel.

Is there a sweet sign-on bonus you can take advantage of? See this helpful article on how to best earn a lot of miles and points.

  • Just before travel is a great time to sign up for a bonus offer since you’ll easily meet the spend with your travel bookings. Just keep in mind to be responsible and understand how to use it to build your credit.
  • Do you have enough points or miles to book your flight or hotel with your points?
  • If you are close, can you strategically plan on accumulating enough points?
  • Can you plan and make a plan to accumulate points for a future trip using this trip as a base?

Step 6: Create a Google Document to Plan your Itinerary


Make a google spreadsheet or google document to start planning and organizing your travel itinerary

  • The benefit of google documents and spreadsheets is that it syncs with all your devices and are in the cloud
  • This is a great travel planner
  • It’s easily accessible and shareable. Especially helpful when planning with friends and family.
  • This is where you will input all your trip details, itinerary, any trip planning details, and booking details.
  • Use Google Maps as a Trip Planner. It’s a great visual final itinerary. Don’t know how? I made a tutorial ! Read on: Let me show you how to use Google Maps as a trip planner.

Step 7: Research Destination Highlights and Must See


Now you should have a good structure in place and the travel dates set.

Start planning your itinerary and narrow down your timeline.

  • Start thinking about the highlights and must-sees for the destination
  • Are there any festivals or cultural events happening during your trip?
  • What is the destination famous for?
  • Are there historical monuments the destination is known for?
  • Is there a well-known food or drink the destination is famous for?
  • What are some things to do or activities?
  • Add information about sunrise and sunset because sometimes that’s relevant. Eg. if I want to visit a spot before sunrise to get the best photo.
  • I also add information about the entrance fee and opening hours

Step 8: Reflect on your trip Priorities and Your Why


Be mindful of your priorities for going on this trip and your “why”. Make sure all your decisions reflect your trip priorities.

  • Do a quick elimination of things to do or places to see that aren’t a priority.
  • Aim for 1-2 major attractions and things to do a day for a slow travel speed
  • Aim for 2-4 things to do for a medium pace if you want to see and do as much as possible
  • Budget time in a day to eat and transportation. Both can take a significant amount of time especially if you are traveling with more than one person.

Step 9: Save locations in the Google Maps Trip Planner


At this stage, you can reference your Instagram with tagged locations and saved posts. As well as look at your things to do on your google doc/spreadsheet.

  • Then, add all the saved locations left to your Google maps Trip Planner. These will be places to stay, restaurants to consider, and must-see attractions. This is an essential tool and so helpful to visualize distances between locations.
  • Read This article to learn how to use the Google Maps Trip Planner to save locations to your map.
  • This step is critical to help you select where to stay a few steps ahead.
Coco Tran — Curated Aesthetic Travel Blog By Film Photographer Coco Tran https://cocotran.com/how-to-plan-a-trip-best-travel-planning-guide/

Stage 5 of Planning a Journey


At this stage, you have more than half your trip planned! Now comes booking your flight, accommodation, and things to do. Here I break down what order to book things in and more travel tips.

Now you’ve gathered restaurants and locations on your Instagram and Pinterest. Added them to your google maps trip planner. You can start booking the pillars for your trip. The pillars are flights, accommodation, and activities.

Coco Tran — Curated Aesthetic Travel Blog By Film Photographer Coco Tran https://cocotran.com/how-to-plan-a-trip-best-travel-planning-guide/
Tulum Mexico

Step 10: Book your flights


Flights are the first thing I book.

These tend to fluctuate the most and tend to be the most important to book first because it secures your travel dates.

  • Book for at least 4-6 months you will get the lowest prices and best selections.
  • Flight changes and delays happen. Be aware of your rights to get your money back and what to do when your flight is canceled, rebooked, or delayed. Here is an article with the best travel credit cards
  • Use Google Flights to Search and set Price alerts
  • It’s best to book directly with the airlines. The reason is; they are better equipped to help you quickly if there is a delay or cancelation.

Travel Tips for planning your journey

  • Keep connection times at a minimum of 1.5 hours. You don’t want to miss your flight.
  • I aim to take a redeye flight and arrive in the mid-morning time before Check at 1-3 pm
  • When booking your flight you use a VPN to disguise your location from your IP address. This will give you the best prices.
  • Use the “private or incognito browser”. Your browser cookies will let the website know your location and prices tend to be steeper. This is because when google knows what you’re willing to pay based on your previous history.

money saving Travel tips

  • Tuesdays and Wednesdays are usually the lowest to fly out of.
  • Check different airport arrival and departures.
  • Open Jaw flights are a great way to save time without having to backtrack
  • Consider arrival and departure times.
    • Remember you will be tired and jet-lagged. It’s best to not arrive too late or too early as transportation to your hotel will be limited. It’s best to pre-arrange a shuttle or pick-up. It will make your experience that much easier. I use and recommend X

Step 11: Narrow Down Cities and Neighborhoods


Start looking at your itinerary and fill in the blanks. Take a look at where you want to go and where you want to stay

  • Choosing the cities you want to visit and determine how long to stay in each location
  • Look at your pinned google maps trip planner, and book a place to stay that is centrally located, It’s best to stay within walking distance in that general area. Less transportation time and more time enjoying your vacation
  • Check out my travel itineraries here to get inspiration on where to stay
  • My two rules are 36 hours at least for each location/city. Anything less than that is typically more transporting and checking in and out than enjoying the destination.
  • Once you have cities picked out now its time to zoom in and pick which neighbors to stay in
  • Close to public transport is best
  • Check transportation between your pinned areas, trains, cars hires, and tours.
  • Use Omio for trains tickets and reservations

Book your accommodation as soon as you know where you are staying. I recommend 6 months in advance as many smaller towns book up quickly and have limited availability,.

I always recommend you to book your accommodations and hotels on Booking or Expedia for the best rates. This is who I use and have a great experience with

Tip: Become a booking Genius Member and get 10-20% hotels and free breakfast as a loyal customer.

  • Book flexible rates. (Booking and Expedia both offer this) It’s a bit more expensive, but not in the long run. Then, every week – search for the same stay and see if the price has decreased. If so, cancel and rebook. I have saved thousands of dollars this way!
  • VRBO is a great option if traveling in a group of 4 or more Keep in mind the added fees such as cleaning can be costly and the check-in process can be longer than hotels and the difficulty of dropping your luggage off
  • Consider getting a pocket router so you and 4 or more people can have fast wifi on demand

Tip: Get an ESIM for affordable international data

Step 13: Book your transportation from the airport to your hotel


  • The easiest and most efficient way is to pre-book your transportation. You’ll be jet-lagged and tired you don’t want to lug your luggage through the city. You’ll be glad you did!
  • They will be ready and waiting for you, you don’t need to wait in line. I always book my transportation. They are reliable, on time, keep track of your flight arrival, and are usually waiting for you.
  • Taxis are usually the most expensive option but sometimes the convenience is worth the price. Especially if you’re arriving very late or early. But the convenience is
  • You can select public transportation especially if the destination you’re traveling to has good public transportation such as Japan or Europe.
  • If you select public transportation; make sure to map out your route ahead of time.

Tip: Pre-book your airport to hotel transportation for a easy and efficient way to get to your hotel. I use this service!

Step 14: Book Restaurant Reservation


Popular restaurants have very limited seating and availability. Reserve your restaurants 2 months in advance

Tip: At popular must eat restaurants, have lunch instead of dinner. Same food for a more affordable experience! Read more tips here

Step 15: Book Tours and Activities


  • Small tours or private tours are a great way to enjoy an activity or excursion without having to worry about the details.
  • I recommend pre-booking these 3-4 weeks in advance as popular small tours book out quickly
  • This is where I search and book tours

Tip: Book tours with Viator or Get Your Guide for best rates, small groups, and highest ratings with flexible cancelation policies

Step 16: Make a Detailed Arrival Plan


  • Time of arrival: are there shops open? Is dark out?
  • Pre-book ESim for wifi, and
  • transportation from the airport or look at the best ways to get to the hotel.
  • Does the Hotel offer a Free shuttle?
  • When I first arrive, the first thing I do is freshen up with a shower and change clothes.
  • If it’s not possible to check in right away. I change my clothes and leave the luggage at the hotel and explore the surrounding area

Tip: Get a pocket router for fast wifi! or get a ESim for fast and affordable international data

Step 17: Protect Your Trip with travel insurance: Because Life Happens


  • Travel insurance is your extra safety net. Things happen, stolen cameras, accidents, falls, illness. It’s best to plan for the unexpected. Consider purchasing travel insurance. It has saved me many times.
  • Reputation and ease of customer service is the key to selecting travel insurance. I use and recommend This travel insurance company! Their service is excellent and the claim process is easy. It’s also affordable and most of all it’ll give you peace of mind.

Tip: The best travel insurance I recommend

Step 18: Finalizing your itinerary:


  • Double-check your spreadsheet/ google doc
  • Triple-check your flight, changes happen and sometimes the airline doesn’t notify you or you don’t get the notification.
  • Double Check your check-in times and hotel dates and add it to your google doc.
  • Note the sunrise and sunset times and include them in your Google document

Stage 6: Final preparation before your trip


How To Plan A Trip: A Step By Step trip planning guide

Final preparation before departure

All the planning is now complete. The last stage is to prepare for your trip.

Step 19: preparing for your trip


2 months ahead:

  • Get the recommended immunizations and boosters
  • Read on any news and travel restrictions
  • Check the news for political unrest or strikes
  • Gather your important travel documents and place them in a safe place that is visible. The last thing you want to do is misplace your passport.

1 week ahead:

  • Double-check your flight and all reservations
  • Start a packing list – Need suggestions? download my free crayon packing list
  • Scan travel documents, and email them to yourself
  • Register as a smart traveler plan
  • Notify your banks
  • Start packing
  • Do a quick Reddit search for scams

24 hours before departure

  • Double check flight
  • Check into flight
  • Double-check all your packing
  • Download offline google maps
  • clean home
  • take out trash
  • unplug all major appliances
  • turn off the water
  • Familiarize yourself with common phrases in local language

Overview & Wrap up


You made it! Here is a wrap-up and detailed overview of all things you went over.

When you plan your trip, it is essential to have an itinerary. A travel itinerary is a plan of your travel arrangements, including accommodation, transportation, sightseeing, and other activities. To start planning a trip, the first thing you should do is decide on your destination and the purpose of traveling.

Once you have chosen a destination, check if you need a passport, visa, or any other travel documents. If you plan to travel overseas, make sure to research the currency exchange rate and ATM availability. It is also crucial to purchase travel insurance to cover unforeseen circumstances like trip cancellation, medical expenses, and lost baggage.

 When planning a trip, create a rough itinerary that outlines your travel plans, including your departure and arrival date, your mode of transportation, and places to stay. You can use online trip planners like TripIt and Google Maps to make your trip planning more comfortable.

 Researching your destination is also essential to plan your trip successfully. Look up local events, festivals, and sightseeing spots that interest you. You can save money on lodging by booking hostels or exploring off the beaten path.

Packing for your trip is another critical step in travel planning. Create a packing list that includes essentials like clothing, toiletries, and travel documents. Consider the weather and activities you plan to do while traveling. When booking your transportation, consider using public transport, buses or renting a car. Research the available transportation options in your destination and choose the one that suits your needs and budget. To save money on your trip, look for discounts on flights, accommodations, and tours.

Several booking sites offer last-minute deals and substantial discounts for booking flights and accommodations. For example, Eurail provides discounted train travel throughout Europe. Organize your trip by planning your holiday in advance.

Make sure to check-in with your accommodation or transportation providers to confirm your reservation. It is also best to have a contingency plan in case anything unexpected happens during your trip.

Another essential aspect of travel planning is staying safe during your travels. Be aware of local scams, carry only essential cash and cards, and be vigilant in unfamiliar areas..

 Make your trip memorable by immersing yourself in the culture and exploring the local cuisine. Connect with the locals to have a more authentic experience while traveling. In summary, start planning your trip by choosing the destination, researching the place, creating a rough itinerary, packing for your trip, booking your transportation, saving money, staying organized, staying safe, immersing yourself in the culture, and connecting with the locals.

With proper travel planning, your trip can be an enjoyable and memorable experience.


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Planning Tips


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Coco Tran — Curated Aesthetic Travel Blog By Film Photographer Coco Tran https://cocotran.com/how-to-plan-a-trip-best-travel-planning-guide/
How To Plan A Trip: The Best Step-By-Step Travel Planning Guide | www.cocotran.com
body relaxation

Frequently Asked Questions

Most asked questions about planning a trip

You should start planning as soon as you decide where to go. The sooner the better. The Sooner you plan the more time you have to plan and iron out the details. You will have more options when. it comes to places to stay and accommodations booked up quickly. Flights are also cheaper when booked sooner.

The cheapest way is to plan ahead and look for deals on flights. accommodation. Read my helpful tips on how to travel hack!

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Coco Tran — Curated Aesthetic Travel Blog By Film Photographer Coco Tran https://cocotran.com/how-to-plan-a-trip-best-travel-planning-guide/
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