Planning a trip is always exciting, no matter how long it’s going to be. To enjoy it to the fullest and without any annoying surprises, you need to do a little bit of research of your destination.

In this guide, we’ll show you 19 smart travel tips we use to plan an affordable trip. Whether you want to go on a 2 weeks’ vacation, 3 months trip or a journey around the world, this guide will help you.

It’s exactly how we prepared for our trip through South America (which you can easily do for less than 50USD/day).

Follow these steps and plan your next adventure:

Destination research

This is the first and easiest step when you start to plan your travels. You already have a list of places that you dream about. It can be a biking trail in the Canadian Rockies, a ski resort in Italian Alps, white sand beaches of Indonesia or a popular trek anywhere in the world, these places are now more accessible than ever before.

Just open the map or guidebook, choose your destination and start planning. Build your plan according to your available time and budget. As a short term traveler, you want to visit as many places as possible in the shortest amount of time. Long term travelers will have different priorities.

19 smart tips for planning your next trip - San Blas Islands, Panama

San Blas Islands, Panama

Get your budget ready

The most important question – how much money do you need for your trip?

You need to know few basic numbers. The budget consists of 5 items – transportation, accommodation, food, attractions, and extras. Thorough planning can decrease your trip cost compared to travel agencies by 60% or more.

For most up to date basic expenses almost anywhere in the world, go to numbeo.com. Type city or country and it will show you average common expenses in the area. It is a database created by almost half a million people around the world. We’ve used it several times and it helped us in our travel planning tremendously.

It should go without saying but always buy a health insurance. Compare insurance plans and choose the one that fits your needs. You might never use it but you also don’t want to go bankrupt if something happens. It is an important part of your travel budget.

Length of your trip

Unless you ‘re earning while traveling, the biggest limit is a number of vacation days and your budget. We won’t be able to help you with your paid vacation days, but we know it’s sometimes worth to take unpaid vacation.

Everybody gets excited before the trip with the overwhelming amount of activities you want to try. Just remember you want to enjoy yourself. Sometimes less means more, especially on a short vacation.

Don’t cram too much into those days, plan some time for doing absolutely nothing and allow enough time for transfer (if you’re going to visit multiple places). You don’t want to feel exhausted at the end of each day.

Choose the right season for you

Finding information about weather for your destination is easy. Browse any weather channel to give you an idea. But don’t get disappointed with bad weather season for your destination and scheduled dates.

Bring “can do attitude” to your research. Rainy season doesn’t mean that it’s raining 24/7. But it DOES mean fewer people and significantly cheaper prices. Also, the dry season doesn’t mean that you won’t get any rain when you come to your dreamed destination.

19 smart tips for planning your next trip - Machu Picchu, Peru

how rainy season on Machu Picchu in Peru can look like

Just an example: All travel agencies and hostels were available when we traveled around Peru during the rainy season.We didn’t have to wait for 20 minutes just to take a picture at Machu Picchu, instead, we were there with a few people and it was a sunny afternoon.

Transportation and accommodation

You buy flights and accommodation from home and already spend half of your budget.And you haven’t even left. Yet alone seen anything exciting.

But if you know basic rules how to get better deals on transportation and accommodation, it will open up more options on how you can spend your hard earned cash somewhere else.

Read next:

Safe Travels: How to stay safe while traveling

How to find cheap flights

Compare the price of your chosen accommodation on a few websites, we always check on hostelworld, booking & Airbnb.

Research things to do

Trying new things is always exciting. What if you could try something you already love in a new place?

Let’s try mountain biking as an example. You’re heading to Mexico and you love mountain biking, a simple google search will show you if there are any great mountain biking trails in Mexico. Even better, zoom in the map and search for a more specific location, such as mountain biking in Chiapas.

While we tried surfing in a few countries of Central America, we didn’t know if we can surf continuing further south. South America is popular for other things than surfing. When we looked up surfing in Peru, we were surprised there is a great surfing in Lima, where we’ll be flying to.

19 smart tips for planning your next trip - Canyon del Pato, Peru

biking Canyon del Pato, Peru

Explore new activities

You want to visit the main attraction but don’t know what else to see in the area? Search what tours travel agencies offer. Many of those trips you can do by yourself. Get inspired by browsing through Instagram. Buy a National Geographic magazine. Read our travel blog. Options are endless…

In less touristy places, local tour companies don’t end up on the first page of google. They have a limited budget for the big and shiny website and rather sell directly to their agencies, sometimes through their smaller websites.

Very helpful is researching activities in the local language. That’s how we found out that a trek to Machu Picchu doesn’t have to cost 600USD; you can find it through a local agency for half the price! Who wouldn’t like that?

Make a list of “must see” places

No matter how long your trip is going to be, make sure you have a list of your “must see” activities or places. That will make the back bone of your trip. Once you arrive at your destination, even more, exciting things start appearing.

Your hostel will have a huge list of activities, tour agencies will make you offers, etc. Having a rough idea what drawn you here in the first place and why you came here is important so you don’t miss out and lose sight of what you came for.

Buy local

19 smart tips for planning your next trip - Orinoco River Delta, Venezuela

shopping from Warao indigenous people in Orinoco River Delta, Venezuela

Be very careful when booking your tour or an attraction. In developing countries, there are a lot of international companies that try to sell to foreign tourists. They also have international prices.

You will get much cheaper prices from local agencies than you would if you buy online from foreign agencies. Most tours you can arrange once you come to your destination place anyway.Local agencies always employ locals and by booking a tour with them, you’re directly supporting a local community.

Definitely walk away from most up-to-date websites that offer tours online for shiny XX9 ending USD prices. Tour for 499USD might cost 200USD at the local agency.

Read travel stories

If you are planning your trip from home, pay a visit to your local library. I’m sure you’ll find plenty of guide books for your destination. Or buy a digital copy and keep it with you wherever you go. You can buy a chapter of the book specific to your location.

Something to keep in mind: writers of the guide books don’t always have the time to travel to and try everything they write about. Do your final research on travel blogs from people who actually visited the place or from travelers in facebook travel groups.

Get your gear ready

Write down your packing list and prepare your gear in advance. You might not find everything you need/want in concrete stores. Make sure you allow enough time for the delivery from the online store.

Prices can be ridiculously high abroad. From our experience, outdoor jacket can be 3 times more expensive in Argentina than it is in Canada/US. It always depends on the location where you are traveling to. In Peru, we found stores with very reasonably priced outdoor gear.

Have a backup plan

19 smart tips for planning your next trip - Santa Ana, El Salvador

view from our hostel in Santa Ana, El Salvador

Especially when visiting a new place. You can come to your pre-booked hotel only to find out the hotel was overbooked and they don’t have any room available. This happened to us on December 31st in Colombia just 2 hours before the New Years.

Even when your accommodation is booked, search for an alternative; write it down or take a screenshot of your phone (because you cannot count on having a wi-fi either).

Weather is another factor you need to consider. If it’s pouring rain and you wanted to go for a hike, don’t sit in your hotel complaining. In the meantime, find other activities you can do indoors. There are always plenty of them.

Don’t overcomplicate it

If you are traveling long term, plan only a few weeks ahead. You never know which place you’ll enjoy more than you expected. Having some “floating” days dedicated to doing nothing will give you enough room to plan more activities or hang out with new friends.

Use map reading

Easy example – do you like mountains? Switch your google map to satellite, find your destination, zoom in and find cities near the mountains. Then search for outdoor activities in that city and boom, you got it! We did this and found an outdoor heaven in Huaraz, Peru.

Zooming in and browsing closely the country paid out when we were traveling from El Salvador to Nicaragua. While most people took the +10hours bus, we went by boat across the former pirate waters of Gulf de Fonseca. It took 2 hours and we saw El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua at once.

Best part? It will make you feel like a true explorer, not like a part of herded tourists.

Plan your relax

Long term travelers, you have to include time for doing nothing. It’s impossible to explore new places all day every day. Then in the evening, researching your next destination, hostel, transport, restaurant, activities etc. You’ll be tired as hell after a few weeks.

Find a place where you’ll spend at least a week, get to know the neighborhood and just relax. Since you’re not going home anytime soon, you need to find another place to recharge.

19 smart tips for planning your next trip - Guatape, Colombia

our 1 week break from traveling in Guatape, Colombia

If you’re a short term traveler, you can be more active since you can relax when you get home after a few weeks. Europeans tend to rush a lot during the trip not realizing that best moments come up unexpectedly and are very often unplanned.

When you plan every minute of your trip, you might miss out on truly exploring the culture where slowing down and observing your surrounding is essential. Think about it when you plan your trip and try to fit 5 days of activities in 4 days. Trust us, we’ve been there.

Plan to meet local people

Using Couchsurfing (either staying with a local or joining their meetup) or websites like meetup.com will give you plenty of options. You find groups of people with similar interests who can let you peek into their lives and their culture.

You can strike up a conversation with locals on the street, asking for directions or for a good restaurant. Smile and greet people, it will arise naturally.

19 smart tips for planning your next trip - Huaraz, Peru

sweet kids we’ve met while walking away from the centre in Huaraz, Peru

Try something you never did before

Anything you want. Or maybe haven’t considered before. For some, it is zipline, bungee jumping or parasailing. For others,it can be swimming in an ice cold lake or sliding down a volcano. Expand your horizons. And remember my favourite quote by Seth Godin: “If it scares you, it might be a good thing to try.” Have fun!

Wake up early

Early birds have usually a better experience when exploring a new place. You’ll be the first one there! Or one of the first few people anyway. Without hundreds of other travelers, you’ll enjoy the place in quietness.

And when the crowds come, you will already feel accomplished.

We wake up early particularly when we spend time outdoors. Those sunrises can be awesome.

19 smart tips for planning your next trip - Fitz Roy, Argentina

enjoying the view of Fitz Roy in Argentina after sunrise

Do not go everywhere

You can never see it all no matter how hard you try. Rather than rushing from one place to another and not having time to sit down and enjoy, get to know one place and explore thoroughly.

Imagine this scenario:
Is it better to hike up two mountains, spend few minutes on top, rush down and be exhausted in the evening?

OR

Hike up just one mountain, relaxing, having a beer on top and getting to know your new friends or locals?

You want to enjoy your trip.

Each happiness of yesterday is a memory for tomorrow

Bonus tip: find a job you can do while traveling the world and extend your trip.

 


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19 smart tips for planning your next trip

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About Maya Steiningerova

Heyo, I’m Maya! An adventure athlete currently living near the Canadian Rockies with my partner in crime Michal. I love running in the mountains, jumping in the ice cold lakes, mountain biking and trying not so common activities, such as mountaineering. By showing that an ordinary person can live an extraordinary life, my hope is to inspire you to live an adventurous life and provide you with tips and tools for your own adventure.