Do you believe me when I say that besides exploring the destination I’m going to, the planning is my favorite part of the whole traveling process?
I love the feeling that my journey has already started when I actually didn’t leave home yet. This is what I’m most excited about because I know that with the right plan, I will save a lot of money on things that are not important to me and I can spend it on other things during the journey.
No matter if I have 100 € or 1000 € available, I will always make a good plan for the trip. After all, why would I spend more than I need to?
However, planning doesn’t mean only thinking about saving money during the journey. The “work” I’m having at home before leaving helps me to avoid wasted time once I’m at my destination, to reduce the number of unpleasant surprises and to prevent possible stress.
Even for the more adventurous of you, I recommend making a plan beforehand. However, the planning doesn’t need to cover all areas. So let’s see:
The objective is to arrive at your destination and in this case, the cheaper the better. For me, it is not important if I have food and drinks included on the journey. This is unnecessarily spent money. If I take a plane, I am comparing several search engines to find the cheapest flight. A lot of times, making a stopover on the way and catching a second flight a little bit later can save you hundreds of euros.
If I don’t go by plane, I am searching all the other possibilities and timetables. Are there busses, trains, ships or rideshares to your destination? How much time does it take and how much does it cost?
Even for the connection from the airport to the city center, it is important to search. In countless countries, there are crowds of taxi drivers who are trying to convince us to use their transport. It is difficult to refuse when you haven’t done a plan beforehand.
I remember when I stayed at a hostel in Belgrade, Serbia, and they suggested to pick me up from the airport for 20 € (+- 2370 Dinars). If I hadn’t done any research, I would have accepted that offer. Meanwhile, I preferred to research a little and as a result, I took bus no. 72 for 45 Dinars (+- 0.40 €). It maybe took 30 minutes more than by car, but on the other hand, I saved 20 times more.
The accommodation is something I plan the same way as the transports. Comfort is necessary to have the energy to enjoy every day of your journey to the maximum, but it is possible to sleep in a good bed to a low price. First of all, I ask friends or acquaintances if they have already been to my next destination and if they can recommend an accommodation. If they can’t, I look for the following 3 things when I search for a place to stay on the different platforms available: Location, rating, price.
A central location does not necessarily mean that it’s a good place to stay. For example, I don’t recommend sleeping at a place on Khaosan Road in Bangkok if you want to have a quiet night. It’s a very touristic zone with bars and nightclubs.
At the same time, it is important to stay close to the center to avoid having to use public transport all the time.
The rating consists of what other guests said about the accommodation. This gives you an idea about the quality of the place, when the rating is good or bad. Usually, the rating goes from 1 to 10 for specific aspects (Cleanliness, staff, comfort, etc). I filter my results for accommodations with a rating of at least 7. Moreover, I always give more relevance to the more recent reviews than the older ones.
Of all the hostels and hotels I filtered by location and rating, I decide on the price I want to pay and I also have a look at some photos of each accommodation. The photos may not be the exact reality, but I can have an idea of what I will book.
I prefer to book an accommodation with the possibility to cancel. When I was in Kratie in Cambodia, some people recommended a hostel where they had a fantastic experience. However, I had already reserved another place. Due to the fact that I could cancel the booking, I could experience what the others had told me. In the end, the change was worth it.
Depending on what kind of journey I’m on, I usually prefer to do Couchsurfing. The objective here is quite different than when I am searching for a hostel or hotel. The priority is having a richer travel experience and being in contact with the locals of that country.
The choice of an accommodation is linked to the attractions I want to visit as the biggest part of accommodations are situated close to them. The planning, in this case, is fundamental as well.
Museums, events, tours, and access to each one. Two good examples of how important it is to plan before you visit were my experiences in Ho Chi Minh in Vietnam and in Beijing in China. I wanted to visit the tunnels in which a part of the Vietnamese people lived during the last great war of the country.
Various tourist guides in the city gave me the information to visit the tunnels of Ben Dinh. However, I found out that the tunnels of Ben Dinh were fake and very crowded, as the tunnels were made bigger so that every kind of tourist could fit into them. Consequently, I decided to visit the other tunnels of Ben Duoc, where I could have an authentic experience about what really happened at that time.
In Beijing, there were several options to see the Great Wall of China at various points. Badaling, for example, is the most touristic section. I went to the section of Jinshanling, where I had the opportunity to walk completely alone on the Great Wall of China for some kilometers and appreciate the work that had been done there.
Planning what I am going to visit changes completely how rich my adventure at a certain place will be.
However, the work of searching at home may not be enough. You will get the best recommendations when you ask locals about the best places to visit in their region. A great part of couchsurfers recommends me places most tourists would never know about.
While planning transports and accommodation is very important to me, I don’t plan anything concerning food. And I will never do it.
I love to taste the typical food of each country. If there is something I consider authentic, then it is a country’s typical dishes. This tells you a lot about their origins and customs. As I don’t plan anything at home, I talk to the first locals I meet when I arrive at a country. In most cases, the receptionists of a hostel/hotel or couchsurfers. The question is always the same: “Where in this town do you love to go when you want to eat the typical food of your country?”
Apart from the night markets where you can find fantastic local food, most restaurants with the best meals are not situated in the city center, the most touristic and most expensive zone.
I will never forget the recommendation of a couchsurfer in Estonia to eat a pancake with smoked salmon in Tallinn, at a place far from the city center. Even today, more than 7 years later, I cannot forget the taste.
Think about your priorities and of what you need to make a plan for your journeys. You could have completely different preferences than I have. It is possible to save a lot of money on things that are not so relevant to us.
Planning is important, but also take into account the opinion of other people you meet on the way. This can make all the difference. The most important is to have the feeling of a mission completed at the end of your journey. Accept that it is practically impossible to see everything, but that the time you spent, long or short, was worth it.