One of the secrets of a great trip lies in the planning. My trips are not planned down to the last minute, but I always have a tentative itinerary.
First, you need to decide where, and when you are going. As this site is about budget travel, next step is doing a budget. There are a couple of sites that will give you an estimated daily cost for each country. I often use www.myfunkytravel.com and www.travelindependent.com. You will now have a basic guideline to determine the length of time you can travel. Always allow for some extra costs, and also include funds for special things you want to do or see.
Next, I buy an old fashioned fold up map covering the entire area. I know there is a ton of information online, but I still enjoy reading a guidebook. Lonely Planet are my ones of choice, but public libraries off a wide selection and reading more than one is a good idea. When I traveled as one half of a couple, we would buy guidebooks. I would read and highlight in one color things I wanted to see and do, and my partner would highlight using a different color. As I read I make short notes of things I want to see and do.
Once I determine the places I want to go, I put a little colored circle stickies on the map. I use one color for places I want to see and stay. I use another color for the “maybe” places. Once that is done, it is easy to plan a route. It also gives a good visual picture as to distances between places etc..
At this point my research changes to the internet. How do I get from A to B? How long does it take? How much does it cost? If there is only one or two busses /boats per day, what time do they leave?
For each place you plan to visit search “(Name of Place )Free”. You will find free things to do, and often coupons to print for discounts. Google the Tourist Information for each place. They will often send you free information. Make note of offbeat hours, or days closed of places you want to go.
I make a note of the local currency and exchange rate. I find www.xe.com very easy to use. I do the conversion both ways. Ex: $1 Cdn. = 11.85 Mexican pesos and 100 MXN = $8.44
I also make note of the address and tel. number of my Embassy in the countries I will visit. I print a copy of the currency exchange rate and Embassy info for each country on a card to fit in my wallet. In Malawi a police officer told us we must pay a large fine for a made-up on the spot offense. Once I started calling the Embassy, his attitude changed, the fine was dropped, and he could not do enough to welcome us to his country.
There is endless information online. My original notes are sometimes quite extensive, but I condense them before I go. I have developed my own kind of shorthand.
Make notes as you plan your days and routes. I often include a place I might want to stay, or eat. Plans change as you meet other travelers, so allow some flexibility. I do always have my first night booked before I arrive.
If you have any planning tips or hints, I would love to hear them.