The dates are set, the plane ticket is bought and the travel fund is steadily growing. It is now time to start travel planning and focusing on the details of your trip. Not long ago, I wrote a post about what I am doing to plan and save money for a month-long trip to Australia. In that post, I mention that planning the nitty-gritty details of a trip is one of the most enjoyable aspects of travel planning and that it deserves its own post. So here we are. R and I are currently in the throes of planning those nitty-gritty details and I thought I would share with you how we prefer to do so.
There are three parts to travel planning: researching, scheduling and booking. Sometimes these parts happen simultaneously and other times they happen separately. For this trip, we are researching and planning our schedule at the same time. Following that, we will do some actual booking.
This phase is one of the most exciting parts of travel planning. However, it can also be a little overwhelming—especially with a country as big and vast as Australia. Never fear. Start with the advice below and you will be well on your way to planning a stellar vacation.
Ask for recommendations
Talk to anyone and everyone who has visited your chosen location. Ask questions. Ask for recommendations. Generally, people are pleased as punch to talk about their adventures. Even if they had a bad experience, there is probably something you can learn from it. Just this week, I discovered that a gal from my volleyball team spent two months working in Australia. Over a celebratory dinner after our game, she gave me a couple of recommendations for places to visit as a couple of books I should read before I go. I gladly accepted any advice or suggestions she had.
I especially love talking to my coworkers about travel. Since we work on projects all over the world, my coworkers are very well traveled and they make an excellence resource for my research. I sat down with two of my coworkers who have spent a considerable amount of time in Australia—one actually lived there for two years. I asked many questions and took notes. Both spoke so highly of Perth that I decided to make it part of the itinerary—a decision I might not have made on my own given how long it takes to get there. Now I cannot wait to visit!
Talking with people who have visited a place (or who live there) can also help confirm something you have researched. R recently mentioned that she had found a place called Fremantle in her guidebook and that it looked really cool. I was able to respond and say that both of my coworkers recommended a visit there. So naturally, we added Fremantle to our list of places to visit.
Connect with locals
I love it when people hook me up with a friend or family member from the country I am looking to visit. Locals give the best advice and I always prefer to get their insight. For this trip, I am reaching out to three locals. One I have met personally and the other two are family members of a friend of mine. Not only is it important to contact them and get their advice, but I always feel more comfortable having a contact in-country that may be able to help if anything goes wrong.
You can also connect with locals via the internet on sites like Vayable. Or just keep your ears open. Last week at a conference for work, I ran into a gentleman with an Australian-sounding accent. I asked where he was from and he confirmed my suspicions. I then mentioned I would be visiting his homeland in a couple of months and he did not hesitate to tell me his favorite haunts.
Guidebooks and novels abound and you will rarely lack for reading material about a particularly country, especially Australia. R wrote a post about guidebooks and how they can help with planning a trip. We laughed last night because her guidebook for Australia is 1,100 pages! She said that is the most pages she has ever seen in a guidebook. But it makes sense, Australia is a big country and there are a lot of things to do and see. When it comes to reading up on a country, filtering through it all will be a lot harder than actually finding something to read.
Search, search, search
Although the World Wide Web can be overwhelming with its vast amount of information, it is critical to planning a trip. Remember the post I wrote highlighting my preferred websites for planning a trip? I use many of those same sights to plan the nitty-gritty details of a trip. Below are a few of the sites I am currently using to plan this Australia voyage:
- Ah Google. Where would we be today without you? R prefers a different search engine but regardless of which search engine you like to use, you use it a lot. A lot, a lot. My latest search was for tour companies that do overnight camping trips in the Uluru area. Once I get a list together, I will visit their individual websites to compare and contrast, read reviews and ultimately book. I also use Google images a lot to see if a place is worth visiting from a visual standpoint.
- I always head to Wikitravel at some point to get an overview of a country, region or city. I was on there just this week researching ways to get to Tasmania. While I was on there, I read a couple of other interesting tidbits as well.
- I have loved Travel Independent for years and the country summary for Australia is a good one. I really like how it helps you set realistic expectations for a country (e.g. Australia is expensive and you will go through money faster than you think).
- Rome2rio is helping us figure out how to get from point A to point B. I use it mostly to see what my options are. For example, I used it recently to do a quick search on the best way to get to Uluru. It is easy enough to fly into Alice Springs, but you can only get to the Ayers Rock Airport from certain cities.
- According to Weather2travel, “the average maximum daytime temperature in Australia in February is a warm 26°C (79°F) with low heat and humidity.” That doesn’t sound too bad. I am still anticipating being uncomfortable more than I am comfortable—especially in the Alice Springs area.
- A quick search on Time and Date’s holiday calendar revealed no major holidays during the time we will be there. Side note: the U.S. celebrates President’s Day while we are in Australia. While this will not affect our travel plans, it is day off work so I will not have to use vacation hours. Bonus!
- I checked Is the water safe to drink and discovered that it is totally safe to drink the tap water in Australia—R will be pleased.
The research phase can start at any time. However, generally we wait until a few months before a trip to really start travel planning and researching. We find it is easier to nail down the schedule that way. And to be totally honest, we usually have to make it through our current trip before we feel justified planning the next one. Yep, it’s a rough life.
Warning: this phase of trip planning can be frustrating. I never seem to have enough time to do all of things I want to do. Of course, that is why this phase is so important. If you want to get the most bang for your buck (or get the most out of your time, in this case), you have to do some careful travel planning.
Make an itinerary
I made a couple of really rough itineraries back when we were looking at dates and plane tickets. Now that those things are settled, we have started to refine our itinerary. We know the general areas we want to visit. We just have to figure out exactly where to spend our time (and money) in each area.
One area we want to visit is Alice Springs and Uluru. However, something to keep in mind is that it will be summer while we are there and very hot. I talked to my coworker who lived there for two years and she had very few additional recommendations on what to do in the Alice Springs area—mostly because of the heat that time of year. Given all of this, we have opted to make our time there short and just focus on our must-do, Uluru. We will also be flying since driving or taking a bus or the train takes more time than we want to spend.
That research phase discussed above is very important when it comes to setting up your itinerary.
Decide on your must-dos
Deciding on your must-do list is one of the most important things you will do when planning a trip. These should go on the itinerary first. Then you can work around them and add or subtract activities and places as you see fit. I mentioned in my previous post that my love of the movie, The Man from Snowy River, runs deep. In fact, this dream trip to Australia can be traced back to that love. Did you know you can visit Jim Craig’s house!?! It is called Craig’s Hut and it is located in Victoria. Be still my heart. Needless to say, this went on my list of must-dos and is an important part of our itinerary.
A couple of other must-dos include renting a campervan, visiting Uluru and taking a picture of the Sydney Opera House. After talking with my coworkers (as mentioned above), places like Rottnest also went on the list and further research resulted in adding Tasmania. Once those must-dos are settled, then we start looking at filling in the gaps and figuring out exactly how we experience something.
Schedule unique experiences
We want to visit Uluru. It is on the must-do list. But the details of how we do so are up for debate. We could book a typical day-tour to walk around the rock and get some photos. Or we could book something unique and sleep under the stars in something called a swag. A choice like this is kind of a no-brainer for us. If you have the choice to make an experience unique or special, do it!
UPDATE: camping under the stars in the Australian Outback in the middle of summer is an awful idea. We were so miserable that I cannot, in good conscience, recommend it. Go see Uluru, but do not see it the way we did.
Consider all options
When we first started looking at visiting Tasmania, the obvious choice appeared to be taking our campervan on the ferry. However, after evaluating the associated costs and schedule, R stated that Tasmania was off the table. However, instead of dismissing the idea completely, we looked into flying there. Those costs are feasible. We will have to rejigger our itinerary a bit, but we feel it is worth it to visit the island. There is usually more than one way to get something done. When it comes to travel, make sure you evaluate all your options before you make a decision.
Unfortunately, due to time, money or both, you will not be able to do everything you want. That is why the must-do list is so important. While doing some initial research, I stumbled upon a picture of Kimberley. It blew me away. Further research proved this place is well worth a visit. But that research also proved that logistically and monetarily, Kimberley is not a feasible option on this trip. If I wanted to scrap almost everything else we are doing, we could see Kimberley. But I do not want to do that. So for now, Kimberley will have to wait for another time. This makes my heart ache a little bit because I want to see it all! But even on epic vacations, there has to be compromise.
Your schedule does not have to be set in stone. But it is easier to make and execute a plan if you have some sort of schedule. It is also easier to book accommodations and activities if you know which dates to book.
In this age of technology, it is rare not to be able to book something ahead of time. For some people, booking before they leave stifles their ability to be spontaneous and go with the flow. I appreciate people who can travel that way. I am not one of them and I prefer to have most everything booked (and paid for) before I arrive.
One reason I prefer to book ahead of time is that there is no worry that something will be sold out or full once you get there. Another reason is that you can often save some bucks by booking early. For example, internal flights booked from outside Australia are free from the 10% GST (Australia’s VAT).
R and I have not quite started booking yet. But we will do that soon. We plan to book our accommodation, internal flights, campervan rental and some tours. We also need to take care of our Australia travel visa, travel insurance and cell phone plans. This trip will be upon us before we know it, and we like to be prepared.
Travel planning can be divided into three phases: researching, scheduling and booking. If you are a planner like me, you are going to thoroughly explore and map out each phase. But even if you do not, try to enjoy each step of your planning process. Planning sets the stage for your entire trip and you want it to be a good one.
UPDATE: read what we experienced on our trip to Australia and how we did travel planning.