27 December 2014

USA Road Trip | Initial Planning Stages of a Multi-Stop Trip

Quite often I just sit and look at holidays. I send links of Secret Escape hotels to my best buddy Lucy  and tag her in instagram photos of Italy (like old times...). Or I send my Mum ideas of places I think she might like to go for a weekend with Dad and the dog, or I look at tips for packing light... or hotel deals... or holiday adventure packages, because half the fun of travelling is the dreaming.
So Josh and I were just dreaming about holidays as we often do, when we found a USA tour of the West, but this time I just knew that this was perfect for my 21st birthday - an experience I would remember forever. We tried to book the holiday but we needed to be 25. There seemed to be no real reason for this and if anyone could suggest why then I'd love to know. The company did offer us a road trip package instead. Pfttt... what was I doing? I love planning trips! Why would I let a company have all the fun and do it for us? This was not a chill out holiday, but an adventure so we agreed to organise it ourselves and that's how the DIY-West-USA-21st-Birthday-Roadtrip was born!

It goes without saying that I will share on the blog, every step of the way. So to start, here is how I approach a new trip:

1. Decide when you want to and can go away. 
Guide books often list major holidays and festivals in them and this is well worth looking at, as they can make your trip or turn it in to a logistically money-grabbing nightmare. For example, you don't want to end up stranded in a small town when everything is going to be shut for 5 days. However you may want to be in the USA for the 4th of July celebrations, like us. You may want to catch the Thai Lantern Festival, Hogamanay celebrations, or Chinese New Year.

Look at when your work is quiet and book then, as you may be allowed a larger chunk of time off.

Checking the climate as this can very important when you're flying more than a few hours from your home country and can massively impact how much you enjoy your trip. I didn't fully appreciate the amazing beach lifestyle of the Thai islands thanks to persistent rain.

2. Book your flights early... just not quite yet.
We saved over £100 by booking our flights a couple of weeks after we decided on dates. Use skyscanner to work out on what days of the week flights are generally cheaper. Now sign up to receive price alerts on your flights for several date combinations. It's always a gamble, but one you're signed up to the alerts you'll soon see what a bargain really is.

Consider flying in one airport and out of the other to prevent travelling back on yourself. Do check you're not just needlessly adding a connection flight which ups your costs and adds time to your travel home.

3. Create a dream destination list.
To begin with, I think it is really important to brainstorm where you would like to go on your trip. It may seem obvious, but people assume that they will never be able to do it all. This is true, however it is better to have a dream list to compromise on that rule out ideas that could work with some careful planning. Perhaps start with iconic cities you want to pass through or national parks you once read about in National Geographic.
I use two programs to keep track of my dream list. Google Maps and Pinterest.
Pinterest is more about the imagery, but I have stumbled across some great article on Pinterest such as this one which have broadened my view to new places I wouldn't have heard off.
Google Maps is a way of collecting all these places/towns/attraction on one map and this step in initial planning will prove very useful later on when refining your route.

4. Ask around for recommendations both online and offline.
I had no clue that my own parents had done a very similar trip when they were younger and never heard about it because I never asked. It was before us kids were born and so I guess to them it's just a lovely memory to have, but not something that people bring up often. People really enjoy giving you a passionate recollection of their holiday to x,y or z and are quick to mention what was great and what wasn't. Flatter people and ask for their advice.

Search bloglovin for travel blogs. I have used countless blogs when I've been planning my trips, but I particularly like Adventurous Kate (worldwide, including tips), Mollie Bylett (SE Asia and currently exploring New Zealand and Australia) and Why Go Italy (absolutely fantastic resource for Italy).
Look at forums like Thorn Tree or Trip Adviser for existing posts. Once you have a better idea of your itinerary post it there and people are sure to have ideas to tweak it. However, don't annoy people by repeating questions already answered.

And lastly, for longer trips you can ask friends you meet on the way.
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