How to Plan a Trip

Thursday, April 24

 One of the overwhelming questions I receive on a weekly basis is, "how do you plan your trips?" It's a great question! Before I race off towards the finish line on this one, I want to say this... There is no one "right" way to plan the trip of a lifetime…you have to do what works best for YOU! Today, you'll get to see a bit of an inside peek to how Kev and I plan our trips...

First of all, you are in luck, because we are actually planning our trip to Turkey right now, so all this information is fresh on our minds! Kevin and I get so excited to plan trips {it literally gets my adrenaline running!} that we always make a date about it. We'll pick a fun coffee shop or restaurant, bring all of our travel books and computers, and make a day of it. To plan our trip to Turkey, Kev and I drove down to Crystal Cove by Newport Coast, went on a hike over the beach, then came back and started planning at the Starbucks across the street!

Here's a bit of a step by step planning guide we use:

1) Figure out where you want to go: This in and of itself can be HARD, as our globe has no shortage of breathtaking places to explore! However, most of you probably have a bucket lists of a few countries you've always wanted to visit. Narrow it down to a few, and then start researching what might be the most economical option for you. This coming summer, Kevin and I knew we either wanted to go to Turkey or to Eastern Europe. We started doing our homework, and realized that the flights {with our credit card miles} were WAY cheaper to fly into Istanbul, Turkey than they were to Prague, Czech Republic {in fact the flight to Prague was twice as expensive as to Istanbul}. This made our initial decision a no-brainer!

Other issues you may want to take into consideration include:
- weather {the weather in Turkey will be warmer this May than in Eastern Europe, so the sunshine weighed in our decision)
- cost of living {by and large, our US dollar will stretch a bit further in Turkey than in Eastern Europe…it's still Europe after all!}

2) Country Overview: Once you've picked the lucky country {insert conffetti and happy dancing!}it's time to get an initial feel for the country at hand! The details for the trip can wait, because right now it's time to figure out generally what cities and areas you want to visit in the country. The best way to do this in my opinion is to consult travel books, get your google search on, and interrogate your friends!

Travel Books: You may think spending $30 on a travel book is overrated, but it's not my friend, it will actually give you magic powers {and not all books are created equal…Rick Steve's is my favorite, then Lonely Planet is usually a solid choice). Good travel books usually give suggestions of where to go if you are in country for "one week" "two weeks" or even sometimes "three weeks". Kevin and I are going to be in Turkey for 2 weeks exactly, so we consulted our Lonely Planet Turkey Guidebook, and checked out what they recommended for a 2 week trip. This was the first time we started hearing about the towns of interest that we needed to keep on our radar, like Ephesus or Cappadocia. This will really help you narrow down the important places you will want to go.

Google: You can also consult Dr. Google himself. Type in something like "two week itinerary in ____". I typed "two week itinerary in Turkey" or even "best places to see in Turkey", and again, it helped give me an overview of some of the best places to see.

Friends:  The best advice often comes from people have already "been there, done that!". We just had friends that went to Turkey last year, and so we made a point to get together with them. Over lunch at their house {of Turkish food nonetheless!} we asked them tons of questions on where to go, what to see, and what their favorite activity was! The information they gave was invaluable! We are even staying at some of the hotels they mentioned as being memorable:)

3) Map your Route: Once we figured out the best places to travel to, we stated to map out our route in the calendar. We knew we would start in Istanbul, so we blocked out 3 days on our google calendar in Istanbul. Then we put 2 days in Cappadocia, 1 in Pamukkale, 2 in Ephesus, and 4 on the beach. Even though at this point we didn't have any details, getting it mapped out by the days helped us to visualize where we were going and the nature of our 12 days in the country.

4) Details Details Details! Once we had our route mapped out in our calendar, we started diving deeper into the planning process. We divided and conquered. I was nominated to look for lodging in each city, and Kevin  was nominated to figure out our transportation from city to city. Here is how we worked on our respective jobs:

- Lodging: 2 things are key when it comes to booking lodging…1) Know where in the city you want to stay {so you don't end up in the ghetto or the boondocks} and 2) get an idea for the average price of lodging in that specific area, so that you don't get ripped off. To figure out what part of the city to stay in, google it! I figured out very quickly the good neighborhoods in Istanbul to stay in. To get a good feel for pricing in the city, I started on  In my case, hotels in Istanbul are CRAZY expensive {even though everything else in the country isn't costly}. So, I decided that I would check out AirBnB as an alternative. What I found was awesome! There were great rooms for rent in stunning parts of town that saved us a lot of money! In the end, we rented a room from AirBnB that only cost us $33 a night {as opposed to $75 in a janky hotel!} I used to book the rest of our accommodations in the other cities we are staying in! The great thing about Agoda is that you can accrue points the more you purchase through them, and very soon we will have a free night of lodging somewhere!! {for more tips on booking lodging, click here}

- Transportation: Kevin was a boss at booking transportation in country. He googled everything {including reviews for each company we ended up purchasing tickets with, to make sure it was credible!}. He first googled "domestic airline flights from Istanbul to Cappadocia". This took us to Turkish Airlines, and we purchased flights very easily! {do your research on what airports are best to fly out of, etc.}. He then googled "buses from Cappadocia to Pammukale" and boom, it took us to a website of a bus company and we were able to snag tickets. Google makes things so accessible…use it…love it…become friends with it! :) {For more tips on booking transportation, click here.}

- Activities: I must say, Trip Advisor is bar none in this area. We LOVE Trip Advisor for figuring out all the local treasures and activities that are worth doing. For instance, in Dublin two years ago, Trip Advisor told us to book a dinner called "Food, Folklore, and Fairies" at an old pub, and it ended up being my favorite thing in Dublin! For our Turkey trip, we are using Trip Advisor to figure out what tours we should take, if the hot air balloon ride is really worth it, and what we should do along the coast! Your guide book can also help you with this!! And remember when I said the guide books are magic? One of their greatest strengths (in my humble opinion) is that most guidebooks have walking tours in them. This gives you the opportunity to give yourself a tour that is free and at your own pace, and is still jammed packed full with wonderful information!

Here are a few more tips on making your trip as smooth as possible: 

1) Calendar your trip: One our computers, we calendar our trip onto google calendars. We put our flight information, bus information, pick up times, etc. into the days where we are utilizing transportation. We put all our hotel confirmation numbers and addresses into the calendar as well. Having ALL the information in one place is super helpful in case you need to pull it up at a moments notice!

2) Manilla Folder the Important Information: To make our trip as smooth as possible, Kevin and I utilize what we fondly refer to as the "manilla folder". We put any important documents into this manilla folder, and carry it with us in our backpack or suitcase. In this folder we usually put:
- Copies of Passports and drivers licenses {just in case}
- A print out of ALL our hotel confirmation and plane/bus/rental car tickets and info
- Driving directions from google maps if we are renting a car and need to get from here to there
- Contact List of phone numbers and addresses of friends we may be visiting in the country

3) Pack for the weather: I'll be sharing more on packing soon, but make sure you do some research on what the weather will be like when you are there.

4) Read up: This should go without saying, but the more homework you do before you leave, the better you'll understand the country! Sometimes I'll read books {both fiction and non fiction} or watch movies to learn more about the country. Kevin and I are total travel nerds and will often watch "Rick Steves" videos on the destination we are going {you can find them on youtube}. The more you know about a place, the more you will appreciate the people, the architecture, and it's unique place in history.

I hope this was somewhat helpful for you guys! If you have any specific questions, don't hesitate to ask!! And if you think of something I missed, I would LOVE to hear it. How do YOU plan your trips?

Happy Thursday friends:)
love Katie

Ps- It's Kevin's 30th birthday today. I love this man more every day, and could not ask for a better husband. I told him my epic gift to him was a trip to Turkey…hahah!! {don't you love those "gifts" that you get to benefit from too? haha!}

If you are interested in any of my other travel tips, check these out:
How to Pay for Travel:
Part 1- Prioritize your spending
Part 2- Travel Credit Cards
Part 3- Food
Part 4- Teach Abroad
Part 5- Accommodations
Part 6- Transportation 
Part 7- Sample Itinerary using all my travel tips

How to Travel While working a 9-5 Job
My favorite "Small"Cities in the World
My favorite "Big" Cities in the World


  1. Happy birthday to Kevin!! We've used AirBnb for planning trips within the US quite a bit...and a LOT of Google reviews, but it really is more intimidating when planning overseas trips! My secret travel weapon is my Dad...I have no idea how, but he is extremely good at finding his way around places and understanding public transportation systems in a completely different country where he doesn't speak the language.

  2. Such great tips on planning a trip! Thank you for sharing with us! I'm curious, do you visit the same places twice? My husband and I want to go back to Italy so badly, but at the same time I know there are so many places we haven't seen yet. It's hard not to keep going back to the same places you love!

  3. fabulous, thank you so much for sharing - i have a similar post in my drafts, nothing compared to yours ;) great tips!

  4. happy birthday Kevin! I also like to keep a list of contacts ..just in case

  5. This is a great post, planning to travel can always be such a hassle!

    x leah symonne x

  6. Fun, fun! I should really start doing some research for our trip to South Africa! I'll definitely try out the guides you recommended.

    And tell Kevin we say happy birthday!!

  7. Seriously Katie, you ROCK! I'm so thankful for all the advice you've been giving on travel, and in general I'm so thankful for your lovely blog!

  8. You are seriously a life saver for travelers everywhere! What a great series. I can't wait to go on my next big trip... I've been having a travel itch for months now!

  9. Hi Katie, loved your post! You are SO thorough and I love that you're another Rick Steves reader :) So funny that we posted on the same day!

  10. Great travel tips. We usually divide the planning responsibilities as well helps save so much time!

  11. This is super helpful! I love planning for trips and like to have most things mapped out. Obviously have to throw some time in there for spontaneity -- but I like to have things generally planned :)

  12. good points - enjoy turkey :)

  13. Happy Birthday, Kevin!! I love these posts. Planning trips is so fun to me, too! Trip Advisor is by far my favorite way to find out local things. Can't wait to see your packing post!

  14. Planning for trips is one of my favorite things to do! I agree, you can never go wrong with TripAdvisor. One website/app that I use is called TripCase. Just like you guys do with google calendars, I add in all of the flight, accommodation, transportation, and activity details, which are then displayed in a timeline view. It is so helpful! You should definitely check it out!

  15. Great tips! I'm terrible at keeping copies of documents and I need to do that when we travel abroad next time. I'm in the process of planning a trip to Thailand, which is one of the countries on the top of my travel list, and it can get a little overwhelming. Just picking that we wanted to go to Thailand was a struggle in itself haha! Now we have to narrow down all the million things to see and do there.

  16. those are really good tips I will be taking into consideration for our travels in June, I've done steps 1-3 already, I need to find the accomodation and transportation..

    Happy belated birthday to Kevin!

  17. Great tips! My husband and I live and teach in Ankara (we're from the States). If you are still planning flights, Pegasus ( also has very cheap flights within Turkey. We have several posts about our travels if you're looking for any more suggestions of things to do and see! :) You'll have a blast in Turkey! We really love it here.

  18. LOVE your travel tips! Can't wait till I am well enough to travel again and use all of your helpful hints! :) One thought... the travel books ARE so helpful as you suggested but if people are looking to save money I have found the ones that you mentioned above for less than 1/2 on amazon! :) Just a thought! :) Thanks so much for sharing all of your helpful thoughts!! You are awesome! Can't wait to "experience" Turkey with y'all in just a few short weeks!
    :) Rebecca

  19. We are planning a trip to Greece in June and these tips have REALLY helped! Thank you!!

  20. Great travel tips! I loved reading about other people's methods on planning a trip; I feel that the lead-up to a trip when everyone is planning and talking about it, is half the fun! I utilize a lot of Google Spreadsheets to lay things out personally, especially since usually my travel buddies don't live nearby. I'll have to check out Google Calendar though, that sounds quite an intriguing idea!

  21. I love your travel posts! I've been a travel consultant for 11 years, so this post will definitely be a recommended read for those looking to get off the beaten track!

  22. WOW All details is amazing! If my age wasn't little for traveling around the world I would do right away.
    Althoug it would be great if you look the news before traveling the places... Especially Turkey.

    Btw waves from Turkey :) I hope you could enjoy your trip :)


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