GATA’s Guide to Trip Planning

So you’ve decided to take a trip, and for the sake of this post, let’s assume that you’ve already chosen your destination(s).  (See “GATA’s Guide to choosing a destination” if you’re still on that step) Great! What do you do now? Planning an epic adventure can be daunting, even for the most experienced among us.  

**Disclosure: I am writing on this topic because I am currently in the process of planning a 6-week mega tour of Europe, and it is overwhelming, even for me–a professional travel planner!  

So, whether you’re planning a long weekend getaway or a 6 month backpacking extravaganza, where do you start?   

Step 1: Contact GATA!  Seriously…and I’m not saying this to try to sell you anything.  If you want to take a trip with us, that’s awesome; but you should contact us if you’re thinking about traveling anywhere because a) we are cool people who love sharing travel experience and making new friends and b) we are career travelers who have been A LOT of places.  Rayna and I are always happy to talk travel and share our expertise, regardless of whether it is directly related to our business or not. So really, give us a shout!


Step 1.2: If you know anyone who has been to your destination, ask them for advice.  What are the must-sees and what is best to avoid? What to pack? How does the public transportation work?  Etc.

Step 2: Take to the interwebs!  So step 1–ask a friend. Step 2– ask everyone’s very best friend (when it comes to information seeking): Google!  Most countries have a tourism website–a safe starting place; but it is best to delve deeper. Check out the Lonely Planet and NatGeo pages.  Better yet, see if you can find a blog about someone else’s trip for first hand experience. Look at maps. If you are looking for a package tour, make sure you scroll down and don’t just click on the first search results that pops up.  The first options are usually big conglomerate travel agencies, while those listed farther down are the little guys with personalized tours that get off the beaten path (e.g. us).

If you still need to narrow down your destination, make your search more specific and include activities that you would like to do.  For example: “best hikes in Turkmenestan” Another strategy I use is to do an image search. I scroll through all the photos that come up for a country or region, click on the ones that catch my attention, and figure out where exactly they were taken–an excellent way to narrow down your search.  

It is best to have a map handy while doing your homework so that you can visualize where your specific sites are.  Remember to stay realistic–you’re not going to be able to explore ALL of India in 5 days…or 10…or even 20.

Step 2.2: Social Media.  Start following destination relevant accounts on your SM platform of choice.  I, for example, just started following several Scottish photography accounts on instagram–a great way to whittle down where exactly you want to visit.  

Step 3: Determine your guidelines.  So by now you should have a pretty good idea of exactly where you want to go within your country(ies) of choice and what you would like to do there.  Now you have to set some realistic guidelines. These guidelines are based on 2 main factors: time & money. How much time do you have for this trip and what is your budget?  These two factors will determine how much you will have to pair down that long list of places and activities that you came up with during steps 1 and 2.

Step 4: Geography & Transportation.  Now that you know your time and financial limitations, you need to look more carefully at that mp of yours and cross reference it with you list of destinations and activities.  At this point you also need to research transportation options and costs. When it comes to getting around, time and money generally have an inverse relationship. You could travel the length of Chile on a bus for cheap(ish), but it will take you a week—or you could pay more for a 2 hour flight that covers the same distance.  It just depends on your priorities and previously mentioned limitations.

Time Out!  So now we know where exactly we want to visit within our general destination, we know how much time we have for our trip and how much money we have to spend.  That paints a pretty clear picture of what our trip is going to look like. This is also where we have a divergence of the planning process depending on personal preferences.  

For some people, this is all the information and planning they need.  These are the laid back folks that prefer to simply show up and wing it– usually with at least an outline of where they want to go and how they will get there, but with no pre arranged reservations.  

At the other end of the spectrum are the planners.  If you’re a planner or a novice traveler, keep reading.  

Step 5: Reservations.  Now we go back to the World Wide Web for another round of research.  This time we are getting specific–accommodation, activities, and transportation.  Be thorough, check out reviews on TripAdvisor, and make sure you keep a record of your reservation confirmations.  

I would strongly recommend making yourself a detailed itinerary, complete with map, confirmation numbers, and contact info for your trip, and leave a copy with a friend back home.  

Miscellaneous planning advice to keep in mind:  

  • Will you need a visa?  If so, how do you get one, how much does it cost, and how long will it take.  DO NOT wait until the last minute.
  • When is the best time to go to your chosen destination?
  • What to pack?  Will you need to invest in any new gear?
  • Consider purchasing a travel insurance plan–which one, you ask?  Well that’s a topic for another day.

Mostly, you should just drop us a line…and by “line”, I mean email.  We would love to hear from you.

GATA’s Guide to Choosing a Destination

Not every trip can be nor should be an epic, life culminating “dream trip”; but every travel experience should excite, invigorate and inspire you in some way.  If you have the time, money and occasion to take that “dream trip” you’ve always wanted, great! Go for it! Unfortunately, most of our opportunities for travel do not meet this criteria.  Most of the time we have a finite amount of time or money or both, and sometimes even if we have the requisite resources, it’s just not the right time. For example, I have always wanted to go to Scotland.  As a kid, I was obsessed. I would buy ridiculously overpriced books on the country and spend hours drooling and dreaming over pictures of the highlands and the Isle of Skye. I have now travelled to over 30 countries….but still have not been to Scotland, even though that has been my dream destination since….forever!  Well, that changes this summer, as I have saved up some money and am planning an epic trip to celebrate my 30th birthday. I will be spending 3 weeks in Scotland with the man I love to celebrate the occasion–I have the time, the money, and the occasion to make it a trip worthy of all my years of dreaming.

Here’s another story about planning a trip and choosing a destination….  A few years back in the days I spent working a desk job like a “responsible” adult (overrated, not recommended),  I found myself with an accumulation of three weeks vacation. Obviously, I was going to have some sort of international adventure; the question was where?  At that point in my life, I had already traveled most of South America and much of Africa and Europe. I was (and still am) saving New Zealand (and with it Australia)  for a time when I have months to spend instead of mere weeks. So the obvious choice was Southeast Asia. All backpackers and free spirited young folk do Southeast Asia.  It is a backpacker’s paradise and a staple in any serial travelers country collection. In fact, it was hard to believe that I hadn’t already checked it off my list.

So, I started planning my trip (see “GATA’s Guide to Planning a Trip”).  Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos. Sounds amazing, right? Right? RIGHT?!  I kept trying to psych myself up, but I just was not feeling inspired. I wasn’t excited.  I was planning a trip to somewhere simply because it was somewhere that I hadn’t been before and that lots of other people go to.  Not good enough reasons.

No, when I thought about it, I realized a few things…. First of all, Southeast Asia is hot and swampy.  I hate being hot. I HATE BEING HOT. It is a region renowned for its beautiful beaches and crazy partying.  Well I’m not much of a beach goer, and I loathe drunken, drugged, loud, hostel-staying backpackers…. So, no wonder I wasn’t excited.  

Now, this isn’t to say that I will never go to Southeast Asia, nor that I wouldn’t enjoy traveling the region.  It just wasn’t a good fit for me at that time, and my reasons for going, mainly, that it was somewhere I hadn’t been, were not sufficient to justify the trip.  

I stopped my Southeast Asia planning and instead started thinking of what I love — mountains, wilderness, hiking, being challenged and far from crowds and cities.  At that point a beam of sunshine pierced through the dismal grey Michigan sky and shone upon me, and it was clear. NEPAL. 3 weeks trekking through the Himalayas–yes please!  It is everything I love, and it was somewhere new that I had never been! It was so obvious and so perfect, and I was immediately EXCITED. That excitement and renewed passion was, and is, how I know I have chosen the right destination.  (My trip to Nepal was epic and amazing and incredible in so many ways….unfortunately, not the actual topic of this post).

The point of that story is the following:  The opportunity to travel is a privilege. Don’t waste it by going somewhere simply because it is somewhere that other people like to go or because it sounds exotic.  Really examine why you want to go somewhere, and if you are not feeling excited or inspired by your destination, reevaluate and consider what it is that makes you feel most alive.  What inspires you? Take the time and money you have and chase that–wherever it may be. Remember that it’s okay to save your ultimate dream trip for another time, for when you have more time or more money or have the right person to be your companion.  

If you are still having trouble deciding where to go, contact us and we would be happy to give you some ideas.

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