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How to Plan a Trip Like a Travel Agent

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Originally published Jul 29, 2017 at

For some reason, I am *passionate* about making meticulous lists in my day-to-day life. This could be strange to some, but my neurotic tendencies are worth praising when I plan trips. I have so many tips to make sure that your trip is organized to the nth degree, no matter where in the world you are traveling! Is this a labor of love? Yes. Will this method take a lot of work? Also yes. But enjoying your time abroad is worth it.


For this blog post, let’s use my upcoming vacation as an example of what I would do. Myself and three friends are traveling from Chicago to Paris in August, with an 18-hour layover in Reykjavik, Iceland. We will stay in Paris a few days, and then take the Chunnel to London, and then later to Edinburgh, Scotland. Our entire goal for this trip is to be at King’s Cross station at 11:00 am on September 1st, because in the last book of Harry Potter, that is when the epilogue takes place. (Yes, we are *huge* Potter nerds! We are also going to the Hogwarts castle and the Elephant Room where J.K. Rowling wrote her first draft!) This goal blossomed into a fully-fledged vacation when I got creative with planning. Here are my best planning tips:


What are the biggest travel-related goals for your upcoming trip? Do you want to backpack through Europe as cheaply as possible, or do you yearn to spend your savings on a luxe vacation at a resort? Determining what you want to spend and what you want to see are key points to understand before even bothering to look for flights. My ultimate goal for my upcoming vacation is to be in London on a specific day, but my friends and I want to see as much as possible in a short amount of time, without spending a crazy amount of money.


I did some cursory searches for cheap flights about nine months before our vacation, without much luck. Flights from Chicago to London were just more expensive than we wanted to pay, so we decided to explore options with layovers included. We found one flight that will have an 18-hour layover in Iceland, before landing in Paris, France.

Although this isn’t the correct city – or country – it is by far much less expensive. We are also getting to London via another creative way – the underground train tunnel that crosses the English Channel, a.k.a. the Chunnel! I especially loved this route because my fiancé and I got engaged in Iceland last year, but also because Paris is a city on everyone’s bucket list! We could essentially pack on two more locations for less than the money to fly directly to London.


There are basically three different types of housing to consider when traveling abroad: hostels, AirBnbs or hotels. Depending on how much money you’d like to spend will determine which housing type will be best. Hostels are plentiful, cheap and generally clean in Europe, but in other parts of the world they might not be available or the safest option.

Hotel chains will always be safer and clean, but you will be paying much more for that luxury. For my trip, we chose to use AirBnb as a happy medium. The rooms were reasonably priced for our budget, and we liked that we will be living with a local to point us towards some hidden gems of their city. Do some cost-comparisons and see what would be best for your situation.


Now that you have some cities in mind, and some inexpensive and awesome flights booked, it’s time to make an itinerary. Brainstorm some things that are on your must-see list. For Paris, we want to see the Eiffel Towerthe Louvre and, if possible, the Parisian Catacombs. In England, we want to see Stonehenge, take a tour through the Warner Brother’s studio to see the Harry Potter sets and, of course, be at King’s Cross for the train to Hogwarts!

Now that you have a list, plan out your travel times, bus or train passes and tours. Plan time for eating, and research restaurants if you want to experience local flavors. Mark up a map with all the tourist traps you want to visit and figure out the best route to see them. Consider buying an international SIM card, upgrading your camera gear, or looking into what types of weather you’ll find. In a nutshell: plan everything you want to do in detail so that you can fully enjoy yourself when you arrive.


I would recommend that you plan everything in advance, however, do not expect your plans to work perfectly. Traveling abroad is stressful in many ways – flights will get delayed or canceled. You might miss your tour bus or get mixed up on the wrong train. You might just be really exhausted and jetlagged when you arrive and sleep through your first day! Take your plans with a grain of salt, but remember that the more prepared you are for the unexpected, the less stress you will experience. Be flexible and remember that little inconveniences just add to the adventure!


Where will you be using these tips in the next year? Let me know in the comments or see my upcoming adventures by following @emalicethomas on Instagram.

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