I'm planning a lot of trips at the moment and I'm the type of person that likes to have my year planned out (maybe not booked) but at least an idea of where we'll be, when. So as I start the planning process for trips that are months down the road, here is where I begin. It's worked well for me over the years and we've gotten some amazing deals. Granted, sometimes things just pop up, but here's some tips for planning that trip down the road.
1. Buy guidebooks.
I know that most of the information in the books can be found on the internet, but how many searches must you do to find all the information that is succinctly supplied on 1 page of a guidebook. Also, certain cities, especially smaller ones, are often hard to find information online about. I definitely use the internet too, but I start with guidebooks. My favorites are the Frommer's Day by Day collection... they are a wealth of knowledge, plus all stacked up they look cool on my travel shelf.
2. Do research on the areas of the city.
Wherever you're going, it's best to know a general layout in your mind of how the place is set up. I always take a look at city maps early on in my planning process to familiarize myself with areas and then do research on them. This has saved me so many times in the past, especially abroad when you can't just whip out your phone to check where you are. If you have an idea of the city map in your head, you can figure out where you are and where you need to head and where you need to stay away from.
3. Plan out a day by day itinerary.
This obviously isn't how everyone likes to travel and I'll admit, you must go by your own set of rules for this one. However, I will say for me, and people that like a schedule, this saves me all the time. In New Orleans this last trip, I didn't do this. I sort of did, but never really went through it fully and there was a lot of time that we were like, okay, well what do we do today and just wandered around. I much prefer to do the research and mark out days for different areas or activities. It makes your time efficient to make sure you see what you want to and omit what isn't important.
4. Figure out what you want to see and what you don't.
When Nick and I travel, we don't hit every major monument, every statue, every church. We see what we want to and don't worry about seeing it all. We know that if we love a place, we'll go back and see more on another trip. For instance, I've been to Paris countless times and still haven't seen many of the tourist sites that are listed in my guidebooks and online, but I know someday I'll see them and I'm still enjoying Paris just as much without them. You'll have a much better and less stressful trip if you don't worry about hitting everything.
5. Watch airfares and hotel prices.
I start watching airfare and hotel prices as soon as I can when we plan a trip. I also know pretty much what the prices should be, as we do this regularly, but if you don't, research what airfare generally costs that time of year at your location... then keep an eye out on fares. I also truly believe, when you see a good fare, book it because it probably won't get better, it will just get higher.
On average, economy airfare from the West Coast of the States to Europe is usually around $1000 a person. I've gotten fares as low as $600 and as high as $1200, just depending on location, airline and time of year, but that should give you a good figure to keep in mind.