A few weeks ago I posted about the trip my boyfriend and I are taking to the States in August. We’ve since spent A LOT of time planning and discussing it; working out which route to take, the best places to stay and the cheapest car rental deals. So given the fact that we’re on a budget, I thought I’d share a few thoughts on my experience of travel planning thus far, and how I think it can be done with money-saving credentials in mind…
Make a spreadsheet
It sounds geeky, it looks geeky, it is geeky. But making a spreadsheet to keep track of your plans is also really, really helpful. Because we’re taking flights/hiring cars/staying in many different hostels/motels/campsites we simply have to be ultra-organised, there’s no getting round it. There’ll be nothing worse than a last minute panic that we’ve forgotton a vital reference number or we don’t know what the remaining balance to be paid for hostel X is – it’s simply not worth the stress. So we’ve created a little (or not so little, try freakishly detailed) spreadsheet where we’re keeping all of our information. As a little plug for Google, I’d highly recommend using their documents function for this – they’re so handy, and can be set up so as to allow both Laurence and I to view and edit them at the same time. And because everything is kept online, we don’t need to worry about being at a particular computer in order to access it. Ah the internet, genius, isn’t it?
Talk to people
People. They really can be fountains of knowledge. Who’d have thought it?! Since we decided to do this trip we’ve been telling everyone and his uncle about it, including family members, friends, blog readers and fellow tweeters. And we’ve actually managed to amass lots of useful information and advice in doing so. A guy I lived with last year who has done a similar trip before has imparted lots of handy hints and tips; followers of this blog have generously offered up advice on all sorts of things and Twitter has been a really useful resource too. In fact, it was the response to a throwaway tweet from Laurence that led us to a car rental company that has proved significantly cheaper than any of those churned up by a Google search. It’s good to talk!
It’s such an obvious point, but there really is no better way to soak up information about the places you’re visiting and the things you might do once you’re there than to get reading. I’ve been using a mixture of resources for my pre-trip reading, borrowing a few books from the library as well as seeking out a number of good websites. The internet is rammed full of travel literature, some of which can be extremely useful, and some of which can be absolute dross. My favourite sites are Wikitravel, Trip Advisor (thanks Kat!) and Lonely Planet, which has lots of useful forum posts, normally written by people who know what they’re talking about, but sometimes written by people who a) don’t seem to have a clue and b) think they have some divine right to tell you how you should be planning your trip. Ignore the latter, make use of the former, and all will be well and good!
Consider emergency cash
I’m possibly being overly cynical about it, but having made so many different bookings (hostels, day trips, car hire, flights), the chances that one of them might fall through at the last minute seem pretty high. So we’ve decided to take some extra dollars with us, by way of an emergency fund, to cover unexpected costs such as pricey motels or extra gas we hadn’t accounted for. I guess it also just makes sense to be a bit generous with our financial estimations – holidays have a habit of always costing more money than you think they might at the start (or perhaps that’s just me being overly optimistic when I set my budgets!). If all goes to plan, we’ll bring the money back (or we might blow it on an extravagant meal in LA on our last night), but if something goes wrong along the way, we won’t be stuck for options.
Travelling is an expensive business, even if you throw everything you’ve ever learned about thrift at it. I’m trying to do as much planning and saving as I can at the moment so as to minimise the inevitable assault on my savings in a few weeks’ time. Practically speaking, I’ve sold a few things on Ebay, I’m collecting jumble for a carboot sale at the end of the month, and I’ve also instigated quite a strict weekly budget to keep daily outlays to a minimum. As for actually buying things for the holiday, I’ve started early, and second-hand. I don’t need much, but nothing fills me with angst more than the thought of a manic last-dash rush along Princes Street the day before we go, when the thrill of pre-holiday excitement can lead to perilous impulse purchases, making the return to home (and the bump back to earth), all the more painful. I won’t be able to do that this year anyway – I’m finishing my job FOREVER on the Friday, going to a wedding on the Saturday and flying at 08.20 on the Sunday – no time to shop, hurrah!
Keep the dream in mind
Finally, as with all things, planning a trip can become very stressful, very easily. When you’re reading terrible reviews of a million different hostels, flight search engines are shredding your patience, and your bank balance, and you can’t see the wood from the trees, it’s often incredibly easy to forget why on earth you decided to put yourself through it. I’ve found that it pays to take five minutes out in these situations, make some tea or grab a cold beer, sit down and just think about the big picture, and what you’re most excited about. In my case, I think about my first glimpse of the Empire State Building, or a huge slice of Manhattan pizza, or dipping my toes in the crystal clear surf of an LA beach. As soon as I reflect on it in this way, the stress clouds of planning and preparing scuttle away to reveal my reasons for going, clear as they were on the day we first had the idea. No one ever said dream-chasing was fun, or easy. It can be difficult, draining and intensely frustrating at times as well. But I’m quickly discovering that that’s par for the course. It’s also one good reason why it’s so bloody satisfying when you finally catch them!
Image above from Flickr – Paraflyer.