Ready to go on that much-deserved little holiday?
Here are our top travel tips and recommended resources to help you plan the perfect trip. If you have questions about any of the platforms and products I recommend here, please send me a message and I’ll be happy to answer your questions.
Little Holidays Guide to Planning the Perfect Trip
- Tips for creating your travel itinerary
- How to get from A to B – finding flights and routes
- Where to stay – tips for booking hotels and holiday homes
- Driving abroad – tips for road trips
- Money matters – dealing with foreign currency
- Keep everything in place – a simple travel planner
- Download the PDF guide
Please note: This post contains affiliate links, which means I may earn a commission if you book or purchase by clicking a link. Using the links on this guide to plan and book your trip is what keeps the Little Holidays up and running, at no extra cost to you. Thank you! Learn more.
Here at the Little Holidays, we love making travel fun, easy, and unforgettable. We love a good mix of bucket-list destinations and offbeat adventures, of bustling capitals and charming little towns, and a healthy dose of road trips, photo walks, and food crawls.
And from the way readers answer polls within our guides and the emails we get, it looks like you love to travel the same way, too.
While travel is a very personal thing, there’s actually a science to having a great vacation! With a few tweaks from my experiences, here are my top tips for creating the perfect travel itinerary.
1. Plan and book your trip as early as possible.
Not only will you get better options and prices when you plan and book early, anticipating the holiday can make you happier. Simply knowing that a holiday is in the horizon makes you feel as great as if you were already on your trip – and that’s a free travel perk you shouldn’t miss!
You don’t have to plan and book everything in one go. Start by doing a bit of research about your destination – check out the must-sees and nearby destinations you can take day trips to. Research the best times to go and note any events you might be interested in attending. Write your ideas down in a notebook, a Word file, or an Airtable (here’s my travel planning template – you can copy it and use the “Ideas and Planning” tab). Take screenshots or save links to travel guides that you find useful.
Three to six months before your trip, start to book flights, reserve accommodations, and look into transportation options. Look for options that have free cancellation policies in case you need to change your plans.
I recommend using travel booking platforms that have great cancellation policies so you can remain flexible even as you count down the dates to your big trip.
2. Plan the trip you would want
While it’s easy to be swept by FOMO as you do your travel research, stick to things that you know you and your travel buddies would enjoy.
If you don’t really get the fuss about Instagrammable spots and would rather hunt for the best cafés, then do that instead.
Take inspiration from travel guides, but in the end, always do you.
3. Don’t wing it!
A lot of seasoned travelers like to say things like “live in the moment!” or “be spontaneous – you’ll figure it out when you’re there!” But these people likely begin their travel days Googling “best things to do around me,” spend all their time on their phones figuring out routes and checking opening hours, or – worst of all – arrive someplace at night and go knocking from one fully-booked hotel to the next.
Having a plan isn’t limiting or constricting. It can actually save you lots of time (no on-the-spot Googling required), money (last-minute bookings can be costly), and energy (long lines to buy a ticket you could have bought online can quickly turn a fun day sour).
You don’t want to spend your holidays doing things you could have done in advance. You want to savor your coffee, enjoy the view, and skip the lines. Plan and research ahead so you can be carefree and spontaneous on your trip.
4. Schedule activities
Even if you’re planning the most relaxing, laidback holiday ever, it’s unlikely you’ll be staying the whole trip in your hotel room.
Plan and schedule the activities you want to do. Not only does scheduling activities for your trip save time, money, and energy – managing your free time makes you happier!
- If there are certain museums or landmarks you want to visit, check opening hours and reservation requirements. Some landmarks are so popular that you’ll need to book months in advance. Check for skip-the-line tickets as well.
- If there are tours you want to go on, book that in advance.
- Plan for shopping trips and make reservations to restaurants you want to visit.
- Save the places that interest you on a map (like Google Maps) so you can plot an itinerary that makes sense.
5. Savor and enjoy
Don’t just plan for any activity – plan for quality activities.
Plan to do things that you truly enjoy – like watching the sunset from a beautiful viewpoint, enjoying a meal in a highly-coveted restaurant, or hiking a spectacular trail.
These quality activities don’t necessarily have to be expensive or exclusive. Doing things that will help you savor the moment is the best way to make the most of your holiday. And that can be as simple as enjoying a glass of wine or taking a walk in the park.
6. Plan for post-vacation joy
We’ve talked about anticipation – how planning and booking your trip as soon as possible can begin the holiday happiness early. You can extend that positive feeling further by planning for post-vacation joy – what we feel when we look back and reminisce about the trip.
Here are some ways to do that:
- Learn something new on your trip that you can enjoy long after you’re back home – you can join a cooking class in Bologna, a K-Pop dance class in Seoul, or even a pottery class in Siem Reap.
- Do something you’ve never done before – whether it’s canyoning in the Julian Alps or paragliding in Interlaken, you’ll never forget your first. And reminiscing about them will make you feel as happy as when you were experiencing it.
- Have beautiful travel photos that you can look back on – schedule time to take great photos on your trip, or better yet, go on photography tours or hire a local photographer.
Recap + how I plan my trips
- Plan and book your trip as early as possible to squeeze out as much fun from it as you can – for trips lasting more than 2 weeks, I usually plan 3-6 months in advance.
- As you do your research, write your ideas down and plot them on a map. I like to use Excel or Airtable to have all my ideas in one place, and Google Maps to see how everything fits.
- Use travel booking platforms that have free cancellation policies so you can stay flexible – I use Booking.com for hotels, GetYourGuide for activities, and RentalCars for cars. You can find a complete list of my recommended travel companies in the PDF guide.
- Plan and schedule activities that you want to do. I personally love food, nature, and road trips so my research usually revolves around must-try restaurants, gorgeous driving routes, and scenic hiking trails. If you enjoy these things as well, you’ll find my guides super useful.
- Savor and enjoy your holiday – find the perfect balance between a hectic travel schedule and a bare and boring one. I personally enjoy spending 3-5 days in one destination (so if I have 10 days to travel, I would divide that into 2-3 bases). I allot 1-2 days to explore the city or town’s historical center, and the rest of the days to explore surrounding, offbeat destinations. I plan for visits to a local farmer’s market, a beautiful viewpoint, and a park or lake.
Tell us: Which of these do you look forward to most on your holiday trips?
Once you’ve got some ideas on where you want to go and what you want to do, it’s time to figure out routes. Here are my tips on finding flights, finding routes, and my favorite maps.
I always use Skyscanner or Momondo to look for flights. You can plug in where you’re coming from, where you want to go, and your desired dates and these flight search engines take care of finding the best flights for you.
Here are some tips to find the perfect flight in Momondo.
1. Add nearby airports when searching for flights.
2. If you have flexible dates, choose the green-colored dates to get the best prices.
3. If you have preferred airlines, price range, flight times, and travel duration, you can set your preferences so Momondo will fetch you only the flights that would work for you.
4. You can arrange the results by price (cheapest) or travel time (quickest). “Best” ranks the flights by balancing the price and the flight duration.
Once you find a flight option you like, you can book it with the airline or the flight booking platform. You don’t need to scroll so far down – Momondo is great at finding the best flights so you’ll usually find flights that work for you right away.
Rome2Rio is particularly great at figuring out how to get from A to B using public transportation. If I want to go from Prague to Vienna, for example, Rome2Rio gives me these choices:
Pick a mode of transportation that looks most convenient for you, and Rome2Rio will show timetables, a list of operators, and links to where you can book your trip.
For traveling within a city or region, I use Google Maps to find public transportation routes. For example, if I need to go from the Budapest-Kelenföld bus stop to my hotel in District 5, I simply put it into Google Maps, select public transportation, and it gives me several options.
Some cities and regions will have their own public transportation apps where you can find routes and pay for your ticket. I add this information under the “Planning your trip” section in my travel guides.
You’ll find Google Maps with must-see sights, best hotels and restaurants, and other important landmarks in all of my travel guides. You can copy and customize them according to your itinerary (click: view larger map > copy map).
You can also get offline versions of my maps using maps.me. Here’s what to do:
- Download maps.me to your phone.
- Open the Google map you want to use on your desktop web browser.
- Click on the menu icon on the right side of the map name and select “Download KML.”
- Export the map as KML.
- Send the file to your mobile via email or messaging app.
- Open the KML file using maps.me.
- Download the country map on maps.me when prompted while you have an internet connection.
- You’ll then be able to use maps.me offline – you’ll find the map you saved in your Bookmarks.
For driving, I use Waze to navigate. Set your driving preferences so the app can give you the best routes. If you have any vignettes or passes (for tolls and cities with restrictions), add that also to the app.
Recap – best ways to get from A to B
- Find the best flights using Momondo or Skyscanner.
- Use Rome2Rio to find public transportation routes between cities and countries. Use Google Maps to find public transportation routes within a city.
- Export Google Maps to maps.me for offline use.
- Use Waze to navigate when driving.
I use Booking.com 99% of the time for booking my accommodations.
(The 1% are for the rare times I go on an impromptu trip to a popular destination and I can’t anymore find good hotels available the same day on the platform. During these instances, I call hotels directly until I find a free room.)
You’ll find a lot of great accommodation choices in all price ranges in both popular and more offbeat destinations. From luxury hotels to apartments and holiday homes, Booking.com has a wide range of property types available on their site. Also, the platform’s design is so user-friendly and intuitive that you’ll quickly find everything you need to know about the hotel – its location, room types and prices, availability, amenities, and guest reviews – and easily manage your bookings.
Here are some of my favorite and most-used features when I’m looking for an accommodation in Booking.com:
- Map view – Location is one of the most important things to consider when looking for an accommodation, and Booking.com’s convenient map view makes it easy to look for the perfect place to stay.
Once you’ve entered your destination and dates, click on “Search” then “Map view.”
Zoom in on your desired location – in this case, if you wanted to stay somewhere near Lake Bled, you’ll easily see hotels that are by the lake. You can also see prices, ratings and reviews, nearby landmarks, and other useful information at a glance.
- Filters – Using the filters on the left side can help you narrow down your accommodation options to the ones that suit your tastes and needs the best.
Some of my favorite filters are: free cancellation, superb: 9+ review score, property type: apartments and hotels, and, if we’re arriving off-hours, a 24-hour reception.
- Free cancellation and flexible payment options – I recommend booking your accommodations as early as possible but stay flexible with free cancellation and convenient payment options. That way you can lock in a great place to stay at the best prices, without worrying in case your travel plans change.
- Instant confirmation – Once you’ve chosen your hotel and your room type, you’re a few clicks away from a confirmed booking. Simply enter your details and any special requests, click to confirm, and your booking is confirmed.
You’ll also receive an email with your booking details and all essential information.
- Itinerary at a glance – When you’re booking for a multi-city trip, Booking.com shows your itinerary so far and smartly suggests other destinations and accommodations based on your preferences. I’ve discovered some really interesting side trips thanks to this feature!
Apart from these features that really making the booking process smooth and streamlined, Booking.com has great customer support, a loyalty program, and robust reviews.
A road trip is a great way to explore a new destination. If you’re planning to drive abroad, here are things you need to know.
Before your road trip
- Make sure you have all the requirements and documents you’ll need for driving and renting a car as a tourist in the country you’re visiting. This usually includes: a driver’s license, international driving permit, passport, and a credit card in your name.
- You’ll need to get your international driving permit from your country of residence’s automobile association.
- Know the speed limits and driving laws.
- Know how to use the toll roads – any vignettes you need, any special lanes you have to be on, how to pay for tolls.
- Have a list of emergency contact numbers.
- You can find my guides to driving in specific countries here.
Booking a rental car
- Book as early as possible and use a comparison site like RentalCars to compare offers from major car hire companies. You can compare prices, car models, and inclusions easily in their simple online booking platform, plus they give you instant confirmation, free cancellation, and big deals and discounts.
- Read the fine print – take note of the fuel policy, any excess charges, insurance policies, and any extra fees.
- Consider getting a one-way rental – this means you can pick it up and drop it off in two different locations. This is ideal if you’re going on a multi-city trip.
- Get a personal car hire insurance – they will reimburse any excess fees the rental car company may charge for damages.
When picking up your rental car
- Double check that you have all the necessary documents with you when you pick up your rental car. This usually includes: your driver’s license, international driving permit, passport, and a credit card in your name.
- Inspect the rental car when you pick it up and when you drop it off. I usually take a video on my phone while going around the car and take note of any damages.
- Make sure to ask the car hire service attendants for any help you need. Some things you should know before you go: emergency numbers and other useful contacts, how to use the GPS, where to drop off the car, which fuel you need and how to fill up the tank, and how to use the motorways.
- Take your time to get familiar with the car. Adjust your seat and the mirrors, check how to use the lights and indicators, adjust the radio volume and the temperature, and do a trial drive around the parking lot.
- Have all your documents (driver’s license, passport, insurance, car registration papers) within reach.
- Have local currency on hand in case you need to pay a toll or for parking.
- Take breaks or take turns driving.
Other things to consider
- When booking your hotels, look for accommodations that have private parking spaces for their guests.
- When planning your road trips, look for parking lots close to your destination. Make sure to set your GPS or Waze to navigate to a parking spot.
- Useful things to have: car phone charger and mount, WiFi device.
Foreign exchange and ATM fees are necessary evils when on holidays abroad, but here are some tips to lessen the pain.
Before your trip
- If you haven’t yet, register for online banking so you can keep an eye on your card transactions while you’re on your trip.
- Call your bank and tell them the specifics of your trip – dates and countries you plan to visit – so they know not to block your card when you use it.
- If you can, get a borderless bank account like Revolut or Transferwise. You can use it like any debit card plus you can withdraw cash with minimal conversion fees and minimal ATM fees from local banks.
- I recommend withdrawing cash from a local ATM once you’re in your destination, but if this makes you uncomfortable, exchange currency at your home bank. Don’t exchange too much (as rates won’t be that favorable to you) – just enough to pay for food and transportation on your first day (USD 100-150 is a safe estimate).
- Check your hotels and other bookings if you can pay using credit or debit cards so you can have an estimate of how much cash you’ll need to bring.
During your trip
- Pay with a credit card or debit card when you can, especially in hotels and restaurants. Credit cards usually give the best exchange rates but remember to choose to pay in the local currency.
- Whether you’re paying by cash or card, always pay in the local currency. When paying with a foreign credit card, some terminals will make you choose if you want to pay using your currency or the local currency – always pay in local currency and let your home bank do the conversion.
- Get cash abroad by withdrawing from an ATM – ideally, an ATM in a bank. In my experience, even if you pay the conversion fees and ATM fees, this usually ends up being the safest, cheapest, and most convenient way to get cash.
- Avoid using ATMs that are not affiliated with a local bank. Some ATMs, like Euronet all over Europe, will give you unfair conversion rates.
- While some foreign exchange booths and money changers do give fair rates, I’ve had enough bad experiences with them that I just generally avoid them when I can.
Here’s a simple travel planner I made on Airtable that you can use to keep all your travel information in one place.
Here’s how it works:
- Get a free Airtable account.
- Click on “copy base” and add the table to your own account. You can now edit and fill it up with your travel information.
- Use the “Ideas and Planning” tab for taking notes while you do your trip-planning research.
- Once you start finalizing your holiday schedule and booking flights, hotels, and transportation, you can add details about your trip to the “Travel Plan” tab using the Itinerary view.
- I also created a Bookings, Budget, and Calendar view so you can quickly find important information.
- You’ll also find tabs with a list of my recommended travel resources and a sample itinerary.