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How to Plan a Trip for Beginners Pt. 1 – Choosing the Destination

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Welcome to my How to Plan a Trip for Beginners series! I wanted to share my trip planning strategy for those who may be planning their first big trip, or just looking for some tips. 

I started traveling nearly a decade ago when I studied abroad in London. Since then, I have visited 19  different countries and somehow became the designated travel planner of my group. That being said, I figured I would share with you how I plan my trips from start to finish. 

To start things off, let’s discuss how to pick a destination. 

How to Plan a Trip for Beginners Pt. 1 – Choosing the Destination

*This post contains affiliate links. Which means that if you purchase something after clicking on a link, I may earn a small commission at no extra cost to you.

Planning a Trip Based on a Deal

I would say 9 out of 10 times my next travel destination is determined by seeing a good deal. For example, my trips to Finland and Costa Rica were booked because I found great deals ($280 RT and $220 RT respectively). 

How I Find Affordable Flights 

If you haven’t already, sign up for Scott’s Cheap Flights. If you take nothing else from this how to plan a trip from beginners series, let it be this. Scott’s is an email subscription that delivers flight deals directly to your inbox. When you sign up you can choose which airports you want to receive deal alerts for. I set mine up to receive deals departing from Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Denver, and Phoenix (where I live). Here’s why I do this. 

Phoenix isn’t a large airport in terms of international flight competition, so we don’t see the best deals come through. However, LA, Denver, and Las Vegas all have a variety of carriers thus, they tend to see better deals. 

For instance, take a look at the below snippets. 

using google flight to find a travel destination
how to plan a trip for beginners - google flights search sample

LAX offers flights to Tokyo for literally half the price of what it costs to fly out of PHX.  I’m more than willing to drive the 5.5 hours to LA to save $600+ dollars. I could also take a cheap 1-hr flight to LAX and still save $400+.

All that to say, if your local airport is usually expensive to fly out of, set up alerts for airports you’re willing to commute to.  

Some other deal alert sites you can sign up for are Airfare Watchdog and Pomelo Travel. I’ve dabbled with both of these but Scott’s is still my favorite. You can sign up for the free email alerts, or pay for a membership. With the paid membership you get exclusive deals including business class fares. I have the free version and receive deal emails maybe 2-3 times a week depending on the time of year. 

How to Plan a Trip with a Time Frame in Mind

Sometimes when picking where to go I simply have a time in mind. For example, my birthday in July or around Thanksgiving when I can maximize my PTO. In this case, I head to Google. 

First thing I will do is google, “Best Places to Visit in X.” The first few articles in the results usually come from Conde Nast Traveler and Travel and Leisure, followed by travel blogs. I scroll through these articles to see if anything catches my eye or gives me an idea. For instance, the list might suggest visiting Peru but I’ll also look at places around Peru to find other potential destinations. If so, I will head to Google Flights. If not… I will head to Google Flights. 

If a destination piques my interest based on the articles and research, I will use Google flights to find a deal to that destination. I play with the dates and see if I can get a reasonable price for a flight. 

If nothing on the lists sounds good to me, I use the Google Flights explore tool. The explore tool lets you put in dates and departure city to get a list/map with prices for multiple destinations. 

how to plan a trip for beginners - google flight snapshot of explore

If you have a general area you’d like to travel to like Asia or South America, you can put that in the destination field. 

how to plan a trip for beginners - google flights snapshot

Another search option Google Flights offers is the flexible date search. With this, you can search by duration and time frame if you don’t have specific dates or destination in mind but want to book a trip for the sake of booking a trip.

how to plan a trip for beginners - google flight snapshot

How to Plan a Trip with a Destination in Mind

Sometimes I know exactly where I want to go, it’s just a matter of figuring out when. In this case, I head back to Google and search something like, “Best Time to Visit x destination.” I scroll through a couple of posts to see when people recommend going to whatever place I have in mind. I like to avoid the high tourist season if possible. And, of course, I don’t want to be stuck in bad weather. 

After gathering my info, I go searching for a flight to that specific destination during that specific time. I also scroll around a couple of months to see if there’s a good deal outside of the suggested time. If there is, I just google “x destination in x month,” to see if the deal lands in a bad travel time or not. 

A Few More Things on Choosing a Destination

  • Pick a destination that fits your vacation time. For instance, if you only have 4 travel days, flying across the world spending a day in the air probably doesn’t make sense.
  • Check the travel advisories to see if the destination you have in mind is experiencing any dangerous activity you may want to avoid.
  • Check the vaccination requirements for your intended destination. Some countries require shots that can be expensive to get such as Yellow Fever, Typhoid, etc. Do your research beforehand so you don’t end up booking a flight only to find out you need $700 worth of shots. Here’s the CDC Traveler’s Health page for more info.

That’s all the ways I go about picking a destination for my next trip. As you can see, Google and Google Flights are pretty much your best friends when it comes to finding your next travel destination.

If you want to read the rest of my How to Plan A Trip for Beginners Series, subscribe to my newsletter to get it delivered right to your inbox!

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