For me, picking a destination then planning and packing for a trip is always exciting. I love researching, budgeting, creating itineraries, picking outfits – pretty much everything that travel encompasses. Anyone who knows me knows that I’m a planner. I like to plan what I’m doing the next day, week, month and even year. While I’m aware that not everything goes the way you’d want, I still love to have structure and guidelines. This is probably why I love traveling so much, because I get to showcase these strengths. Below, I wanted to share how I pick, plan and pack for my trips:
Picking the destination
There are a few factors that play into the destination I pick for a trip, which include:
This plays a huge role in where I go and when I decide to go. For instance, European travel is usually most expensive (or peak season) during the summer months. So I try to avoid going to destinations during its peak season to save $$$ on flights, accommodations and attractions. When looking for budget flights, I use sites like Momondo and Skyscanner – I also use the app Hopper to set alerts for flights. And for cheap accommodations, I usually opt for hostels through Hostelworld – or I get an Airbnb (if you don’t have an Airbnb account you can get $40 off your first trip when you sign up).
Consider your budget when picking a destination. Some countries are more expensive than others, so you have to research how much you’ll need for the amount of days you’ll be going.
2. Amount of days needed
Once I have an idea of locations I’m interested in visiting, I start researching to see how much time I’d need to fully explore. I look into the attractions I’m interested in and the amount of time I’d need to dedicate there. For instance, when researching for our New Orleans trip, my sister and I knew we wanted to visit a plantation. Every plantation we found had day tours that lasted a few hours, plus the ride to the plantation itself. You have to factor tours or other attractions you might be interested in as it could take up a chunk of your day(s). If you realize a certain destination requires too many days that you don’t have, especially if you work full-time, then it might be time to look into other places. Or, realize you’ll have to take two separate trips to the same location and break up what you do the first time vs. the second time.
A lot of my travels have been possible due to me knowing someone that lives at a specific location. A few of the destinations I’ve picked were solely to visit a friend living there – this has allowed me to get the local experience from someone I know and trust. The possibility of free accommodation is also a plus 😏. A few of my close friends have lived in other countries for various reasons and I love visiting them because the experience is even more special and memorable!
4. What I envision for my trip
What do I ultimately want to get out of this trip? This is usually what I ask myself when picking a destination. Do I want to get away from the cold climate that I live in? Am I looking for adventure and nature? Or do I want a bustling city with rich art and history? These are the type of questions you should ask yourself as it’ll help you pick a destination.
Planning the trip
Once you’ve picked your destination and have your flight booked, it’s time to start planning and building out an itinerary. This is my absolute favorite part of the trip. I get excited doing research and using the following tools:
1. Social media
I’m a visual learner, I connect to things easier when I can actually see it. Social media has made it easy to see things that you’re interested in doing through strangers experiences. From landmarks, restaurants, or even your accommodation – nine times out of 10, someone has documented it on social media. Before traveling, I can decide whether or not something is worth my time based on images or videos I’ve seen on social media. You’ll be amazed at how helpful social media can be when planning your trip.
- Facebook: There’s an abundance of Facebook travel groups that allow you to interact with other likeminded people. I’m part of the Girls vs. Globe, Girls Love Travel (#GLTLove), Mixtries (a GLT subgroup) and Melanin Globe® community. In those groups, I can ask other travelers about their time in the destination I’m interested in. You’ll be amazed at how many responses you can get with personal recommendations and even blog posts to read! These are also great platforms to ask other questions that may concern you (e.g. converters, currency exchange, language barriers, long haul flight entertainment, etc.).
- Instagram (IG): When helping to plan a trip to Berlin with some friends, I used the hashtag “Berlin” on IG. When I scrolled through, I saw a picture of delicious waffles and took a screenshot of it to show them. If you read my post on my time in Berlin, I talked about this placed called Wonder Waffel and how delicious it was. Well, I actually found out about it through IG 😏.
If you have a favorite blogger or Youtube vlogger who posts about their trips, look to see what they did at that specific destination. I personally love following The Blog Abroad, Black and Abroad, Alex in Wanderland and The Blonde Abroad. If you don’t have a favorite blogger or vlogger to reference, do a basic google/Youtube search of your destination and see what comes up. For example, if I’m going to Brussels for a day then I’d use search terms like “Brussels travel guide”, “Brussels Day Trip”, etc. You can get creative with the search terms to get the results you want.
A large online community for travelers, TripAdvisor is my best friend when building my itinerary. Tripadvisor is like the modern day guidebook. You can purchase flights, accommodation and even attractions – as well as read reviews and tips from fellow travelers. I primarily use TripAdvisor to read reviews, tips and look at photos so I can gauge whether something is worth putting in my itinerary.
4. Family and friends
If you know someone who has been to the destination you’re going to, definitely ask for their recommendations. Who knows, they may suggest the best place to get fish and chips in London, or a cool bar to visit in Los Angeles.
5. Take it step by step
It’s important that you have enough time to plan your trip and take it step by step, as you don’t want to plan everything in one sitting. The worst happens when you’re rushing to make your itinerary. So, make sure you’re allocating enough time to thoroughly plan each aspect of your trip as to not overwhelm yourself. I focus on one day at a time and figure out which locations make sense to visit based on: distance, time needed at the destination and business hours (if applicable).
Packing for the trip
1. Give yourself enough time
Going off of my point in the last section, I like to allocate enough time to plan and prep for my trip. I personally don’t perform at my best under pressure, so I like to have adequate time to think about every aspect of my trip. When packing, I like to have ample time to modify my luggage throughout the week as the weather changes, or as my feelings on the outfit changes (it happens lol). This step is especially beneficial for me when deciding on how to pack for my natural hair.
When packing, I evaluate my budget. If I’m trying to avoid paying for a checked bag because I’m going to a few different countries in Europe, meaning I’ll be on several flights, then I’ll opt for a carry on. If you’re determined, you can get a lot into a carry on and a personal item (e.g. backpack or purse) as long as you pack wisely; which brings me to my next point:
3. Pick items to pack wisely
Pick clothes that are versatile and work for different outfits, like a basic pair of jeans or tank tops. This ensures that you’ll actually wear what you’ve packed and might even lighten your suitcase.
This same notion could also apply when picking hair products. You should try to pack products that are versatile and will serve multiple benefits to your hair. Do not pack products that you’ve never used before as you won’t know how your hair will receive it.
4. Track the weather
What you pack will obviously be influenced by the weather. Make sure to monitor the weather leading up to your departure to ensure you’re packing appropriate clothing. Last thing you want is to be freezing, or sweating during your vacation.
I’ve also mentioned this when packing for natural hair. Checking the weather helps you plan for how you’ll wear your hair and what products you’ll need to pack.
5. Refer to your itinerary
What you have planned will help determine what you’ll need to pack. If you’ll be doing a lot of walking then pack comfortable walking shoes. If you’ll be visiting a warmer climate then pack breathable clothing. Make sure what you’re packing makes sense for what you’re planning to do on vacation.
This can also apply when deciding how to manage your natural hair while on vacation.
What are your tips and tricks for picking a destination, building your itinerary, and packing for your trip?