I like to think of myself as a highly organised person. Not just at work, but also in my home life. I do meal plans, write budgets and always have checklists on the go.
So I thought I would change things up a bit and write a practical post on how I plan our holidays. Hopefully this will provide you with some inspiration and guidance for your next adventure.
The Big Decision
The first decision you will need to make is where you want to go. Now, this may be a geographical location, for example, our West Coast trip earlier this year. I have been there before, but mostly passing through, with a couple of days in Franz Josef. I didn’t have particular place(s) on the West Coast in mind, but I knew it was an area that I hadn’t seen much of and wanted to explore more.
But, deciding where you want to go may be more based around accommodation. When I planned our extended family holiday to New Plymouth, I didn’t start with New Plymouth in mind. We are a large group of 13; 8 adults and 5 kids. The planning for this trip began with looking for holiday homes that could accommodate us all, then looking at the geographical location and what there was for kids to do there.
Our Queenstown trip was about the seasons. I wanted to go away for our 10 year wedding anniversary, which is in July. In the middle of Winter. I knew that wherever we went would be cold, so I decided to look for places where we could celebrate and embrace the cold.
Or, it might be activity based. A long time bucket list item for me has been an overnight cruise in Doubtful Sounds. (It has been stuck to the fridge on my ‘wish list’ for about 3-4 years) When a special came up that included a 2 night cruise in Doubtful Sounds, I knew I needed to book it. The package also includes 2 nights in Te Anau, but the main attraction to this trip was the multi night cruise. (I look forward to sharing this experience with you in late September!)
The Planning Stage
This has got to be my favourite part. I literally spend hours researching and planning. I get so engrossed in it that 2 or 3 hours will have flown by in what feels like a matter of minutes. When I am in planning stage, you will find me sitting at the dining room table, (because you can’t be slouching on the couch when doing something as serious as travel planning) with travel books I have rented from the library and my laptop. I read blogs, watch vlogs and plow my way through the travel guides, jotting down anything that sparks my interest. It might be some quirky accommodation, an activity, a location, a restaurant, anything and everything that takes my fancy goes down on a bit of paper.
If it’s a trip that involves travelling around, for example, our West Coast Trip, I also get out a map and start plotting things down, looking at the geographical location of the things that have caught my attention and deciding how long we might need in each place. We often do these sorts of trips on our motorbike, so at this stage I am also looking at driving distances to make sure it’s feasible and also routes we could take that would get us off the main roads.
Sometimes, in my research stage, I will have come across a place I would really like to stay at. Other times, I am seeking out accommodation in locations that works with the rest of the plans I have made.
What I have found works quite well for us, is booking cheaper accommodation, so we have more money for food and activities. We have no issues spending the night in a backpackers in a private room with shared bathroom facilities if it means we can now afford to do a particular activity. Don’t get me wrong, I love to stay in luxury hotels and resorts, but when we do, I want make the most of our time there, using the facilities and relaxing, not out exploring.
I like to try and find accommodation that is a little bit different or has something special about it. Maybe it’s set in a forest, or has a hot tub, or great views, but sometimes it just comes down to location and how close it is to everything. It is nice to be able to step out your door and be right in the heart of the town or city.
I do like to find a bargain, so will spend quite a lot of time online, looking at options and checking different booking platforms. I also take the time to read through the reviews before I book the accommodation. If there are a lot of negative reviews then I usually rule it out, but when a place has lots of great reviews, I will make a point of reading most, if not all of the 1 and 2 star reviews (if any,) just to see what people have complained about. (Remember to check the date of the review as it could be a couple of years old) Usually the complaints are about things that wouldn’t bother me, but it’s a good habit to get into and can be quite insightful.
Once I know what activities we want to do, and on what days, I first check out discounted sites like Book Me. Several times I have managed to find the exact activity I was planning to book on this site and been able to get it at a discounted rate. It’s also great for just getting some ideas as you can search by region. With Book Me, it does pay to book in advance. There were a couple of times I left booking an activity and then went to book the day before or day of and it was sold out. I imagine they only sell a certain amount of places at the discounted rate for each day / session.
When it comes to meals, I definately don’t pre book anything or have a plan as to where we will eat for each meal. I do however, like to make a list of cafes, resturants, take-aways etc that have caught my attention during the research stage. Sometimes it’s nice to just go for a wander and see what places you stumble across, but if we don’t see anything that takes our fancy, I know we have a list to fall back on. This can also help with budgeting. If money is tight then you can pre select places that fall within your budget. We don’t tend to cook our own meals when we are away, preferring to dine out (it is a holiday after all) so the list can be quite useful
Pulling it all together
As emails come in from accommodation, activities etc that I have booked, I ‘star’ it so I can easily find it again. Once I have booked everything, I will pull all the info into a spreadsheet and create a final itinerary. This will include things like:
- Accommodation address and phone number, along with check in and check out time and if breakfast is included.
- Activity address, phone number, time and any other key information, such as ‘wear closed toed shoes’ or ‘bring a towel’
- List of recommended cafe’s/restaurants/take away’s in the area.
- Any other activities we might like to do, time permitting, that don’t require booking, such as a walk in the botanical gardens or on the beach.
- If we are on the motorbike, I will also include distances and approximate riding times.
When we went to Europe a couple of years ago, I used an app to store our itinerary which I really liked, however, the app is no longer free. I have tried a couple of other apps since but haven’t found anything I really like. In actual fact, I have just found typing out the itinerary, storing it my google drive and grouping all the email bookings and confirmations in one place to works very well.
So there you have it. That’s how I plan our holidays. I am sure some of you are reading this and feeling a bit exhausted or overwhelmed. Some may not have even made it to the end as it is just far too structured for your liking. And that’s ok. Everyone is different. You might love winging it, only booking things a couple of days out at a time to give you flexibility and freedom to change things up as you please. This is just how I do it, and I thrive off planning and structure. I also prefer to pre book activities so I know I wont miss out due to them being full. I know this method wont be for everyone, but hopefully some of this has proven useful.
If you ever have questions about any of the places I have visited, please get in touch, I love talking about New Zealand travel and would love to hear from you!
Where are you heading to next?