The Ultimate Step-by-Step Guide to Planning Your Vacation
Become a Trip Planning Expert
When starting to plan your trip, bookings for travel, tickets and tours are generally done as far in advance as possible to avoid hefty spikes in prices. Depending on whether you’re traveling domestically or internationally, however, will also affect when bookings should be made.
International travel often requires a lot more pre-purchasing and planning, especially to common tourist destinations. Similarly, highly sought after hotels and attractions may sell out well in advance due to local holidays, high season, or popularity.
Do as much research about your next travel destination as possible. When you book can make a huge difference in getting the best travel deals on all aspects of your trip. As such, make sure to follow these steps to avoid disappointment and overcharging when booking different elements of your trip.
Even if you don’t have exact dates yet for a trip, booking a hotel around the general date range should be the first thing you do. Most hotels and hotel booking sites have a generous cancelation policy allowing you to change or cancel your reservation up to 24 hours before your arrival.
There are also a lot of travel sites such as Expedia or Booking.com where you don’t have to worry about getting a refund since you’re not required to make any advance payment on the room.
In terms of when to book a hotel, it all depends on the destination, time of year and length of stay. If you’re going during high season at a popular destination, book a hotel six months to a year out to ensure you’ll get a room.
The same goes for booking a hotel during a major event near your location. Off season is less of a problem; usually one to three months is good enough to secure a decently priced hotel room.
As a general rule, airfare should always be either the first or second element of your trip planning. Domestic flights usually only need two to three months in advance to get the cheapest price, while international flights range from three to six months in advance.
Airline tickets are a lot harder to get a refund on unless you buy a refundable ticket, which is often a few hundred dollars more than a standard ticket. Therefore, once you book your flights, that’s it; you’re going to that destination.
Once you know which airline you’re flying with, be sure to read their guidelines regarding luggage, flying with children and carry-on restrictions to avoid any unexpected fees or complications.
Everything else can get filled in along the way since you know what dates you’ll be away for.
If you plan on attending a specific event or show during your trip, definitely book tickets two to three months in advance or more depending on popularity. For example, Broadway shows in New York City often sell out months in advance or become slim pickings the day of a show.
Major international music festivals often sell out of early bird tickets or certain VIP packages two to three months ahead as well. There is no set rule for every type of event, however.
It’s best to visit the event website, which may have information to help you decide when to actually get tickets.
A common question people have when trying to plan a trip is what aspects of the trip should be booked in advance. While some attractions don’t require or even allow booking ahead, it’s worth it to book tickets for extremely popular tourist destinations.
The last thing you want is to leave booking an attraction until the last minute, only to realize it’s one of the most difficult travel reservations to secure. Buckingham Palace’s state rooms, for example, are only open for approximately two months out of the year when the queen is away at Windsor Castle.
Tickets are therefore hard to come by, often booking up as early as six months in advance or as late as a month in advance. Other popular European and American attractions such as the Eiffel Tower or Statue of Liberty are booked two to three months in advance.
However, smaller attractions that don’t require timed ticket entry can usually be bought the day before or day of a visit, again depending on the attraction’s policies.
Whether you plan on using a private tour guide, booking a tour within an attraction (such as a museum), or using a tour company for day trips or tour packages, pre-planning is required. Bus and boat tours usually need a month in advance during peak season, but tours such as the Hop On Hop Off buses are easily bought the same day.
Walking tours usually have much more flexibility in availability and can be booked about a week or two in advance. Because there are usually loads of bus company tours going to the same location, most of them only require two to three days in advance for booking.
Booking ground transportation can usually be one of the last elements of a planning a trip. Taxi service may be called in to your hotel a few days before arrival or hailed the day of in a safer city.
Airport shuttles usually need only a week to a few days notice for a pickup. Local buses, trains and subways don’t require a reservation so tickets can be bought direct from a station.
Long distance trains and buses usually open up for booking two months out, sometimes more in the U.S. In some cases a seat reservation isn’t necessary, but without one you’re therefore not guaranteed a seat.