Planning a trip from the scratch is one of those things you thought it is hard by just thinking about the amount of work, efforts, and money you need to invest; but once you actually start planning, it is not hard at all and you gain more than you expected along the journey.
Where do you want to go? What is your destination? I guess choosing the start and ending point is always the hardest since there are always so many places you want to visit.
First of all, you need to look at the map and pick a country or cities to be your start and ending point for your trip. Decide a timeframe, then just start looking for plane tickets. Because once you book the ticket, this train must move from now on and there’s no return button. Lol
Luckily, J got a very good deal for plane tickets about a year ago (special thanks to our friend, P) and he just randomly pick Munich as our starting point and Berlin as our ending point for this journey. Once you have the timeframe and the destinations, you already have a great start.
In this article, I want to share with you some useful tips and tools I used to plan our trip. This is the very first time I created an overseas trip from scratch. I had never visited Europe before and my German is non existent. This was not a perfectly planned trip. We had the freedom to adjust our schedule which was nice. Not having every little detail planned out was both relaxing and exciting at the same time. Having those moments where we had to make split second decisions and seeing the outcome is what great memories are made from.
My rule of thumb is: always keep in mind the purpose and big directions of the trip. Make reservations for hotels and transportation tickets as soon as possible. The attractions and small sites can be spontaneous.
Google is your best friend in trip planning!!!!
1. Create your own Google map and save it.
Save the start and ending points of your trip on the map and then looking for stops or cities that interest you in the middle. Remember, always look on the map before you make any reservation and try to picture connecting the dots logistically.
Between Munich and Berlin, we had the option of either exploring the west for more German themed towns, or we could head east towards central Europe. We chose East, this time, to have a little touch on Austria and Czech Republic.
Our main stops:
Munich — Salzburg — Prague — Berlin
2. Create a “Google Sheet File” and save on your Google drive.
This way, you can have access to the information on multiple devices and you can even save on your smartphone for offline records in case you don’t have internet access.
The tabs consistently accessed throughout the trip was the spreadsheet flight information, the main timetable, and hotels.
I have other tabs to save information for different subjects as well: attractions, transportation, food and drinks, and general useful links and information.
I used the same format for attractions, restaurants, and hotels. Highlight the big cities and bold the main attraction sites under each city with the reference links or information. This way, if you eventually decided to eliminate one of the point from your route, you can cut and move the whole block of information down to the bottom. It’s easy to insert more rows for information as well.
Imagine the main schedule as a bone structure that you put the most important information for the day. Meanwhile, other attractions and restaurants are the body shape and decorations. Altogether makes the trip splendid and colorful.
First, I suggest you to create a template or a scratch for the main schedule with dates and set scheduled destinations such as fly in and fly out date and time.
How to create a main timetable?
Here are some ideas for your reference.
Make each day a separate block and set the destination as which city you are going to stay for the night. This makes it easy on the eyes and will help a lot for booking hotels and train tickets later.
Leave the transportation and food part blank for now. Meanwhile, pick a theme or a main attraction that interest you the most for each day. This way, you could keep in mind why you are visiting that place and plan around the theme. Of course, you can always save as much information as you want in the different subject tabs whenever you saw some useful information.
Where do I get the attraction information from? Ask your best friend, Google!!!!
Whether to book hotels first and then book train tickets or the reversed order doesn’t really matter. Just remember the earlier you start, the better chance you can get a good deal.
In my case, I booked the night we landed in Munich first, then I booked the early bird train tickets from DB (which was a disastrous experience that I would explain in another article about transportation later). After the train schedules between cities were settled, then I started booking hotels for the rest of the nights.
Just looking at all the reviews, photos, and all these good food and beer shared on the internet makes me so thrilled!!!!! Planning the theme for each day is the best and most fun part for planning a trip.
Some people may have noticed, I haven’t bought any travel tools, books or maps yet. I did buy one awesome book for the trip later on, but not at the scratch stage. Thanks to Google, all you need for now is internet and just browse. Since there are so many options for books and reviews, and to be honest, they are not cheap, I suggest you to plan the main schedule and set the themes or goals for each day before you invest in any book. Otherwise, the book may have a bunch of information that you don’t need or doesn’t cover the places you plan on visiting.
In the following articles, I am going to share my experiences on booking hotels, train tickets, and special activities and tours. Stay tuned… 🙂