My Checklist: How to Plan a Trip From Scratch (Without the Stress)

I have been traveling internationally for 8 years and the “planning” stage is a part that I still love. I don’t get stressed anymore, and I wanted to share with you how to plan a trip from start to finish without getting stressed and touch on all the aspects of planning that will help your trip go off without a hitch.

So, if you want to take a vacation, I hope you can use this checklist to help you plan your trip in 10 easy steps

How to Plan a Trip WITHOUT Stress in 10 Steps

1. Recognize your REAL budget

Don’t try to inflate your budget. It will only cause you a headache later. It’s best to find your budget and then choose a destination so you can go somewhere affordable. It’s best to have a vacation fund set aside, but if you don’t, you’ll want to save money for your trip before you go on to the next step.

If you’re on a lower budget, one the biggest tips I can give is to travel to places off-season. You can save about 50% off your total trip by doing this because not only are flights cheaper but so are hotels and even tours (if you go for a tour, I suggest G Adventures).

If you want to see more tips for saving money while you travel, here are 13 ways that I save money while I tavel.

2. Choose a Destination + Paperwork & Flights

Once you have your budget you’ll want to choose where to go! Sunny? Snowy? Paradise island? Backpacking Europe? Figure out what the dream destination of the moment is. You might feel torn, but that’s because there is so much of this beautiful world to see. You might never feel 100% sure, but you can’t travel without choosing your destination, so pick the one that stands out the most.

Then you’ll have to do the boring things like paperwork and flights

  • Book your flights. I am OBSESSED with and use it to book all my flights these days. You can see my review here.
  • Get travel insurance. You’ve gotta have it! I use World Nomads. It’s affordable and what Lonely Planet trusts. I wrote out a post about what they cover and what they don’t.
  • Get a visa. Check if you need a visa to the place you’re visiting. You can use iVisa to do this easily. They take a fee but it’s so worth it.
  • Money. Tell your bank when you’re leaving the country. Here are some tips on how to manage your money while you travel.
  • Passport. Make sure your passport has at least 6 months left on it for travel and at least two blank pages or you might not be allowed in.
  • Final paperwork. I have a list of 15 documents you should consider taking with you on a trip abroad.

My Checklist: How to Plan a Trip From Scratch

3. Map It Out

I highly suggest that once you have a destination picked out, that you pull up Google Maps and you get an understanding of the place you are going. Check out what the popular areas are and where the tourist attractions are.

You can see an example I did of this in my post for Maui and Istanbul. I try to do this is my big city guide blog post to help out, but you can also do this yourself. You wouldn’t want to pick out lodging or research too much on a destination if you didn’t know where different cities and towns were on the map.

My Checklist: How to Plan a Trip From Scratch

4. Research the Destination (Journey Blogs!)

Now that you have your flights booked, paperwork done, and have looked a map to get an understanding of your destination, you’ll want to RESEARCH the destination very well before you take the next steps.

Of course I’m biased but I think travel blogs are a great way to research. For example of my blog you can go to my “Destinations” page and research by country or you can type in the city to my search box on the homepage.

Other than travel blogs, you can also search food blogs and design blogs to see what other niches are saying about the destination.

You’ll want to really get an idea of what is all of offer before you start your itinerary, that way the itinerary will be a quick thing to do.

My Checklist: How to Plan a Trip From Scratch

5. Make an Itinerary by Area

Now that you really know a lot about the place you are going, you can start to make an itinerary. Note: we still haven’t booked anything!

You’ll want to write out the dates you’ll be there, each day separately like a calendar. Mark the dates you’re flying in and out as you won’t be able to do much those days.

Now, you’ll want to look at the days you can travel and see where you want to be in which areas. For example, in Florida maybe you want to be in Orlando at Universal for 2 days and Disney for two days, then go to Miami for 3 days… etc.

You need to break it down! You could do this too like in Maui where you would decide if you have two weeks there maybe to stay on the West coast for a week then go to Paia for a week where you can be closer to the start of the Road to Hana and going to the mountain view point.

My Checklist: How to Plan a Trip From Scratch

6. Book the lodging & car rental

Itinerary: done!

Next, you’ll book your hotels and set up a car rental if you need one. You can see what rental cars are at the airport you arrive at and compare prices.

If you don’t need a car rental, then you’ll want to figure out what type of transportation you can use (train, metro, buses, taxis) and research the cheapest and easiest way to do that.

I recommend Rome2Rio to search the easiest ways to get from point A to B and using city specific apps such as CityMapper in London to get around the tube. Downloading relevant travel apps like Uber before your trip will be helpful!

Hotels are most fun part! I love researching hotels and I love reviewing them on this blog. You can search on Agoda (my favorite booking site). I’m also big on Airbnb if you are traveling with a group or want to save money by cooking in.

I have a discount code for you: $35 off your stay if you use this airbnb link to sign up to a new account.

Before booking, you can Google “(insert hotel name) review” and see what bloggers are saying about these hotels. Often you’ll find dozens of reviews which are usually more trustworthy than TripAdvisor reviews.

Hotel F6 Review, Helsinki

7. Add in activities

You’re really almost to the end now. You’ve done all the hard stuff!

Now, you have those hotels added to that calendar I said you should write out.

Start planning out the biggest activities first. Things like scuba, sightseeing in the city center, theme parks, anything you need to pre-book for, any adventure sports you want to try… etc!

I suggest research “top adventure activities in ____” so that you can see what all your options are. For example, you can see if you went to Langkawi, these are the 11 biggest adventures you can take. You will find blog posts like this all over the internet on nearly every destination!

Once you’ve decided which days you want to do these, go ahead and book them online.

My Checklist: How to Plan a Trip From Scratch

8. Final research: restaurants, epic sunset spots…

Now for the last little fun bit of research: where you want to chill, eat, and party! You can read blogs until you’re blue in the face, check Pinterest, and even a guide book if you are old school like that. You don’t have to schedule this but it’s good to have places in the back of your mind so that you’re not googling good places to eat in the city you’re visiting at 7 pm when you’re hungry!

oulu travel tips

9. Pack Appropriately

Packing is the best! I love shopping for a new trip and packing for it. I have SO many packing tips on my blog so suggest checking those out.

Here is my packing category with all my posts. I get pretty specific and have these handy graphics on each post!

My Checklist: How to Plan a Trip From Scratch

10. Arrive at the Airport ON time & plan airport transportation

Lastly, make sure you aren’t starting your trip off on the wrong foot by showing up at the airport late. You should get there on time (preferably with snacks lol).

I usually have a hotel send someone to pick me up at the airport, but if not that then you need to have Uber downloaded (assuming there is free WiFi to use it at the airport, unless you have a WiFi device) or a rental car set up so that when you land, you can start your trip without a hitch.


Pin how to plan a trip without stress for later:

My Checklist: How to Plan a Trip From Scratch


About the Author:

Rachel Jones left a career in nursing and lived on the beaches of Goa, India for the five years. Now she lives in Mexico where she gives advice on the 40+ countries she’s visited in the last 10 years. She’s the author of two India travel e-books: Guide to India and Insider’s Guide to Goa. Her blog, Werkenntwen, like its name, is a contradiction combining off-beat adventurous places with glamorous and bespoke travel. Werkenntwen has been featured in ELLE, Marie Claire, Grazia, and Cosmopolitan magazines. She’s a writer for Bravo TV.


  1. Global Girl Journeys June 6, 2017 at 6:42 am - Reply

    I understand that some people might feel stressed about the planning process. However, for me, I relish in it – I enjoy experimenting ideas and looking for possible destinations or activities by city. But for those who might be stressed out, these recommendations provide a definitive action plan!

  2. Nitin Khanna June 6, 2017 at 5:18 pm - Reply

    Great Article to pack your bags without any stress. It’s amazing. I like the point paperworks + flight.


  3. Scott Adlhoch June 6, 2017 at 6:26 pm - Reply

    my idea is just pack your bags and go beyond your thinking, always surprise yourself with new places.The most important thing that travel has taught me is how to enjoy the moment.

  4. Ian E. June 7, 2017 at 10:04 pm - Reply

    Hey Rachel! Regarding #4, as a travel blogger, I’m curious – what are your go-to / favorite blogs when researching a new destination? Thanks!

  5. Angie June 8, 2017 at 5:19 pm - Reply

    I just Found your blog, it’s so amazing and inspiring, I am currently looking to travel to India but since I will travel alone I got some second thoughts, mostly from being scared since I have only traveled alone in Europe ( I am from Sweden) and it’s not quite the same! But your blog is inspiring and giving me more confidence to travel! Thank you:) May I ask where you are now? Still in India?


    • Rachel Jones June 10, 2017 at 2:17 pm - Reply

      Thank you so much for such nice words about my blog! :D Yes, I get your thoughts and it’s normal to worry about it a little before coming. I’m still in India, based in Goa!

  6. Any Place But Home June 10, 2017 at 6:37 pm - Reply

    Great advice. I’m planning a trip at the moment and stressing like crazy! The hardest part for me is actually making a decision on what I want to do, once I’ve decided I love planning the rest.

  7. Sally June 10, 2017 at 7:25 pm - Reply

    This is so useful- thank you! I’ve been doing planning backwards for a long while, I can see, lol!

    • Rachel Jones June 10, 2017 at 7:39 pm - Reply

      haha well, no way is wrong! This is just my way of doing it. Backwards could work :)

  8. kendalk June 10, 2017 at 9:52 pm - Reply

    Planning is the worst. I love how simple your steps make it!

  9. themormonadventurista June 11, 2017 at 10:04 am - Reply

    I love this! All of your points are necessary in planning any kind of trip, whether it’s to another country or the next state over. I think the most important point is #1: sometimes our wishes and dream destinations are bigger than our wallets!

  10. Elizabeth Nubel July 16, 2017 at 11:09 am - Reply

    Hi Rachel! Your post is so comprehensive and has such great planning tips. I really appreciate how you break everything down and make it all so clear. I love your style of writing and your pictures as well. Planning the trips I go on (or want to go on) is one of my favorite parts too!

  11. Rhonda Swan August 14, 2017 at 8:34 pm - Reply

    Hey lovely lady, What a great article with helpful suggestions! The planning of a trip can and should be just as fun and exciting as the actual trip. One should always relax, enjoy and be unstoppable when planning a trip!


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