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Trip Planning Tips + My Travel Essentials 2024

After planning and taking dozens of trips both domestic and international, I have learned so many things along the way. Here are my top trip planning tips and travel essentials that will make your traveling in 2024 as enjoyable and as stress free as possible.

A collage of 4 travel photos with the title of the article in the center.

If you have not done so already, be sure to check out my step by step guide on how I plan my travel.

My Top Travel Tips

Book direct

It is incredibly convenient that we have all of these travel websites nowadays such as Trip Advisor, Expedia, Sky Scanner, etc. They are great sites to be able to search multiple airlines/hotels/rentals/activities, etc. at once, compare prices and read reviews.

I utilize them all the time to ensure I’m getting a good deal and booking flights/accommodations/activities, etc. that are highly rated. However, after I’m done with my research and ready to book, I always go to the company’s website and book everything direct.

It is always more efficient if there are ever any issues, delays or cancellations. Here’s why:

  • Airlines, hotels, etc. are always more willing to provide customer service to folks that book direct.
  • The ‘deals’ that you find on other sites are often for the lowest tier ticket or have a lot of stipulations/black out dates, etc. They are also more often than not completely non-refundable.
  • If you do not book direct, you run the risk of missing out on delay/cancellation policies for refunds and the like.
  • I cannot count how many times I’ve heard someone use a travel site or budget travel site to book a reservation only later to find out that the airline, hotel or restaurant never actually received the reservation.
Sequoia National Park in the fog.

Shoulder Season is the Best Season

Shoulder season is the period of time between a destination’s peak season and off season. During shoulder season, there are often less crowds and prices can be lower, but businesses have not yet closed for the season. If your schedule allows for this flexibility, I always recommend booking your trip during the shoulder season.

For our trip to Switzerland last year, we booked our trip for the end of May when most of the snow had melted, temperatures were warm but not too hot and before all the summer crowds arrived. This year we booked our trip to Greece in September, when the air and water temperature will still be warm but before all the businesses on the islands close for the winter.

Use Google Maps

This is one of my favorite travel tips that I never hear anyone talk about. You can create lists on Google maps and save points of interest to these lists. You can add notes to everything you save such as hours of operation, reservation times or anything you need to remember. You can also share these lists with your travel companions so they can add to it as well.

My husband and I make a list for every trip we go on, labeled with the name of the city, state or country we are visiting. We pin the airport and any other transportation hub we will be utilizing, our hotel or airbnb, activities we are interested in doing and restaurants and bars that look good.

We will pare down the list as we get closer to the trip to include things that we have reservations to. However, we always keep a few extra points of interest, restaurants and bars pinned just in case plans change or we get hungry earlier than expected.

The reason these maps are so helpful is because they can help you visualize where everything is, what is near the activities you want to do and how long it may take you to get there. When planning my travel, I like to group activities with places to explore and eat near by. This can help you avoid bouncing all around the city in one day which can eat up a lot of time.

Tower Bridge in London, England for Trip Planning Tips + Travel Essentials 2024.

Research Your Destination

Using Google maps will help you get the lay of the land but researching your destination can help you in so many additional ways. This should go beyond researching things to do and places to eat. A few things I recommend researching before leaving for your flight

  • Entry requirements: you must know what the requirements are for entering the country before you travel (and ideally before you book). If you’re traveling to a foreign country, in addition to your passport, check to see if you will need a visa, certain vaccinations, specific passport validity (many countries require a passport to be valid for at least 6 months after departure date), blank passport pages and/or if there are restrictions on currency.
  • Weather: you should research average temperatures and rainfall before booking your trip so you know what to expect. However, as you get closer to your trip, you’ll want to check the weather forecast so you know what to pack.
  • Customs and etiquette: part of being an ethical and responsible traveller is knowing, understanding in respecting the local customs, etiquette and overall way of life of the locals.
  • Holidays and major events: ideally you do this before you even book your trip as holidays and major events could have big impacts on your trip and the cost. However, if you’ve already booked your trip, knowing these things can help you plan, and know what to expect when it comes to things being open and crowds.
  • Local currency: it’s always a good idea to carry some cash in the local currency. You can get this before you leave for your trip or after you land. Just be sure to research where to get the best rates converting currency or using ATMs.
  • Local language: it is always courteous and encouraged to learn a few common sayings, such as hello, goodbye, please and thank you, in the local language.
  • Plugs and voltage: what type of adapters will you need to charge your devices and if you will need a voltage converter (caution is advised for using a converter for hair tools).

Book One Scheduled Activity per Day

When visiting a new destination for the first time, it can be easy to get carried away and want to do and see everything while you’re there. I promise it is always better to slow down in order to fully immerse yourself in the location and culture.

This is why I recommend only booking one scheduled activity per day. This can help you avoid rushing from one thing to the next, gives you ample time to travel from your hotel to your activity and leaves wiggle room in case plans change and you need to move things around.

You can always book another activity afterwards if you are feeling up to it. Or take the rest of the day to wander around, make impromptu stops into shops or people watch in a park or sidewalk cafe.

A traditional building in the French Quarter, New Orleans, Louisiana.

Get There Early

You may be asking…get where early? The answer is EVERYWHERE! The airport, train station, excursion, etc. It is always best to get where you need to be early to avoid the stress of potentially missing your flight, train or activity (or worse, actually missing it!) Plan to leave earlier than you think to account for potential issues like getting lost, traffic, longer-than-expected lines, etc.

Even for activities that you have not booked in advance, your best bet is to get there as early as possible to avoid peak crowds, and in some cases, the hottest part of the day.

Pay Attention to Layovers

For U.S. domestic flights, I do not recommend booking any flights with a layover of less than 1 hour. For international flights, I do not recommend a layover less than 2 1/2 hours as you need time to go through immigration and potentially collect and recheck your bags.

If you have a tight layover or your first flight is delayed, acquaint yourself with the layover airport using the airport maps provided online or through your airline’s app. Locate your arrival gate, departure gate, distance between them and nearby restrooms to prevent getting lost.

For international flights, you may come across flights that have crazy long layovers, 24 hours or more. My recommendation is to not completely write these flight options off. If the long layover is in a city that you are interested in and the value is there, it may be worth booking and you’ll get to visit an additional destination in one trip.

Painted Ladies in San Fransisco, California for Trip Planning Tips + Travel Essential 2024.

Get TSA Pre-Check

My husband and I got TSA pre-check just last year and I do not know what took us so long. If you take 2 or more flights per year, it is 100% worth it.

TSA pre-check gets you through airport security lines faster (usually 10 minutes or less), you do not have to remove your shoes, belt or jacket or remove your laptop from your bag. TSA pre-check is $78 and is good for 5 years. You can renew online for $70 or in person for $78.

The process consists of filling out an application online, scheduling an appointment at an enrollment center near you (for us it was a Staples). They will take your photo, scan your fingerprints and ask a few questions. The appointment takes about 15 minutes per person and you receive your results, and if approved, your KTN (Known Traveller Number) within a few days. You add this KTN to your bookings and the TSA pre-check logo will appear on your boarding pass, which allows you entry into the expedited TSA pre-check line.

Please note: ensure you are going right to the TSA website to apply for TSA pre-check. There are third party websites boosting an “easy” or “expedited” TSA pre-check process. However, these should never be trusted.

Try the Local Cuisine

As a foodie, I must include this tip in my list. One of easiest ways to immerse yourself in the local culture is to try the local cuisine. Before you leave, do some research on popular dishes in the area you are traveling to. Then look up restaurants that serve these dishes and make it a point to try a few. Bonus points if you find locally owned establishments serving up these dishes. You never know, you may just find your new favorite food!

Bern, Switzerland.

Just Do It!

Possibly my most important tip in this entire article! Have you been day dreaming about that trip to Croatia? Wanting to try solo travel for the first time? Take a romantic weekend getaway with your sweetie? Just do it! Book. The. Trip.

Life is short. You are not guaranteed tomorrow. Travel is getting expensive. So many destinations are quickly evolving and/or becoming over crowded. Book the trip now before, for whatever reason, it is too late. I promise you have what it takes to save, find a budget that works for you, plan and execute the most perfect vacation for you and your travel companion.

I have learned so much from traveling, seen some of the most beautiful places on the planet, experienced the most amazing activities, tasted the most delicious food. Traveling opens your eyes to new and different people, places, cultures, cuisines, experiences and so much more. It’s rejuvenating, inspiring, motivating and exciting. I know it can also be daunting, scary, unknown and risky. But I promise you, travel is always worth the risk, even if just for the life lessons the experience will teach you.

Get Travel Insurance

Listen, I do not like paying for insurance just as much as the next girl. However, the peace of mind it provides knowing that you are covered in case unforeseen cancellations or accidents occur is worth it.

If you are taking 2 or more trips in the next 365 days, an annual travel plan may be worth it for you. We have 5 trips planned for the next year and we were able to purchase an annual plan for $498 through Allianz travel insurance (not sponsored). That is less than $100 per trip

Use Google Translate

Using Google Translate can be a lifesaver when visiting countries where you don’t speak the language. It definitely makes international travel feel less intimidating when you reduce the language barrier. You can translate text and speech right on their app on your phone. My favorite feature is to point my camera at a menu or sign and it will translate it from the picture.

Big Ben, London, UK - trip planning tips + my travel essentials 2024.

Budgeting Tips

Get a Travel Credit Card

A travel credit card is a great way to earn points on everyday purchases that you can use towards travel purchases. I love our Chase Sapphire Preferred card as we charge our already existing purchases to this card and accumulate points to use with one of their many travel partners.

Most travel credit cards do charge an annual fee. I recommend doing research into the best travel credit cards on the market, the current sign up bonus available and their travel partners to find the best option for you. Please practice good money and credit card practices when using travel credit cards.

High Yield Savings Account

Opening a high yield savings account is my favorite budgeting tip for travel (and other saving needs). I have a high yield savings account through Ally Bank that earns me 4.11% (interest rate varies) interest just for having money in my account.

I like that Ally allows you to divide up your savings account into buckets, making it easier to keep track of specific savings. One of my permanent savings buckets is a “travel bucket” and I just adjust my goal based on the trip we are planning to take.

Track and Compare Prices

Always track and compare prices, do not go with the first flight you see. Also always take into consideration value over cheapest. Just because a flight only costs $50 doesn’t mean the value is there. It could be with a budget airline that charges excess or hidden additional fees and/or has a 12 hour layover.

A boat and fishing hut in Rockport Massachusetts, USA for Trip Planning Tips + Travel Essentials 2024.

Rebook your Flights and Hotels

Certain airlines and hotels will allow you to rebook your same flight or hotel room without charge if the current price is lower than when you originally booked. This is a great way to save money on booked trips, just note that you will likely receive a credit rather can a refund. I do this all the time on Southwest and since I know I will likely book with Southwest within the next year, I know I will use the credit at some point.

To check to see if you can rebook your flight for cheaper on Southwest, follow the below steps:

  1. Log into your Southwest account.
  2. Locate your booking and click “change”.
  3. Select the passengers you would like to change.
  4. Select the flights you would like to change and then click “Explore options”.
  5. Locate your current flights in the list. If it has a negative amount listed for your selected flight and ticket class, this means you will receive that much money in Southwest credit.
  6. If the amount listed is $0 or not in the negatives, just close out and check again in a week or so to see if they’ve gone down. When the amount is in the negative, select the flights and then click “Review Changes”. Review the information for complete the change. You will receive a confirmation email and will see the credit in your account immediately.
  7. Note: credits do not expire and your travel partner that is booked on the same ticket must have their Rapid Rewards ID added to the booking to receive their flight credit.

Book Early

Booking early can often result in the best deals on cash and points offers for flights and accommodations. If the prices do drop after booking, check to see if you can rebook the cheaper fare or room for no charge.

Big Sur, California USA.

My Travel Essentials

Sleep Mask
This comes in handy on airplanes or trains as well as bright hotel rooms. The one linked is the one I have and I love it!

Sleep mask - trip planning tips + travel essentials 2024

Ear Plugs
Again, very handy for sleeping on an airplane or train or for noisy hotels/resorts. If you are staying in the city center, especially in an older building, sound from the street can carry.

Foam Ear Plugs.

Sound Machine
If you couldn’t tell by now, I love my sleep. I use a sound machine every night, so it makes sense to pack one when you travel to drown out noises. There are many portable options available, I have the one linked and love that it’s non-looping.

Sound Machine.

Compression Packing Cubes
There are packing cubes and then there are compression packing cubes. Make sure you get compression packing cubes, they are a game changer. They have a second set of zippers that compresses all the air out of the packing cubes, which takes up less space in your suitcase. They make packing for a week long trip in only a carry on completely possible.

Compression packing cubes.

Dr. Scholl’s Sneakers
The most comfortable pair of sneakers you will own. Simple all white design so they can go with anything and easy to clean. I wear a true to size 8.

Dr. Scholls sneakers.

Air Tags

Air tags are affordable and an easy way to track the whereabouts of your checked luggage. If the airline loses your luggage, you can pull up its location on your Find My Friends app on your phone to find it exponentially quicker than without it. It is also convenient to have in your bag or purse in case it gets lost or stolen.

Air tags.

Portable Phone Charger

You do not want to be in a situation where you are out and about or stuck somewhere with low battery and no way to charge your phone.

Portable phone charger.

Traditional Jack Headphones or Converter

In order to hear the audio on your tv/entertainment center on most airlines will require you to have headphones with a traditional headphone jack or a converter that will allow you to use your USB c headphones.

Headphones with traditional jack, trip planning tips + my travel essentials 2024

Empty Water Bottle

As you cannot bring liquids over 3 ounces in your carry on bag, it is always a good idea to bring an empty water bottle with you that you can fill up once past security. You can also use it throughout your trip to save money on bottled water and reduce plastic use. These collapsable travel water bottles are a great option for saving space while not using.

Collapsable water bottle.

Thank you so much for reading about how I book my trip planning tips and travel essentials for 2024. I hope you found these trip planning tips helpful. If you did, please check out my Trip Planning Tips: How I Plan my Travel.

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