The Beauty of a Trip Well Planned: Our Trip Planning Timeline

So I’ve missed a couple blog posts… but my time was productively spent! We’ve officially booked every stay and every train ticket for our upcoming trip to Austria, Germany and Hungary next month. Coupled with the flights we purchased earlier this year, we’re officially DONE. Well.... we aren't completely done, but we are done with all the things we like to get planned ahead of time.

So how exactly did we do it?

How do we make decisions on what to plan and what to leave to chance?

What is our trip planning timeline?

Flights First

On every international trip, I start by adding a price alert to the flight. As I’ve discussed previously, there are situations when you don’t have a lot of time to plan ahead and you have to jump on whatever flights are available at the time. However, for this particular trip we had about 4 months to plan, which is ideal.

We added our price alerts in early January and ended up buying our flights about three months out from the trip. We got lucky with a round trip flight in and out of Munich (so lucky that it a was a better value than a multi-city flight), so we jumped on it.

After the flight was booked in and out of Munich, we had to finalize which cities we wanted to visit.

Stays Next

There are several reasons I like to focus on getting accommodation after getting the flight. First, nothing is more brutal than finding a hostel you love, then waiting until the last minute and finding that it is completely booked on your dates. In general, it is definitely possible for trains to book up, but most routes between European cities run multiple times a day (some of the inter-city routes on this particular trip run 15 times a day) so if one train books up, you can just get the next one.

Accommodations are not like that… if you don’t get them booked early and you are traveling in tourist season, you might find yourself really having to compromise on where you stay. For this particular trip, we booked stays around a month out from our departure date. Heads up, this might be a bit late if we were traveling in high season (aka, summer in Europe) but there were still plenty of places available in most of our cities in April.

Another reason that deciding on stays is important is that it locks you into a rough timeline for your trip. By choosing where you are sleeping each night of the trip (and knowing when you can check in and check out of each place), you have the information you need to book your transportation between cities.

Then Connecting Transportation

Once our international flight and accommodations were booked, we moved straight on to trains. Since this particular trip includes cities in Budapest, Austria and Germany, we are traveling exclusively by train. The distance between the cities is reasonable, the train system covering all three countries is extensive and the prices for plane tickets were much higher than for trains with this particular itinerary.

In general, I always choose trains over planes when I can - it’s a personal preference. No going through airport security or wasting hours having to show up early at the airport AND you get to see the countryside. Win-win.

And Finally, the Fun Stuff

Now that we have completed the big-ticket items on our trip planning timeline, we know where we are staying and how long we are staying in each city. We still tend to leave activities pretty loosely planned, but generally pick out one or two sights or restaurants we want to visit in each city. In my opinion, planning activities isn’t really required… and figuring it out as you go is part of the fun! So if you don’t get time to get things to do in each city planned before a trip, don’t worry… that’s what those train rides between places are for!

What is your trip planning timeline? Feel free to share in the comments!