Save. Spend. Splurge.

How we plan an itinerary and budget when we travel

First we start with where we are going.

Every year it is the same for us now to visit family, but before, we used to travel everywhere so this was very exciting.

Then we choose what dates / when / what season we are going.

This is also kind of tricky because we both work full-time, we don’t want to go when there’s nothing to see or do in the city itself, AND / OR when it is SUPER BUSY because it’s tourist season because you’ll pay a lot of $$$$$$$$$$$$$$. We’d rather go off-peak but not so off the reserve that we end up being bored.

After those two main things are nailed down, we make a list of everything we HAVE to do based on Where / When to get an idea of the priorities we need to cover.


So for instance, if we are going to Paris for 2 weeks during summer, the main thing is to see his family, so that becomes #1 on the list.

We normally stay with them, but since there are so many we can choose from, we usually plan to stay one week with one relative, and another week with another.

That solves accommodations, but if we didn’t have relatives to stay with, then we would choose the People To Visit, and then note where we would have to stay based on proximity to them.


No trip is complete without things to eat.

We list out any special things or restaurants we want to eat, like let’s say Berthillon ice cream on Ile-St-Louis. That goes on the list too, and we usually try and figure out if we can merge a visit with a friend with an outing for ice-cream so that we kill two birds with one stone.


Sometimes, depending on the city, if we don’t know it (or even if we do), we make a note of what we want to do as well, other than visit people and eat. In Hong Kong for instance, I like to ride the tram (which we would do a lot of anyway), but I also like The Peak for the view, so we’d make a note to go to The Peak.

I also very much enjoyed visiting the Chi Lin Nunnery in Hong Kong, so that would go back on my list as places to visit.


After we have all of that, then we map out a rough schedule. Day One – Visit X, Eat Y, and so on. We don’t plan more than 2 activities in a day because we know that visits go on longer than expected, etc.

We always schedule in family / friends first.

They take up all the priorities in our schedule, and we confirm with them if they are taking days off, going on vacation, won’t be there, etc so that we can maximize who we see.

Then with the holes in our schedule, we choose what we want to do and eat (if they don’t happen to join up with a family / friend outing), and schedule to the opening times of places — some places are closed for holidays (we sometimes visit during holidays), so we need to know if it’s a waste of time to visit the Chi Lin Nunnery if they won’t be open!


After all that is done, we survey the schedule, adjust it to make sure we leave enough time for taking public transit, delays in flight times, and have time to eat or in this case, have a quiet place for Little Bun to nap, and make sure we aren’t overbooked.

Once that is done, if we haven’t already worked out accommodations, we pick an area that is central to what we want to do that is within our budget (think 3-star, 4-star if we feel fancy), and search for good deals in that area, multiplied out by how many days we are staying.

We also work out that the hotel has to be near public transit (nobody wants to limp back to a hotel room, and the closer it is the better), and we also plan the scheduling of travel if need be, like taking a bus to another city to visit a friend, means that we need to schedule in time to get ready for this bus, make sure we know when this bus leaves, get to the station 1/2 an hour early, plan for when to return on the bus back, etc.

We also consider taking a bus versus a train (I MUCH prefer a train) to get to another city, or to go from the airport to the city, etc. We don’t cab anywhere because it’s too fancy for us so this adds an extra layer of complexity.

From there, it’s then just booking everything and making sure the schedule makes sense with ample time for delays in visits or impulse changes / insistence of friends that we stay the night & not return to the hotel in another city.

Roughly, that’s what we do.



  • Sense

    I love this question! Mostly because I love love love travel and have gotten it down to a science. 🙂

    1. there needs to be an occasion where I am travelling anyway–usually seeing a friend, attending a wedding, family reunion, whatever in the area. Like you, I plan travel according to when my people are free, and also according to the weather. I never travel to the US when it is our NZ summer and their winter, for example. The planning starts IMMEDIATELY after learning of an occasion where my presence is expected/needed/special/is deemed a good opportunity for me to travel. 😉

    2. Ask around to see who else is available/willing to go on a trip, if it is a road trip, which–knowing me–it likely is or will likely turn into! I don’t like traveling alone–not for any reason except I have more fun and experiences are more meaningful with someone else enjoying the views, etc. This also helps to lower costs because it is all shared. My travel companions’ schedules often dictate how long the trips are, because my vacation time is aplenty and very flexible. (I heart my boss!). We plan a rough timeline. Often this is the most wishy-washy part because I am relying on someone else to make a decision.

    3. Rough cut of expenses and budget for the bare minimum: I cost out flights, rental car, and estimates for accommodation and petrol based on a very quick search of what is normal. Again, my travel companion(s) often is/are the limiting factor here because I am awesome at economizing, getting the best bang for my buck, and saving. Money and time off is rarely an issue for me. I also am great at paying for flights with airpoints. This means I save thousands and can afford to do more. (I often help out my traveling companion with airpoints if $$ is tight for them.) I then send my travel friend the rough budget to make sure they are really in and know what kind of budget to expect.

    4. Decide what is in the area and start mapping out a very rough itinerary to hit the major spots and make a driving plan that makes the most sense. This involves an enormous amount of research on TripAdvisor and taking notes on others’ experiences.

    5. Once we decide on starting/ending points, we buy flights according to the airpoints schedules and book the rental car. I know all the tricks to get good deals on these, and I normally get below cost or much cheaper than the initial budget made in #3.

    6. Look into any safety concerns and make appointments to get shots, pills, etc. well in advance.

    7. Start confirming the itinerary–stops along the way, which hostels or airbnbs or campsites are best to stay at, lots of research on things to do and prices and timings for everything–museums, activities, hikes, tide schedules if need be. Again, tripadvisor is your best friend! Usually my travel friend trusts me to pick all of this stuff out myself, but I like to give them lots of opportunities to weigh in so they can enjoy the travel planning experience! I also ask what things are on their MUST-DO lists so that I can work that into the itinerary early. I often make a short list, describe what I think are the coolest things that they’d like, and then let them pick their faves. I use google maps to test out various driving routes until there is one that doesn’t require too much driving each day but still allows you time to see stuff and also gets you to your destination in good time (this is a total art). Some wonderful soldiers (stop options) will fall along the way…

    8. Make hostel and airbnb and campsite/cabin bookings at each planned stop well in advance to ensure we get a. the best deals at the best places within our budget in the area we are interested in (It makes SUCH a difference in the experience!) and b. can get a private room with our own beds and ideally even a private bathroom for much, much cheaper than a hotel room. I particularly love hostels and airbnbs because you really get a feel for the cultural flavor and almost guaranteed interaction with locals. The other travellers in the hostels can be fun (or fun to make fun of, if they are really obnoxious!), too. My favorite airbnb of all time was a private room in a house in San Pedro de Atacama, Chile, where the host worked with a spa company and gave us free passes to her work place, showed us around the little town in the back of her friend’s truck as it bounced down dirt roads, and treated us to local foods made by her friends. We wouldn’t have gotten that insight into Chilean desert culture in any hotel!

    9. Take notes on which hostels/airbnbs/campsites provide what (parking, towels/linens, some provide a fridge and more kitchen utensils and implements than others, for example) so we know what to expect in each place, and how much to bring with us. Start making a packing list and researching things like voltage, charging, where we can transfer and back up photos, which place has the best wifi, all that jazz.

    10. Book a big activity somewhere in there. A super fancy meal. A helicopter ride. An amazing hike. This is likely to be the thing you remember the most. Also it’s good to include things unique and unusual and specific to the area you are visiting. For me, the kitschier the better, like the roadside shop we happened upon that was Bigfoot-themed and had kids running around with their pet chicken in Oregon earlier this year. You cannot make this stuff up.

    11. Review Excel itinerary until it is perfection. Include every contact detail for every place possible. Plan every detail and make contingencies upon contingencies. Ensure there are plenty of ‘rest days’ in the mix because travel and moving around all the time out of your normal routine is infinitely exhausting. Look into things like SIM cards and how to communicate and where to exchange money and all that practical stuff.

    12. Pack and get on the plane, and basically throw the plan out the window, secure in the knowledge that if we want structure, it is there. Winging it with a back up plan, I call it. The best moments on trips are the unplanned ones! It’s the best because you just can just relax on vacation, but you always have a safe clean place to sleep and a reliable way to get back home.

    …that is my travel routine in a nutshell!

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