Updated: Apr 22
1. Determine a Trip Budget
The first step to planning a trip is determining a budget. With a smaller budget, you may consider traveling close to home or enjoying nature with a national park trip.
For medium-sized budgets, you may be looking to fly somewhere without breaking the bank. After being patient and finding an incredible flight deal, a medium-sized budget could allow you to travel to Europe.
After determining the budget for your trip, we would recommend allocating you budget based off the below:
International Travel Budget Breakdown:
50%: Noms, Brews, & Views
Domestic Parks Travel Budget Breakdown (requiring airfare):
25%: Noms, Brews, & Views
These are a rough estimation on the budget percentage breakdown we use for our trips. Of course, no trip is made the same and you may come across a variation based off your requirements.
2. Pick a Destination
Next comes the fun part, picking a destination. The first step to picking your destination is determining what interests you.
For nature lovers, head to western parks if the mountains are calling. If you desire beautiful lakes and sandy dunes, head to midwest parks. Finally, for the best fall foliage and to view a variety of plant species head to southern parks in the fall.
Looking for a tropical paradise? Head to Hawaii or Greece! History lovers should certainly add Germany & Austria to their bucket list. Want to feel like royalty walking down the streets of medieval times? Experience the royal treatment in Scotland and Czech Republic. Beer lovers rejoice in Belgium and Ireland. Finally, head to Netherlands and Spain for a foodie's paradise!
Additional considerations are the time of year you are looking to travel. Consider the busy-season of your desired destination, weather, festivals, and holidays. Ask yourself why you want to visit this location and be certain the time you plan to go aligns with your interests. For example, if you want to travel to Hawaii to see the humpback whales, be sure to visit December through March as humpback whales are only in Hawaii for the winter months and migrate to Alaska in the summer.
3. Location Research
After determining your destination, it is time to begin researching the top things to do. We rely heavily on travel blogs and Pinterest to plan our trips. We also take the advice we have gathered from these sites and compare them against reviews on Google, TripAdvisor, or AllTrails. Lastly, we ask friends that have already visited this location for any advice they may be willing to pass along. Once we arrive at our destination, we continue to ask locals for advice, despite all of our pre-planning, in case we may have missed any hidden gems.
When planning a trip, it is important to filter through the top attractions and suggestions. Just because an attraction is rated highly and very popular, it does not necessarily mean it is worth adding to your itinerary. Compare the list you have compiled with your own interests in order to plan an incredible trip. For example, maybe a historian or artist prefers to visit all of the top museums in a city, but a nature enthusiast would much rather spend that time hiking to an incredible vista.
4. Plan an Itinerary
It is important to plan you itinerary prior to booking lodging in order to be certain that you are spending the correct amount of time in each location. Although our travel guides provide suggested durations in each city, each trip is unique to the interests of the trip planner. Make sure the outline of your trip allows you to see and do the things that are most important to you prior to booking your logistics.
Once you have found places you would like to add to your itinerary, we recommend pinning them on GoogleMaps. This will help you to create an outline for your trip based off of location and proximity. What is even better, Google allows you to download portions of maps offline. Downloading the map of your destination prior to your trip will allow you to navigate to your saved pins even while in airplane mode.
Sound like a lot of work to create all of these pins? We'd love to share all of our pinned lists with you! We have even included descriptions, ticket costs, tips, and advice for all suggested Noms, Brews & Views.
Get all of our maps sent to your inbox here!
If you plan to travel to multiple cities within your trip, we recommend using Rome2Rio to find affordable routes. Rome2Rio allows you to find the best, quickest, or most affordable route from point A to point B. We utilize the Rome2Rio App specifically when traveling within Europe. It not only shows you a list of options from flights, buses, trains, and car rentals, but also links you directly to the sites that allow you to book your transportation. Rome2Rio is a wonderful resource for trip planning and spontaneous travel alike!
5. Find a Cheap Flight
Now that you have your destinations picked out and the optimal time to experience the top attractions, it is time to begin searching for the best flight. A general rule of thumb is to book your flight 6 months prior to your departure in order to obtain the best price. However, this is not always the case. We research flights using Skyscanner, Google Flights, and Hopper to compare deals and have price alerts sent directly to our emails.
Also Read: Finding Cheap Flights: 5 Easy Tips
6. Make Any Bookings Required
After securing an affordable flight to your destination, the next time-sensitive task is to book your lodging. As with anything, lodging that offers the best deal for travelers with go quickly. We prioritize lodging that is located in a prime location to the attractions we plan on visiting while offering an affordable nightly cost. We also look for lodging option that offer free cancelation up until our stay. This offers great assurance should we need to re-arrange our trip.
Hostels in Europe are usually located in a very prime locations and offer basic amenities that justify their low cost. There are many hostels to choose from in Europe, all with very different prices, values, reviews, and offering. We have found that the best tool used to compare hostel options before traveling is Hostelworld.com. Check out the Best Hostels of Europe for our recommendations based on value and location.
If you prefer the typical amenities of a 4 or 5 star hotel without having to pay the high price tag associated with such hotels, look no further than Booking.com. With savings on getaways, resorts, and luxury hotels, you can live like royalty while on vacation at a fraction of the cost!
Whether looking for a campsite, bedroom to stay the night, or entire house to yourself, Airbnb is a valuable resource to find lodging. Catering to every budget, there is a range of lodging options from hosts who own a house/apartment in your desired destination to business owners renting a hotel or resort. When picking an Airbnb, be sure to look at past-stay reviews in order to validate that the host/home fits your travel needs. VRBO is very similar to Airbnb, however, Vacation Rentals By Owner (VRBO) specializes in vacation rentals that pair homeowners with traveling families. Many privately owned rentals are listed on both Airbnb and VRBO, however, we have occasionally found a better price on one versus the other. When planning a trip, we recommend searching your location in both VRBO and Airbnb to see which better suits your needs.
When camping at any American National Park, Recreation.gov is your place to book campsites ahead of time. We have had nothing but amazing experiences booking with Recreation.gov, allowing us peace of mind that a campsite will be waiting for us when traveling across the country. Recreation.gov provides important information to plan an amazing trip, such as campsite maps, pictures, amenities, permits, and passes.
In addition to lodging, you may consider booking tickets for any of the popular attractions/sites prior to your trip. Not only will this help minimize waiting in lines during your travels, but some places that have gained much popularity are now requiring advanced bookings. If it is a place you would be very sad to miss, be sure to look into booking requirements ahead of your travels.
Purchase affordable International Data
Want to avoid roaming charges and $10/day international data fees? Airalo allows you to download an e-SIM to your phone and activate while in Europe for a very affordable price. We bought 3 GB of data valid for 30 days from activation for only $7. It worked great throughout our entire trip and was very easy to install. Airalo offers e-SIMs all around the world and we can validate that it works with ease in multiple European countries.
Get $3 off with code NBV8668 by signing up here!
7. Organize Paperwork
Throughout all of your bookings and research, you most likely acquired a number of paperwork and confirmations. We recommend saving these confirmations to a GoogleDrive for mobile access and printing all tickets that specify a paper copy being required. Below is a checklist of the paperwork to consider bringing with you:
Lodging confirmations, addresses, & contact information
Pre-bought tickets, parking, or excursions
Rental car and/or public transportation confirmations
Photocopies of your passports & ID's as backup
Travel insurance confirmations
Cheat sheet of key phrases in the native language of the destination you are traveling
Alert your credit card companies if traveling internationally to avoid credit card freezes.
COVID test results/vaccination certificates etc.
8. Pack Your Bags
Planning a great trip comes right down to the items packed. There are several items that are important to pack for an international trip to help things run smoothly and safely:
International Adaptor - adapt your power plugs for both Europe (2 prong) and the UK (3 prong)
Clothesline - you will not find dryers in the average European lodging. Therefore, if you plan on doing your laundry or getting caught in the rain, you will want to bring some clothesline to hang-dry your clothes.
Lock for Luggage & Hostel Security - if you plan on staying in a Hostel, make sure to bring a lock to secure your belongings in shared-spaces.
Apple AirTag - if you are checking any bags, this will allow you to track your luggage if the airlines misplaces it.
Get our Full Europe Packing Checklist sent to your email!
For domestic camping trips, find budget outdoor gear to fill you bag here! We also recommend saving precious vacation time and scheduling a free grocery pick up for when you arrive at your destination.