Thank you to HSBC for sponsoring this post on how to plan your own travel itinerary. As always, all opinions are my own.
I’ve only ever traveled once with a tour guide – it was a bus tour from Toronto to Chicago, and we were stopping by various outlet malls and tourist sites along the way.
It was a constant go, go, go, and it didn’t feel like we had enough time to actually soak in the sights and enjoy ourselves.
The first trip I fully planned out myself was our first Iceland road trip.
We had no idea what we were doing or how to plan a trip, but we needed to have a full plan in place.
This trip changed our lives forever, and we completely fell in love with traveling.
It might seem like a lot of work to plan your own trip, but with so many resources out there on the internet, it’s so much easier to do nowadays.
Honestly, if Google Maps wasn’t a thing, Adam and I probably wouldn’t even be traveling so much.
A lot of how-to guides online just tell you to book this and book that, but I wanted to put together a full step by step guide on how to completely plan a travel itinerary.
Here’s an easy step by step guide on how to plan your own travel itinerary anywhere in the world from start to finish!
How to plan a travel itinerary
1. Find a credit card with great benefits
As useful as having cash on hand can be, it’s a gazillion times easier to just use credit card if possible.
The conversion fees aren’t as hefty, and you don’t need to worry as much about your money being stolen.
Some places you travel may only take cash, but more advanced, tourist-friendly destinations will take credit cards in most (if not all) places.
Plus, a lot of places take Apple Pay in case you forget or lose your wallet!
With a credit card, you can also keep track of all your purchases much easier to make sure you’re sticking to your budget.
The best Canadian credit card for travellers
The HSBC +Rewards Mastercard is Canada’s most unique credit card, and it’s perfect for travellers.
One of the coolest things about the card itself is that there are hidden features that can only be activated by blacklight.
It has one of the lowest interest rates in Canada at 11.9%, plus a rewards program that offers 2x points on eligible dining and entertainment purchases.
You can redeem the points for airline tickets, vacation packages, car rentals, hotels, cruises, and so much more!
You’re probably going to spend money on dining and entertainment when you’re traveling anyways, so you might as well take advantage and rack up those rewards points.
2. Figure out where you want to travel
If you already have ideas of places you want to go, that’s great!
If you don’t have any specific ideas in mind, there are plenty of places online where you can find cheap flight deals to cool places.
There are probably a bunch of other places where you can find deals, but these two are the ones I personally check on the regular.
Alternatively, you can also check Google Flights to find cheap flights, and it even tells you whether prices are lower or higher than normal.
We came across Hawaii while searching Google Flights, and ended up booking it because the flights were lower than usual!
3. Make a list of places you want to see at the destination
If you’ve decided on somewhere to go, chances are that you already have an idea of some places you want to see.
Put together a list of everywhere you’d like to hit up while on your trip.
Here are some great resources where you can find things to do at your destination:
- Travel blogs
- The destination’s tourism website
- Yelp or TripAdvisor
Travel blogs – Find examples of other people’s itineraries and add things to your own list that tickle your fancy.
The destination’s tourism website – You can find a lot of activities on tourism websites.
Instagram – If you’re into photo-worthy spots, look up your destination on Instagram and see what other people are visiting there.
YouTube – Watch people’s travel vlogs to get a better idea of how your trip will look like.
Yelp or TripAdvisor – The best places to find great food spots, because people who post reviews on these two sites tend to have pretty high standards.
4. Put together a Google Sheets with your entire travel itinerary
Adam and I plan almost every single trip using Google Sheets.
Here’s the gist of what to include on your travel itinerary:
- General things to note (the currency exchange rate, the average temperature)
- To-do list with who’s responsible for booking what (plane tickets, car rental, etc.)
- A list of essentials you must pack (swimsuits, hiking boots, etc.)
- A budget breakdown (including an estimation of how much gas and food will be)
- The actual itinerary from the moment you head to the airport to the moment you head home
How to plan a day on your travel itinerary
- Start off with the dates and times
- Add in your activities
- Research how long to spend in each place or activity
- Search for areas with accommodations
- Link to Google Maps for each day
Start off with the dates and times
I always start off by adding in all the dates on the left hand side.
I then add in the estimated times we plan on being out to the right.
This is usually sunrise to sunset, so Adam doesn’t have to drive in the dark.
Add in your activities
We first come up with a list of all the things we want to do, then separate them based on where they’re located.
Next, we divide them up into the different days on our travel itinerary spreadsheet.
Research how long to spend in each place or activity
Afterwards, we do our research online to see how long people usually spend in a place and how long hikes are.
If some things take too long, we move them to another day.
If some things are just not for us, we take them out of the travel itinerary.
Search for areas with accommodations
Some areas may not even have accommodations, so it helps to know which areas you’ll be able to stop in during your road trip.
It’s also helpful for estimating the driving times each day.
We try to cap driving times at a maximum of 5 hours per day, because it gets really tiring for Adam to drive for so many hours.
Link to Google Maps for each day
I always include links to Google Maps with everything mapped out for each day.
The cool thing about Google Maps is that if you link it in the Google Sheet, it’ll open the app directly on your phone with all the places already plugged in!
5. Take photos of all the outfits you will be wearing on your trip
Some people create PowerPoints with photos of each clothing piece, but I personally think it’s easier to try things on beforehand and just take photos.
I’m notorious for both overpacking and under packing.
I overpack clothes I usually don’t end up wearing, and I under pack things I actually need.
Which is why having photos of each look makes it easier to plan what you’ll be wearing!
I try on every single potential outfit along with the accessories and shoes and snap a quick mirror pic.
It’s also good to do this in case the outfit you pictured in your head doesn’t actually look as good as you thought it would.
While I’m on my trip, I refer back to the mirror photos when I’m deciding what to wear each day.
Here are some Hawaii outfits I planned beside photos I took with them while on the trip:
6. Save photo inspiration on Pinterest and Instagram
Some people travel for the ‘Gram and some people simply refuse to post any photos because it means they didn’t “enjoy it”.
I personally love photography and creating content, but I try to have a good mix of taking photos and actually living in the moment.
I typically try to shoot at least one photo per day, so I can have some content while not trying to shoot Instagrammable photos in every single location I visit.
If you haven’t been to a place before, you might not have any ideas of where you’ll want to take photos, which is where photo inspo comes in.
Create boards on Pinterest or collections on Instagram dedicated to the destination you plan on visiting.
You can save cool photos from other people as inspiration from your own photos!
7. Decide if you want to buy travel insurance
I personally never buy travel insurance, but I know it’s useful to a lot of people.
There are a lot of reasons why you may want to buy travel insurance, and it’s entirely up to you.
The HSBC +Rewards Mastercard offers an optional Travel and Medical Insurance for $69 per year (including applicable taxes).
It includes Emergency Travel Medical insurance and coverage for trip cancellations, trip interruptions, and baggage delays or losses.
So these are all my tips on how to plan your own travel itinerary.
It’s a lot easier than people think, and it’s really fulfilling to be able to put together a travel itinerary of things you actually want to do.
Traveling is one of my favourite things in life, and we’ve been able to do so many amazing trips by fully planning out our itineraries!
Some people prefer to be spontaneous, but I feel like you miss out on a lot of things if you don’t research beforehand.
Looking for more tips on how to plan a trip? Check out my other posts on travel tips:
- Tips for traveling on a budget
- Road trip tips
- Tips for long-haul flights
- Tips on choosing a good Airbnb
- Carry-on packing essentials
- How to pack for a weekend in a personal item
- Tips on how to take travel photos
- Tips for planning travel outfits
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