Planning the road ahead

A train station somewhere in Germany.
The best part of do-it-yourself, budget trips is that half the fun is in the planning itself. And so the saying goes: “the destination is the journey itself.”

What could be more fun than discovering for yourself the routes from one city or country to the next, finding out the places of interest around the hotel or hostel that you are eyeing, and knowing the stuff you can buy or eat at that faraway town – and later on seeing them unfold right before your eyes as soon as you land in your destination?

If this doesn’t sound fun for you, if you don’t want to scour the Internet for information and you’d rather pay just so other people can arrange your flights and accommodations, then better call up your travel agent.

If getting lost inside the Medina of Marrakech or the cobblestone streets of Paris sounds like an adventure for you, then read on!

In my own words, here are the steps that you have to go through to make your DIY trip come true:

         1. Know where you want to go.
Check out the world map. You realized you want to explore Southeast Asia. Or Europe. But were you informed that you have at least five countries to choose from in each of these continents? And oh, there’s more than a dozen of cities that would be interesting to visit. For instance, you want to visit Vietnam. But where in Vietnam – Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh? If you’re going to Germany, would you visit Berlin, Cologne, Dusseldorf, Munich or Frankfurt? If you have the money to go to all of those major cities, then by all means go. But if you’re traveling on a budget, be specific about the place/s you want to check out.

If you want to check out several countries in one go, get a map, know which countries are close to each other and plan an itinerary. But how do I get from this place to next? Google it.

When I mounted my Southeast Asian trip in 2008, I chose to visit Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore – in this particular order. Why? Because based on the map, it would be much more economical to take a road trip to Siem Reap from Ho Chi Minh instead of taking the plane from Singapore.

A view of Rome, Italy from up above!

2.  Prepare a budget.
How much are you willing to spend for your trip? Work around this amount. This will determine the number of days that you can be away on a trip as well as the number of destinations that you can afford. It could be cheaper if you’re just staying in one place. But if you’re planning to hop from one city to the other, it would entail costs, particularly the long train or bus rides or, much more, the plane rides.

These are the expenses that you have to bear in mind when traveling:
-          Round trip plane fares to and from your home country
-          Amount that you can spare for each meal (breakfast, lunch and dinner)
-          Transportation within a town or city
-          Transportation from one town or city to another
-          Accommodations
-          Entrance fees to museums, budget for souvenirs and knick-knacks, and shopping money for that souvenir shirt or fisherman’s pants, if you are into these things.

Or you can work the other way around. What are the place/s you want to go to and the things that you want to do there? List all the expenses and save up for this budget.

3. Book your plane tickets. 
Scan the websites of every airline that you can think of and check out their fares. List them all down and compare prices. Now call up travel agencies and ask for the cheapest fare going to your destination. As in my case, I always end up getting cheaper tickets from my travel agent – way cheaper than the cheapest amongst all the airlines that I’ve searched!

Some may ask: is it practical to just wait for seat sales? Of course it is! But as in my case, work is so busy and budget for long-haul trips is constrained that I cannot just decide to grab that seat sale going to Paris or Munich three months down the road. I also schedule my major trips a year in advance, and in my previous trips, I avoided the rainy season in Asia and aimed for Spring in the western hemisphere. So whether there’s a seat sale or none, I’d still go for that trip.

      4.  Book your accommodations.
As a shoestring traveler, I always go for hostels. Aside from being cheap alternatives, it is in hostels where I get to meet like-minded travelers, not to mention the fun atmosphere that hostels have compared to hotels which can be too formal and straightforward.

I scan prospects at or When I find my bet based on centrality of location, price, availability of breakfast and user reviews, I scour the Internet for the website of that hotel or hostel. It is usually cheaper by a euro or two if you book through the hostel’s website. But if you’re into hotels, booking through sites such as Agoda can give you discounts.

I have the bragging rights to tell everyone that I've slept at a Greek queen's chamber in Florence,Italy!

It can entail a lot of work but remember, the key to an affordable yet enjoyable travel is research. Just scour the Internet and for sure, you’ll be able to find good deals. Happy travels!


mdyravanera said...

my problem is not so much planning the trip but coming up with the moolah to go travelling. any pointers there? haha! i like the "be specific" part. like the philippines, it's not just one city when you go to a particular country. so, is ho chi minh better than hanoi?

Gerard de la Pena said...

I'll come up with a post on financing travels soon. :-)