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How to plan a vacation in 7 easy steps

I love planning my next holiday (or vacation, as they call it in America), but the whole thing from deciding where to go, figuring out where to stay, getting the best deals when it comes to flights, hotels and car rental can take months of research.

And that’s before you start looking for the best things to do, where to eat, the weather forecast, or any events like a sports game or stage show you might want to see.

They say that the average person will visit 22 websites from the time they start to think about their next vacation to when they actually book it!

I decided to write this post because of my neighbours actually. We have become a little click of friends who meet at the local coffee shop most mornings and talk mainly about our next trip away. It’s a bit like “Cheers” for those of you old enough to remember the iconic sitcom set in a Boston pub – where everyone knows your name, that was the tagline.

We don’t drink wine at our coffee club, but if we were on a cruise we jolly well would!

Of course, being a travel blogger, I’m never short of an opinion (I like to think of them more as suggestions) and over the last couple of weeks have helped one couple narrow down their plans for what to do in a five-day window they had between two conventions, one in Los Angeles and one in San Francisco.

They’ve been to California plenty of times and were looking for something a bit different.

We settled on Cabo, Mexico.

I loved Cabo san Lucas and Jose del Cabo, at the bottom of the Baja Peninsula, when I visited waaaay back in 2013. For us Kiwis and Aussies, it’s an underrated place that I think would appeal to more of us if we knew how easy it was to get there and some tips on where to stay.

Hence this post…

So here’s how I research and plan my trips

1 Decide where you want to go

For some it might be more of a case of deciding where you don’t want to go. Others might have the criteria of how far away (don’t want to sit on a plane for too long), others might be about beaches or activities, shows or shopping. Some might be driven by budget.

If you’re stuck for ideas, read travel blogs! And not just mine *aw shucks* but find some you like and let them inspire you.

We were rewarded with this little raccoon on a brilliant swamp tour out of New Orleans

2 Use a flight scraping website to find best prices

I use Skyscanner to find the cheapest flights. You could also try Webjet.

Now this doesn’t mean I always book online as sometimes it’s better to use a travel agent, especially if you are planning onward flights as they can book you on the one itinerary which means if any cancellations or delays occur, they will help you make alternate plans. It also means in the United States if you are travelling on one international PNR (passenger name record) you won’t be charged baggage fees on your domestic flights.

Skyscanner has a great tool for setting a price alert so you will get an email when the airfare changes. This is very handy if you are planning a trip a long way out and have the time and luxury to wait for a good price. It will also help you “get your eye in” when it comes to knowing what is a good price as different airlines will be running special promotions from time to time.

I typed in the airports and my dates, then I click Get Price Alerts so the price changes with any airline I will get an email

3 Google is my next go-to

To decide where I want to stay in a particular destination I’ll turn to Google. I’ll type in something like “where to stay in xx”. This will pop up with sites like Tripadvisor, and all sorts of hotel booking sites. But I’m not ready for those yet. I scroll down and look for content from bloggers, travel articles in newspapers and the city tourism’s website.

For example I was recently trying to decide where to stay in Austin, Texas as I have not been before but have heard great things. Through articles on sites like Time Out, the tourism website and some Top 5 lists on blogs I narrowed my search down to the Rainey Street area as I like the sound of being able to walk to the things I like (music, bars, restaurants, river).

4 Hotel websites

Now that I know where I want to stay, I’ll Google “best hotels in Austin” or maybe I’ll just go straight to or Hotels Combined and look for hotels in the area I want. I’ll add Rainey Street in the filter too. I can also set my budget here if I don’t want to see the more expensive hotels, but I generally like to see everything that’s available.

For my friends going to Cabo I wanted them to be within one km from the city centre and as close to the beach as possible for their budget. I found three hotels that looked great.

Read my post on how to ACTUALLY get the best price on hotels >

5 Tripadvisor is my verification site

After I have seen a few hotels I like I might then go to Tripadvisor to see what the honest reviews are from travellers. You’ll also find tips here that others leave like things they did, places they ate, how they got around and this all helps.

6 Now I want recommendations

Once I’m booked I’ll leave it for a while, then closer to the time I’ll search in Google “best things to do in…” or “top things to do…”

This time I am ready for the blogs and travel stories. But I do check out the date when it was written – if it has a date in the Google list without having to click it. Sometimes older posts are still popular, but restaurants might be out of date, etc.

If you’re at that stage now, just use the search box in the top right of this blog to see if I have posts you might find helpful!

I took this pic on my latest cruise out of Singapore. Blogs are great for the low down on holidays like this!

7 The weather

Temperature, storms and rain predictions is perhaps the another quick search I will do before I come to pack so I know if there’s a cold chill blasting through or a heatwave and can pack accordingly.

My final tip for great advice and inside tips on destinations is to find good travel blogs. I know, I’m biased but a blogger who has just visited or who lives there is going to provide great tips on things to do that you might not find on the tourism websites. They will be unbiased reviews (hopefully!) and honestly, bloggers have been to every nook and cranny in the world, so search some out when you are making your next travel plans.

Hope this was helpful!

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Wednesday 26th of June 2019

HI MEgan - love your posts. I know you did a story about your shopping contact in Shanghai, and i wanted to get in touch as we working out our trip there later this year. IF you can direct me to your blog reor contact that would be great! KInd regards Evonne


Wednesday 26th of June 2019

Hi Evonne, absolutely, here it is! I'm taking my group on a two-day shopping tour with her in October. Tell MJ I sent you ;D

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Hi, I'm Megan Singleton and I'm the word slinger of this travel blog as well as on radio in NZ every Sunday. Former Travel Editor at Yahoo NZ and current freelance writer for a few newspapers and mags from time to time, I set off on this travel writing journey 20 years ago and I've pretty much always got a suitcase half packed (or half un-packed!) I'd love you to join me on Facebook or Twitter and sign up for my newsletters if you want loads of travel tips, advice and deals!