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17Tips&TricksforPlanningYourNextTrip

Danielle Lenarcic Biss
over 2 years Toronto, ON, Canada Story
17 Tips & Tricks for Planning Your Next Trip

I spent six weeks travelling solo through Ireland, Scotland, England, the Netherlands, Belgium, and France. Through 79 bus, train, plane, and metro rides, and 690 km of walking, I visited 27 cities and towns. 

I enjoyed being blissfully ignorant of what day it was or what was going on in the world, except for when I read the newspaper over someone's shoulder on the train. My trip was about wandering, seeing beauty, and crossing items off my bucket list.

I attribute much of its success to the amount of planning I did before my departure. Here are my 17 tips & tricks for planning your next trip:

1. Download the area to which you are travelling onto the Google Maps app.

You'll be able to access it when “offline” (i.e., have no access to wifi/data). You can zoom in right to the street you’re on and see the names of shops and buildings. I did this for each destination on my travels and was never unintentionally lost.

(Not sure how to do this? Instructions here.)

2. Mark your must-visit spots on Google Maps.

It used to be that you could only save places using a star. Now you can mark your saved places under categories like “Favourites” and “Want to Go.”

(Not sure how to do this? Instructions here.)

When you’ve arrived at your destination, simply pull up the app to see all of your places marked. This way, when you’re in a city or specific neighbourhood (say, Notting Hill in London), you won’t miss any of the shops and cafes you’d wanted to visit. No need for backtracking! (Thanks for introducing me to this tip, Khrystyna!)     

3. Research and book early where possible.

I travelled in May-June 2016 and started booking most of my transportation and attractions (like Anne Frank House, the Eiffel Tower, the Jacobite Steam Train) three months before I left. You'll save money and have the reassurance that you'll be admitted (plus avoid losing time in lineups!). If there's a limit on how far in advance you can book something, set a reminder on your phone to pop up on the first day tickets are available.

Jacobite Steam Train (Glenfinnan Viaduct, Scotland)
Photo: Danielle Lenarcic Biss

4. Familiarize yourself with websites like Hostelworld, TripAdvisor, and Rome2Rio.

You probably already know sites like Kayak, Google Flights, and Skyscanner that compare airfares. Hostelworld will show you photos and reviews of hostels in various cities. TripAdvisor will do the same for a broader range of accommodations, along with attractions and restaurants. Read the reviews — you can filter by the date (tip: search for reviews from people who travelled at the same time of year that you plan to) and keywords (try “female” or “woman” or “solo” for insights from ladies who have been in your shoes!).

Rome2Rio is a fabulous site for determining the time and transportation options to get between places. 

5. Look at real traveller photos on Instagram and TripAdvisor.

Search the cafe, restaurant, tourist attraction, or hostel you’re considering and take a look at the snapshots posted by travellers like you — what does the place really look like? These can be a helpful comparison to the glossy, professional shots typically shared in promotional material.

6. Consider booking day trips on small tours.

Sometimes this is easier than trying to navigate local transportation and find accommodations in an obscure town. Make note of the places you want to visit and, if there’s only one thing you really wish to see there, perhaps a day trip that visits that location (or a couple of spots in the region) is a good plan. Look for excursions that take under a dozen people and/or travel in a large van as opposed to a coach bus; your experience will be more intimate. I used TripAdvisor to check reviews.

7. Browse the itineraries of tour companies.

Even if you plan to travel solo and not with a group, it’s still worthwhile to look online or order the brochures from companies like Contiki and Topdeck. Take a look at what ground they cover and how long they spend in each place.

8. Consider female-only hostel dorms if you're a solo female traveller on a budget.

I prioritized this during my travels so that I could feel the most safe in my accommodations. And I met plenty of other solo gals along the way! Bonus: there's a lower chance of being woken up by snoring dudes — and ladies' rooms tend to have fewer beds than the larger, mixed-gender dorms.

(My favourite girls’ dorm? Ecomama in Amsterdam. I'm still thinking about the comfy pillow and duvet. And the break from bunk beds was a treat!)

Ecomama ladies' bedroom (Amsterdam)
Photo: Danielle Lenarcic Biss

9. Take local buses, and look into buying passes.

I took Bus Eireann throughout Ireland and Citylink through the Scottish Highlands. Although the bus is slower than the train, it's typically cheaper and the experience is worthwhile — wifi, comfortable seats, chats with locals, drop-ins through little towns you may not have visited otherwise. Before I left on my trip, I looked at the prices of bus passes and determined what gave me the best bang for my buck (as opposed to paying single fare for each leg of my travels).

(My favourite bus ride? Fort William to Glasgow, which took me through Glencoe in the Scottish Highlands.)

View of Glencoe outside my bus window
Photo: Danielle Lenarcic Biss

10. Buy a portable phone charger.

I travelled for six weeks without a camera, just my iPhone. Carrying a portable charger (purchased at the mall from my mobile provider’s kiosk) ensured that if I was en route or taking a thousand photos without access to an outlet, my phone could be charging in my bag.

11. Keep your paperwork backed up on a cloud and downloaded to your phone.

On my Google Drive and Dropbox accounts, I had saved my budget, notes on places to see/eat, emergency contact info, and scans of my identification and credit cards so I could access it on-the-go or in a crisis. I also made sure to download key files (like a document of addresses for postcard writing!) to my phone so I wouldn’t need to rely on wifi to view it. I wrote most of my travel plans (schedule, bookings, budget) in Google Sheets and Google Docs files so that I could easily go in and edit on my phone's app, too.

12. Young travellers: carry your student card, even if you’re a few years out of school.

Show it whenever you can to potentially get a discount, especially when paying admissions to attractions and transportation fares. No student card? Keep an eye out for youth fares. (Did you know that youth under 26 can travel between any two train stations in Belgium for just €6.20?)

13. Wear Blundstones.

I was given this tip before trekking off (thanks, Sarah!), and I now firmly believe there is no better, more versatile shoe out there. You can wear them through any weather — sun, rain, mud, and snow. No need to pack rainboots or light hiking boots. On my six-week trip, I packed just my Blundstones, a pair of sandals, and shower flip flops.

Fairy Glen (Uig, Isle of Skye, Scotland)
Photo: Danielle Lenarcic Biss

14. On long trips, pack clothes you can throw out later.

You'll buy souvenirs and need room in your bag, so bring clothing you can throw out when it’s time to head home — like old underwear! (Thanks for the tip, Vanessa.)

I travelled with just a school backpack and a small day bag for six weeks. It can be done! Not everyone prefers to travel light, but it was important to me to be able to carry everything on me, comfortably; I could also spend a couple of hours in a city on a layover and not lug anything too heavy around.

15. Take advantage of meal deals at grocery stores.

I did this in Ireland and the UK quite a bit. Salads at Marks and Spencer could be bought cheaply in a pair; likewise, a drink, sandwich, and treat from Tesco came to just a few pounds. It’s a simple way to save on meals, and you can enjoy a picnic next to a river or in a park. And for travellers on a budget, it justifies splurging on a nice lunch or dinner at other times!

16. Keep a journal.

Buy one, bring one, and write about what you do and what you see. It doesn’t have to be reflective and thought-provoking; it can just be a list of what happened each day. Later, you’ll be glad you did when you read it over and remember some of the details you’ve forgotten.

17. Use a hashtag to easily group your social media posts.

This is great for more than just weddings! I posted photos from my trip on Instagram using #SixWeeksSolo. When you want to reminisce after your travels are over, you can avoid endless scrolling through your feed and simply search the hashtag. Before you leave, test out a couple of options to ensure that the one you’re going with is unique and not being used by a host of other people on their own adventures.

Cliffs of Moher (Co. Clare, Ireland)
Photo: Danielle Lenarcic Biss 

Printemps rooftop terrace (Paris, France)
Photo: Danielle Lenarcic Biss

What other tips and tricks have you found helpful in planning your travels and adventures? Add them in the comments below!




4 replies

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  • Suzie
    over 2 years ago San Francisco, CA, United States

    These places are so beautiful! I wish I could travel like you. Thank you for these tips.

    These places are so beautiful! I wish I could travel like you. Thank you for these tips.

    • Danielle Lenarcic Biss
      over 2 years ago Toronto, ON, Canada

      Ireland & Scotland in particular stole my heart! You're welcome, Suzie :)

      Ireland & Scotland in particular stole my heart! You're welcome, Suzie :)

  • Maddy Bernstein
    over 2 years ago

    you have a great life! what's a good place to start travel if it's your first big trip?

    you have a great life! what's a good place to start travel if it's your first big trip?

    • Danielle Lenarcic Biss
      over 2 years ago Toronto, ON, Canada

      Start with a country in Europe where you speak the language. Ireland did the trick for me: beautiful landscapes, bustling cities and towns, great music, and warm, gracious people!

      Start with a country in Europe where you speak the language. Ireland did the trick for me: beautiful landscapes, bustling cities and towns, great music, and warm, gracious people!


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