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Travel Planning 101: Research for the Budget Traveller

Updated: Jan 2

Updated: December 2022

Many (many) years ago, pre-Internet, the average person would never consider booking our travel. Few would have the time, knowledge, or connections to compare various offerings. We didn't have access to reviews or photos for travel planning decisions. Researching flights, hotels, attractions, and other travel issues was an incredibly complex task pre-Internet. Almost without exception we used the services of travel agents and trusted them to do that work for us.

Travel agents still perform this service and are very useful for more complex travel arrangements, but many budget travellers have learned to do our own research and bookings. We find we are more motivated to find better deals, better able to react to flash discounts or error fares, and are generally more satisfied with the prices and excursions we find. We are confident that we have accessed enough information to make wise choices. We have built that confidence by constantly improving our 'googling' skills.

It takes time to do the research. I need a fair amount of information before I'm ready to commit my travel dollars. I want to make a lot of comparisons and make sure I don't miss a good deal. I tend to use aggregate sites and alerts for fares and lodgings (see the 2nd Edition of The Scary World of Travel). I'm not just researching prices and options. I am also learning about the history and culture of the area, suggested activities, local festivals, and transportation options.

Organizing your Research

I enjoy the planning process as much as I enjoy the travel. I fill notebooks and digital files with links, research, questions, options, and maps as I gradually gather the information. I am often planning several trips at the same time, with different notebooks for each. As a former teacher, I'm a big fan of organizational strategies and tools. Besides my notebooks, I have digital documents organized into files that are organized into folders, that are organized into another folder. In My Documents on my computer, I have a folder labelled 'Travel'. Within that folder, I have a folder for each trip labelled "XDestination+TravelYear". Within that folder will be other files labelled 'Lodgings', 'Excursions', 'Transportation', 'Hikes', etc. In each file will be at least one document (or spreadsheet) of links. When things move to the "shortlist", that's when I start using my notebooks. I've always been a doodler, so these pages often become full of colour, sketches, and lists.

Ack! Too many internet search results!

In the early stages of research, there are few things as overwhelming as an internet search that returns millions of results, many of which are not relevant. We need to be able to filter those results efficiently. Due to my involvement in many complex internet games a