How do we plan our vacations with the digital travel planner I made

Ipad on a table with a digital travel planner opened on it

For some, trip planning is a daunting task. Where do you begin? What’s step one? And where to step from step 1???

It is easy to get overwhelmed by travel planning, with all those information out there: blogs, guidebooks, social media… they are all helpful but information overload can make travel planning challenging and overwhelming.

I have always loved travel planning. Actually, it is one of my favorite parts of vacations. Nothing makes me feel better than making a well-formatted itinerary. I even dream of planning when I know that a vacation is coming.

Since I was about 5 years old, my Mom and I have traveled as much as we possibly could. No, it wasn’t that much. We also couldn’t afford to travel far. Luckily, we live in Central Europe, so many European destinations are easy and cheap to access.

I inherited my planning passion from my Mom. She has bought a lot of guidebooks, maps, colored highlighters. Read all the guidebooks, planned the itineraries, circling every must-see attraction and highlighting the walking routes with different colors for each day on a map, laying on the floor of the living room. She also planned free time just to wander around, get lost, eat that ice-cream, or watch the waves of the sea.

I have helped her ever since I can remember. I have great memories: laying on the carpet, circling the sights on the map, choosing a designated color for each day.

Arriving at airports, flying, figuring out how to actually arrive at our accommodation.

Asking around, figuring out our whereabouts. Never fear, always keep discovering.

“Got lost? At least we can see this part of the city, too! Great!”

Using the map we colored at home on the go.

Unforgettable memories.

Recently, I improved our planning method a bit. Juuuust a tiny bit. 🙂

My passion for planning and creating things on my iMac merged. 🙂 First, I made mood boards for our trips (and about my bucket list destinations) in Photoshop. Then, I discovered Keynote’s linking feature and I got lost in all the possibilities it opened for me.

First I made notepads for my iPad for school. It was fun and all, but I felt that we (Keynote, Photoshop and me) are capable of more.

The avalanche was unending: I made a financial planner for my Mom (she gave me her needs of course), I made a fitness planner, later I added a wellness planner section to it. And of course, I made a digital travel planner, too.

This post is about how we use this travel planner and why it is a great way not only to plan our trips but also to collect memories.

If you are new to digital planning, start here: Getting started with digital planning

About my digital travel planner

I am sure you have already seen something like this. Maybe you have one already. Using Goodnotes on my iPad and with a stylus (Apple Pencil) is so much fun. It helps us to gather all of our ideas, to plan all the details, the itineraries, and we also gather our memories in it.

We are going to use the same planner over and over again. We just make a blank copy and we are good to start adding the information and the photos we take. I hope that we will be able to collect a bunch of travel memories this way. It is always good to look back at old photos and relive the experiences.

Here I am going to show you how we used my digital travel planner when we prepped for our trip to Nice and the French Riviera. It made our planning much easier as it gave us a simple system and now, after our vacation, it also functions perfectly as a recollection.

The 7 phases of vacation planning where a digital travel planner can help you

  • Phase 1: Decide where to go
  • Phase 2: Find a date to go on vacation
  • Phase 3: Find affordable flights
  • Phase 4: Find affordable accommodation
  • Phase 5: Plan Your Activities, make an itinerary
  • Phase 6: Packing your stuff
  • Phase 7: Go on the trip and collect memories!

To give you a better idea of how we plan our vacations, I show you screenshots of my digital travel planner I made.

So without further ado…

Phase 1: Decide where to go

View of Nice

Deciding where you go is determined by your interests and circumstances:

Are you short on time and/or on a budget? (Usually, we are short on both 🙂 )

Are you traveling alone or with friends or your family?

Do you want to drive near, or would you like to fly far? (I can’t explain how much I love flying!)

It can often be hard to decide where you want to go.

After all, you can travel anywhere in the entire world. With all of the possibilities, how are you going to decide?

Do you have a bucket list? Is there a place where you feel drawn to? Is there a place that is recommended to you by friends or family? Can you actually afford to go there?

Create a “bucket list” of destinations you’d love to go to. I have one! 🙂

Our advice: Be flexible with your destinations! Most of the time we hadn’t had a particular destination in mind, we just wanted to GO!

If you have a desired destination in mind — get specific

If you want to visit Nice, decide if you would like to visit the riviera, too. How many days would you need approximately to see everything you definitely do not want to miss?

Phase 2: Find a date to go on vacation

Ipad on a desk with a digital travel planner opened on it

It’s best to stay flexible when picking a time to travel.

We research our destination online and we use the yearly overview tab in our digital travel planner.

With very light color, we highlight every single day when we are free to travel during the year (for example holidays, school holidays). It makes the timeframes clear. Next, we try to find great flight deals for those periods that are long enough to travel abroad. Then comes the search for accommodation.

If you want to find the best time to travel to a destination, consider these three things about the location:

Peak season: when most tourists will visit a location. This is often due to good weather and holidays surrounding it. Flights and accommodations tend to be the most expensive during this time.

We usually don’t like to travel during peak season: too hot, too expensive and too crowded for us.

Off-peak season: when the majority of tourists do not visit a destination. Flights and accommodations are more affordable, sometimes significantly.

On the flip side, there is a reason for it not being a popular time to visit.

You do not want to travel during monsoon or sit in a ski resort during summer etc

But visiting Rome in February was a great idea! Airfare, accommodation was cheap, the weather was perfect for sightseeing, the usually crowded attractions that normally need to be booked well in advance were easily accessible.

Shoulder season. This is the time between peak and off-peak — and a good time to take advantage of the benefits from both seasons.

Shoulder seasons are our favorite time to visit. We enjoy sightseeing and discovering cities much more than laying on the beach.

Shoulder seasons allow you to take advantage of good weather at a certain destination, AND there’s the added benefit of lowered cost on flights and accommodations.

Decide the length of your trip, as it is also a huge factor in determining how much money you need.

Pull up a calendar and start looking at dates that work for you.

Deciding on destination and time of travel:

If you can’t be flexible about when you fly, at least be flexible with where you fly. It’s best to be flexible with both if you really want to save the most money.

Phase 3: Find affordable flights

Being a co-pilot is so fun - must be even better up in the air and not standing on the ground 😉

Typically, we start searching with Momondo and Skyscanner because they search for all major AND budget airlines.

As I mentioned before, we usually do not have a certain dream destination, we just want to get away from the everyday rut.

So we search for airfare without a destination, and we find great deals with Skyscanner’s “everywhere” search function.

You can type in your local airport (or if you’re extra flexible, you can enter an entire country).

After getting a good deal on Skyscanner, we always check the search results on the website of the airline.

Be sure to watch out for fees of checked luggage, carry-ons, printing your boarding pass, using a credit card, and anything else they can get away with. Be sure to add up the cost of the ticket AND the fees to make sure that the price is still lower than with another airline.

Our favorite sites for finding cheap airfare are:

Momondo

Skyscanner

Google Flights

A few tips on finding the best deals:

Book your flight about two-three months in advance.

Remember: be flexible. You don’t always need to flight direct

Compare search engines.

If you have already searched for flights, it will not hurt to search incognito for cheaper deals (there is no evidence that it will give you cheaper deals, but won’t hurt to try)

But know that the systems airlines are using are very clever. Their advanced pricing algorithms determine prices and run sales based on the time of the year, passenger demand, weather, major events/festivals, time of day, competitor prices, fuel prices, and much more.

So do not stress over the prices too much. I know that it is easier said than done. Airfare is expensive and we often worry that if we buy right now, prices could drop and we’d be the person who paid the most money for the flight. 🙂

But we learned already that this approach is wrong. We buy our tickets when the price is affordable for us and we never look back. Literally: we do not check the prices ever again.

So, buy that ticket when the price is right for you!

Phase 4: Find a great place to stay

Actually, after we find a great deal on airfare, we do not buy the ticket right away. What if all the affordable accommodations are reserved? So we quickly make a fast checking on hotel, hostel and Airbnb prices just to be sure. If we find a few good deals, we go back to buy the flight tickets.

Finding a great place to stay that doesn’t break the bank isn’t impossible.

Everybody is different so expectations differ greatly. We don’t stay in hotels often. I mean: we do that very rarely. We like to stay in hostels in a private room (but we have already stayed in a mixed dorm with three bunk beds in Sintra and it was a great experience!) or we rent an Airbnb. Most of the time we rent a small, but a whole unit but in Barcelona, we have rented just a private room twice already.

Use the tools below to help you find some of the best deals on places to stay.

Here are our go-to sites when it comes to finding the best deals on accommodation:

Hostelworld – Hostelworld has the largest selection of affordable hostels

Booking.com – a great overall platform for finding budget hotels and guesthouses. They have the biggest inventory and best deals.

Airbnb – The go-to site for private rooms and apartments owned by locals. You can find really cool places at great prices.

Also, if we plan to leave our main destination for just one night, we do not leave our main accommodation. We leave our stuff there and head to our two-day adventure with just a backpack. It wouldn’t worth it to pack all our luggage and travel with those. Yes, we pay for two different accommodations for one night, but in expenses, it is not a big deal and this way traveling is much easier. After our 2-day/one night trip we just go “home” and continue our vacation at our main destination city.

For example, we rented an Airbnb in Lisbon for a week but spent a night in Sintra (in the dorm room I mentioned before). Also, we had a private room in a hostel in Malaga but we spent a night in a small hotel in Ronda.

Phase 5: Plan Your Activities, make an itinerary

The fun part! As I mentioned before we choose our destination depending on time (school holidays) and airfare and accommodation prices. It doesn’t mean that we just jump headfirst to an unknown destination.

If we went further (leaving Europe), of course, we would make a rough itinerary first. Then we would need to know in advance how much time we would need to spend at our desired destination and we should also have a better look at the means of transportation and attractions there before checking airfare and accommodation.

In Europe, we are more or less (I mean: MORE as our all-time favorite lazy leisure activity is traveling using Google Maps while sitting on the couch – this is the real Couchsurfing, am I right? 😉 ) aware of the main attractions and environments in each country.

We know what to expect, we know how many days are enough to spend there. It is easy and quick to sketch an itinerary that can be fine-tuned until our departure.

First, we outline the major activities and attractions we want to visit during our trip and we also calculate the costs. In the meantime, we also decide if we need a one-night accommodation elsewhere and if yes, we quickly rent one to make sure it is available for a good, affordable price.

Then, we plan our itinerary for each day of our vacation. We always give us time just to wander around and to do anything we want.

In this phase, we can estimate the costs. We don’t spend a lot. Accommodation, public transportation, and groceries from supermarkets. A good coffee (or two) for my Mom in the mornings. These are the main things we need. We do not participate in tours because we find it difficult to adapt our schedules to groups. Usually, we walk much faster than others. It is just the way we operate. 🙂 We like to use guide books and maps.

Tip: make sure to double-check that there are no holidays or other obstacles that will prevent you from certain activities

Tip2: Call your credit card companies

Your card can get declined if you try to make purchases somewhere you do not live.

Tip3: We cook our meal and buy our food in supermarkets

Buying groceries in supermarkets and markets abroad is always fun! We try as many food items as we possibly can. For dinner, we usually cook something very quickly: pasta with something on top or a quick soup. We try to add ingredients that are not available at home.

Phase 6: Packing your stuff

I love – love – love packing. It means we are going on an adventure very soon! And when I say “very soon” I mean it literally: usually we pack our bags/backpacks the day before our flight. Or the same day if we do not need to arrive at the airport early.

We already have a packing list, so putting our stuff together is a breeze. We buy mini travel toiletries a few days before, do the laundry and check the weather at our destination. Then we come up with a “color palette” meaning every item must go well together (they should not look awful together at least… 😀 )

We never overpack. We always travel as light as possible.

There are pages in my digital travel planner that help us to pick out the best items and to avoid overpacking.

Tip: You might need visas and vaccinations, don’t forget to check!

Tip2: always buy travel insurance! We never leave without it.

Phase 7: Go on the trip and collect memories!

And now, everything comes together. It’s time to go on the trip and have fun!

As travel adventures always make great memories, I added different types of pages to my digital travel planner so it functions as a travel diary as well. It has formatted places to write a daily diary, overall impressions on the trip and destination and travel photos can also be added to it.

This way the whole trip can be documented and the planner can be used from the birth of the trip idea through its formation to making memories.

Everything about a certain vacation is in one file, and each vacation’s planner is collected in a folder named “Travels” on an iPad.

Easy to have a look at it, easy to store, always on hand. This is how we like to collect our memories – and it also can be shared to our family, my grandma enjoys navigating through our filled planners, we just have to forward them to her with a click of a button. 🙂

I will fill out my digital travel planner with some of our past travels, too because it is good to have them collected.

I hope this post gave you some inspiration to start digital planning!

Thank you for reading my post!

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How to use a digital planner to plan a low-cost vacation

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