It seems that most of us are stuck in holiday-planning-mode, with travel plans in limbo at the moment, whilst we wait for the green light to jet off. This is to be the year of domestic travel and rediscovering the gems on our very own doorsteps. Although I think I’ve drawn a short straw on that front, now living in one of the smallest countries in the world, Singapore. So for us it’ll be a lot of day trips but, in true Thompson style, we do have a few holidays already researched and ready to go.
Back when I first met my husband, many moons ago, we would decide on a holiday location together. Then he’d do all the boring stuff like book hotels, flights, travel insurance and I’d step in and do all the fun stuff, like what we were going to do when we got there. Over the years this planning has grown into an obsession, we’re fortunate to have more and more information at our fingertips.
Earlier this year I was talking to a friend who lives back in the UK, she really wanted to visit Bali and was looking at tour operators who could help her organise the trip. She wanted to make sure she got out on some day trips to see the top spots in Bali, and wanted help to know where to go. Now this seems alien to me, what value could a tour operator add when all that information is at your fingertips? I’d personally choose to avoid any extra costs of a tour operator and splash out on a few more day trips or a nicer room and organise it myself instead. But then I love to research a trip and I’m a bit of a control freak.
Last year I planned our most complex trip yet, we did three weeks around Vietnam with another family; four adults, three kids, five separate locations and endless transfers. Apart from one set of tears, when a taxi arrived without seatbelts (yes that was my tantrum and partly because I’d just slept on a night train), the whole trip went swimmingly.
So I thought I’d share the process of how I plan for a trip and hopefully it’ll help you plan your own epic trip, once we’re allowed to travel post covid-19. I’ve split it into a few sections; Research, Planning, Packing and Holiday. The planning never stops, we’re always trying to be flexible to suite everyone to ensure the whole family has a memorable holiday.
I follow quite a few travel bloggers on Instagram, Evie from ‘Mumpacktravel’ is great for inspiration for around Asia and Australia. I also like looking at travel related hashtags. If I see a picture that captures my attention I’ll save it into a folder on Instagram by country, sometimes by town or area too (I have a huge collection of images just for Byron Bay alone). You’ll then notice the trends, the ones with the most saves, and that often helps us pick where to visit next.
Once we’ve picked a location I’ll get onto Instagram and look at locations and hashtags which are from that town or country. You can pick up lots of good tips that way like; #gffoodsingapore #loveperth #cocktailsinmilan etc. Get inventive with the hashtags and really explore.
2. The Internet
This is good for finding things to do when you’re on holiday, I often type ‘The Best Things to do in Tuscany’ or ‘What to do in Perth, Margaret River’. This will take you to good blog posts of other travellers who have been to that location. I normally look around a few to get a good feel of the location, write down all the top things to do and any tips. Some of the things I’m looking for are: knowing what the best time of year is for a location, what’s the temperature like, what clothes do I need to pack, what the busy times are, how to avoid the crowds, any good local tour guides, where we can get a good meal and what should we see/do?
3. WordPress Reader
On WordPress Reader I either look to what my favourite bloggers are writing or have written about and then also search by hashtags. You’ll find tons of blogs posts written about well-travelled and also less well-travelled locations.
I like to get inspiration from Lonely Planet books. When I can, I’ll get my hands on a second hand copy or borrow one from a friend or the library. I have one for Thailand waiting on the shelf.
5. Facebook Groups
There are a lot of other families who love to travel in Singapore and ‘The Real expat Wives Singapore‘ Facebook group has a wealth of travel information, those ladies have been everywhere, not just Asia. When we rock up at a new location the husband often asks ‘Where have the expat wives recommend we eat now’ (whilst rolling his eyes), we’ve had many a great meal thanks to those ladies. Another one, which is quite new is ‘Our Tribe Travels‘, this one is mainly for families but there are some adventurous travellers on there, too. Those are my two favourites when scoping out a holiday. I type in the location we want to travel to in the group search bar and it brings up a lot of useful discussions.
6. Travel Magazines
You’d be surprised at some of the new towns, location and holidays I’ve learnt about from reading airline travel magazines. But you can also pick up other good holiday tip-offs in photography or travel magazines.
Remember the hotels you choose to stay at will have a host of local information. If you’re stuck for airport transfers I always recommend asking. We normally book the first transfer from airport to hotel through the hotel themselves, last thing we want is to be deserted at the airport when you’re tired from travelling. Once we have got our bearings we explore other transport options and get a bit more adventurous.
For bigger trips with multiple locations Trello is my go to planning tool. It’s an online board where you can collaborate, add check lists and photos and basically discuss every aspect of your trip. They also have a phone app so it’s really useful for having all of your holiday info at your fingers tips. We used this for our Vietnam trip to coordinate planning with friends who live in a different country. It worked so well that we already have a board set up for a trip to Sri Lanka together. I put everything on there, hotel details, transfers, contact numbers, how many nights in each location, tips and things to do. I even added photos from each location so everyone could get a feel for what was in store, this helped us setting up our itinerary.
Sounds simple but I use the notepad option on my phone for cutting and pasting information on holidays. I’ll often paste all the information I find on Facebook groups, blog posts etc into one long list and then put it in order by food, accommodation, activities, etc. You’ll see duplicates where lots of people recommend the same places and it soon becomes clear what to do and where to go.
1. Suitcase Packing
I used to hate packing suitcases, it would take take one or two days (or even a week) each time with piles of stuff all over the room. I’m proud to share I can now pack two suitcases, for four people, in about an hour. As advised by my friend Vics, I have wash-bags packed and ready to go, which we just use for trips. Same for first aid kits (I just top them up a week before we go) and also a pouch with suntan lotion and bug spray ready and waiting. This cuts down a lot of time.
Packing pods are one of my favourite discoveries this century. Each person has their own colour and 2-3 pouches depending on the length of the trip. This makes a multi-location trip so easy, just grab the pouches out of the suitcase and put them on the shelf, it takes mere seconds.
See this previous blog post if you want all my travel packing essential tips>>
We have a drawer in our house with small travel games, we pick from there when we go out to dinner, it gives the kids something to play with whilst they wait for food. We also take these on holiday for the plane journey and holiday meal times.
I used to take a big Mary Poppins bag with me for plane trips but then my back started protesting. So now I take a small wheeled suitcase for Kindles, changes of clothes, compression socks (my Dad had a DVT and I urge everyone to wear them), water bottles and more (basically all the stuff nobody else wants to carry).
Top Tip: download some kindle books in advance, I also download Netflix episodes on whatever I’m into at that time (and a couple for the kids). Those see us through airport delays and long hotel transfers. The Netflix episodes have helped us through some long immigration queues.
1. Concierge or Reception
Once we arrive on holiday I’ll always check in with concierge (if there is one) and find out what’s hot in town, where to eat, what to see. If there is no concierge, try reception, the bar, basically anyone who works where you’re staying. They can often add to your list and also help you book things. We got us into the second row of the puppet show in Hanoi, Vietnam thanks to the concierge (it was sold out online).
2. Be Adaptable
Whilst I have a list of things we can do on holiday we don’t stick to a day-by-day plan. We see how we feel (how the kids are feeling), what the weather is doing and take each day as it comes. We also don’t rush to get everything on the list done, I have a few items starred that we really want to do/see but we don’t lose sleep if everything isn’t done. It leaves something to do next time we visit. Plus once you have your feet on the ground your list may change anyway.
I think the most important point to embrace is that things will change, no matter how much preparation you do. Remember to be flexible and enjoy the moment, you’re on holiday after all!
You’ve read my list, how do you plan for your holidays? I’d love you to share any top tips you have in the comments below.