How You Can Be Your Own Travel Agent For Your Next Epic Trip

Plan Your Trip

Are you sick and tired of being bored out of your mind all of the time? Do you finally want to see what’s out there?

I love to step outside of my comfort zone. If you want to break free and plan your own adventure, join on board! Oh and that’s me nervously zip-lining through a Mexican forest. I swear I wasn’t terrified. Oh wait, I was!

In mid-2011 I went on a Euro-trip all by myself. A few years before that I didn’t even have the guts to go to the coffee shop or mall alone. I always needed to be with someone. I thought only weirdos went to places alone. Somehow over the years I ended up becoming that weirdo.

How did I end up going on a trip alone?

I became my own travel agent. I started to plan my own adventures. I stepped out of my comfort zone and pushed myself. Now you can become your own travel agent to plan your next epic adventure or just a relaxing trip.

[Quick note: This post was originally published on February 9th of 2013. I'm updating it now on November 27th from Buenos Aires. As I started typing I realized that I had already written something similar. So I just added to this post to make it even bigger and better.]

How to Be a Travel Agent

I didn’t use a single travel agent when I spontaneously showed up in Budapest, Hungary or when we explored Miami during Wrestlemania weekend. You don’t need to either. You don’t need to stress about every minor detail. You also don’t need to spend a fortune to leave home. This took me years to figure out.

What’s the simple formula for planning an adventure?

Research where you want to go, figure out when you can/will go, and do everything within your power to make sure that the trip happens.

Let’s break every single step of the process down…

Do the research on where you want to go.

Plan Your Trip

The first step is to write down a list of places you want to visit. What did you have in mind? Is there a place on this planet that you’ve been dreaming about? The good news is that there’s no place too far or impossible to get to. There are flights to almost everywhere.

Next you take 20 minutes to do some quick research. It’s not hard to find information. I can promise you this.

The best option is to check out the forums on Trip Advisor. They have reviews of every possible location, hotel, and attraction. There are also forums where you can ask questions and interact with locals/other vagabonds. I’ve used these forums to find out everything possible about destinations from wi-fi access to beer brands. You can ask any question and have it answered. You can know every tiny detail about the destination before you get there.

I also need to mention that my number one trick when planning any trip is to avoid the tourist traps. You don’t have to go to Ibiza, Spain to party. You can if you have lots of money to blow. Chances are that you want to try something more affordable for one of your first adventures. You just need to book your accommodations.

What about booking the transportation?

Book everything online. I’ve always done everything online and in advance so that I don’t have to stress on my trip. The flight will be the most expensive part of course.

You can search Kayak to get the cost of your flight. We cover this more a little later. For now, you can start tracking flights to see what the prices are like and to track any movement.

You also have to decide on how long you want to be gone for and what you’re planning on doing.

Will this be a relaxing week or a full-blow adventure that goes on for months?

This will play a role in the cost of your flight and stay.

Once you get to your destination, you need to find a place to sleep and keep your stuff.

Where will you stay?

Search Expedia for hotel prices, AirBnB for apartments, or Hostelworld if you’re traveling cheaply and don’t mind staying in hostels (they’re lots of fun!).

Expedia will show you the hotels that are available (a bit pricey). AirBnB features regular folks that rent out a space in their place (affordable). Hostel World is what I used when I was travelling through Europe. It’s very affordable and you can pay in advance with your credit card. You’ll likely meet the most interesting characters at hostels. You just need to be open-minded about the living conditions.

There’s just one problem left…

How can you stay somewhere when you’re a broke joke?

Don’t worry if you don’t have enough money. None of us are millionaires. An empty heart can hold you back, not an empty pocket.

The following resources are perfect if you want to stay somewhere when you have no money:

  • CouchSurfing. The name says it all. This is the best opportunity to step outside of your comfort zone and meet new people. I wrote about this in greater detail when I covered how to travel after college. The other night in Buenos Aires, I met a new friend who had just arrived in town. He spent a few nights in a small village couch surfing and getting to know the culture. His Spanish was way ahead of mine!
  • Global Freeloaders. Ditto. The site is for those that want a free place to crash around the world. Check it out to see if your dream destination is on there.

One final point here…

Does your trip have to be a wild adventure? Not at all. You can plan an excursion to a sporting event. The show below is a picture of me at the first ever UFC event in Toronto.

Plan Your Trip

Figure out when you CAN go.

The next step is to pick when you’re going to go.

When’s the earliest that you can escape?

The longer the trip, the more that you have to plan for it. I would shoot for six months to a year of planning for an extended trip. For a week getaway you need 2-3 months of planning.

You also have to factor in your job and commitments. If you have a stressful job, I doubt that your boss will be happy to find out that next week you plan on attacking Thailand for a month.

A quick story…

It also depends on your life situation. I just met a dude that worked for five years, saved up like mad, and then just quit his job. He has been traveling through Latin America for the past few months and plans on going until he runs out of money. I don’t have the guts to pull this off, but kudos to him.

I’m personally more of a short-term traveler. I could never go away for a few months. I miss my family, friends, gym, and all of that other stuff too much. I like to go away for a few days or a few weeks, have some fun, and then return. I actually really enjoy my life at home.

Let’s get into the key details…

What about booking your flight? 

When do you book? I try to book international flights a few months in advance. However, I searched around to see what other information I could find on this topic.

According to Yahoo Finance:

But if you wait until the day or two before you want to travel, get ready for some serious pocketbook pain. Domestic flights that would normally cost less than $400 jump to about $625.

Ultimately, the booking of your trip will come down to timing.

Can you afford to visit a tourist hot spot in the summer or during a busy season?
Are you willing to go off-season?
Do you have any points that you can redeem for your trip?

Much of booking a flight is common sense. You know what the busy times are. You know that you have to book in advance for a busy season. What are you waiting for?

Another important aspect of figuring out when to go, you also have to gather to troops to see who’s in. Once you have some guaranteed positive responses, you guys can work on agreeing on the time.

The final step is to get the time off from work so that you’re guaranteed the freedom. Your employer or your business contacts will want to know of your absence.

It’s only polite to give them fair warning (and in many cases to ask for permission). This again is common sense. Telling you to book your vacation time is like reminding you to bring your passport. Just a friendly reminder.

Now that you’re so close…

Do everything humanly possible to make the trip happen.

There are going to be a lot of factors at play here. We already covered timing and booking. The only thing left is your money. You need money to make this trip possible. Most of us are horrible at managing money. The good news is that this is a personal finance blog and I love to save up for big purchases.

Get your money right!

This is once again easier said than done. Execution is key. How do you get your money right?

  • Organize your finances. Do you do online banking? Do you have your accounts linked together? I believe in simplifying your finances so that you have easy access to your money and don’t have to stress about being flat broke.
  • Pay off your debt. I just put together an insanely colossal post on paying off debt. The process is simple, but the execution is difficult. I give you all of the tools that you need. The onus is on you now to earn your freedom.
  • Cut back the money that you spend on total crap. We all buy lots of crap. There’s no way around this. How much money do you spend on crap? If you really REALLY want to plan an adventure, you’ll find ways to save money or to cut back. If you don’t truly want to go, you’ll think of excuses. Which will you do?

Start saving slowly!

You need to start saving up slowly.

How much money will you save? How much more do you need for your next trip?

I hope that you consider opening a new savings/checking account so that you have somewhere to put your money while you plan your much-needed trip.

[Easy challenge: Open up a new checking account with Capital One 360. Use the free $50 as your first $50 saved towards your next adventure. Start from there and don't stop.]

As you’re saving up, there are a few more points to consider.

Don’t bail on the trip!

Anxiety is just experiencing failure in advance over and over again for no reason. As your trip gets closer, it’s easy to bail and make excuses. You have to get past the mental barriers that your mind will try to create for you. It’s you vs you.

Don’t listen to the nay-sayers either. They’re just jealous that you have the balls to plan an adventure.

Before my trip to Europe, so many people tried to discourage me. I heard about every possible scenario from being robbed to getting ripped off. I ignored it all. When I came back, those same nay-sayers admitted that they regretted not coming with me.

You have to stay focused on your trip!

Any final thoughts on planning your adventure?

JUST SHOW UP!

Honestly, this is the best travel advice that I could ever give. Just show up.

I stressed about coming to Argentina. I worried about every little detail. Then finally I just booked the flight and a place to stay for a few nights and showed up. In the first two days, I’ve already met amazing friends from South Africa, Brazil, Australia, and Europe that I’ll never forget.

You just have to show up. Everything else will take care of itself.

Meet people.

I’m an odd traveler. I really don’t care for seeing any tourist-style places. I just want to explore the city and meet some cool characters in the process.

Take my word on this.

You don’t have to worry about planning out every detail. You’ll meet some interesting characters on your trips. I’ve had all sorts of plans go right out the window upon arriving at my destination. When I was in Cracow, Poland, some dude told me about a bus that night that was headed towards Budapest. I went online, found a deal, a booked my overnight bus. I saved money because I didn’t have to pay for a place to sleep that night. I found myself in a place I never imaged visiting.

On my first day in Buenos Aires I went to a BJJ class. I had to walk, take a subway, transfer, and then take a bus. Then I had to find the place. When I finally found it, I wished that I hadn’t. The place was filthy and nothing compared to my gym at home. Then I remembered that I wasn’t at home. I joined in on the class and had a hell of a workout.

On the way home, I was lost, so a totally new friend from the class showed me how to get back. Sadly, the subway had shut down and I had to cab it!

Long story short: just meet people. This will make all of your trips memorable.

Go with the flow.

As corny as that catchphrase is, it’s an important mantra for your adventure.

You have to remember that you’re not at home and these are not familiar conditions. You won’t have the same food that you do at home nor will the customs be the same. It’s your job to adapt. The whole culture won’t adapt to you.

What about getting work done on a trip? You can read about my location independent experience where I did my best to be productive on a trip. It’s totally possible to not fall behind on a trip. A few minutes a day on your laptop will help you stay on top of things at home.

If you still want more, then let’s plan your next adventure. If you want even more, you need to join the academy. It’s our course for dominating life in your 20s. We cover everything from paying off debt to planning trips. What are you waiting for?

What’s next? You got to start planning and saving. Your next (or first) epic adventure is just around the corner.

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Comments

  1. says

    Man, I completely agree with the “don’t bail” recommendation. I’ve seen too many people get cold feet before trying something new that they let it overcome them. If you don’t go, you’ll regret it later.

    • says

      Never bail! This is actually the toughest part. I saw it recently happen to a friend. He was planning an adventure all year and then bailed at the last minute for no real reason.

  2. STEVEN J. FROMM says

    Great post. The most important point here is to do the research, talk to others to get the best plan going. Learn about the places you are considering and their transit systems and where to stay. Also be sure you have at least one credit card that will work in the countries you are visiting and have a back up plan for money. Credit card companies like American Express have offices in many cities and that come in very handy if you are in a pinch. I was once in Spain when all the ATM machines were down, but the AmEx office was open and helped me get some euros immediately.

    • says

      Learning the transit system is key. The other night in Buenos Aires I went to a gym across town and it only cost me less than a dollar Canadian after the conversion.

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