In a world where spontaneity in travel is almost fetishized, meticulous planners – a group with which I proudly identify – tend to get a bad rep. “You’re dull,” they say, “planning itineraries in advance is boring.” In my humble opinion, this couldn’t be further from the truth.

Regardless, in this era of travel restrictions, we must all become long-term planners; and there are some very good reasons to embrace it. Here are some of the benefits of planning a trip a (very) long way in advance.

A top-down view of a person working at a laptop, planning their upcoming trip. Splayed out on the table around them is a passport, diary and foreign currency notes.
It may not be the 'coolest' way to travel, but planning out a trip in advance can be good fun, and save you money © Westend61 / Getty Images

Planning ahead can help to save money

Extra legroom. An extra night’s stay. Heck, who wouldn’t want a hotel upgrade? Maybe it’s the fact I’m over 30, but I find a little bit of luxury – whatever that means to you – can take a trip from ‘meh’ to memorable. And the more time you have before you go, the more money you can save for those "treat yo’self" moments.

Staunch budget traveler? You do you. Traversing the globe on a few dollars a day can be an enlightening, life-affirming, addictive experience – but it never hurts to add a bit of slack to the shoestring, so to speak, and planning in advance provides a chance to squirrel away more funds, which can be handy in emergencies.

With all this time on your hands, you can also afford to shop around, wait for flash sales and – where it makes sense to do so – book well in advance. Paying for transport, accommodation and activities over the course of a few months helps spread the cost too.

Eggs Benedict, served on a crusty piece of bread, in a cafe in Melbourne, Australia.
Squeezing in all the great brunch spots in Melbourne? You'll likely need a spreadsheet for that © dangtrinh0612 / Shutterstock

Take the time to craft the perfect itinerary

Paid leave is precious. Travel is a privilege. If you want to squeeze every last drop out of your next adventure, I implore you to consider my secret weapon: the humble spreadsheet. It might sound as sexy as a bedbug-ridden bunk, but hear me out. When time away is limited, plotting out your ideal itinerary, day-by-day, can help you make the most of it.

There are numerous benefits to taking the Excel approach. You can sense-check the pace at which you plan on moving between destinations, factoring in days for traveling from A to B, plan backup options for rainy days and juggle things around where necessary.

You’ll know where you’re likely to be on the weekends (this can affect what you choose to do, as major attractions will be busier during these times) and you can plug in your pre-bookable big-ticket items while saving room for spontaneity – for example, before a three-week trip to Australia I arranged to go to a popular outdoor spa well in advance but reserved the days either side for whatever we fancied at the time (it was winery hopping on the Mornington Peninsula).

Pro tip: if you’re anything like me, you’ll find too many things to squeeze onto your itinerary (Melbourne has approximately one quintillion drool-worthy brunch spots). Bookmark them all on your chosen mapping app (the Lonely Planet Guides app is a good place to start) and if you find yourself at a loss on the road, open it up to see what’s nearby.

People enjoying the sunset from transparent igloos on the rooftop terrace at 360Bar in Budapest
Planning travel in advance may mean Emma can live out her dream of visiting an igloo bar, like this one on the rooftop of Budapest's 360Bar © Kata Fári / Lonely Planet

Book popular things to do

Ever stumbled across the dreamiest of digs on Instagram, immediately pinned all of your hopes and future happiness on staying there, only to find they’re booked out solidly for the foreseeable? I feel your pain.

Planning your travels well ahead not only gives you the widest choice of accommodation – including those quirky-cool home rentals – it also offers the best chance of snagging sell-out gig and theatre tickets, elusive restaurant reservations and a table for drinks in the trendiest spot in town (achingly cool but perpetually occupied igloo bars, I’m looking at you. Your fairy lights give me major FOMO).

The only way to harness this travel superpower is to know what you’re looking for, which means doing plenty of research early on. Admittedly, there is a certain joy in striding into a randomly-selected neighborhood cafe in hopes it’ll be the city’s next undiscovered gastro hotspot, but there’s more fun in trying the food at that limited capacity pop-up place all the locals have been raving about on social media for the last month. Scour guidebooks, magazines, blogs and social media to find the events and attractions you simply can’t miss, then check their availability ASAP and seal the deal.

A local four-piece band play in a restaurant in Havana, Cuba. Two of the musicians play guitar, one plays bass and one plays drums.
It can be fun to plug into the sound of a destination before you jet off © Lena Wurm / Shutterstock

Get to know the destination before you arrive

Some people prefer to know very little about their chosen destination before they go – and I understand the logic, to a degree. With the world increasingly at our fingertips, the joy of experiencing the unknown is almost unattainable.

Browsing Google Street View might not be your favorite way to pass the time pre-trip (reader, it may not surprise you to learn I am partial to the occasional virtual bimble), but understanding the history, geography and culture of a place you’ll soon be immersed in is never a bad thing. Being aware of local customs, taboos and current affairs can only make you a more engaged, respectful and responsible traveler. So get reading in the run-up to your departure!

Want to impress the locals? Consider tapping into the destination’s cultural offerings – books, films, music, language – to prepare you. Guatemala’s Top 50 chart hits from 2017 will forever be top of my Spotify list.

A top-down view of a person packing up a suitcase, which is open on the table. The suitcase is filled with clothing and around it are travel items like a phone, headphones and a passport.
When planning for travel a long way in advance you have plenty of time to perfect your packing list © Murat Deniz / Getty Images

Achieve packing perfection

Packing. Love it or hate it, it’s hard to get right. But for once, you have the gift of time. Take this opportunity to craft the ultimate capsule wardrobe; stock up on (or locate those pesky) adaptors, spare chargers and all the other paraphernalia you usually have to panic buy at the airport; and get your digital life in order – I’m talking a suite of essential apps, curated playlists, movie downloads and a clean digital camera roll to fill with your prize-winning travel snaps. You might even like to practice packing and unpacking your luggage to optimize your on-the-road technique… or is that just me?

Enjoy the anticipation

The instant gratification of last-minute getaways can be thrilling. But slowing down and mindfully planning a future trip can help us appreciate the true value of travel, instilling a sense of gratitude and wellbeing. Practice patience, relish the anticipation, and research, research, research – while remembering to enjoy the here and now. Plus, if you aren't able to travel at the moment, what else are you going to do?

You might also like:
How to budget for a big trip
The best Asian destinations for female solo travelers
The best Lonely Planet Spotify playlists

This article was first published Mar 25, 2020 and updated Jan 1, 2022.

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