Someone asked me the other day about the things that light me up. Once upon a time I might have struggled to respond to that question. But these days the answer flows easily.
And while the list of the things I’m passionate gets longer all of the time, two items are consistently at the top of the list.
The first, of course, is France and everything about it.
And the second is travel in general and the planning that goes into that travel.
I’m therefore especially happy when I’m planning a trip to France.
For me, planning is absolutely a huge part of the fun of travel. I literally spend hours researching, reading and making notes. And right now I’m having the best time ever as we start planning to spend two months in France next year.
Why Is Planning Important?
Now, you’ve got to love an activity that is not only fun, but also a good use of your time. And for me, planning is important because it allows me to do two key things:
- Create a budget for the trip. Nothing adds stress to a vacation like having to scrimp because you are worrying that you will run out of money. Having a plan allows you to work out how much money you’ll need and, in turn, have the funds available.
- Make the best use of time while we’re away. So often you can lose valuable vacation time as you have to work out where you are going or what you want to do.
Given how highly I rate planning, it won’t come as a shock to learn that I get fairly excited when new planning resources hit my radar.
This happened recently when Jo from frugal first class travel announced the creation of a brand new Facebook group named Plan your trip to France. It is a lively group and it’s providing me with stacks of inspiration. If you’re planning a trip to France – whether it is your fifteenth or your first – I highly recommend you search it out.
And for anyone who’d like a little behind the scenes look at how I go about planning a trip to France, I thought I’d re-share my own planning process.
My Method – Planning A Trip To France
- I keep a careful eye on flight specials. If we can get good a deal at a time when we will both be able to take leave, then we’ll take it. We often purchase our flights nine or ten months ahead of time to take advantage of these deals. Which also gives us the added benefit of plenty of time to plan.
- Once our flights and travel insurance are booked, the next thing I do is purchase a lined notebook – French themed of course. I make sure it isn’t too big so that it can fit in my handbag while we are travelling. I immediately start capturing every single idea – no matter how trivial – in the notebook. From recommendations from friends through to potential dining options and things I think I might like to buy…everything gets recorded in the book. If you are a little more tech savvy than me, you might like to capture your research on your phone, iPad or laptop.
- Eventually, we start to get a feel for the parts of France we’d really like to incorporate into the trip. But before we make any final decisions on the cities or towns we’ll visit we double check that the things we want to do while we are there are actually open. We’ve been caught out before by closed attractions on earlier visits and we really try to avoid that now.
- As things start to come together, I list the dates we will be away in my notebook. Next to each date I note the town or village where we are thinking of staying. That way I start to get a picture of how long we will be in each destination and how long I will need to book accommodation for.
- But before I start booking anything I check that we can actually get to where we want to go. We think about whether we will fly, take a train or hire a car – and if we are taking transport, we check the general travel times to make sure we can get where we need to go in a decent time frame. Sometimes you can’t get where you want to go in one day, depending on travel times, connections and what not and need to pop in an extra night as a stop over.
- Once we know where we want to go, and how we are going to get there we can start researching accommodation. We are a bit fickle when it comes to accommodation – we stay in a real mix of hotels and apartments. If we are planning to stay in a location for more than a week we will usually opt to stay in an apartment. But we do like to mix it up by staying in hotels here and there along the way too.
- When it comes to choosing where we will stay, we’re real fans of both Booking.com and Trip Advisor. While some of the reviews can be a bit ridiculous, generally speaking they give you an excellent idea of whether the accommodation will be a good fit.
- We prefer to book our accommodation early for two main reasons. Firstly, we know we have somewhere to stay. Many parts of France are extremely popular, and the best accommodation choices often book out very early. Secondly, it allows us to know exactly how much you need to save – it makes it easy to budget (more on that in an upcoming post). We tend to go with ‘pay later’ options unless the prepay deal is spectacular simply because it delivers greater flexibility in the event we need to change our plans.
- While I’m on the topics of accommodation and flexibility, if there’s an apartment or a hotel you really, really want to stay in, book that one in first. If it turns out you can’t get your first choice of dates, you might decide to change your dates or plans so you can get your choice of accommodation. We did this when we wanted to stay at Vicki Archer’s Le Petit Bijou in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence. The dates we wanted to stay were booked out (even though we were inquiring about eight months ahead of time) so we altered our travel plans to allow us to stay in a place I’d been promising myself I’d stay in for years.
- At some point in your organisational experience you need to consider booking your transport. Internal flights are relatively straightforward however if we are travelling by French rail, we start booking our travel about three months before we travel to take advantage of better prices. You can read more of our rail travel tips here. If we are hiring a car, we generally leave this until closer to our travel time.
- Usually about a month before our trip, we start to book in any of our ‘must go to’ restaurants. If you are looking to do a Michelin starred experience you might want to book that about three months ahead, particularly if you are looking for something special like a window seat.
- There are a number of reasons that we choose book activities prior to our trips. Sometimes it is because we (I) don’t want to miss a high end spa experience. But mainly it’s because standing in queues seems like a dreadful waste of precious travel time! Many attractions in France allow you to book and pay online for a window of travel dates which still allows some room for spontaneity while you are travelling.
- Before you leave make sure you take copies of all of your bookings or confirmations. It doesn’t matter if you do this electronically or on paper. We also take a copy of our important documents, just in case something goes missing. But we follow some advice we received years ago and don’t email those documents to ourselves, just in case our email is compromised.
One Final Thought
I’ve been given feedback in the past that my planning style is bit too full on and that I don’t leave enough room for spontaneity. I guess I should point out that while my planning approach is quite detailed, I rarely have every day of our trip pre-planned. We are on vacation after all and a little bit of flexibility is always required.
Having said that, I’ve never once regretted having my plans locked in. Those plans tend to ensure that we make the most of our time in France.
Do you have any travel planning tips? I’d love for you to share your advice in the comments section below.
And until next time – au revoir.