I keep all my copies of Lonely Planet magazine and as I'm reading them, I stick little tabs on all of the places that interest me. This is always my first stop. I spend hours leafing through the pages at all the things that caught my eye when i first read them. Once I've narrowed it down to just a few potential destinations, I do some research around each place to see which one will win. I also check the local tourist advisory boards and make sure there is no political unrest or other dangers which might put me off going.
First, I have a look at the cost of flights, accommodation, food, transport, visas etc. If the overall cost is too high then I will park that country until I win the lottery. This usually helps me decide pretty quickly where I will be going.
|Valentines Parade - Venice|
Then I have to decide on when I will be going. I always buy the Lonely Planet guide book as I find them really easy to navigate and have most of the information I want.
|4 days of rain - Tokyo, Japan|
At this stage, I'm looking at the weather and any events which will either make the trip unmissable or far too expensive (carnivals, religious events, treats of nature like the Cherry Blossom in Japan or volcanoes erupting).
|Volcano - The Big Island, Hawaii|
Once I know when, I need to work out how. I trawl the internet (websites like Kayak, Sky Scanner, Expedia, Air Ninja etc), travel agents, teletext and even the newspaper looking for flights. If I find a good deal but haven't heard of the airline or the agent then I will also look at reviews on the internet. I have been caught out with a dodgy airline before and ended up missing a whole day of my honeymoon!
At the same time as booking the flights, I also book my transport from the airport - whether it be hire car, train or bus, I like to make sure I know I won't be stuck there! There is nothing worse than turning up at an airport in the middle of the night, tired, grumpy and hungry and without a clue where the nearest taxi rank is!
Now, the next bit varies from trip to trip. Sometimes I like to book just the first few nights accommodation giving myself the freedom to move from place to place - stay a bit longer if I love it or move on if I hate it. Otherwise, I book everything up front to save me the time and worry of trying to find decent, affordable accommodation when I should be off exploring.
When looking for accommodation, I always check out LP's 'our pick' first and if they aren't available or aren't what I'm looking for then I will also search websites like booking.com, hotelbookers.com, expedia, lastminute, kayak etc. I check reviews on trip advisor and also check where they are on a map (I don't want to have to travel miles each day to get to the main sites).
When everything is booked, I have a good read of the guide book and look at photos on Flickr and the Lonely Planet website. I make a list of all the places I really want to see and if there are any particularly photogenic places I want to see then I will plan them for the best times of day - when the light is at its prettiest and when there are less tourists around.
By the time I'm finished, I usually have a full itinerary all printed up and put in a neat folder (including flight, accommodation and transport details, a copy of my passport and visa, copy of my travel insurance, and anything else necessary for that trip), ready to stick in my bag when I travel and to carry with us throughout the trip.
The only thing left to do now is pack!