Picking a holiday destination is easy, but finding the right accommodation in the best location can be the difference between a perfect and nightmare break. Add multiple stops and connecting transportation into the equation and booooooom, there blows your mind and enthusiasm!
Planning your perfect multi-stop trip doesn’t have to be stressful and you don’t have to do it with a tour operator – although this can take some of the burden away, there’s a chance you will go to some places you aren’t that interested in or only stop briefly at destinations you’re really keen on. Here are some of my top tips for planning a successful and seamless trip all by yourself.
1. Budget. It’s easy to get carried away with what you want to do and see, but what can you actually afford? We decided on our maximum budget, and then broke it down into accommodation, daily spends such as food and drink, and excursions. For us, we budgeted around $150 per night for 12 nights of accommodation, which covered more expensive city centre hotels and then cheaper Airbnbs.
If you’re planning a trip to California, be aware that eating out is expensive and taxes are high – for this reason, we were keen to have self catering facilities in some of our accommodation to keep costs down. I really enjoy shopping in supermarkets abroad too (anyone else?!)
2. What to do? Make a list of places of interest and use Google Maps to create a personalised map to pinpoint them all (our San Francisco map is below). This helps you physically see where these places cluster together and if they’re worth a pitstop on your journey. We knew we only had 12 nights (I say ‘only’ – I know 12 nights is a lot, but California is huge!) so had to eliminate some places for others where there was more to do. Using this method, we decided on LA, Santa Monica, San Francisco and Yosemite.
3. Where to stay? Airbnb or hotel? These are your main two options and both offer pros and cons. We decided on a mixture of both to suit our needs and budget, and were really pleased with how it all worked out (especially our sensational Airbnb for Yosemite – more on that in a blog post coming soon!)
Focus on areas where there is lots you want to do, and go from there. Check the average hotel nightly cost vs Airbnb price, and whether they suit your needs. Do you have a night flight on the day you leave? In that case, a hotel may work out most beneficial as you can keep your luggage in their hold when you check out, while Airbnbs rarely offer this service. Lugging your huge suitcase around all day can be a pain in the butt – I speak from experience!
Trip Advisor is your best friend, of course, and don’t immediately write off hotels that are three stars and below – if you have a packed itinerary, you’re unlikely to spend lots of time in the hotel and a clean environment with a bed could be all you need. The reviews will tell all!
4. Logistics. Have you booked a return flight from the same airport you arrived at? Is there a certain event happening on a specific date that you can’t miss? Planning the order of your trip and the connecting transport is important early on because accommodation is more likely to get booked up quickly on bank holiday weekends, for example, or travel costs could be higher on certain dates. I faltered here slightly – we planned our long drive back to LA on President’s Day, a bank holiday in the US. In the UK, bank holidays = major traffic so I panicked, but luckily it’s quite the opposite in the US – everyone stays at home!
Our itinerary was: 3 nights in LA –> taxi to Santa Monica –> 2 nights in Santa Monica –> flight to San Francisco from LAX –> 3 nights in San Francisco –> drive to Bass Lake (Yosemite) –> 3 nights in Bass Lake –> driving day across to the coast and down the Pacific Coast Highway to Santa Barbara –> 1 night in Santa Barbara –> drive to LAX and drop off car –> flight home.
We divvied up our time based on things to do that we found online and recommendations from friends. We could’ve done two nights in LA, but added an extra night because I knew my boyfriend would be jet lagged. In San Francisco, we could’ve easily spent a whole week there with hindsight – there’s so much to do, it’s a brilliant city. I hope to return one day!
We knew we wanted to drive along the famous west coast but with time restraints, it made much more sense to fly from LAX to San Francisco (and it was much cheaper – about £40 for a one way flight with Virgin America). It’s almost impossible to navigate Yosemite without a car, so we knew picking up a rental car in San Francisco, driving to Yosemite and returning it before we flew home meant we could still experience the beautiful coastal highway, albeit not it in its entirety. I have no regrets – it all worked out so well!
5. Book ahead. Some excursions are world-famous, so will get booked up months in advance. It’s worth checking this out on online forums and Trip Advisor to ensure you don’t miss out. This was certainly the case for us with Alcatraz – trips to the island book up months in advance, so I was relieved I booked our tickets back in November!
I’m going to be doing more posts about our trip in coming months, so I hope you like this sort of content – I love travelling more than anything, and hope to do much more in years to come! Follow me on Instagram @kirstiepickering for more photos of my adventures!
|Yosemite National Park – blog post coming soon!|