Let’s be honest- the second the government says we no longer have to wear masks, get tested every single time we cross a state or international border, and generally run a low risk of contracting COVID, we’re all going to be hopping on planes, trains, boats, and busses to make up for all of that lost travel time.
I haven’t been on a vacation since September of 2019 and that is just waaaay too long for my liking. My mom and I are already plotting our next girls trip for May of this year. I’ll be finishing my first semester of grad school May 7th, so I fully plan on hopping on a plane right after it’s over if all goes well with the vaccine.
Obviously my dream post-COVID vacation would be to Europe, especially because my trip to London & Rome got cancelled due to the pandemic. However, it’s still unclear what is going to happen with international travel in the coming months. Frankly, it’s a whole different ballgame when you’re in international territory and I’d rather not repeat my Italian hospital adventure back in 2018 🙂 With that being said, we’re currently considering Arizona or Montana!
In this post, I’ll be outlining some of my biggest tips for planning an adventure for (hopefully) the upcoming spring, summer, and fall of 2021 using Excel (or a piece of paper if you’re old school). I’ll be using my Excel spreadsheet from my trip I planned to Wyoming with my boyfriend Jimmy that never happened because of COVID.
Why use Excel?:
I’m sure you’re wondering “why would I use a spreadsheet to plan a fun vacation”. WELL I’m an accountant, and us accountants love excel. Literally-it is our best friend & even after work hours, we have a hard time staying away from it. Seriously I have like 3 frequent spreadsheets I use for various things weekly, if not more.
It’s a great tool for staying organized and it allows you to see the big picture and small details all in one place. It’s also a calculator (which I’ll get into later!) Staying organized is particularly essential for budget trips (young adults I’m talking to you!!), road trips, and trips that entail country or state hopping.
Step 1: Set up your rows & columns
I personally like having the dates as the rows and then the plans- flights, hotels, activities, location for the day, etc in the columns. I also like having the price columns because it allows you to track your planned spending per day. It’s helpful because for example- on a day where your hotel is expensive, you may choose to have cheaper meals to even it out.
Step 2: Begin researching your flights, hotels, activities, and other necessities & create multiple plan options:
As you can see, I created multiple different plans based on different flight possibilities. As these flights were at different times and on different airlines, creating multiple plans allows you to more easily visualize how timing + pricing differences may impact your trip.
For example, plan 1 may have our flight getting in to Jackson at 12 pm, which allows us most of the day for exploration & car travel to our next destination. However, plan 2 may have our flight getting to Wyoming at 10 pm, which would cause us to stay in Jackson that night instead of heading to our first destination like we would’ve in plan 1.
Step 3: Start filling in your spreadsheet using the category approach below:
What I personally like to do is create 3 different column themes/categories:
To start, I like to detail my accommodations for each night- as you can see above, it’s essentially where I’ll be ending the night. It’s important to have that end goal of what town or country you want to be in at the end of the night on that specific date. It’s also great for planning, because if you don’t outline those starting and ending points, it will be a heck of a lot harder planning the middle portions that I will detail below.
I detail my flights- take off and landing in order to plan when I can begin and end my vacation. It is especially helpful to include this information, because take off and landing times really determine that amount of “Vacationing” you’ll be able to do on your first and last days.
If you’ll be road-tripping like I am in this spreadsheet, drive times are also essential to include. If you’re planning to begin your day at a hotel, go see a national park, and then end in a completely different area it’s SO important to know how long those drives will take you.
This also goes for backpacking Europe/other places as well- trains, busses, etc will leave without you, so it’s very important to have those times clearly written down before you go. This also helps you book activities because it will easily allow you determine whether or not those things are possible to see and do with the transportation schedule you’re on.
For example, during my Utah road trip we *almost* attempted to drive to our next destination as the sun was setting because we spent a little more time at Bryce Canyon than we intended. When we stopped at a gas station before the drive, the cashier told us absolutely NOT to drive that road at night, as it was extremely dangerous and had no guardrails. With this piece of advice, we stayed an extra night in Bryce and ended up having to make up for those miles early the next morning.
I like to detail my activities such as seeing a national park or visiting a town because it gives me an idea of spending and timing. If you can plan specific activities and book them beforehand, along with your flights and hotels, the only thing you’ll really have to pay for during the trip are souvenirs and food. Booking ahead, especially in Europe, is KEY to being able to see all you want to see as many attractions such as the Vatican do not sell same day tickets, or they are at escalated prices.
Especially during budget trips, it’s important to be on the same page with your fellow travelers when it comes to spending for activities. I’ve definitely gone on trips with a few people where I really wanted to go into a church, museum, etc and they refused to pay the entrance fee so we ended up skipping it. It really is essential to discuss this beforehand, that way people don’t miss out on some of their desired activities or feel pressured into spending extra money. Believe me, it will save you from some awkwardness.
Step 4: Price your categories
Once you’ve planned out your flights, activities, and accommodations- it’s time to write down those prices (even though we’d rather not). As you can see, the righthand columns are the prices for the categories on the left.
In excel, simply write the price for that night of hotels, flights/cars/trains, and activities. At the bottom, you can add these totals up by typing = and then selecting each cell/box that you want to include in your calculation. Normally, I add up the 3 categories separately and then add those totals together. Like I said earlier, this really helps you see how much you should be expecting to spend, where and when you’ll be spending your money, etc.
Overall, I hope ya’ll can see just how helpful this simple excel spreadsheet can be when planning any kind of trip. As a natural planner, this simple outline can really help to alleviate some of the pre-trip anxieties, especially if you’re concerned about budgetary or time restrictions. I hope this will encourage some of you to utilize this simple tool during your planning session of your first post-covid adventure!