Lessons Along the Way

I had every intention of finishing this post and having it up yesterday. I thought to myself, “Oh Susan, you have loads of time at the airport in Dublin! If not there, you’ll be in Leith by 5:00 at the latest, so you can do a quick edit and post it then!” 

But you see, I forgot what a brutal mistress jetlag is. We had just enough energy to get to a grocery store, make some dinner, try to watch the Wales-Belgium match on TV and get ourselves to bed. We fell asleep before 9PM local time, and just woke up about a half hour ago at 12:30. So for anyone who was patiently waiting for this post (LOL), accept my deepest apologies. 

It’s time! It’s here! We have officially reached Scotland! To be honest, I’ve been thinking and dreaming and planning for the last year, so it’s a little surreal to me that the day has finally come for us to begin this crazy adventure. We had a road trip with my father up to New York on Thursday, an overnight flight to Dublin and a final hop to Edinburgh. Now the fun part begins!

Looking back, I’m not afraid to admit that I’ve hit some snags in my planning period. I’ve had some breakdowns and I’ve had some upswings. There have been plenty of days where I’ve been stuck on one or two problems and other days where I’ve flown through my to-do list. I’m starting to learn that I don’t have to do everything but I need to at least do something when the urge strikes. I can’t fight who I am, a down-to-the-minute-detail planner, but I can at least use it to my advantage. I’ve also learned the art of compromise which will be helpful in all aspects of my life. I can’t always have an exact plan in place, but I can certainly know what I’d like to do!

I’ve learned so much during this process, which if I remember for our next trip it should at least make it go a little smoother.

Get on the Same Page
I remember when we came up with the idea of travelling abroad for an extended time. We were sitting in Brouwer’s Cafe in Fremont about a year ago, drinking Scotch and eating french fries. We got to talking about what it would be like to have our drinks in Scotland, and I turned to Ryan and asked, “What’s stopping us?”I thought the answer was nothing, but really there were plenty of things in our way. Mostly small things that were easily rectified, but some were major, such as how we would finance it and what we would do for work.

So we decided to sit on the idea for a couple of weeks before we came back to the idea with all of our concerns. It was nice because we had very few concerns between the two of us! We decided then and there that we could actually do this, and we got to planning. We made sure we discussed each big decision, such as when to tell our parents and how long we wanted to go with each other. In the early stages, before my contract with the YMCA ended, we sat down every Sunday with some research and just talked. We talked about where we would love to go and where we could realistically go. Which leads me to my next point.

Dream Big, but Plan Realistically
If I had my way, we would travel indefinitely, lighting up the world and seeing everything. But obviously we can’t do that! When I first started planning I was at such a loss; I wrote down every little thing I read about on scraps of paper. I started researching places in SE Asia and Australia before we even finalized our trip itinerary! The first A/B list I made was dream destinations and I found it surprisingly helpful.

What was helpful was researching specific cities and making our A and B lists. The A list was the places we had to make a point of going to. Making sure we take a trip to Islay and drink Scotch? A list. Going sea kayaking in Dubrovnik after walking the walled city? A list. Shopping in Berlin’s Christmas markets? A+ list. I made myself stick to five things for each city, otherwise I’d get too bogged down and everything would go on my A list. Everything else went on my B list. This way I’d have a record of a lot of cool things to do and we could pick and choose what to fill our time with based on where we were and how much time we had. It worked pretty well for our road trip, so I hope it works for all the cities we see on our next trip!

Seek as Much Advice as Possible
Blogs. Pinterest. Newspapers. I sought advice everywhere you could think of. I took books our of the library and watched Rick Steves videos until my eyes crossed. Now I know not everyone has the time to do this, but I would suggest you seek as much advice from as many sources as you feel comfortable doing. Pinterest was so good to me; it’s crowd-sourced and constantly updated and it provided such great information. I would never have know about Krka National Park in Croatia without Pinterest!

I also found blogs much more helpful than guidebooks. Guidebooks gave me a great starting place, but reading stories from people who had been there gave much more detail and helped me decide if I had to go to a place or not. And as an added bonus you can reach out to bloggers and more often than not get a response. The world is full of people who want to share their experiences with you, you just have to ask!

Utilize Travel Websites
Everyone says this, and for good reason. If you do enough research you can get really good deals. I made a promise to set up Kayak alerts for all of our flights and keep up on them; because of alerts we ended up scoring a flight from London to Croatia for less than 50 dollars. We also found all of our lodging in Croatia for $25 or less a night, which was much less than we budgeted for! I used a combination of Kayak, Skyscanner and Google Flights to really get our itinerary set. For lodging I used Booking, Air BnB and Trivago. These are a great place to start!

Save Your Pennies
Literally, save your pennies. One of the things I learned over the last few months especially is that little purchases can add up, eating away at your travel budget. That Starbucks a day could buy you a delicious dinner in Paris! We cut down our budget more and more each month this year, until we were living very simply over the last month. It will be nice to be able to have a cushion and be able to splurge on some dates while we are away. I learned to always, always, always ask myself “Do I want to spend this ten dollars now, or in Europe?” before buying anything. Having a little mantra actually worked wonders for me.

Learn to Take a Break
This is by far the most important piece of advice I can give to anyone planning any trip. Take a break from your trip planning. It’s so easy to let yourself be consumed by everything that you’re doing. Dreaming about exotic locations, interesting food and exciting adventures is all well and good. But you have to remember to continue living your life in the moment you are now.

Ryan and I had date nights planned every week where we had a strict rule: no trip talk. Because I am slightly obsessive, I wanted to think and talk about our trip with him at every moment I could. I realized that it was slowly becoming the sole focus of our relationship and we needed to take some time just for us. You have to focus on your current life and relationships and make sure you have a connection strong enough for the travels ahead!

So tell me… What are your best pieces of advice for anyone planning a trip? What was the most important thing you’ve learned? What do you wish you could go back and redo in a different way? Let me know in a comment!

I’ll be back next week with all of our adventures in Scotland so far!



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  1. saving pennies and taking a break from planning are great advice. But saving pennies can be hard when people are always inviting you to do things that involve money. lol. Also, taking a break helps you to not go crazy :). Enjoy the adventures!

    1. @omobtomtom – If it’s not something critically important, like a wedding event, etc, sometimes letting people know you’re trying to save money for a big trip really helps. That way people understand if you have to say no to some of them/suggest another activity/spend less on “extras” like a second drink at happy hour. You can also plan some activities yourself that don’t take as much money so you can help control costs. That also gives people a way to support you going on the trip (let’s help you save money to go, and still hang out).

      1. I found that planning activities with friends was really helpful! Before we left Seattle, I was queen of planning dates with my friends that involved a cup of coffee and exploring a neighborhood for a couple of hours. But I agree, sometimes it’s hard, especially if your friends don’t quite understand why you need to save the money. I’ve gotten my fair share of strange looks when I explain I can’t go out for drinks/dinner/whatever for the 3rd time in a week.

      2. those are great ideas! when i was planning my Grand Canyon trip it was easier to say no because my friends knew about the trip … Now, there is no actual major trip I’m planning for- I’m generally just ready to jet off somewhere so it’s harder to say I’m saving for a non existent [at the moment] trip. haha. But yes, def great ideas 🙂

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