Sometimes the hardest part about traveling is planning it. Maybe the trip never gets beyond that “we should go there” stage, or you end up lounging in a hotel room at your destination trying to come up with things to do, watching your precious time go down the drain. Here are eight tips for being a travel agent for yourself or your group to get the most out of that trip of a lifetime.

1.Start early.

To get the best deals on accommodation and transport, start planning at least six months ahead for an international trip or three months for a stateside trip.

2. Be pushy.

Make your fellow travelers (or yourself) commit early on so they won’t throw your plans through a loop later.

3. Know your expectations.

What do you and your fellow travelers expect from this trip? Find out what they want to see and do.

4. Use the internet.

The internet can tell you practically anything you need to know. Check out reviews on websites such as to make sure your hotel doesn’t have bedbugs. Surf the web for ideas of things to do, see, and eat. Take a look at city websites to iron out plans for traveling on buses, trains, and subways. You can even use Street View on Google Maps to see if your hotel is in a posh neighborhood or trashy area.

5. Put together an itinerary.

Make a daily schedule with a list of things to do each day. Include other important information, such as how to get there and how long it will take. Make sure you don’t cram too many things into one day. Take time to just enjoy being where you are—but have a couple of extra ideas in case you run out of things to do. Give everyone in your group a copy of the itinerary so they know what to expect.

6. Plan for the best—and the worst.

Hopefully your trip will go smoothly, but remember that life happens and Murphy’s Law reigns. Think of things that could go wrong and make a plan. What if you miss a connection? What if you get a flat tire? Consider external circumstances. Don’t plan a crazy first day if you’ll be suffering from jet lag, and remember to account for bad traffic or delayed planes and trains. If you’re going to a foreign country where they speak another language, create a basic phrasebook for yourself and your travel companions in case you get separated.

7. Don’t go in blind.

If you and your travel buddies don’t know anything about the place you’re taking them, you probably won’t appreciate the trip. Before the trip, send out emails or make a blog with interesting historical facts and cultural tidbits about your destinations—in other words, why you picked it. For example, Gamla Uppsala in Sweden doesn’t seem like much of a place to visit until you realize those strange-looking hills are actually Viking burial mounds.

8. Relax and have fun!

Enjoy the trip and don’t forget that while an itinerary is immensely helpful, sometimes the best and most memorable adventures are unplanned. Don’t be afraid to break away from the plan if a fortuitous opportunity arises!

—Julianne Long

No one wants to be labeled as the tourist. Here is your guide to blending in and experiencing a place without sticking out.

A trip will go more smoothly if you can go in and communicate with the locals. At least say hello….in 6 different languages.