There is no right way to plan your travel, no matter what you might read on Reddit. What follows is how I plan my flights. This isn’t intended to be the right way for you. Please consider what your personal needs are when preplanning.
Once I have decided where my new temporary home is going to be, checked out the visa restrictions, and made sure there were plenty of Airbnbs available in the area, it is time to think about flight planning. When and how I get somewhere, isn’t as straight forward as it used to be when I was planning two or three week vacations. The flexibility I now have in planning can invoke the paradox of choice. Any decisions I make now, will cascade down through time.
I like to book my flights 60 days in advance. I have read that this is the prime time frame to get good prices. It has also makes it more likely that there will be available frequent flyer reward flights. I have three weeks before I will be booking my flights and Airbnb for Arequipa, Peru, so I am looking at my flight options now.
I know when I will be leaving Colombia. I have an idea of how long I can stay in Houston before heading out again. I know what dates I have to be in Honolulu for 2020. I want to go to Vietnam, and I have to make a business trip to Indianapolis before heading back to the EU. That is far as the various websites will project airfares, so that is far as this calculation goes. I really want to go to Zagreb next year, after Vietnam, but I have been known to change my mind.
The 1st scenario was what I had planned when I thought I was limited to a 90 day visa in Peru. I needed to fill in between Arequipa and Honolulu, so I thought a short trip to Mexico would fit the bill. Once I learned that the visa limit is 183 days for a US citizen, I started running scenarios through my head. Confusion quickly set in. My beloved Excel came to the rescue.
Using Google Flights, to estimate the cost and length of flights, I set up the table below. I was excited to think of maybe flying strait to Honolulu from Arequipa (2nd scenario). It would save me 38 hours of flight time from the 1st scenario. It would cost me $279 USD more. I sort of balked at the idea of paying more for the time savings, when I really don’t need to be saving time.
In the 3rd scenario, I checked out what it would be like if I kept to my original plan, but made the trip to Indy from Houston a round trip. There wasn’t anything to recommend that route, but I wouldn’t have know, unless I priced it out. I always compare round trip with one way, since I never know which one will be the best deal. Routes, which I know are cheeper one way from previous research were not evaluated separately this time.
The 4th scenario was the same as the first, but using a different airline for the Indy to Houston leg. (In case I wasn’t able to get a Southwest flight.) In the 5th scenario I left out Mexico, planning to spend 138 days in Arequipa. I would fly round trip to Arequipa and round trip to Vietnam. Everything else would be one way.
The 2nd scenario is of course the one I would have booked if money wasn’t such an issue. The 5th scenario, the one I will most likely follow, will save me $477 USD from the scenario I would rather have. The difference between in time between the two scenarios is only 11 hours, so I would be paying $47.70 USD per hour to take the shorter flights.
While I was setting up this Excel spreadsheet, I set Google Flights to notify me when prices change. I can update the spreadsheet with those changes. Three weeks from now when I am ready to book my flights, I will have the up to date info to look at before making my final decision.
When I book my flight to Arequipa, I will post some screenshots to show my process. I only book one destination at a time, unless I am traveling fast. Once I have my time frame pretty well outlined. I use the app Dates Between to get the date I need to book the next destination. I add the date to my calender, so that I don’t forget.