PLANNING A ROUTE: EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW
When I first started planning my current South East Asia trip I researched the HELL out of each country to get me through the long months until my trip. One of the most important things I wanted to know was how long should I plan to spend in each country? Two weeks? A month? Which order should I do them in?
One thing I've learned on this trip is that you definitely, definitely need to keep yourself flexible! There'll be places you thought you'd love but hate and want to leave, and there'll be places you'll fall absolutely in love with and never want to leave!
You'll meet incredible groups of people and will likely tag along and change plans for a week or two! The most important thing to take away from this is to listen to yourself and what you want.
STEP ONE: THE BUCKET LIST THINGS
When I'm planning a trip, the first thing I'll do is write down all my bucket list items or things I know I want to see or do in a certain country.
Whether it's see the Taj Mahal, or see the Northern Lights, think long and hard about the reasons you want to visit a certain place.
STEP TWO: PIN EACH PLACE ON A MAP
Logically, the next step in planning a route is to get a rough idea of where in each country the things you want to see are. I find one of the easiest ways to do this is to pin each location on a map, such as Google Maps.
You'll typically end up with clusters of locations around the country, and from here it'll be easier to see which areas you're likely to be going to and can research what to do in those areas. On my latest trip to South East Asia, this is what my pins on my map looked like:
STEP THREE: RESEARCH
Once you can see where the clusters of pins are, you can then start to do some further research on what to do in those areas. For example, in the above map you can see that in Thailand there are a lot of pins centred around Bangkok, as well as a lot in the North and in the South.
From this I know I'll be heading to Bangkok, the south islands, Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai. Since I only have a few pins/bucket list items in these areas, my next step would be to research what else there is to do in these areas, based on the things I like to do.
I'll search things like 'Things to do in Chiang Mai' or 'Best Hikes in Chiang Mai' until I have a lot more pins on my map and can start working out how long to spend in each area.
As you find more things you'd be interested in seeing or doing, make sure to continue to add them as pins to your map!
STEP FOUR: HOW LONG TO SPEND IN EACH AREA
If my latest trip taught me anything it's that you won't really know how long you'll want to spend in a place for sure, but you can make a rough plan!
Firstly, look up the visa requirements for each country and how long your visa allows you to be in the country. Most visas allow 30-60 days, but I always minus a day or two in case anything goes wrong in my plans to leave the country.
If you're leaving on day 30 but your flight gets delayed and it takes you into day 31, you're liable to pay steep fines and/or risk being jailed! Most Asian countries take overstaying a visa pretty damn seriously so to me it's not worth risking it!
Once you have the number of days you're allowed, start allotting days to areas based on how much you want to do there. Below is what I roughly planned for my time in Thailand.
DAYS: 28 (30 day visa)
BANGKOK CITY CENTRE: 3 DAYS - I'm not much of a city girl and so I knew 1-2 days would be enough, plus I wanted an extra day or two to catch up on sleep and work from India.
THE ISLANDS: 15 DAYS - I wasn't entirely sure which islands I wanted to visit or how long I wanted to spend there. I knew I'd likely head to Phuket and Koh Phi Phi, and wanted some time to chill, so I planned for around two weeks.
CHIANG MAI: 2-3 DAYS - I knew one of these days would be to see the Elephant Nature Park, and so that left me 1-2 days for sightseeing.
CHIANG RAI: 2 DAYS - The main reason I was going to Chiang Rai was to see the White Temple and the Black House Museum, so I planned for two days since there wasn't much else I wanted to see here.
This left me a few days to play around with if I wanted to spend longer in a location!
STEP FIVE: FIGURING OUT THE ROUTE
I'm a huge fan of figuring out a route before you go, not only because it'll mean you won't miss anything out, but it's usually having a logical route is the cheapest. Usually I'll look at where the pins on my map are and figure out a route that will get me to each place without doubling back on myself or going in circles.
For my latest trip to SE Asia, this was my route:
Now you're done! You have a rough idea of a route, how long you'll stay in each place AND a list of everything you want to do. All that's left to do is try and figure out a budget.