Travel Tip: 5 Steps For Building The Perfect Itinerary
About a year ago Shay and I were getting ready for our 10 day trip to Berlin & Paris. That was our 2nd big international trip, and the first time we traveled to two countries back-to-back. I learned a lot while planning and executing that trip. A lot of what we learned has since become a standard for how we do all of our traveling, both domestic and international. I've decided to share my knowledge in this two-part series titled "Travel Tips". In Part 1 I provided my rules for packing using only a carry on (here), and in Part 2 I’m outlining my method for how to create an itinerary. Below is Part 2!
1. Begin With The Basics
Before you open yourself up to the overwhelming possibilities of what you can do on your trip, start with the basics.
Contact a friend who traveled there for ideas on what to do. People love gushing about the places they've been.
Get a travel book that you can read ahead of time & take with you. This will be great for "on the go" information, especially if you are in a place without wifi. (Pro Tip: Avoid the restaurants listed in travel books. They tend to be overcrowded with tourists.)
Book your tours. Most cities offer free walking tours by locals who will whisk you through most of the touristy stuff & familiarize you with the area. I recommend this for the first full day of your trip. In addition, some cities have specialty tours that require advance booking. It’s best to look into that right away.
2. Use Free Internet Resources
Often times the goal for traveling is to blend in with the locals and find the best “off-the-beaten-path” places to stay, shop, and dine. I depend on the following sites/apps to help plan a more authentic experience.
Air BnB: For neighborhood descriptions and often times to book an apartment. The host can usually provide recommendations on what to do in the area as well.
Thrillist: This is a great resource for food and drink. Check to see if your destination is one of the many they blog about.
3. Create a Google Map
Creating Google Maps is easy, fun, and helps visualize where exactly you’re going and what you plan on doing. Think of it as taking pieces of a jumbled puzzle and putting them together. Follow these simple steps laid out by Google to get started.
Once the map is set, start inputting the known information: airport, train stops, apartment, etc.
Then pin the things you want to do: sites, museums, restaurants, shops, parks, etc.
Use special symbols for places/activities and add descriptions to your pins.
Don’t be afraid to over-pin things. It’s best to have a lot of options. Chances are, you won’t make it to everything on the map - and that’s ok.
4. Write It All Out
Now that you’ve done your research and created a map, you can start coming up with a game plan. I find that a spreadsheet is best for building an itinerary. Use columns for days of the week and rows for times of the day (morning, afternoon, evening).
Start with the obvious: arrival and departure.
Then input the set activities: tours and reservations.
Start to fill in the blanks. Group activities together based on where they are pinned on the map. For example: maybe you can hit a museum and a park in the same day if they’re close together, and stop by that restaurant that’s in between.
The itinerary along with the map will keep you from overbooking yourself and from running around like a crazy person from one side of town to the other.
5. Leave Wiggle Room For Spontaneity
There are many reasons to leave space in the schedule. Sometimes plans fall through, and sometimes you discover something along the way that wasn’t on your radar.
Talk to your cab driver, your bartender, and locals. You will often times get great advice on what to do. You will either feel validated in knowing that you planned some great activities, or they may save you from wasting your time.
A good friend of mine always said “over-plan, and then go with the flow”. Sometimes things don’t work out as planned, and that’s ok. One time, Shay and I missed our train out of Barcelona for a day trip. We took it as a sign that we were meant to relax and lay by the pool all day instead!
It’s always best to not have every minute of every day planned to a “T”. Keep a flexible schedule and you’ll be a much happier vacationer. Read this blog for how to maximize your vacation happiness.
I’ve been following these steps for itinerary planning for all my travel adventures. Do the work up front and the rest will fall into place. Enjoy!