Map by Lauren Taylor Creates
Last week we introduced our Travel series, where we’ll be sharing our tips from every step of our travel process. Our previous post focused on travel inspiration and how to organize it, this time around we’re going to focus on trip planning. Once you’ve got your inspiration and you’ve decided on where you’ll be going on your next trip, it’s time to start making it happen. In our opinion, a well planned itinerary can make or break a trip.
We’ve found the best way to organize an itinerary is to use a spreadsheet (Download our Example Itinerary), this helps you visualize what the schedule will look like, leading to fewer mistakes during the booking phase. You can customize your own spreadsheet but at a minimum you should break it out daily and include columns for Date, Start Location, End Location, Accommodations and Activities. If our itinerary involves multiple locations, we’ll include a column for travel time and method(s) of travel. Additionally, you can plan in advance where you want to eat for the trip. It’s helpful to create an itinerary, even if you’re only planning a trip for a single location.
Another thing this aids with is the Booking Phase. At times, you’ll have to rearrange your itinerary based on availability of hotels, travel or activities. As an example, when planning our Iceland trip, we had to slightly alter our original plan to accommodate available dates for the Ice Cave Tour. When you have everything laid out, it’s easier to see what your flexibility will be.
When putting together the itinerary, we first start with the thing or things that are most important to us, essentially the main reasons we are going on the trip in the first place. Each trip is different and has a different reason for drawing us in. We’ve booked trips for all types of main reasons- culture, a particular hotel, certain weather, relaxation, nature, history and more. For example, we had always wanted to go to Iceland to discover the wide variety of its natural beauty, but were particularly interested in experiencing some of the winter activities (ice caves, glacier lagoon, Northern Lights, dog sledding, etc.). After a bit of research, we came up with the ideal time to go (November), how long to go (7 nights, since the sun is only up for 5-6 hours) and method of travel (roadtrip in a rental car).
The second most important thing was figuring out great places to stay in the areas that we were wanting to do activities. So we developed an A list and B list of top activities and top hotels and then put everything on a fresh Google Map. I highly recommend this step of adding locations to Google Maps. Google Maps recently launched a feature that allows you to save to different lists inside the app. With everything pinned on the map, a natural path should present itself. In the case of Iceland, we decided to start in Reykjavik, then head Southeast to the Glacier Lagoon, then finish our trip in the north in order to maximize the chances of seeing snow.
Having an A and B list helps create a filter, A list items are worth making sacrifices in order to accommodate into an itinerary, after all they are typically why you are going on the trip in the first place. While B list items are things you want to be able to do, but not if it comes at the cost of missing something else you’re even more excited about. Another point worth mentioning is that it’s very easy to get bummed out if an opportunity just doesn’t work out for your trip and at times it can be very frustrating, especially when planning a long trip with lots of stops. With some extra research and an open mind, you might be able to find a worthy substitute that you hadn’t thought about before. As an example, one of our favorite locations ever, Lake Garda, Italy, was discovered after deciding that Lake Como was too far off our desired path when booking our Italian Roadtrip last April.
There’s something to be said about not overloading a trip with too much travel time or too many activities. Most travelers, don’t know when they’ll have the opportunity to return to that place so it’s natural that they will try and do it all. We try not to do multiple locations or activities in one day. This helps us resist the urge to become “checklist” travelers. We choose instead to take things slower, and attempt to immerse ourselves in the experience, taking our time and enjoying. In fact, this is one of the reasons we love to take pictures. Being a good photographer requires slowing things down and seeing the world from different angles, it’s all about discovery and capturing moments, exactly the skills found in great travelers.
While I’ll get into it more in the next post, in this series, it’s smart to at least check basic availabilities (and prices) of flights, hotels and activities, especially for A list items. The reason being that you might start booking your entire trip only to find out you may need to adjust your plans to accommodate a key piece of your trip.
As your itinerary starts to fill in and take shape, you’ll realize that you now have smaller holes to fill. Depending on the type of planner you are, you’ll either decide to have open time to explore without an agenda or you may want to plan out every minute of the trip. Either way, you may find yourself back in the Inspiration phase searching for more things to add.
Make sure to be on the look out for the next post in this series, discussing our favorite booking tips.