Planning a Trip/ Traveling: The Itinerary debate & my guide!

Planning a trip is a very personal thing and many people have wide ranging opinions on how much to plan and how much to leave to chance. I tend to believe it all comes down to how long you have in a place, but whether you are a full on Itinerary planner or just go with the flow, researching your destination is always a good idea and here is my guide!

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When I think of the many different travellers I know there is a wide ranging spectrum on planning. I know some who never leave for a destination without knowing the ins and outs, the wheres and whats, some even plan everyday down to the hour, others just turn up and see whats happening and take opportunities as they come, others are just down right clueless and either miss out on all the place has to offer or end up relying on expensive and inauthentic excursions or tours… whilst others just stay by the pool and never leave their hotel complex, but the less said about those the better!!

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Take my parents for example, I asked my mum what they were going to be getting up to when they visited Croatia this year and she honestly had no answer for me! Now in a sense this is great, the place came as a total surprise to them when they landed and that must have been quite exciting, but on the other hand I do know that as a result of that the only times they went out to see anything was with a tour guide and a horde of other tourists!

They missed out on the beauty of just strolling around the city and discovering it for themselves and they also paid a lot more money for that pleasure! But i’ll let them off, they are not the most outgoing of travellers and may not have seen anything if it weren’t for those excursions. But personally, I think planning a trip is all part of the excitement as it builds up and finally seeing those things you have been dreaming about is one of the main reasons we choose a destination, and not for how big the pool is or the selection at the breakfast buffet!

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Plotting out your maps means you can explore areas at a time not just the sights, sketching is also a good way to slow down and taking in your surroundings!

My General feelings on planning:

Now I tend to think that the length of time spent in any one place should dictate the level of planning you go to. However long you are there though research always goes a long way and I think it’s mostly a balancing act between making sure you don’t miss out on those “must see” places but at the same time allowing yourself some space to explore and really get to know somewhere, to relax and take it all in and discover something not in the guide books!

If you only have a weekend in a city you don’t want to waste half the day juggling maps and working out which tram to get on only to find out the place is closed on Saturday afternoons! But if you have a month to explore a city then you can take your time and really get to know it’s layout, transport and nuances .. but at the same time you still want to know what the place has to offer and what not to miss!! Sometimes having too long can breed complacency as well! But however long you go for it’s always good to allow time for wandering, even if you have to schedule it!!

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This is generally how it goes:

Day Trip/ Weekend/ Few Days:

List of places to visit, locations, transport, opening hours, prices
Day plan/ Itinerary
Map with places circled
List of few places to eat

Around a week:

List of places to visit, locations, transport, opening hours, prices
Map with places circled
List of few places to eat
Plan to travel further a field for a day if doable
Plan a rough area to visit/ explore each day where some of the places on the list are.

Two weeks +

List of places to visit, locations, transport, opening hours, prices
Map with places circled
List of few places to eat
Plan some trips to surrounding areas/ cities/ countries
Have a place in mind at the start of each day but generally quite open!

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Parks are a good place to rest during a busy day and still take in a new part of the city! Here we are in Dublin!

One great way to get some exploring in if you have limited time is to plan in areas and once in that area walk between each place on your list instead of taking short trips on public transport, it means you get to explore on foot and come across some unexpected treasures! Make sure to also speak to the locals as much as you can and other travellers in your hostel/ hotel to get the inside scoop on obscure or off the beaten track places to visit!

So here is my process of planning a trip!

Firstly I look around on places like Tripadvisor, Lonely Planet, virtual tourist and Nat Geo and have a look at their “Things to do” lists, “Must Do’s” “Top 10’s” etc. I make a list of everything I find interesting and then do a bit of research to see if it is something we would enjoy. On sites like Tripadvisor it’s always good to try and scroll down as far as you can, you get some real hidden jems lurking in the depths! I try at first to cover all the major sights and make sure we aren’t missing anything major out. I also usually buy a guide book too, this means you can easily add other things to do if you change your mind/ things don’t go to plan and generally have some useful information on customs and some history too (plus I am a geek and like to collect them!)

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Next I try and dig a little deeper, looking for blog posts and more personal reflections on the city, many times these include some chance discoveries and more interesting feedback. I also search for “Off the beaten track”/ alternative things to do and also search for guides written by locals which will usually result in some explorations to be had outside of the usual tourist districts and will probably lead to seeing a different side to the city. We ended up in the most random part of Moscow heading to a climbing wall and although a little sketchy at the time it is one of our most memorable experiences of Russia!

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Next I check out the local transportation. How to get from the airport to our hostel and depending on the time we arrive if it’s worth booking a pick up (usually cheaper in advance). Looking at buses, trains, trams, metros etc. I download a up to date map of the metros and familiarise myself with our location and the rules of use/ how to buy a ticket too.

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After that I make a numbered list out of what I have collected. I try to find out what is the nearest metro/ tram stop, what is the address (in both English and Local language/ alphabet… Learnt the hard way in Moscow!), what the opening times are and how much it costs. All these things might seem a little OCD but it means more time to enjoy and explore the city instead of fiddling with maps or arriving somewhere when it’s closed! I usually then put those numbers onto my map so we can see which areas they are in and explore each section at a time.

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I also like to have a look at day trips from the area if we are there long enough and find out about coaches or trains, times and how much they cost. Then I can book that before we go and have that marked down for that day. We have done this with Boston and DC from NYC and also Lviv from Krakow!

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What we do with all this!

Of course there is such a thing as over planning and I think part of the reason I like to do this is because I get excited about visiting a new place and this kind of gives me something to remedy that! But we love walking and exploring and always make time for the impromptu and spontaneous, we had some of the best days in Tokyo and NYC walking for hours around the city with no particular destination in mind, getting lost on purpose, but we still made sure on other days we got to see the things we really dreamt about!

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Wandering around the backstreets of Ueno, TOKYO!

The majority of the time we like to take our lists, maps and books and each night look at some of the things we might like to do the day after and make a rough plan, maybe sitting in a coffee shop in the main square, on the balcony of your hotel or common room in the hostel surrounded by other travellers. I always thinks it’s about getting a balance between making sure you see the things a you went there to see, and allowing yourself time to really explore and adapt.

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Making sure we saw those “Must See” landmarks in WASHINGTON DC

What are your thoughts/ techniques for planning your trips?

Nicola Hilditch-Short

Nic is one half of the Roaming Renegades, a passionate traveller, climber, adventurer, photographer and artist who has a B.A in Fine Art and M.A in Design & Art Direction.