I like to believe that at some point in our lives, we will all have the chance to take the trip of our dreams and travel exactly where we want to- however, it can be incredibly overwhelming once you realise that you are actually going. Mary Anne from Life in the Present Perfect is here to share her experience and advice with us on how to build your travel itinerary!
So, you’ve decided to finally take that long-awaited vacation you’ve been putting off for months. You have a lot of ideas about where you’d like to go and what you’d like to see within roughly two weeks for vacation. Creating an itinerary can be overwhelming. I’ve come up with a quick guide from my own experiences in planning short day trips to three-month long vacations. Although my tips are directed towards two-week vacations to a foreign country, you can adapt these ideas to your specific circumstances!
Do your research
I think this goes without saying but I’m going to mention it anyway. You must do your research before anything else. Regardless of whether you have an idea of where to spend your vacation or not, you must do your research to get a sense of the feasibility of your trip. Know what sort of paper work you need, if any, to get into a country, health concerns, currency exchange rates, etc. You do not want to go to a foreign country unprepared. Here are a few apps that I use to research costs including transportation, accommodation, and entrance fees to historical sites.
Have a budget
This is probably the most boring, but most important tip about planning an itinerary. Your itinerary MUST consider both expected and unexpected expenses for your trip. By expected expenses, I’m referring to things that you will know the cost of prior to your vacation and cannot avoid paying. These include transportation, accommodations, and tour reservations. Transportation and accommodations will be the costliest expenses for any trip so you want to plan these in advance to get the best prices.
Always round up!
For unexpected expenses, you want to have an estimate amount. You may be thinking of medication, emergency trips to the doctor, or replacing items that may have been lost on your flight. These all fall within the category of unexpected expenses and most people won’t have to worry about encountering these things during their trip. But three unexpected expenses that most people fail to consider are food, sites, and souvenirs. Unless you’ve specifically planned your meal and how much each meal costs, you cannot predict their exact prices. Travelling also means trying out different cuisines and restaurants and so keeping track of how much you spend on food will be more difficult. These can really add up without you noticing until you get your credit card statement.
Unplanned excursions can also add to your expenses. While most of us already have a list of things we would like to see, you might stumble at a site that you want to go to or hear about a great site to visit during your travels. These are the best surprises from my experiences, but they will cost money as a lot of sites have an entrance fee. Souvenirs can also be considered as unexpected expenses because these can be impulsive purchases. For large souvenirs, like perhaps a bottle of whisky from Scotland or cookies from your favorite patisserie in Paris, you know you know beforehand that you’ll be purchasing them and their costs. But most of the times, you’ll see smaller items that grab your attention whether they are cute little trinkets, postcards, or even clothing.
You need to work these different scenarios into you budget. You should be able to have a very rough estimate of items from reading travel blogs and travel guides on the internet. But from your estimate, round up from what you expect to spend because you will most likely spend more than what you think.
Location, location, location
Depending on the sites that you want to visit on your vacation, these may be in different cities that are about 1-2 hours away from each other or the sites may be dispersed throughout one city. I strongly recommend that you choose a home-base. If you are visiting sites in different cities that are close enough to one another, stay in one city so that you are not carrying your bags more than you have to. Whichever city you choose as your home-base, make sure that its transportation system is efficient enough that you can take day trips to other cities around it without much hassle. If most of the sites that you want to visit are in one city, make sure you are staying somewhere that is within 20 minutes max. walking distance to major centres and is close to metro and bus stops. Walking everywhere is definitely the greatest way to immerse yourself in a city but you also don’t want to spend more time trying to reach your destinations than actually taking in the site.
When planning your daily schedules, you need to know roughly how long it’s going to take you to get from one location to another and how long you’d like to spend at a site. Expect to get lost regardless of how good you think you are at navigating with your GPS. If you’ve made reservations for a tour, make sure that you give yourself plenty of time to get there on time. Small tour groups might wait for you, but larger ones certainly won’t and they won’t give you a refund either. Lets not forget the queues to get in popular sites. Even with skip-the-line reservations, there is still some waiting involved especially if you are visiting at a busy time of the year. Check opening and closing times before fully committing to seeing a site. These are things you need to take into consideration when trying to determine the time you will spend at specific sites. As with unexpected expenses, you want to round up when you’re estimating the time that it will take you to commute between locations.
So many people come back from their vacations feeling more exhausted than when they had left. The trick to avoiding exhaustion is spreading out your activities. My technique is to alternate between packed and more relaxed days. For example, my first exploring day in Milan consisted of the Duomo, Cathedral, Da Vinci’s Last Supper, the archeological museum, and the church of St. Maurice. The second day of my trip was a day trip to Bergamo, which was not as fast-paced as the previous day since I didn’t really have anything specific planned other than to see the town. Spacing out the things that I wanted to see and do made sure I had enough time to recover from a busy day while still also checking things off of my list of things to see.
Taking a Day Off
In addition to spacing out your activities, don’t be afraid to have one or two days when you don’t have anything planned. This will not only give you time to rest for your next full day of excursions but also time to wander without the urgency of needing to be somewhere. Sit at a café or square where you can people-watch and soak in everything around you!