Making the Most of Your Trip Itinerary Here's How
In a vibrant city, it can be fun to wander the streets at will, stopping into quaint cafes and striking up conversations with the locals.
But I don't want to leave seeing something perfect for the bucket list to random chance when time is limited. What if I didn't go on the Cabot Trail in Nova Scotia and hike Skyline Trail? Such as the breathtaking panorama at Piaynemo in Raja Ampat.
When I travel, I always make an itinerary.
Always leaving some wiggle room in my itinerary for unplanned adventures, like getting lost in the nooks and crannies of Tokyo's backstreets, helps me make sure I don't miss any of the incredible bucket list experiences that could be waiting for me at my destination of choice.
It stresses me out to stick to a rigid travel schedule, but winging it can lead to wasted time. When I'm on vacation, the last thing I want to do is sit in my hotel room for hours trying to decide what to do.
The following is the structure I use to create an itinerary:
Methods for Archiving Your Trip Plan
When I first started going on trips, I spent a few months planning out my time in London so that I wouldn't miss a thing. I bought a pricey map and painstakingly labeled all the stops along the way with tiny numbered stickers. These totals matched up with an Excel sheet that detailed each attraction and its pertinent details.
In my mind, it was a failsafe system.
On day one, as I was making my way to Abbey Road, the map fell out of my purse and disappeared. In a flash, hours of preparation had been rendered useless. Because of this experience, I now only use digital maps, and I rarely buy paper maps (especially since most airports and hotels provide free paper maps to their guests).
My itineraries are instead made and kept in the app Evernote. The app can sync with all of my devices, so I can access my maps, photos, and bookmarks from any of them. Keep in mind that you will need Wi-Fi to access any links if you set up an offline notebook to view your notes when you don't have Internet access.
Alternate options include Apple's Notes app (which lacks some of the features found in Evernote) and Microsoft's OneNote, Evernote's main competitor.
Learn the Facts
To get the most out of your trip, plan ahead of time so you know exactly what you want to do and what will make this the best vacation ever. Does the thought of exploring a new place excite you because of its rich past, intriguing present, or tantalizing cuisine? Do you plan to spend all of your time in a city partying and engaging in wild adventures? You'll need to do some research on your destination in order to provide adequate responses to these questions.
In order to prepare for a trip, I always look up "unique things to do in XYZ," "traditional foods of XYZ," and "best restaurant in XYZ" online. Then, I skim quickly through dozens of result sites, making a list in Evernote of everything that even mildly interests me. Google's first few pages tend to be filled with large, generic sites that can only give you a tourist's perspective; to get a more in-depth understanding, it's best to click through to the subsequent pages, where you'll find more personal stories and blogs
When researching a destination, I always look at the official tourism board's website, even if it doesn't show up in the search results. Additionally, I might peruse some travel books at the bookstore and check to see if any documentaries are available to rent on Netflix about the location.
Another option is to see what kinds of tours are available at your destination by visiting a site like Get Your Guide.
In order to decide which sights and eateries to visit and which to cut from the preliminary list, further investigation is conducted. Given your limited time and energy, mark with an asterisk those activities that you simply must complete.
Organize a City by Wards
Much like Paris's arrondissements and London's boroughs, many major cities will be subdivided into smaller administrative units called "districts." Check out a city's neighborhood maps online to get a sense of where you'll be going. Make a new tab in Evernote for each zone; if your town doesn't have neighborhoods, divide it into the four cardinal directions (northeast, northwest, southeast, and southwest). Headers can be as simple as the name of the village you're passing through if your route takes you through several.
Get started sorting the items on your master list into the appropriate folders. You'll be able to better organize your day if you know exactly where you'll be going and what attractions that location offers.
***Hint: Add a Google Map to your Evernote file with pins in all the places you want to go that day.
Establish a Timetable
Plan out your vacation days by creating a calendar. Make a table or make a list, whichever works best for you. It's a good idea to look at your "things to do" list and prioritize the activities that must be completed on specific days due to restrictions such as opening hours or the need for advanced reservations.
If the time slot is available on that particular day, add everything in that area that belongs to the same district, starting with the most crucial items marked with an asterisk. Don't worry about giving these other events specific times; just fit as many as you can before or after your planned one. This way, you can be flexible with your schedule and take advantage of all that the area you'll be visiting has to offer without worrying about running out of things to do.
Allow for the Unexpected and Maintain Perspective
A bucket list is as much about the journey as it is about the checkmark, which is why I always make sure to have a flexible itinerary, even when I'm in a place specifically chosen to cross something off my list.
When you're out and about in a new city, you never know when something truly amazing will catch your attention; if you have a packed itinerary, you might have to miss it. You should try to keep your expectations for the trip in check while still making the most of it possible.
Don't assume that you can cram a full day of sightseeing into your first day in Europe after a twelve-hour flight. Schedule in time for eating, sleeping, recovering from jet lag, and relaxing. You can also anticipate a few hiccups: flight delays, lost restaurant reservations, and attractions that don't live up to their online hype.
The tour guide in the Bahamas missed picking us up from the hotel, it rained for 24 hours straight, and the buggy we rented had a flat tire within the first half hour. Yes, it did alter our plans somewhat, but we ended up meeting a lovely Bahamian couple who kindly drove us to the local fish fry, where we feasted on cracked conch and drank bottles of Kalik beer.
The unexpected can often be the highlight of a trip.
The Little Things Count
Compile your travel info (flight info, hotel info, maps, etc.) in order to have quick access to it later The exchange rate (so I know how much a single U.S. dollar is worth in the local currency) and this data are always included in my travel plans. Rather than sift through numerous emails or switch between apps, I can simply look at one file that contains all the relevant information.
Warning*** Do not rely on this in place of keeping hard copies of confirmation emails and other important documents.
For this and much more, check out my book, Bucket List Adventures.
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