How to Make an Itinerary

How to Create an Itinerary and Maximize your Trip: 5 Simple Steps

In general I feel like there are two primary mindsets when it comes to planning a trip.  Those who like to show up and see where the experience takes them and those who like to plan.

Though I do allow for flexibility (you have to!), I am definitely a planner.  Fortunately, my husband (and primary travel companion) is also pretty go-go-go and enjoys arriving at a place with a plan, so we are not at odds in our travel methods.

For me, creating a relatively detailed itinerary really helps me to get the most out of my trip.  Not only does it help me narrow down what I want to do and see, I enjoy the whole process of planning in advance.

For me, it feels like the trip lasts even longer because of how much I learn about the place in preparation.

I also find that the more research I do, the more easily I can be flexible when things go wrong because I have thought about “Plan B” and already have a good level of knowledge of the place I am visiting.

So here is the five step approach I take to setting up our itineraries:

  1. First, I write anything down that I already know in advance that I HAVE to do (whether as a result of obligation or desire). This could be a site I’ve always wanted to visit, an event that takes place on a certain day, or a restaurant I’ve been dying to try.
  2. Then, I start making a list of all the activities/restaurants/sites that interest me at our destination. I usually start by googling “best things to do in….”, reading blogs, and looking on TripAdvisor
    • We are getting ready to take a trip to Ireland in a few days. Ireland is a big country and neither of us have been before.  When we first started our research, we got recommendations from friends and made a list of all the top sites and activities in Ireland that interested us most.
  3. Map out all your places of interest using GoogleMaps
    • Once I have a general idea of what I would ideally like to see and do, I map it all out to see what looks plausible from a location standpoint.
      • For example, when we were planning our trip to Ireland it was clear that there were many things we wanted to do in the north of the island and the south. It just wasn’t going to be possible in our time frame to do it all, so we restricted our attention to the south.  This instantly cut our places of interest in half and helped to narrow our focus.
      • I also do this by city. That way, when I look at the map, I can tell how to fill each day based on where things are located.
  4. List each day that you will be travelling in a Word document. Make sure to include both the date and day of the week.  This is important because as you start filling in your activities you may learn that a restaurant or site is closed on particular days of the week, so you will have to be sure to slot it in on a day that it is open.
    • If step 1 applies, and you have any obligations that aren’t flexible (such as a wedding or play/concert you have to attend on a certain time), write them down under the corresponding dates.
    • Be sure to enter the day that you arrive and leave with applicable travel information (such as your flight # with arrival and departure time).
  5. Finally, you can start filling in your days based on your map and what is close to each other. This way, you will not waste time and money transporting yourself back and forth across the area you’re visiting.
    1. Make sure to check if certain attractions are closed on particular days or keep narrow hours. If there is something you want to visit that is only open on one day you will be there, put that item in your itinerary first, and then fill out the rest based around what is near it.

I keep my itinerary as a working document.  If I read about a restaurant I would like to try or site I would like to see, I check which day it will fit into the best and then add it if I have room, see if I want to replace something with it, or mark it as a “Plan B” in case I have time.

If something doesn’t fit into my itinerary, I still keep track of it in a “notes” section in case something is unexpectedly closed or I have more time than expected.

I hope this helps!

I totally understand the appeal of showing up and seeing where the day takes you.  Sometimes I leave pockets in my itineraries to allow for this and often if we are returning to a place I’ve already been I leave a lot more flexibility.  In general though, there are so many exciting things I want to do that I find creating an itinerary really helps me to pack a lot in without feeling overwhelmed since it’s all planned out.

It usually saves a lot of time because I’ve been able to buy tickets in advance (less time in line) and I don’t waste time getting to a place only to find out it is closed or I can’t get a reservation.

Do you like to make itineraries before you travel or prefer to “wing it”? Do you have any fun trips coming up?

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