With a decision finally made for summer travels, we are now working furiously on our itinerary for our summer trip to Iceland, Amsterdam, Berlin & Copenhagen (see ‘Vacation Planning – getting the whole family involved’ to see the family game we played to help us decide where to go this year).
Planning an itinerary is the hardest and most time consuming part of the job. A well thought out trip requires hours of research and data gathering from travel books, the Internet, word of mouth, and current news sources. For me, this is the part I most enjoy! I love the exploration of new areas, the excitement and anticipation of the possibilities, the digging for the details that will make the trip just right, and the uncovering of all the tips from locals before getting on the road.
So many travel dreams never result in an actual trip because it’s hard to know where to start. Here we break it down for you into three easy parts. The discovery phase, the explorer phase and the adventurer phase. Use the graphics as a guide to see how Torly Travels can help you plan a perfect vacation.
The Discovery Phase –
This is the bones of your trip. You goal here is to answer these 5 basic questions.
How long? How much time can you spare away from work? If you have kids, are you tied to a school calendar?
Budget/ travel style? Do you prefer luxury travel or budget travel? Most people are somewhere in the middle. So think about where you prefer to spend your money. On tours and activities? On great restaurants? On luxury hotels? Narrow it down and plan ahead.
Preferred method of transport to and from? This is usually the most exhausting part of travel (and in our case, the one that causes all of the family arguments!) – my secret – hammer this one out down to the smallest detail before you go. Prepare, prepare, prepare!
- Preferred method of transport once at destination? Do you want to drive? Use public transport? Both have their positives and negatives and the best option really depends on where you go. For example, did you know that in LA, parking is so expensive that it’s much cheaper to Uber everywhere than to rent a car?
The Explorer Phase
Now that we’ve got the basics figured out, it’s time to research and book flights. Keep in mind that generally, the best days to book flights are Tuesday’s because that is when airlines release their specials. Also, it’s usually more expensive to travel on Friday thru Monday, so look at weekday departures as an alternative.
Once flights are booked, you have the outline of your trip ready. Now it’s time to start coloring in the details. We usually start by asking for recommendations from friends, family, social media, etc. Data gathering is the objective of this stage. Focus on accommodations. What is the best neighborhood to stay in? Do you want to be in the middle of the tourist action or do you prefer to stay someplace more residential? Using resources like expedia.com and Travelocity.com are useful for seeing what’s out there and finding an average price point. Don’t forget to explore resources like Airbnb.com and homeaway.com if you are interested in apartment living. We try to stay in apartments where we can, because with kids, eating out 3 meals a day gets old fast! In an apartment, we almost always eat breakfast home and then lunch and dinner on the road.
Once accommodations are booked, you can begin to plan your daily activities. Outline two or three geographically close activities per day and leave room for mood changes along the way. We usually arrive with several options planned out and decide what we will do based on how everyone feels that morning.
The Adventurers Phase –
By now you have gathered lots of data from recommendations in guide books, online, and from friends and family. Use this info to find the “secrets” of your destination. Sure, we all know what the major tourist spots are – those are easy to find – but in order to get an authentic feel for a place, you need to uncover it’s secrets. Here’s where you dig deeper: talk to as many people as you can, search for well-regarded locals on Instagram and Twitter and look at their recommendations, research local happenings or events that might be going on during your stay. Research the restaurants in the area that locals like to frequent and make a few reservations. Scour reviews on sights like Travelocity.com and Airbnb to see what others have enjoyed. Last year, Time published this article summarizing the best apps to use to help you feel like a local.
Most importantly, in your planning, be realistic about your timing. If you only have 2 days in Paris, for example, don’t try to squeeze in the whole city, you will likely end up not enjoying it. In this case, pick 2 neighborhoods and explore them fully. Don’t schedule more than 2 activities per day and leave yourself some time to relax in a park, at a restaurant, or wander a museum. The memories you will leave with after a relaxing afternoon in the Tuilleries Gardens will last a lot longer than the 28th photo of that Van Gogh you rushed off to see.
And most effective planning tip of all, reach out to Torly Travels to help you plan your next perfect adventure! Once your trip is perfectly planned, head on over to the 3rd post in this series Getting Ready for the Big Trip!