Making an itinerary doesn’t need to be complicated, and it can ensure you don’t miss anything important as you travel.
We understand, creating an itinerary for travel can be exhausting. The initial research for a trip can take hours or days, and then you need a way to track your trip’s timeline.
Even travelers like us, who really enjoy last minute excursions, still need to track where we’re staying, on what night, and any reservations we have.
Keeping an itinerary is even more important with new travel restrictions. Most attractions require pre-booking to keep numbers low and make social distancing possible. That means that all of our trips now include a lot more planning.
I always make a travel itinerary.
When you travel with a limited amount of time, and on a set budget, you don’t want to miss possibilities. That’s why creating even a rough itinerary can greatly aid your travel planning.
There are four main steps we use to create an itinerary:
Do your research
Make a list of your must-do’s
Make a draft timetable/calendar
Create the finished travel itinerary
Here’s how we create a trip itinerary.
Do your research
You can have a perfectly organized itinerary, but that all goes out the window if the hotel or attractions you’ve chosen are duds.
There are a lot of comparison websites out there for hotel and airlines, but I’ve been checking out a new one lately. PissedConsumer.com is one of the most popular customer complaints and consumer advocacy websites online, with 1.7 million customer reviews, 78,000 companies reviewed, and a whopping 3.5 million monthly visitors. It’s a one-stop place to search for reviews of hotels, travel services, and travel agencies.
To get ideas, I like to do an online search for things like “quirky things to do in ABC City” or “the best breakfasts in ABC Country”. This pulls up a lot of blog posts by other bloggers, which are a fantastic way to get trip ideas straight from travel experts.
Make a list of the places you’d like to stay, things you’d like to see and do, and your preferred transportation
As I’m doing my research, I jot down everything I’d like to see, along with hotels, and transportation options.
I just use Evernote or a text document on my laptop to do this. If you prefer, you can use an old fashioned notebook, or any digital note taking app. If you’re more of a visual person, use an app that will let you add photos or even videos, for inspiration.
In the beginning, the list I create is just an unorganized data dump with a bunch of great ideas.
As my research is finishing up, I organize the list into three categories:
Would like to do, and
For each activity on the list, I write down an estimated amount of time the activity will take and a rough approximation of where each activity is in relation to each other.
Create a draft calendar
You can create a draft calendar as a simple list (either online or hand written) or in a table. Write down each day of your trip, and copy and paste the must-do items to the right day.
Since you’ve already estimated the time each item will take, you’ll be able to see at a glance if you have enough time for your must-do activities.
If you have extra time in your calendar, then add some (or all) of the would like to do, and optional activities.
Sometimes things get added simply because we have a few hours to kill and they’re right across the road from a main attraction or they’re on the way to a must do and the family will need a break in travel regardless.
The next step is to bring it all together.
Create the finished itinerary
In the final step, you’re creating a finished itinerary, complete with accommodation and transportation details, and a list of the activities per day.
You can be as detailed as breaking down your itinerary hour-by-hour on a calendar, or you can just keep a simple list of the items you’d like to do and see each day (along with your hotel and transportation info).
There are literally hundreds of websites out there that will create your itinerary. Some are good, some are great, and some are absolutely useless. After traveling together for over 18 years, we’ve probably tried most of them.
Our system for keeping our itinerary organized has evolved to pretty much the simplest way possible (for us): using Google calendar and maps. We’re Gmail users, so that means our flight or hotel reservations are sent to our Gmail inbox.
From there, Google automatically inserts a placeholder both in Google Calendar and on Google Maps with the time and day of our reservation. It’s especially helpful because Google automatically inserts flight numbers, hotel addresses and phone numbers.
If Google doesn’t automatically create a Calendar entry, I add one manually.
Google also usually automatically creates a trip with the reservation dates on Google trips. It’s a handy way to see all reservations in one place. You can also add things to do, flights, and accommodation manually in Google trips.
I generally use Google Maps to keep track of our itinerary if we have a lot of things to do in a day. It’s great because it automatically lets you know how long your trip will take, and even lets you select transportation options like car, walking, or bus.
Having my itinerary in Google Maps is perfect for road trips (and we’ve been doing a lot of local road trips lately), but it also works to plan your route for checking out a city. I also love the fact that I can save my Google map for offline use.
A few tips on creating a flexible itinerary
Tip! Whatever system you use for storing your itinerary, leave a little room for down time, bad weather, jetlag, and to allow a buffer if your plans change on the fly.
The worst travel experience I had was on a trip to Mexico (planned by someone else) where every second was booked, and there was virtually no down time allowed. It made the whole experience unnecessarily stressful and left a shadow over what could have been an awesome experience.
If you’re traveling with a partner, make sure you allow some personal time and if you’re traveling with a family, allow some swimming in the pool time and some electronic down time. If the kids are tired and miserable you can guarantee that no one is happy.
If you like a full schedule and want to maximize your time somewhere, simply add an hour here and there in the timetable. Grabbing a local coffee, walking through a park or spending an extra few minutes browsing in a local market can all go towards making what you’re experiencing real and will help cement your memories of the place in the future.
Having a flexible itinerary can go a long way to ensuring that your travels are memorable for the right reasons however creating an itinerary in the first place is wise in todays world. How you go about it is completely up to you.