For someone who receives the minimum holiday allowance, my time away becomes precious and both my travel companion and I are in agreement that making an itinerary ensure we’ll experience as much as possible.
The first thing I do is turn to Google – or any other search engine – to begin my favourite stage of the planning process – research, research, research.
I can already hear some of your cries – what about spontaneity! Yeah, no thanks! If I’ve only got three days to see a place then I’ll leave no stone unturned so that every cobbled street is covered and we have an itinerary that’ll make every seasoned hiker fear for their feet.
Doing research beforehand saves both time and money once you’re there, and the confidence that you’ll experience everything the city has to offer.
If you’re going to do a few hours or research (depending how carried away you get on Pinterest) you’re going to need somewhere to channel your findings. I highly recommend using Google Docs, you can access them everywhere and share them with your travel buddy who can add in their findings too.
The Top Ten
I always start with the ‘top things to do’ articles on Trip Advisor and guide books to find out the main attractions. And yes I know they’re going to be SO touristy but, they’re touristy for a reason right? Embrace your touristness and get over it – add them to your list if you think they’re worth it. Be sure to note down the opening times, estimated time at the attraction, price and if there is the option to pre-book tickets. Be sure to pay attention to the days they’re closed.
I LOVE reading blogs about an upcoming destination, and actually, I’m becoming more and more reliant on their experiences above all. Despite searching for a blog online, I reach out to the many Facebook travel groups for recommendations from those who have visited or even local living there. Thanks to Instagram’s new features, I now add a questions box on my Instagram stories for extra recommendations.
The next thing to do is to Google Map the exact location of each attraction, more specifically the location from the other attractions. This helps to start putting together an itinerary. Knowing where the attractions are, and placing them in an itinerary, means you won’t waste time when you’re there wondering where to go next and how to get there – trust me you’ll thank me later.
Generally we approach exploring a new city by breaking it up into smaller areas, and this is where a guide book will come in handy, usually they have a map in the inside cover that highlights the different ‘neighbourhoods’ or areas. Using Google Maps you’ll be able to see which neighbourhoods the attractions are placed, and if it’s likely you can tick off one or two areas in the same day by their proximity to one another.
I continue to Google Map the location of literally everything I find and where it slots in.
Generally we don’t worry too much about restaurants, other than one. Whatever Trip Advisor’s number one restaurant is in that city, we make a booking – we’ve never had a disappointing meal from a Trip Advisor recommendation! That said, I do tend to also research the restaurants and cafes that are highly recommended in each area we visit, and when you’ve been walking around and the hanger takes over, it’s easy to waste time trying to find a decent resto so having done the research beforehand you know you’re going to get a good meal if nothing else takes your fancy.
Off the Beaten Track
Now that we’ve identified the key areas of the city and made our plan of approach, we can look further afield. With the main attractions are ticked off, we can start to get a little creative.
This is where Pinterest comes in. Search for the country or city you’re visiting and begin sifting through the noise. Look beyond the pretty pictures and look for interesting articles such as ’50 things to do in City’ – if it returns a really cool attraction then look it up, google map it, slot it in.
After you’ve lost half of your life to Pinterest, It’s time to do some final Google searches: ‘City off the beaten track’ ‘unusual things to do in city’ because the return on these searches ALWAYS turns up something incredible. What’s more, they’re written by fellow travel bloggers who have been there, done that. Then – look it up, google map it, slot it in.
Atlas Obscura is a fantastic website for finding the weird and wonderful.
The other great thing about Google is it offers directions including that of public transport. Generally I’m a walker, if it’s anything further than a 30 minute walk then we’ll consider public transport. Doing the research beforehand of what subway to take from what station top reach the next attraction is a time saver. You’ll know how long it’s going to take you to get there, ensuring you make your booking on time.
Food and Drink
This is a really fun part if you’re a bit of a foodie like me. I imagine your research so far will have turned up some things on the local cuisine and now it’s time to pay attention. The great thing about Google Maps is you can see what else is around an attraction by zooming in. Oh hey look, there’s a bakery there! Oh and they sell the local cheesecake…. It’s how we found out about Gelarto Rosa in Budapest. I like to take a list of the local delicacies and dishes with me so that each meal I can tick off something new.
Making pre-bookings will save you both time and money – you get to beat the long queues and generally they offer online savings. But it should be one of the last things you do. Once you’ve made the booking, it means you’re now committed to doing that activity at that time on that day. Only book them when you’re confident your itinerary is mostly complete.
You don’t need me to tell you that not everything you see online looks the same in person, so don’t be afraid to Street View the front of a building to know what you’re looking for – again this is hugely time-saving so you’re not chasing your tail trying to find that restaurant.
Be Prepared for Change
If you take anything away from this article, let it be this. No matter how meticulous you plan, there’s going to be changes. Rain deters outdoor activities, information is out of date and events happen with road closures. Having done your research beforehand, you’re going to be well equipped to make changes on the day as you’ll already know what else is nearby.
It’s unlikely you’ll have an unlimited bank account whilst you’re there and having noted down the prices of all of the attractions you intend to visit means you can now put together a loose, but semi-accurate, budget of how much you can expect to spend.
Pick a couple of restaurants to gauge the average meal prices and be sure to over-estimate. You don’t want to get there and not have enough money to fund all of the exciting things you’ve planned to do!
Add on some extra for spending money because well, if you’re able to go away without shopping then I salute you.
With all the research you’ll be full to the brim of excitement knowing what awaits you on the other side! So just enjoy your time there, don’t get caught up with the where you should be at what time, use your itinerary as a guide but also let things happen naturally. If you’re not feeling that cathedral then don’t do it. If you don’t have time for the funfair, do it another day.
Equally, if there’s something you really enjoyed such as a shop, a restaurant or an attraction then go back and see that sh*t again! It’s your vacation, and it’s your time, so spend it how you wish.
Is there anything you do before taking a trip to prepare? Let us know in the comments.