If you are that type of person who just books a flight on a whim, go and explore the place spontaneously without bothering with planning anything in advance, then you can live your life happily without this post. (Stay tuned for the upcoming one that I’ve already planned for you about the lovely town of Lucerne!) All of my other fellows, read on!
I’m a planner. In every aspect of my life. That doesn’t mean my plans always work out or that I don’t change them, but I need them. I love lists. Packing lists. Todo lists. Brainstorming lists. Bucket lists. I also love Excel sheets. (Hm, does that sound sick? Is it better if I say I can’t live without Excel sheets? Okay, I leave it, maybe you got my point…)
No wonder that I’m also a planner when it comes to our travels. I do my research, I compare, I create itineraries (usually more than one, because what if plan A fails?). I have the itinerary with me all the time, including important addresses, phone numbers, booking confirmations. I’m always on time for flights, 2+ hours. Csaba’s best strategy for not to miss flights was probably marrying me. I plan time for sightseeing, hiking, museum visits. I also plan some time for doing something unplanned. (And I publicly admit this… Guys, am I the only one out there doing this?)
I need plans and I enjoy making plans. (And I am still learning how to handle situations when my perfectly polished plan falls apart. Dear travelling, you are probably my best teacher in life.) In this post I’ll share how I do it. I know it’s not the best way, it’s my way. But I hope to give you some useful ideas.
Where and when?
By following hundreds of travellers and photographers on Instagram, using Pinterest to save articles and photos of all the places worth seeing in this world and reading a lot of travel blogs, lack of ideas is never a problem. After we decided where to go, we do some research about the best time to visit. Here’s what we usually consider:
How many seasons are there?
1,2 or 4? Which season would be the best for us to visit the place? I don’t think it needs much explanation, Christmas markets can only be visited in December and the stunning yellow and red colors of the East Coast will only amaze you if you go in autumn.
Could it be an option to visit in low-season / shoulder season?
Low-season is low-season for a reason, that’s true. But what if your motivation to visit that area is different than most of the other people? Then you get what you want for a significantly cheaper cost in low-season.
If low-season doesn’t work, shoulder season still could. For example majority of the people visit the Southern European countries in summer, but late spring or early autumn visits are not only cheaper and less busy, the weather is also more pleasant for sightseeing or hiking. We’ve travelled to the Greek islands twice in September and we would never choose to go in summer. We had perfect beach weather, it was not crowded and we paid much less just because it was 2 weeks after high season. But it’s just one example, there’s tons.
Creating the itinerary
Okay, there’s as many perfect itineraries for a certain place as many people (and I don’t even consider those who doesn’t like having itineraries at all). Even our own itineraries could vary from time to time and place to place. But here’s some examples what we consider in general:
How much time do you need?
Cities and sightseeing
Warning! Before I say anything about this, let’s make it clear that a couple of days or even weeks are not enough to explore a place really well in our opinion. With that said, we know that exploring every place in the world really well is not an option for us. We try to estimate time so that we can get a good taste of the place we visit.
To achieve this we usually need 4-5 days for the big cities (like London, Paris, New York…), 2-3 days for the smaller cities (like Budapest, Prague, Krakow…) and 1 or half a day for small cities and towns (like Lucerne, Bratislava, Tours…). But this is a rule of thumb.
If we want to visit a museum which interests us, we calculate with an extra day in that city or skip the museum if our time is limited. Based on our experience we always end up spending a whole day in a huge science or natural history museum. Not that it’s a problem, but a fact – happened in New York, in London, in San Francisco, in Washington D.C., in Vienna… I definitely see a pattern for us here. 🙂
We love hiking! If there’s hiking opportunities around a place we visit that also adds one or two days for us. Then there’s tons of places what we visited just because of hiking or mostly because of hiking. One of the most important things when we estimate the time for our hikes is estimating according to our abilities.
Other hikers stating that a hike takes x hours for them may give us a guess, but we always check the length, the average elevation and elevation change of a trail. (At least there’s something good in being average: other people’s estimations are mostly valid for us.) Then comes: How fit are we right now? Will we be tired already because of strenuous hikes on the previous days? Will there be an option to shorten the hike if it’s too much?
We are budget travellers and we are happy with that. We don’t dream about luxurious things, actually travel itself is our huge luxury! But this also means that our budget affects every aspect of our travels: the where, the how long and the what.
We take advantage of free attractions and it still surprises us that most of the things are free or cheap once we are there. Like walking in a charming old town. Or in the city park. Visiting churches. Or even museums sometimes. Hiking in national parks. There’s certainly one great advantage of us being so outdoorsy: taking a hike in the nearby mountains is always affordable! But note the privilege here: having mountains nearby. 🙂
Sometimes we decide to pay the price and don’t regret it at all. Like our helicopter tour in Kauai. Or all the castles we’ve visited in the Loire Valley. But we calculate with that from the beginning of our planning.
I like having more places on our agenda than what our time would allow, but some of them are always backups. If we don’t need that much time for a place what we thought we would or we don’t really like a place, we have other options. I try to have both indoor and outdoor programs on the list so that we have options in any kind of weather. Of course, in a national park there’s no indoor options – we better have a waterproof jacket.
We like booking accommodation in advance. I like things planned out in advance and often it’s also cheaper. But we usually try to book cancellable accommodation so that we can change our mind. Flexibility is cheaper, too. Like booking flights when they are cheap. Or picking up a rental car at a different location. Or travel with a carry-on instead of a big luggage.
The most important thing of all
But don’t ever forget the most important part of every itinerary: you and the ones you travel with. You should enjoy the trip! Don’t exhaust yourself with an overpacked itinerary and end up ticking the items on your list instead of enjoying them. We don’t believe in such thing as a must-see. But you can. We would rather explore a place at a slow pace. But maybe you wouldn’t. Plan it. Or don’t plan it. Have it your way and enjoy!
How do you plan your travels?
Just on a side note: maybe you wonder why I mostly talk about how I plan travels and refer to ‘our travels’ at the same time. Well, the thing is that only I am a planner, Csaba is not. How to handle this is a different topic for a different post… Spoiler: it has advantages, too. 🙂