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It’s always a good idea to have an itinerary in place whenever you travel. In our family, I have always been the designated travel planner. Back in the days when my late mother and I would travel, booking a vacation package (air and land arrangement with pre-booked tours) through a travel agency is the usual option. Not only is it more convenient, but it is also most of the time cheaper. Back then, there are no budget airlines, no seat sales, no Airbnb and maybe only a handful of websites like TripAdvisor and Virtual Tourist as sources of information.
When Cebu Pacific launched its operations in the Philippines, it inspired a new way of traveling for Filipinos, the DIY or Do It Yourself Travel. In the early 2000s when they started adding more international destinations and flight frequency, they would also frequently hold Seat Sales or “Piso Sale”. This paved the way for more affordable travel options. No more packages, no more travel agencies. After booking your incredibly affordable airline tickets, you now have the pleasure to book ANY hotel and ANY tour you want. No more hotels located in the outer city. No more compulsory tours to factories and jewelry shops. You are your OWN travel agent.
Fast forward to today, with so many travel websites we can use for research and family and friends who offer their own bits of travel wisdom, it has now become easier to curate your own itinerary that would meet not only your interests but your budget. Having an itinerary is helpful in maximizing your time and to make sure you don’t miss out on anything. And in some cases, an itinerary is required when applying for a visa to your country of destination (Schengen, UK, Japan, etc)
How To Create The Perfect Travel Itinerary
1. LIST ALL THE SIGHTS YOU WANT TO SEE AND THE FOOD YOU WANT TO TRY
I always start my travel planning this way (especially if it is my first time to the destination). Research and list down all the popular tourist destinations and if you are a foodie like me, the must-try food. And I mean, all of them. Mark the ‘absolutely must-see/must-try’ on your list to know which ones to prioritize.
2. RESEARCH, RESEARCH, RESEARCH
I cannot stress the importance of doing your own research when traveling. Before even booking your airline tickets, you should already know a little bit about your destination, the average cost of meals, exchange rates, hotel, and tour options and visa requirements. Google is your best friend.
Once you have sorted all that and booked your trip, research more about your destination. Remember that list of sights you want to see? Time to check their hours of operation (including the days they are closed), entrance fees, how many hours you would need to fully enjoy the sight/experience and their location. Also be on the lookout if there are any special tours offered (VIP tour, Night tour, etc) or any discounts for big groups, Senior Citizens and free access for children. Check the official website or tour voucher websites such as Viator or Klook.
3. KNOW YOUR BUDGET
This is the most important item to consider when planning an itinerary or a whole vacation for that matter. Good for you if you have unlimited resources and can go wherever and whenever you want, but for the rest of us mere mortals? We always have a budget to consider. The amount you want to set aside for your trip dictates where you can go, which airline to book, where to stay and what activities to do. You also wouldn’t want to spend all your salary and savings in one trip. It is not wise to travel now and pay later.
Setting a budget when planning an itinerary will give you an idea on which activities to prioritize on your trip. Most tourist attractions would require an entrance fee. Add that to the transportation and food costs plus extra for incidentals. It’s best if you can determine the maximum total amount you are willing to spend on the trip to know your daily budget allowance.
4. IDENTIFY THE TRAVELERS’ PROFILE AND TRAVEL GOAL
Someone once said that traveling with friends/big group becomes a test of friendship. In a way, that’s true. Spending a few hours with your friends or family may be all kinds of fun but for a few days in a different country? Still loads of fun but with a twist! Each person has their own travel goal. Some are foodies and are always on the lookout for must-try foods in their destination. Some travel to shop (high-end shoppers or bargain hunters). Some are art aficionados who would want to spend a huge chunk of their day in museums and/or wander around and admire the architecture. Some are what I would call the All-in-One-Go travelers who are only interested to see a tourist spot (and not actually go in/spend a bit of time), take a couple of pictures and move on to the next.
If you are traveling solo or with just one or two persons sharing the same travel goal, it should be fairly easy to set up your itinerary. But for a bigger group of people, it becomes a challenge because you have to consider their interests. After all, it’s their vacation too! You also have to consider their age (Senior citizens in the group? Babies or kids in tow?), their physical health, and of course, their own budget. Ask them what they want to do and where they want to go. Check with the rest of the group if they’re ok with it. The key word here is ‘compromise’. Creating an itinerary that everybody can enjoy (or at least everyone can agree with) should make things more fun and memorable for everyone.
5. GIVE TIME ALLOWANCE FOR FOOD/START TIME OF THE DAY/SHOPPING
Do NOT create a tight-scheduled itinerary. Unless it’s just you and you are absolutely committed to following the schedule no matter how tired you are, you will have a hard time seeing it through. You should always allocate time for things you cannot control in your schedule such as starting the day late, travel time and long queues. My rule of thumb is I schedule 6-8hrs/day for pure sightseeing activity (Remember I told you to list the recommended duration of time spent in a tourist spot? This would come in handy.). This should give you the flexibility to spread out the activities in your day to include eating meals/snack, a little shopping, walking around and of course, a bit of rest.
A day in Paris: 5 hours in the Louvre, 2 hours in the Eiffel Tower
A day in Rome: 4-5 hours in Vatican City, 1 hour in Piazza Navona, 1 hour Pantheon
My time limit for sightseeing may be too little or too much for some. So feel free to adjust.
6. USE A MAP TO GET AN IDEA OF THE TOURIST ATTRACTIONS’ LOCATION
Check the main area/city in your Google or Apple Map. There are also numerous websites with tourist-friendly maps highlighting the main attractions. This is incredibly helpful in planning your day for you can see which attractions are within walking distance or a train stop away so you can plan accordingly. I usually start the day by going to the tourist spot farthest from our hotel then work our way in. Some maps can also give you tips on suggested walking tours which would make planning a lot easier.
7. CREATE A DAY-TO-DAY LIST OF PLACES TO GO TO
While looking at the map and my go-to list, I start planning my day-to-day itinerary. I group the attractions located close to each other while taking in consideration the hours of operation (Some museums are closed on Mondays, most outdoor markets are only open in the morning and only on certain days of the week)
8. SKIP THE LINE TICKETS
Most museums or attractions offer online booking services which can save you a lot of time when traveling. Queues in popular tourist spots can get really long (think 1-2 hours waiting time) especially during peak season. Purchasing online tickets, sometimes called Skip-the-Line tickets can save you a lot of time because there is usually a designated entrance for pre-booked tickets, which is more often than not has a short queue or none at all. Be prepared to pay a little extra though, some Skip-the-Line tickets purchased through Viator comes with a tour guide and some of the official booking sites will also require a small booking fee. To me, paying the extra fee is so much better than waiting and wasting your time on the line.
Some cities offer some form of “Pass” for their tourists. An example of which is the Paris Museum Pass and in Italy, the Rome Pass or the Omnia card. Read through the list of sights included in the pass to see if it is worth it for you.
Another option is the Hop on Hop Off Bus which usually offers 24hrs, 48hrs or 72hrs access. These buses have designated stops (usually a popular landmark) and just as the name suggests, you hop on the bus and hop off to the next tourist spot. This makes it easy to cover the main attractions since you don’t have to take the train or walk miles and the tours usually come with an audio guide.
9. KNOW THAT YOU CAN’T VISIT ALL IN ONE TRIP, SAVE IT FOR YOUR NEXT VACATION
As much as we would like to see everything in one trip, that’s not possible. Some travelers try to do that especially on a long-haul trip (pricey tickets and hotels) to make the most out of their vacation. I find this way of traveling too exhausting and the experience too rushed for my liking. Rome, for instance, has already way too many beautiful sights to see. While planning our trip to Rome, my sister and I wanted to try and see if we can squeeze in a day trip to Venice but realized eventually (after taking a piece of advice from our Aunt) that Venice has too much to offer to visit in a day. In the end, we decided to concentrate on Rome and the nearby cities. Plus we already have a couple of day trips planned for Pompeii and Florence. Best to save Venice on a different trip altogether.
Again, different people have different travel goals. If you want to see them all and you have the energy and resources, do it. If you want to take your time, that’s your choice.
10. SET AT LEAST A HALF OR ONE FULL DAY TO DO WHATEVER YOU WANT
I usually set aside our last day (or two) in the city for some last minute shopping or sightseeing. Or insert a half/full day free time in the middle of a week-long trip for relaxing or doing something off the beaten path.
11. CHECK THE TRAIN SCHEDULE AND PRINT IT
If you’re traveling in between regions, check the train schedule ahead of time and print a copy. It will be easier to check for departure times and connections (if any).
12. A TRAVEL ITINERARY IS JUST A GUIDE
Do not feel bad if you’re carefully curated itinerary was not followed to the letter. It’s just a guide, not a rule. There are things beyond our control and you have to be flexible when traveling. Adjust when you can and see if you can fit what you missed on your next day schedule or if it’s not too important, just cross it off the list. Getting lost is OK too. You may be surprised by a lot of other nice things your destination can offer.
Hope this post helps you with your travel planning. I’ve also created a FREE Itinerary Planner printable for you so check that out!
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