How to Plan a Trip, Part 2

Planning a Trip by Natalie Parker

Yesterday we talked about the first part of travel planning.  I like to think of it as building a house: the really big things like how we will get there, how much time we will spend, and where we will stay are handled by Mr. P.  Today, we’ll cover my job: everything that happens after that.

As soon as the hotel and rough itinerary is set, Mr. P hands over the reins to me.

Planning the Details of a Trip

We don’t schedule each day.  I look into what we want to do in a city and we only schedule things that we have to, such as things we have to buy advance tickets for, things that will only be open on a certain day while we’re there, etc.  Aside from that, we go armed with information and let the days come together naturally.

Consider a guidebook.  For longer trips, we usually buy a guidebook to help orient ourselves.  Our favorite brands are Rick Steves for Europe and Rough Guides outside Europe, but neither are perfect.  For shorter trips, we just try to read up online before we go.

Research Visa Rules.  Don’t assume you can simply enter a country.  Review the visa rules (Frommers online is great for this) and plan on how to get a visa if you need one.  Some countries allow you to buy them online before you go, others require you to visit a consulate or embassy.

Look into attractions.  What are the big things you want to do?  Understand what days things are open and how much time you should spend there.  Can you buy tickets for popular things in advance?  The Eiffel Tower is a great example of this.  Are there activities that are weather-dependent?  I make a list of the things we want to make sure and do and then other things that we’d like to do if we have time.

Watch for “free” days.  Certain big attractions have days when they are free for the public.  If you’re on a budget, take advantage of these.  If you’re not on a budget, consider going a different day to avoid the crowds.  The Louvre has one free day a month, for example.

How will you get around?  Will you take taxis?  Local transit?  Research your options and understand how you can buy transit tickets.  If you’re heading to Paris, read here how to ride the Metro.

What are you eating?  This is such an important part of our trips.  I use my favorite travel blogs, guidebooks, Chowhound, and the Conde Nast traveler to help me find awesome places to eat and drink.  If there are local dishes I need to know about, I make a list.  Most guidebooks will have a list of the basics.  For example, it’s a good thing I knew what a glühwein was in Germany!

How I Keep Track of All This Information

Start a Google Doc.  I start a document in Google drive and start making notes and lists.  When the trip gets closer, I’ll clean up the document and organize it.  We’ll refer to it on our trip.  I use Google Drive so I can get to my notes from any computer, phone, or tablet.

Start a Google Map.  I create a Google Map for the city we will be in and will add pins for where we are staying, plus the major attractions.  As I find places I want to make sure we eat at or wander around in, I’ll add those to the map as well.  It really helps me understand the layout of the city and if I can hit an attraction plus a must-eat place together.

Armed with all of this, we usually have a pretty good idea of what we’ll do during the trip!  We’ll generally decide the day before what we’ll do the next day, keeping an eye on the weather to make sure we’re doing inside things when the weather isn’t great.

Happy planning!

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