Travel is such a beautiful privilege that life allows. It’s, hands down, one of my favorite things. But sometimes we forget that travel and all of it’s beautiful and disappointing experiences, doesn’t just happen. It’s a series of choices that add up to experiences. Like how, deciding to go to Honduras, making friends, and accepting invitations all lead to me riding down a remote mountain road on the back of a pick-up in Central America. Not a coincidence, but definitely an experience.
Now, maybe you aren’t a planner? You prefer to make decisions as you go. That’s great! Personally, I’m not as good at making decisions as I go and tend to waste time doing it, especially on longer trips without local guides. Hence why I prefer to plan ahead. Maybe I will change my mind when I get there, but maybe I won’t. Either way, it’s nice to know what my options are.
Whether or not you are a ‘planner’ personality, you may, someday, decide to plan a trip. I discussed the essentials of trip planning in a ‘bare-bones’ post here. Now, since I like to get a bit more organized with the ‘what’ of my trip, my personal trip planning has evolved into what now can safely be called a ‘system.’
The key component to my system is the use of a table! The kind that goes into a word document, not a kitchen. It’s essentially an itinerary, guidebook, and reservation checklist combined. I always create mine on google docs because 1. it automatically saves and 2. I can share it with everyone on the trip. This means that everyone can contribute information and stay informed. It also allows you to see what edits have been made and by whom, so you don’t have to scroll through, looking for something that might be different than before.
My table always contains at least 4 columns from left to right and looks like this to start:
When I plan for my trip, I start filling in information from left to right as I find it.
This should be the easiest part of planning since it’s the inspiration and motivation. That doesn’t mean that the column won’t change as you go, it just means it should be pretty easy to fill in at first try. Perhaps you are backpacking Asia for a month? Maybe vacationing in Hawaii? Whatever the plan, start typing the dates and locations in this column. If I am traveling for more than a week I like to include a ‘Sunday’ label with the Sunday date, so I can keep track of when a new week begins without having to refer to a calendar.
This column can get quite lengthy if you aren’t careful. Here I start by listing possible options simply: Empire State Building, Chinatown, Broadway, etc. As I gain more information about these options (i.e. costs and hours) I make short notes and link the name of the options to the website with information, like this: Empire State Building. Another option is to create separate lists or tables of activity options and information. This does work to help organize your thoughts but I find it less productive day-of.
Pretty self-explanatory, this column contains any day-of transit info. Typically most of the info is put on the first and last days as this is where I note flight times, rental car pick ups, or public transit costs. It’s also a good place to note if you have a long drive. I always link my confirmations, just like I do my activity info pages. This allows other people in the group to access our schedule and costs.
Or airbnb or apartment or hostel or host. There should be something in this column for each day. I always note the address and contact information in addition to the name of the hotel so I have a quick reference if I need to hail a taxi or ask directions. Again, I link the web address so others can check out our digs or possibly change reservations. I also note the cost per person for shared things so people can keep track of their expenses and we can all make sure we’re staying on budget. Other things worth noting here are if your accommodations offer transportation or laundry facilities and what check-in/out times are.
In the end, each day looks something like this:
Austria, Germany, & Switzerland
|Travel to Switzerland
-stop Neuschwanstein Castle in Germany
Entrance tickets are available only at the Ticketcenter Hohenschwangau in the village of Hohenschwangau below the castle.
|6 hr drive
|Stay w/ Karston’s friends
And that’s it. That chart, and lots and lots of time researching, is what stands between a great idea and a great trip (for me). Sometimes I put things in the wrong columns or add rows for additional information between dates, whatever makes sense to me at the time. At the end of the day, it’s not the trip. It’s just a tool to make the organizing of the trip less annoying.
Note: If any of these words sounds like computer lingo, they probably are. You can google how-tos for using google docs and inserting tables, or you can leave a comment and I’d be glad to help!