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How do you use guide books in planning what to do on a trip?

I have a few months before my trip and stocked up on guide books (hundreds of pages to read). I was curious if people have systems they find work best for them. For example, do you take notes? Put post-it notes in the margin? Tear out pages?

The reason I'm asking is it seems like guidebooks are information-overload! So much info, so densely packed. I know how to use the hotel and transportation part, but its the rest (sights, restaurants, deciding what to see/skip, etc) that seems difficult to organize. So I was wondering if people had an approach they like using the books to plan their days.

Posted by
473 posts

Like Kent, I don't bother making notes about restaurants. Unless there's one that REALLY catches my eye. As to what to see, I'll just read a book first, putting bookmarks in at cities where I want to go. Once I'm done reading the book, I'll go back to the bookmarks and look at how many cities I've noted. From there, I'll look at a map, to see how close the cities are. Having done that, I'll determine what cities I want to stay in and what cities can be seen as a day-trip from where I'm staying. One trick I've devised is to make a spreadsheet of what I want to see in each city, with the hours of operations. Since some places are closed on certain days, that helps with determining what we see on what day. We'll take the entire book with us, but frequently tear out pages when we go out sight-seeing, thereby lightening the load in our day-pack.

Posted by
9363 posts

I usually have several guidebooks for an area, too, but I've generally developed a "favorite" by the time of my trip (not always the same brand). I'll take that one, and photocopy appropriate pages from the others if they have better info about a particular place. I create a travel book for big trips that includes my airline and parking reservation confirmations, background info about some things I'll see (the photocopies), maps, and itineraries.

Posted by
138 posts

I read the books first, from the beginning to the end. Then I go over them again, with a highlighter and post-its. I also make up a simple calendar spreadsheet with large cells and write all the important information re plane/train, hotels, sightseeing day by day. I do it in pencil, so I can go back and erase and edit easily. I also print out all the hotels reservations emails and then sort things out by location, e.g. my Strasbourg hotel confirmation, ticket from Strasbourg to Paris, and put it all in a ziplock bag and stick a label on it saying "Strasbourg". I do it for each of my destinations, so that I don't have to go through a pile of paper but get quickly to what I need as I move from place to place. I will take my guide books with me and then will rip the relevant pages out daily, but won't throw them away. I'll bring them home and clip them back in the book. After all, it is all my memories, too, just like the photos.

Posted by
5859 posts

I read and re-read several guides, picking the best of each of planned places to visit, but also mark sights of opportunity. I too use a spreadsheet to lay out my itinerary, listing the main points. Restaurants, I usually try ro find at least one that looks good and list it. Hotels, I make very few reservations ahead of time, maybe only 3 nights of a 3 week trip, so I consolidate a list of options for each planned stay from several books for calling ahead or walking up. I find the planning and learning about the areas almost as fun as the trip.

Posted by
4125 posts

I plan iteratively: think about what would be fun to do and see, read about it, talk with my spouse, think again, read some more, look at maps, and repeat. The process seems to get more and more specific and I find I am checking timetables and schedules and thinking about how particular activities might be grouped together into days.

I don't worry about food and lodging until this process is pretty far along.

I find I do not take notes, so perhaps I miss something, but it seems the really interesting (to me) information sticks by itself--not all the details, but that fact that something sounds worth doing and generally why.

In terms of setting priorities, it helps to be honest about you like. I also especially value those few guidebooks that give me the benefit of their opinions in addition to the information. This includes Rick Steves and Michelin.

Posted by
277 posts

I purchase several guide books before each adventure. They are: Frommer's; Steves; DK; and Lonely Planet. Each gives a different perspective on the same destinations. I read through each book and choose which sights interest me and family. I disregard the "fluff" such as: restaurants, hotels, etc, and concentrate on local transportation, and sights. I then develop an itenerary. It is formatted with a morning, afternoon and evening sightsee to get as much in as possible. The sights are clusted daily to prevent duplication of area visits. On my first day in any location, I take a general tour of the city, to obtain an overview. Then with my outline, I visit the interests via the Metro. The "trick" is to pre plan and do homework. Of course, you have to maintain a flexable schedule.

Posted by
5859 posts

Regarding one night stays and pacing, I start out with a few rules that help me build an itinerary. First stop on landing, always two nights. Any major city, usually at three nights (but rarely do I stay 4). If I travel more than 4 hours during a day, then two nights at the next destination, otherwise single nights mixed in are OK at a minor stop. I also consider more than 6 hours of train travel a candidate for flying instead. Always stay the last night (or two) in the departure city. I find this gives me an interesting pace for "sightseeing" Of course, if the plan is beach time, whole other plan.

Posted by
934 posts

I believe you have to find a guidebook that fits (you).If you buy into Steves back door method then his book is perfect.If not find another. I like his ideas and methods.I then read and highlight and also use postit notes. I take the entire book along as many times you change plans and places and other travelers might ask for info.I check other guidbooks at Barnes and Noble but find most of them overload you with too much information whereas Steves narrows it down.

Posted by
104 posts

I hit the library 1st then the bookstores.

I use post-its and highlighters to mark things of intrest. Read and Re-read books and online info

I compile a list and so does my spouse then I incorporate that into the what to/do see list.

I make a list of things that are close together and could be easily done in 1 day - I have my own code for Price/When open-closed/how close they are to another sight, where they are on my map,if they are included in price of another ticket etc.

Our 1st Europe trip was several countries so we each took different colored push pins and stuck it in the map then narrowed it down to what we could do with the time we had, that also helped us plan future trips.

I have a program that turns info into books just tell it what size and it formats into a book, I keep that with me as reference my own personal guide book and map.

Posted by
2000 posts

I developed my interest in European travel, and identified the places I wanted to go from viewing Rick's PBS TV shows. I generally knew what contries interested me the most, but watching his shows really highlighted the greatest sights.
Then I went to his guidebooks, and then to other guidebooks and the internet for more information.
But to start off, you have to identify a few places that are most interesting to you -- surely there must be some things that stand out more than others for you.... focus on these, then research deeper into them. In any case be prepared to spend some time to learn all you can.

Posted by
9363 posts

I think the planning is almost as much fun as the actual trip, and that's why I don't understand people on the message boards who say they are leaving soon but have no idea where they should go or in what order. They have missed one of the best parts of the experience!

Posted by
14 posts

I have to add to the last comment about the joys of planning for a trip.

About 6 hours ago I had to cancel our trip to Ireland...scheduled to leave next Friday. But elderly parents (one 95, one 86) made it just not the right time to go.

But I have truly enjoyed 3 months of reading and planning, and will put my material away, and hope to take it out next summer. (Only time we can travel)

The big question in my mind right now is whether I can let myself read the helpline for the next few months. It just makes me want to travel SO MUCH!!

(I guess I have to ask a question....) I got conflicting info from COntinental today about how far in advance I cna start looking for reward tickets for next summer.

Any advice?

Thanks.

Posted by
1449 posts

many thanks to those who have posted! I feel like I've got an inside peek into how travelers are doing things, and lots of good ideas.

Posted by
104 posts

For Hope

Airlines only post 360 days of prices.

Between now and next summer you will find many changes in prices.

Hope things work out for your trip

Posted by
57 posts

I too go on guidebook overload before a trip. I use highlighters for things like shopping, restaurants and places to stay. At various times I've made a list in a small notebook, torn out pages, typed them up and printed them. Nothing is fool proof. Once in italy since we had torn out pages for the cites we wanted to see decided to change and had no handy book to fall back on. I usually take two or three books with me and leave them as I go. I just took my girls and granddaughter to Paris and for months sent them books to read and to select places they wanted to see. All of us sat down in our Paris apartment and combined our must see/do lists. Then each day we selected a few, usually grouped together and went but we couldn't do everything - ah ha forcing us to have to go back. My husband always thought I over prepared and would not have as much fun when I got where we were gone. I disagree and fall into the camp of all the planning and dreaming are part of the fun of travel.

Posted by
5859 posts

I think it is also important to delineate between "planning" and "booking". The discussion comes up often on this board about getting rooms ahead, tickets ahead, laying out a complete itinerary vs. "winging" it. The implication is that people who book ahead are careful planners and those who don't are wandering aimlessly. I tend to be one of those people that plan and research intensely for months prior to leaving, but generally makes very few reservations. One of the best trips I had was 3 weeks, flew into Athens, Greece, out of Milan, Italy; and had absolutely no hotel reservations, train tickets, or boat tickets. I had however planned enough that stops seemed like old friends, haggled for rooms that I read about, and frequently changed plans along the way. My advice: always plan, plan, plan; reservations? not so much.

Posted by
1130 posts

We just came back from Italy and Greece, and this was my most organized time!

I too, went through the guidebooks, marked ALL things that were of interest, and THEN

  1. Typed an itinerary for EACH day -with page numbers from my guidebook for easy access to view ALL the info. I also used post its in the guidebook -hours of operation so we could readily see if we wanted to eat or shop first
  2. Marked ALL things of interest-eating, shopping, sights- on our map I purchased because we walk everywhere

The map was great to locate things, and the itinerary was great because we KNEW that these were places of interest, and if we decided NOT to do them, it was okay. What is NOT okay is completely forgetting that there was something of interest !!

My family laughed at my nerdiness, but we missed NOTHING, so hah!

Posted by
29 posts

Carla - what map do you purchase & where. You're trip planning sounds very similar to mine. When I went to DC (5day tour) I had maps of the metro station, a printed itinary, a list of sightseeing places, address & nearest metro stop, hours of operation & entrance fee, and marked them out on map. I'm attempting to do the same for our trip end the month, but the am having a hard time finding a detailedwalking map...

Posted by
9363 posts

Paul,
I'm kind of the same way. Lots and lots of planning but almost no reservations. In fact, I would never bother looking at places to eat until I was wanting to eat, not months ahead. My second trip to Ireland I made absolutely no reservations except for my final night in Dublin. I was free to change my itinerary (and did so) without hassle, and include or exclude activities as I went along.

Posted by
84 posts

Before a trip, I give a cursory review of the guidebooks to plan my itnerary, etc., but I find that most of it (like Rick's walking tours or his explanations of art) mean little to me until I am there.

After the guidebooks, I consume a ridiculous amount of material to research my trip - books, movies, etc. This is what makes things come truly alive. It is only when I am IN the country that I read the guidebook more in depth again ~ say, the night before the next day's activities. I do have an idea of the sites I want to see/the order to see them, but I leave much room for just wandering around and allowing for those magic moments. I am a pre-planner with my hotels, but NOT for restaurants. I rarely use a guidebook's restaurant recommendations.

I two-hole punch printed reservation info on the top, and stick it in a manilla folder with metal clasps on the top. Lodgings on one side, airline/museums/transp on the other. The folder easily slips into the big outer pocket of my bag.

Posted by
1130 posts

JJ-

I buy MapEasy's Guidemap to "location" at Barnes and Noble. They do not tear!

I have also tried to color copy the city maps in the DK Eyewitness books-they are SO detailed.

You CAN go on overload, but I found, too, that it works to mark information in your guidebook that you bring as well as note it in a daily itinerary. BUT, you don't need to actually READ it until you are physically there.

Posted by
805 posts

I love the "Streetwise" (http://www.streetwisemaps.com/) series of maps. They are small, useful laminated plastic maps of major cities that provide very useful information and take up almost no space. Each costs about $8 or so and they last forever.

Posted by
25 posts

I'm in my final stages planning a 2 month trip. I leave on August 28th. I'm traveling with my 2 sisters. We each have different areas of interest. My youngest digs WWII. I can't function without an aquarium, all things spanish and shopping, my middle sister is obsessed with Greek and Roman history. This is how we made our decision. First of all...college budget. We used the internet. You're online checking your e-mail, plus these messages anywyas. Type in "EUROPE" and see what pops up. Start out super general and work your way to a more narrow focus. USE AND ABUSE YOUR FRIENDS! Someone you know or they know has been recently. Hit chat rooms. Ask EVERYONE you come in contact with. I drive everybody crazy with questions but when I travel...I have the most amazing trip ever! I just finished reading 2007 Backdoor. Great advice on traveling. DK is my fav for the history the first 25 pages of everybook give you the goods on what happened when and I spend the rest of my time on the internet.

Posted by
104 posts

I usually buy the country guidebook in advance, and then once I nail down the cities to visit, I buy the individual city guidebooks.

I use the guidebooks mostly for hotel recommendations and museum/site info. I typically don't plan restaurants in advance, just figure that out as I go.

I read up on all the major sites, and make a list of those that sound interesting to me. I usually tag the pages first, and and then I start putting data in a spreadsheet. I make sure to note the days that certain sites are closed, and use that to try to plan out a general itinerary to maximize efficiency. I also look at grouping visits to sites by area and try to get maximum use out of any museum passes.

The spreadsheet becomes my main planning tool at this point. I always end up deviating in some way from the plan, so I use it just as a general guide. I print the spreadsheet out and take it with me. I also keep the books handy for specifics on getting around and for self-guided tours.