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Vacation planning

Hi, I just returned from two weeks in France. For the first 6 nights we stayed independently in Paris, did a budget tour then left the group on the last day of the tour for our last day/night in Paris. We did very well on our own using the metro and buses to get around and a few taxi rides. It was so easy to get around which was a big deal for me since I am a beginner to solo travel and my friend has never been out of the country. We saw and did a lot thanks to the nurmerous advice from postings on this forum, RS's guide books and travel skills talks on youtube and Lonely Planet also helped with ideas that RS didn't include.

But now I'm contemplating where to go. How do you build your vacation itinerary? Do you start off with one location or event and build out or do you start big and then narrow it down? How do you plan your transportation routes (when and where you'll need a car versus public transport)? What determines for you how long you'll need in each place you visit? What are other markers you use to build your itinerary. For me vacations are two weeks and one day (that's 7 twelve hour shifts off from work total). This is all I can get until I retire. And I usually don't go in the summer because of the high demand. How would you work with my time limitations?

Posted by
1172 posts

When travelling to Europe from North America, I don't count the day I land and the day we leave to go home in my itinerary for planning excursions, sightseeing etc. Reason being that we are usually tired/jet lagged and I count on just checking in, getting the lay of the land, walking around etc. In your case, that means 13 days on the ground.

I then look at where we are interested in going and what we can cover in that time frame. I then look to see what makes sense transportation wise... if we are going to be mostly in cities, we use public transportation, if we are going to be touring, we usually rent a car unless trains make it easy to get around. For example last summer, we did 14 days in Ireland. It became quickly apparent that renting a car was the way to go. It allowed us to stop along the way to take in the scenery, stop in smaller villages etc. Trains just did not allow for that. This year, we did 1 week in Paris and 1 week in London and used public transportation in the cities and the Eurostar to get between the cities.
I then make a list of everything that we would want to see and do. I then search online to see if everything is open and available while we are there and pare down some ( e.g. we could not tour the parliament buildings in London while we were there as parliament was not in session) I also use trip advisor for ratings and then this site for ideas and feedback.
Then looking at a map, I plan activities/sightseeing geographically so that we are not wasting our time running around. I typically only plan 1-2 things a day as I know that we enjoy just walking around and taking the sites in. We hate just running around to check things off our list. this does mean that we do not do it all but what we do, we do well. I then research online to see if I can buy advanced tickets that would either save me $ or time or in some cases both :)
I then have a folder where I have print outs for each day of our trip with what we have planned, printed tickets, directions on who to get there, anything specific that we need to any activities ( also include if places only take cash) and some ideas of restaurants in the area
In terms of how much time we will need... I always include a buffer... for wanting to spend more time somewhere ( we spent twice the amount we thought we would at Blarney castle last year and at Churchill war rooms this year) or just in case we take longer to get there.

Most importantly we all go in with an open mind and a willingness to change our plans if need be

I love planning our vacations!

Posted by
13492 posts

I think everyone has to find their own style? That just comes with a little experience. :O)

We've learned that we're definitely into "slow travel". Moving frequently, with all the packing/unpacking, checking in and out, and dealing with rail stations/airports/road time a move entails, doesn't thrill us so we tend to stay put for 5 nights to a week in bigger cities, and 3-4 in smaller. One-nighters are usually limited to departure days, if we need to be closer to an airport than our last chosen destination.

Picking those destinations is easy as we read a lot. Also, if you hang out on the forums long enough, you'll run across lots of enthusiastic trip reports that'll have you running for a map and googling up some pix of where those places are! We've also just started going back to some favorites but adding some new places to explore on those same trips as well.

How to get around? We're not interested in renting a car abroad (yet) so we know that our destinations must be reachable by public transport. Route is determined by an open-jaw flight plan: into one airport, out of another, and the most logical linear route in between. If a destination we'd like to see is just too far off the grid to do without a lot of backtracking, it gets shelved for a different trip where it may fit more efficiently.

What to see? Lots of time with a guidebook and the internet. We know what our interests are so I star our must-sees in the book and their locations on an old-fashioned paper map. Then I group our days both by area and hours those attractions are open. The "slow travel" approach leaves us plenty of time for some free-form rambles, people watching and unexpected surprises. It also allows us to shift plan a little for uncooperative weather.

We travel abroad during the spring or fall, and never during the summer. Beach time holds no interest for us so it doesn't needs to be warm enough to swim.

But our way isn't how you might want to travel. We're less interested in cramming a LOT of locations into the time we have as in getting comfortable - with getting to know - fewer a little better. We've ended up staying in at least one location a bit too too long and wishing we'd had even more time in a couple of others but all-in-all our plans have worked very well. You may be more comfortable with larger amounts of shorter stays than we are, and that's FINE. After all, it's YOUR trip? :O)

IMHO, it's easiest for first-timers to stick to locations which are easy to reach and used to hosting lots of tourists: it could be more stressful on that maiden voyage to end up in remote places where little-to-no English is spoken. That doesn't mean you have to stick to big cities but places which aren't too far off the grid. It also helps not to do SO much moving around that you barely get your bearings in one location before having to do it all again with the next, etc.

Posted by
11288 posts

I only take 10 days of travel per vacation (plus some recovery time at the end), but am lucky enough to be able to do this twice a year.

So, I start by looking at a limited area per trip, assuming I will get to other areas on other trips. In other words, I don't go to "France," but instead to the Riviera on one trip, Paris and Dijon and Lyon on another trip, Provence on another trip, and Stasbourg and Nancy and Paris on still another trip. Right away, cutting down what I plan to see makes planning easier.

I cast a wide net when looking for ideas. I read this Forum as well as other travel forums, get travel guidebooks out of the library, and watch videos. I don't just use Rick, helpful as he is, because his books are deliberately selective.

As I'm deciding where to go, I start investigating transit links (I don't drive, so I have to make sure trains and buses will work for my trip). I also start looking at possible arrival and departure airports. I always try to fly where I want to be. For instance, if you want to visit Scotland, fly to Edinburgh or Glasgow. Even if it's "cheaper" to fly to London (and it may not be) you waste a day at each end getting from London to Scotland, as well as it costing money. I'm lucky that, living in New York, I have a large selection of nonstop flights, but I'd still change planes to get where I want to start and end the trip. Of course, if I can arrange it to be near a nonstop flight, particularly on the way home, that's better.

When finalizing which days to spend where, I now make sure that I don't end up in a place on the wrong day. When I went to Nancy in France, I was there on a Monday and a Tuesday; guess which two days the main museum, which I really wanted to see, was closed? Now I check for such things, which helped me on my last two trips; I avoided being in museum cities on a Monday, which had inadvertently been part of my initial plan.

I do all of this before I actually book anything. I've seen too many posts of people who were locked into flights that didn't fit their desired itinerary, or had booked nonrefundable lodging and now it didn't work for their plans.

I've learned the hard way that, when it comes to deciding how long or short to spend in a place, there's no way to know for sure except in retrospect. You simply don't know how you will react to a place until you've been there. With new places, I try to look for day trip options, in case I feel the need to "escape." But even with several decades of travel, I mis-planned my trip to the Basque country, and had far too much time in one area, as well as not understanding how rural the area is (even most of the "cities" aren't that city-like). I know you're just starting to learn about planning, but just know that even us "old hands" still make mistakes!

Most important when planning is my travel mantra: On this trip, I will see what I see and miss everything else, and that's OK because it's all good. That's how I keep myself from going crazy with all the things I'm not seeing on a particular trip.

Posted by
7699 posts

We have a bucket list of places we want to visit or revisit. We choose one, considering the time of year
and climate. We roughly plan out the itinerary and then look at airfares. We book rental apartments or homes, fill in the extra time with hotels. Then we book flights, both RT international, US to Europe and European domestic flights, adding trains as needed. Finally add airport pick ups and lastly a few restaurant reservations for cities and museum tickets.

Posted by
7699 posts

Regarding your time resraints, do not visit too many places. We prefer staying in one country per trip.
So Spain or Portugal , not Spain and Portugal. You will get used a country's way of doing things, practical matters like dining hours, etc.
For example, you could vist Madrid, include a day teip or two, Toledo, Segovia, then take the train to Seville and Cordoba and then over to Granada by bus/train combo, return to Madrid for flight back to US.
We rent cars for the non-urban areas in Europe. So , for example, after staying Paris we rented a car there and drove to Burgandy, then Provence , then Cote d'azur, drop off car, fly back to Paris. That was a month long trip but choose a place outside of Paris. Another time we drove to Normandy and Brittany, also Alsace. They are also wonderdul add ons to Paris.
We have spent the most time in Italy. Rome, then rent car, drive to Tuscany, Umbria. Etc etc. mix up cities with the countryside. We always use AutoEurope to book our rental cars. Automatics will cost a lot more than a car with a manual transmission.

Posted by
3304 posts

How do you build your vacation itinerary? Do you start off with one
location or event and build out or do you start big and then narrow it
down? How do you plan your transportation routes (when and where
you'll need a car versus public transport)? What determines for you
how long you'll need in each place you visit? What are other markers
you use to build your itinerary. For me vacations are two weeks and
one day (that's 7 twelve hour shifts off from work total). This is all
I can get until I retire. And I usually don't go in the summer because
of the high demand. How would you work with my time limitations?

If I can travel for about a week (that's the longest I'm able to travel both job wise and financially), I try to base myself in two places. Like you, I avoid summer travel. They can be two different cities in the same country or in different countries. If all I have is under one week, then I travel to one place and plan my itinerary accordingly. I only travel where I can take public transportation. I think about what are the main places I want to see whether it's for the very first time or a place I enjoy revisiting again and again. From that focus, I build out my trip by adding activities or experiences I want to enjoy. Add-ons can include going to a church service, the threatre, ballet or opera. I work in day trips again to new areas for me or villages/cities I want to revisit again. In new cities for me, I use travel books and websites to determine what I want to see and do. I use MORE THAN ONE travel book because each author has his or her preferences. I don't want to be pigeon-holed by one author's particular biases. How do I determine how long to be at a certain place? I do not over-schedule. I want the freedom to linger longer (or leave early) at an art gallery, farmer's market, or palace if I want. I buy open-ended same-day rail tickets so I decide when to leave if I'm on a day trip. I wouldn't describe what you have as "limitations". I see opportunities to create your own course of travel and what a gift that is. I plan my solo trips (obviously) and the ones in which my husband is able to join me. I ask him to let me know in advance what is important for him (like seeing the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto) and I make sure he has the day (or part of the day depending upon what he wants) to enjoy himself.

The key is not over-planning. Give yourself the freedom to see something you hadn't initially planned, leave early at a museum or stay later. Spend time enjoying a drink before dinner. Go for a morning jog. Play grass court or clay court tennis at a local club that allows visitors to enjoy their club for a fee; we have done this in London, Geneva and Monaco. Experiential travel for us builds great memories. Meander into bookstores. Leave time for these things. That's what we do.

Posted by
1065 posts

We did something different on our last trip which worked out very well. There is now have a direct flight on Aer Lingus from our home airport (Hartford - Bradley) to Dublin. We flew to Dublin and stayed at a B&B in Dun Laoghaire for a couple of nights before continuing on the main part of our trip. It was a nice way to get over the fatigue of the overnight flight and the stress associated with getting ready for the trip. Dublin has excellent connections to the rest of Europe.

Posted by
276 posts

Hello everyone. Thanks for your input. I have a destination in mind. I'm sure I'll be back with questions.

Posted by
1000 posts

Our last trip happened because Delta had a great SkyMiles sale to certain European cities during a time that worked for us. I only had a day to decide, not nearly enough time to do any real research, so I picked two cities a reasonable distance apart and used the next 8 months to fill in the details. We flew into Brussels and out of Zurich, trained the first week and rented a car the second week. It took a lot of reading and tweaking, but we were happy with our final itinerary and probably saw some things that we wouldn't have necessarily said, "I want to see xyz on our next vacation!" We do tend to travel a bit faster than the previous poster, usually 2-3 nights per stop, but I think that really depends on where you're visiting. Happy planning!