It can be intimidating to plan your own trip with no help from a travel agent. But thankfully, we live in the age of Pinterest, so have no fear! I love planning my husband and I’s travels because we can customize it to exactly what we’re interested in seeing while simultaneously being cost effective. I’d like to give you all some of the steps I take every time I’m planning a trip for us, especially overseas where it can be extra daunting.
Usually, if you’re interested in spending the money to go on a trip, it’s because something about that place caught your attention. So the first thing to do is write out the top five things you absolutely have to experience while you’re there. Whether that be historical sites, specific foods, or majestic views.
Once you have a list of the things you’re aware of just off the top of your head, go to Pinterest to find out activities you may not have ever known even existed. Often times I am drawn to a country because of a major thing I knew about it (Paris: Eiffel Tower for example), but then once I start researching, there are so many wonderful unique things to experience! Pinterest has a billion travel itineraries. Just type in your desired location, and you’ll get many articles on things to see. This part does take some time, but it’s worth it. Just scan each one and see what tickles your fancy most often, and add it to your list. You may even find lots of people suggesting to skip certain things that you thought would’ve been awesome. After researching, I’ve actually taken items off my first “top five” list.
Map It Out
Now that you have a consolidated list of all the things you’d like to do when you get to the destination, start using Google maps to look up the locations. This also can take some time depending on how extensive your list is, but you’ll start seeing patterns. For example, when we went to Rome, I realized the Pantheon and Trevi Fountain (two sites we wanted to see) were only a nine minute walk apart. And then from the Trevi Fountain, it was only a ten minute walk more to The Spanish Steps and so on. Thus I could write down that on one of our days in Rome, we could walk from one site to another very easily; and then that day was planned!
When you’re walking from one location to another, pull up maps on your phone. If you’re in another country, chances are you won’t have service, but you can still zoom in and see what’s around you. Without service you won’t be able to punch the location in all the way so that it gives you step-by-step instructions, but that’s okay. Even when I have service, I never use the step-by-step for walking because it usually just gets confused and messes up. The blue arrow will point toward whatever you’re facing, so turn your phone until it’s pointing toward your next location. Start walking that direction, down whatever street will get you closer to your destination. Just keep walking down the streets, with the arrow pointed toward the desired location and you’ll arrive! It also won’t use up your battery like it does when you plug it in for step-by-step directions.
As you map it out, you may realize something on your list is two hours away when everything else is less than 30 minutes. You just have to decide if that one thing is important enough that you’re willing to make the effort, or if it’s something you could live without. If so, scratch it off the list! Once you start mapping it out, you’ll probably realize you have way too many things written down, and you’ll never be able to see all of them. Our rule is quality over quantity. Yes, we want to see all the things, but not at the expense of our sanity. It’s a vacation; so don’t stress yourself out trying to see everything. We’ve always had way more fun when we’ve scheduled in time to just sit at a cafe and people watch. You’ll feel like you actually experienced the culture more than if you just ran around to all the spots and snapped a picture. Depending on what it is and how long each thing will take, we usually only plan three things per day. Remember, everything you think will only take 30 minutes, will probably end up taking an hour. Don’t cram too many things into one day where you’ll end up being rushed and stressed trying to get to the next activity. Also, if you’re able to, it’s usually more pleasant to stay in one hotel and drive to locations rather than packing up and moving every few nights.
After you’ve mapped it all out and eliminated some items, decide what kind of transportation you’re going to use. Figure out which days you’ll just be walking or needing to go further than on foot. If you’re only planning on driving one day, then don’t rent a car; just Uber that one time. But if your plans are taking you all over the country, a rental car might be perfect! Some things to consider: what you’re comfortable doing, cost efficiency, and what will give you the most freedom and ease. We’ve always opted for the rental car because we don’t like being constrained by others’ schedules. We like exploring on our own and being on our own timeline. That being said, it’s totally understandable if that is intimidating, and you’re not at all interested in driving in a foreign country. If that’s the case, just do research about what the best form of transportation is in that city. Deciding what you’re comfortable doing will maybe eliminate more items from your list. If something is an hour away, but you don’t want to drive and there’s no train that goes there, then that’s probably coming off the schedule. Maybe you now need to focus on planning to stay in one city and really immersing yourself, doing a deep rather than wide range vacation.
Not only do you need to feel comfortable with your transportation choice, you need to look at cost efficiency for that specific city. In New York, for example, you wouldn’t want to rent a car. Driving in NYC just sounds like a headache, and plus riding the subway is way cheaper. That being said, in some cities, people will suggest just doing the trains and buses and so on because it’s cheaper. But if you look it up, and you’d have to take four different trains just to get close to your location and then have to call an Uber for the rest of the way, it might not be worth the money you’ll be saving. If all that travel takes you three hours to get there when you could just Uber straight there in one hour, the latter is possibly the better choice. That is of course your call, but just something to consider. Speaking of Uber or Lyft, remember you can look up how much it would cost ahead of time by typing in the location to and from while you’re planning so that you’re able to make the best judgement call.
If you’re a food lover like myself, more than likely the cuisine was another huge draw in choosing this location for your next getaway. Planning your food stops can be a little trickier because it’s often hard to tell if the restaurants being suggested on Pinterest are actually good or just a well known place. Even more important than finding specific restaurants you want to eat at, is understanding what to look for when searching for local eateries. When we went to Italy, we knew that we should usually wander down a random side street rather than choose a restaurant near any main tourist attractions. We learned that gelato that’s pale is usually the authentic kind because the flavors that were really brightly colored were artificially dyed and no good, and so on. So try to find tips like this for the place you’re visiting rather than maybe finding a particular restaurant. My other favorite thing to do is look up the traditional cuisine you won’t be able to find any where else and make sure I try it at least once. I like having a list of all the foods I have to eat while I’m there instead of a list of certain restaurants.
Do’s and Don’ts
If you want to have a pleasant time with the natives of that country, I suggest looking up things you should and should not do while visiting their homeland. There are things I never knew were offensive in certain places, that are completely normal in the States. Learn a few words in their language. Yes, most people speak English, but you’re in their country, so do them the courtesy of at least trying. They’ll appreciate the effort, even if you completely mess it up. You won’t be perfect, but just remember you are representing America to these people. Please don’t make us look any worse by acting silly. Be respectful and don’t be “those loud Americans”. Respect their differences and their culture. Isn’t that why you want to visit; because it’s different than how you live life daily? So just enjoy the differences and have a wonderful time!
I hope these tips were helpful! If you didn’t understand something, please don’t hesitate to send me an email or leave a comment so I can explain further.