If you’re starting to think about your next trip, find out how to plan the ultimate travel itinerary
In partnership with Jules Verne
Are you a travel planner, or do you prefer to wing it when you travel?
I have to admit that I love planning travel, it sometimes feels like planning a trip is more fun than the actual event!
Whether you’re planning a night away in the UK, a long weekend in Europe, or maybe a bucket list trip like a grand tour of Africa with Jules Verne, planning your travel itinerary is sure to make your holiday run more smoothly.
And my sons definitely agree with me. When we visited Amsterdam in 2018, I purposefully didn’t plan an itinerary for the trip and we ended up just aimlessly wandering through the city. It was enjoyable, but afterwards we realised that we’d missed out lots of places that we’d hoped to visit. They asked me to make sure that I planned out our next trip properly!
So here are some hints on how to create your ultimate trip itinerary, to make sure you get the most out of your next holiday.
Where to create your itinerary
If you prefer, there’s nothing to stop you going old-school and using a travel notebook to plan your itinerary. This will also give you a lovely memento of your trip once you return.
Personally, I like to use online tools to plan my trips. I set up a folder on my Google Drive for the trip, and then use a spreadsheet to keep track of bookings and plans.
I also like Google Keep, which is useful for saving quick notes, links and reminders. You can then access all of your travel itinerary details on your phone when you are travelling.
You might also like to try the Evernote app, which can be used to store all of your information, photos and links to important websites in a virtual notebook.
Whichever method you decide to use, it’s worth printing out copies of boarding cards, tickets and passes to keep with you as you travel.
Do your research
If you want to make the most of your trip, you need to spend some time thinking about what you want to do and see so that you can create your ultimate travel itinerary.
So what makes your ideal trip? Are you fascinated by art, culture and history, or do you want to get active on your holiday? Is food your passion, or do you want to experience the nightlife of your destination?
Once you’ve answered these questions, you’ll know where you need to start your research for the area you plan to visit.
The next step is to go to your favourite search engine and get searching. You might like to use terms like ‘top things to do in…’ ‘traditional foods to eat in…’ and ’48 hours in…’.
It can also be useful to search for events that are on in the month that you are visiting – the local tourist board website can be handy for this. For me, planning where to eat is one of my favourite parts of planning a trip, so look out for reviews of restaurants and blog posts about the best places to eat.
Look through the results and bookmark or save the links of anything that looks interesting. Don’t just check the first page – these can often be full of generic tourist sites. Clicking through to the second page and beyond will get you into the personal stories and blogs where you’ll find the really useful tips.
Once you’ve got a general list of the things you’d like to do, assign a rough time for each one of them. Some might just take an hour or less, others might need you to put aside a full day. Then order the list by priority, putting the things that you absolutely must do at the top.
These two steps will help you to see how much you can realistically see and do in the time you have at your destination.
Create your Schedule
Now you’re ready to start drawing up the itinerary for your trip.
Make a calendar for the time that you’ll be at your destination, and divide each day into morning, afternoon or evening. You can either create a table in a spreadsheet or just make a straightforward list.
Now look at the list of things to do that you create in the step above, and check the opening times and reservations for each. There’s no point blocking out a whole morning to visit a museum that doesn’t open til 11am, or planning to visit an attraction that has already sold out.
Assign each of the items on your ‘things to do’ list to each block of time, trying to keep things together that are in the same area of your destination. If you have to travel around a city or region, make sure you allow ample time for travel.
Check if you need to book any of your plans in advance, and make sure you do that in good time. If you’re making a once-in-a-lifetime trip, you don’t want to miss out on seeing something because it’s sold out!
For instance, if you’re visiting Andalucia and want to see the Alhambra, be ready to book tickets three months before your trip as they sell out very quickly. But on another occasion, I visited Berlin with my sons and we wanted to have breakfast at the Bundestag, but I left it too late to book tickets.
Be realistic and leave some space
I know how tempting it is to try and pack in everything that you possibly want to see in the time that you have available.
But do remember to take time to relax over a delicious lunch. Or to sit with an ice-cream or a glass of something chilled and watch the people go by.
And you’re sure to find that sometimes plans go awry, bookings get lost or something unexpected pops up that you simply have to see. So create a loose itinerary rather than a strict timetable, and try to leave some lee-way for the unexpected.
Other things to include in your travel itinerary
So you have planned out your time, booked your tickets and accommodation, and decided where you want to eat.
There are a few other pieces of information that you should also include in your ideal travel itinerary. By keeping all the information together in one place, it’ll be easier to find when you need it.
Check your Connections
Make sure that your travel is booked from door to door. Consider things like parking as well and shop around for the best deals.
When you’re booking flights, ferries or trains make sure that you allow plenty of time for connections. That way you won’t need to worry about getting stranded if there’s a delay somewhere along the day.
And make sure that you check which airport you will be flying into. You may think that a ticket is a great bargain, but if it takes you an hour or more to get into the city centre, it might be better to pay the extra to fly into a more convenient airport.
In Case of Emergency
Before you set off, look up the address and phone number of your home country’s local embassy or consulate.
If your trip will cover more than one destination, list the information for each stop on your journey.
It’s also worth looking up the emergency number for the country or countries you are visiting. Add these to your itinerary or save them in your phone for peace of mind.
Don’t forget Insurance
This one really speaks for itself. Make sure that you have adequate travel insurance and buy it as soon as you have started booking your travel. You should include a copy of your insurance documents in with your travel itinerary.
Make sure that you are covered for any planned activities, and that any gadgets or specialist equipment will be covered. And also check that your medical expenses are covered, along with any extraordinary events.
I was in Portugal when the Eyjafjallajökull volcano in Iceland erupted, closing airspace across much of Europe. My travel insurance company were very helpful, but the policy didn’t cover the costs of additional accommodation and food or getting back home.
Take a hard copy
And when you have finalised your itinerary, be sure to print a copy for yourself to take along with you. That way you can always access it, even if there’s no internet connection.
Store it with your boarding passes, maps and anything else you may need to access during your trip.