Planning a vacation in an orderly fashion

I’m a little strange in that I almost get as much enjoyment out of planning a vacation as taking one. I start researching the place usually six months before the trip. I’ll read travel guides, review sites created by locals, and novels based in the city I’ll be visiting. I take notes, a lot of notes, and learn as much as I can.

My research always begins with a search of the area on Google maps. Then, I delve into the reading. For a place like Paris, France, I’ll organize all the data I collect by arrondissements. Once I have the items grouped by neighborhood, I’ll subdivide the notes into categories like museums, restaurants, and cheese shops. This way, if we choose to go shopping in St. Germain or buy armagnac at Ryst-Dupeyron, I know we also can pop into the amazing taxidermy shop Deyrolle while we’re in the 7th arrondissement.

If the destination is in the U.S., I’ll save all relevant vacation documents to Evernote — maps, Google street images, webpages, hotel reservation numbers, PDFs I’ve made of notes, etc. I can access Evernote on my laptop and smart phone, so everything I need is with me (and I password protect my phone for safety, in case a pickpocket takes off with my phone).

If I’m traveling overseas, my smart phone service can be less reliable. On a trip to Iceland, I might decide to pay a few extra bucks for international cell and data service. On a trip to Shanghai, China, I would still save all the documents to Evernote, but I would print all the documents before traveling and carry them with me in a folder. (Web access can be tricky in China.)

Services like Tripit are great alternatives, if Evernote isn’t your cup of tea. However, you still can have issues using the service when traveling internationally.

How do you plan a vacation? What method and services do you use? Those of you who do a lot of traveling in parts of the world with interesting data and cell coverage, how do you store your travel plans? I’m interested in reading everyone’s advice in the comments.

41 Comments for “Planning a vacation in an orderly fashion”

  1. posted by Jen on

    It’s nice to hear I’m not the only slightly obsessive planner of vacations! I guess some people enjoy going on vacation and winging it, just doing what they feel like doing when the mood strikes them – but I’m not one of them. Planning well in advance does a few things for me – first, I get actual enjoyment out of the planning phase (I like the anticipation of it). Second, I can get the most out of the trip if I plan ahead, especially since I typically prefer to take shorter trips, like 3-4 days at a time, rather than a week or two. Third, it’s just the way I am, so I would stress if I didn’t know what was coming next. It would be harder for me to relax. I’m particular about a lot of things, so I feel better knowing that the hotel we chose is going to have the features we prefer and be located in a good place for us, etc. And we like to eat at a couple of nice restaurants usually when we go away, and that usually requires reservations made weeks in advance. I usually do try to leave some time open to things we might discover we want to do when we get there, whether it’s just hanging out at the hotel/resort, or taking the suggestion of the hotel staff for a good place for lunch, or sights to see, etc.

    I don’t do a whole lot of organizing of everything, although I do print out things like flight, hotel, rental car confirmations just in case I need them, and I make sure to keep them all in one place. Things like restaurant reservations go in Google calendar. In the olden days (aka 1998) I used to make sure I had a map of wherever I was going, but these days our cell phones have google maps, so that’s a lot more convenient. If I were to travel outside the US I probably would make sure to have a map though, due to the unreliable cell coverage that you mention.

  2. posted by Donna on

    I love to plan my trip, too! I find if I have everything planned out, I either get to “see everything” or I can deviate from the plan without worrying–I didn’t miss anything, I choose to do something else.

    I think the anticipation factor is a huge part of enjoyment.

    I’m amazed at your high-tech methods! I still make paper scrapbooks after the trips. Maybe I’ll try some of the electronic options.

    Love your blog, Erin.

  3. posted by Anita on

    I’m nowhere near that obsessive about vacations. If I’m going to explore a new place, I want to do just that – explore it. Sure I’ll do some research before the trip. I’ll shop around for ONE guidebook. I’ll browse and chat with friends for other ideas of interesting things to see and do. I’ll probably make a list of things to check out (if I’m really going all-out, I might even plot them on the map) and try to find somewhere to stay based on that list. But that’s about it.

    Once I’m there I can always make day plans, plot routes, draw up schedules, or just walk out the door and see where the roads take me. I always find it so much more enjoyable and rewarding to just go for a walk and discover something new, that no guidebook would tell you about. That is then your unique find, and an interesting experience to bring back to your friends, rather than the same photos with the same landmarks everyone always poses in front of.

  4. posted by Kevin on

    Regarding International travel:
    We also store PDF versions of our confirmations and any notes/addresses/wahtever online, but also as a printed version AND as an e-book on our digital reader. It’s pretty convenient (And non-touristy looking) to be able to look up the hotel’s address digitally, without drawing attention to yourself. Photocopies of important things are stored in multiple places, in addition to digital versions.

    For domestic travel, we’re quite a bit less organized, as data access is readily available and I speak the local language fluently :)

  5. Avatar of Erin Doland

    posted by Erin Doland on

    @Anita — I don’t plan out every day, minute-by-minute. My research is so I can fly by the seat of my pants. I wake up and go wherever the mood strikes me, and my guides are so I know what is nearby when I go wherever it is I choose.

    My biggest thing I research is food. I don’t find this info in guide books (the stuff in there is almost always tourist eats, and I don’t want that). I go to local food bloggers’ websites to find out what hole in the wall might be best in a particular spot in town, or where I definitely need to make a reservation before I travel. Almost all of my travel is food-centric. I really, really, really like food.

  6. posted by Calvin on

    I felt like I was the only one that becomes this obsessive with planning a vacation.

    My mentality is that chances are, I will never revisit that location again since my bucket list of travel spots is so long. I just want to maximize my time at any places I visit.

    I usually put down all points of interest in Google Maps labeled with a blue pin. As I read up on each destination, I’ll change the pin to a camera icon if I really want to visit it. So at the end of my research i know where all my must see destinations are and if there are points of interest near by, I just visit those too since they are in the area. This is also great in terms of minimizing travel back and forth between locations.

    For fans of the Google Maps App:
    1. Turn on the pre cache setting. This will allow the phone to download a detail map of the area you are in so even if your phone’s data is off, you will still be able to view the details of the map on your phone.

    2. Creating a Google Map with all your pins and icons. This was actually useful since I could layer the custom map I created in my phone. That way I have a map of the places I want to visit without having to print out or carry any maps.

    3. Pre download the data. Google Maps allows you to download from any location on your phone. So when you visit a foreign country or somewhere outside your coverage, you still have all the details available to you. Great if you don’t want to spend the money for temporary data service.

  7. posted by Susan in FL on

    We do not do international travel. The USA is large enough to satisfy our lifetime travel needs. We belong to the “follow-your-nose” crowd. We decide on a general direction, pile a few clothes and necessaries into our car and we’re off. Like life, our trips are a journey of discovery. Who could forget the back road Arizona gas station/restaurant/general store/postoffice surrounded by nothing but mountains covered with yellow leafed aspens under a deep blue autumn sky? Four Indians sat on the front steps waiting for the world to come to them. The super clean (probably seldom used) ladies rest-room was done up in red patterned wall-paper, white shag carpet and black fixtures. I doubt if this place was listed in any guide book.

  8. posted by K on

    just a FYI, internet in any bigger city is very reliable in China now. Shanghai in particular is excellent with access to nearly all western websites.

  9. Avatar of Erin Doland

    posted by Erin Doland on

    @K — I’m not meaning to be contrary, but my sister-in-law lives in Shanghai. She can’t even access Amazon, and during specific times of day usage rates are so high she can’t even get an internet connection from a land-based provider. Plus, cell activation for a phone you didn’t buy there is also very tricky. It’s nothing like going to Paris or Amsterdam.

    @Susan — Since the place you mentioned has a post office, I can guarantee you that it is in a guide book. There is always a section on post offices in guide books, especially AAA travel guides.

  10. posted by JC on

    In the U.S. I look for a city’s “alternative” weekly paper as well as the major newspaper to see what is popular in terms of food, bookstores and general shopping. Normally I find a geographic area or two that I’ll probably choose to explore while I’m in town.

    That said, one of my favorite things to do in a city was go to funky record/cd stores…alas the age of the ipod has killed one of my travel pasttimes.

  11. posted by Kris on

    If I’m travelling alone or just with DH domestically, I don’t plan much except where to sleep. However, with the kids, it’s a whole different matter!
    I’m currently beginning to plan our 2012 vacation to the US Southwest. We just returned from our 2011 vacation in July!
    I also begin saving at least 6 mos in advance so things are paid for before we go and we only have to deal with meals and souvenirs.

  12. Avatar of

    posted by ninakk on

    I love planning in advance. Travelling is so rare for me that I want to make the most of it and that means reading up on the place and checking photos out online to see what would be the best “fit” with me and my companion(s). Since I travel so rarely, I know it will be an oddity for me to go back to a place more than once (unless it is Paris or another major city in Europe which would make a perfect prolonged weekend destination if there are tickets on sale to mention one example). And if I don’t go back, I want to squeeze in as much as possible when I’m there; I can have my “vacation” once I’m back home. (Places I will return to I’m more relaxed about than that, though.)

    I don’t plan in advance where to eat and such, but go with the flow in each destination of the trip. I do like, however, to have a list like you suggested of possible places to see within a specified geographic area so that I’m not completely without ideas in advance.

    The recent additions of gadgets to the household – an e-reader and an iPhone – might change my travelling behaviour if I can find a guidebook in the library collection of e-books, but without a paper map I cannot imagine travelling ever. I don’t think I would want to rely on the internet when abroad (costly roaming fees), but the iPhone with its Bento is powerful enough for me to keep track of ideas. I didn’t even think of this before writing my reply, but Bento could be an awesome travel diary too – no more leaflets, tickets and other stuff to bring home!

  13. Avatar of

    posted by Ella on

    To be honest, the best vacation of my life was completely uncluttered by any planning at all. It was an impromptu 10-day jaunt to Italy with frequent flier miles that were about to expire. Except for my plane tickets, I made no reservations and had no itinerary. I simply rented a car and hit the road… literally tossing a coin whenever I came to a point of go-this-way-or-that. I avoided big cities and stuck to small towns and back roads. I barely knew a hundred words of Italian, but it didn’t matter. I had a little phrase book and pocket dictionary, and quickly developed expression through hand gestures! What amazing fun it was to arrive in a new village, explore and find a wonderful inn and trattoria. Wandering the streets without knowing what I would discover around the next corner. Not a bit of pre-planning. It was the best uncluttered gift I’ve ever given myself!

  14. posted by Nina on

    I should have added that I want to catch some of the local atmosphere like Ella did on her trip to Italy. Rome was a bit of a trial for me, even though we went there after the peak season. You would not believe how many people were there just to see the pope (I did too but from a screen further away, hate crowds) and all of them also squeezed themselves into the Sistine Chapel while I was there. Phew. If there is any such concept as off the beaten track anymore, then you’ll find me there.

  15. Avatar of

    posted by Ella on

    Oh, also wanted to add that I don’t write a diary when I travel, but rather, I send myself postcards each day. It’s so wonderful to return back home and find them waiting, some still arriving in the mail over the next several days.

  16. posted by Leslie on

    I too love vacation planning. I tend to plan more extensively for our few international vacations, like this year’s trip to England, than for familiar destinations . However, I’m like Donna–I like to plan well, but go with the flow if we find something unexpected and interesting, or if our initial plan just isn’t working.

    I like paper maps and have a 4″x6″ book of foldout street maps for London that will go with me on this fall’s vacation, plus a huge (3’x5′) map of southern England filled with sticky arrows of places we hope to see that will stay at home on the dining room wall. :-) My husband loves Google maps and has been looking up pubs and restaurants with that. We don’t have smart phones but will be traveling with his Ipod touch so we’ll try out Calvin’s map tip for this trip. (We will be buying an inexpensive prepaid mobile phone there for use inside the country.)

    I make up a notebook of with our e-tickets, hotel reservations, train timetables, etc. in the order we will use them. This time I’ve also e-mailed the information to my husband so he can retrieve it online. And I carry a tiny notebook (3″x5″)in my purse with hours for all the places we’re going so that if we decide to shift gears we know when the alternate places are open. I keep track of our expenditures there, too, so we know if we’re under budget and can afford that splurge.

    I generally buy one guidebook for foreign travel, but also bookmark the websites for places we want to visit and read those for more complete information, especially for special events that might be happening when we’re there. I also look at the Traveler’s Helpline section of the Rick Steves site for European travel since people often mention little off-the-beaten-track restaurants they’ve enjoyed. We also buy the latest edition of the Good Pubs Guide for when we’re on the road.

    Anticipation is at least half the fun–5 weeks and counting!

  17. posted by Jenna @ NeatFreakWannabe on

    Right now, I do a lot more planning than traveling, but that will change as time goes on! I really do love the research and planning part, though! (I’m a natural list-maker, information-collector, and planner, so this is right up my alley.)

    Even when I’m not actively planning, I have a couple travel magazines I enjoy reading, and when I come across a hotel or restaurant that sounds interesting, I’ll make a note of it. I keep all my notes in Google Docs, organized by country & city (state & city for US). This serves as a great jumping-off point when I begin the stage of actual trip-planning.

    When it comes to the actual trip, I always keep a paper copy of flight/hotel/rental car/etc. confirmations (in the carry-on!). Even if you’re traveling domestically, you never know when electronics may fail you, but you can always whip out your print-out if need be.

  18. posted by K on

    Hi Erin,

    That your sister lives in Shanghai – how cool, it’s so interesting there- explains the difference in ideas about internet access.

    Western hotels have very different access to the internet than households do. I have been many times in several hotel chains and never had a issue – even facebook is open in most hotels. Beijing blocks some western sites from the hotels but I have had no issue with Shanghai.

    Most travelers to China won’t experience the internet the way the locals do. Which is a shame for the locals.

  19. posted by Kate on

    Put me firmly in the planners/list-makers camp — I’m pretty sure it’s genetic! After my mother’s death I found a notebook filled with LISTS of LISTS she wanted to write….

    Heck I’m planning what’s now known as a “staycation,” and I STILL have a 3-page agenda/list of activities that I keep updating and refining, as well as low-tech maps and information on everything I want to do.

    I genuinely just ENJOY the planning/list-making part of any activity.

    I sometimes wish I was more of the free spirit type, but hey I know myself better than that!

  20. posted by Karen on

    I am ALWAYS planning at least one trip. Much of my travel is to California backwoods areas with no cell coverage.

    research tools used: internet (site info, photos, trip reports by others, etc etc), paper guidebooks, maps (paper & online)

    tech tools for while I am on the trip: iFiles app on my iPod Touch. I store PDF’s of everything, even topo maps for hiking and books to read along the way. No wi-fi needed. For last minute on-the-fly info storage, I’ll take a photo with my digital camera. This is useful for trail maps, which are often posted at trailheads.

  21. posted by JJ on

    I’m a planner and my husband is not. I like to have a general idea (or some choices of activities), he likes to get up and decide that day what to do, which doesn’t always work well when the activity requires a reservation of some sort. We live in Alaska and haven’t traveled out of state together since we were married although I’ve made a couple very quick trips Outside for family matters. Our normal “vacation” planning starts in winter when we pick the new spot on the map we want to visit/camp. The 2 week hunting/fishing trips are a lot more planning intensive because those require renting the sat phone and registering the trip with the emergency beacon people since they are traveling way out in the wilds. Most of our planning is safety oriented rather than activity planning. There are also some major trails for camping/hiking within 1.5 hours drive, and world class fishing on the local river, so if we want to take a day trip there are plenty of things to do.

    We are planning a trip to England/Scotland in 2013 for our 20th anniversary. We don’t like large cities or lots of people so the major European destinations like London, Paris, and Rome are not on our radar. We have decided on a week of self-guided hiking with some days on both ends of the trip for seeing/doing other things, like seeing a castle and some gardens, visiting the wool shops, and looking at the architecture.

  22. Avatar of

    posted by Secret Squirrel on

    Ah, I think pre-planning pays off! We went to Paris for our honeymoon for 2 weeks. We booked a hotel after much consulting of maps and online guides. The way we saw it was that we had a finite time which we wanted to pack lots into,and we wanted to be able to walk around Paris without too much need to get the Metro. If the hotel had then not turned out ok, we would at least have tried. But it was lovely, and all the reading up we did beore paid off- like Erin, we had a list of must-sees by area -and then a lot of wandering time also planned in.

  23. Avatar of

    posted by chacha1 on

    I am a planner, but I cheat. DH and I own a timeshare with a very high exchange value. That means that if we’re not staying at our home resort in a given year (and we usually don’t) we can “deposit” our time into a bank and then exchange it anywhere in the world.

    So far we have only traveled domestically, and mostly to driveable destinations. We deposit our time, submit a range of acceptable locations and dates, and take the best of what comes up – typically full-service condos. We’ve never been disappointed.

    This approach appeals to our mutual “adventure within limits” mindset. By which I mean, it’s a lot nicer, at our age, to go out for a hike or a rafting trip during the day when you know you are going back to a proper lodging with a kitchen and laundry and a hot tub at night. LOL

    For a week’s vacation, I like to keep one day completely clear, but have one activity and one destination as options for most days. I try to stay away from firm reservations, because some activities and destinations are weather-dependent and others we might just not be in the mood for! Typically, on a driving vacation, it’s very easy to switch, e.g., a Tuesday itinerary to Thursday.

    We travel during the off seasons, and I can’t recall that we’ve ever *not* been able to go where we wanted to go … say, to dinner at Bouchon in Napa Valley.

    We are both map fiends and inevitably end up with several for any given trip. One day I will paper a room with them.

    I keep essential information on printouts while we’re traveling, and collect memory-jogging artifacts (museum admission stubs, postcards, brochures etc) along the way to write up our adventures for my Mom. Her favorite form of travel is “vicarious.” :-)

  24. posted by Mletta on

    Erin, I don’t think your prep is obsessive. I think it is essential to ensure that you get the most from your vacation time. But then, we feel that pre-trip planning is actually a key part of any trip.

    And as you said, you do the upfront research to give you a framework of sites, events, locations, and food options. Not to set the itinerary in stone.

    Having traveled with folks who like to wing it, I can say that most of the time, you will miss out on a lot of stuff you really wanted because of lack of planning. Nothing is more maddening than to have missed something simply because you didn’t think or plan ahead.

    For those who like to do things on the fly, I say, more power to you but I guarantee that no matter where you are traveling, especially outside the U.S., you WILL miss out on some great options because trying to eat on the fly, for example, can be a nightmare. You can end up overpaying and eating at crappy places simply because you are starving and clueless and you didn’t plan your day with where you wanted to be when you wanted to eat. (And as for all the smartphone apps and stuff, believe me, the reliability varies tremendously. I live in NYC and am constantly amazed at how inaccurate information is on many different types of travel-oriented and food-oriented apps. As a tourist, you don’t even know if what you’re reading is accurate. So why rely on it in the moment?)

    We spend some time online, checking a variety of traditional guidebook and blogs for the sights, etc. at various locations. We’re also looking for tips about how best to visit a site, etc. We spend even more time searching out restaurant options. Do enough research and you will see patterns and some names that show up repeatedly.

    When we don’t find what we want, we email local bloggers for specific information. Expats can be a tremendous asset in pre-trip planning, whether you are looking for information on safety concerns or where to shop and eat.

    For international travel, we never assume we will have easy access to WiFi, no matter where we are staying (even five-star hotels can have WiFi issues), so we prepare our own printed mini “briefing book” that includes driving and walking maps (airport to town and back; area around hotel; areas of interest in and outside the city, etc.); list of eateries with hours, phone numbers and relevant information; breakout of events and activities and sights we want to see by geographic location (the easier to do more things on any given day rather than jumping around the city). We also note any relevant information (phone numbers, location, hours) for local transportation (public and private).

    We keep a list of bank ATM locations, 24 hour (if available) stores (including pharmacies)and various services we might need beyond those provided by a hotel (if we stay at one; we often rent locally for extended periods)including laundromats, post offices and even libraries. This list has proved invaluable in saving time, money and aggravation.

    We keep a separate sheet with a list of common words and phrases in the language and some pix of various items we might be looking for. This has proved invaluable and people seem to like that we have thought ahead and are at least trying to attempt the language.

    Unless you are staying in a hotel with a 24/7 concierge, you can find yourself struggling to find stuff in real time. (We love our Android smartphones but honestly, sometimes even with five bars, the time it takes to get an app to work is just paralyzing.) And you can waste valuable time needed to make transport connections, which can really throw off your planning.

    Once we’re on the ground, we frequently ask the locals for recommendations. Finally, we always allow time to simply meander and walk down various streets. These ramblings often lead to the most serendipitous discoveries of people and places.

    When our schedule permits and we want to get outside a city, we rent a car for a day and simply drive around (again, with an idea of where we are and our food options).

    Planning ahead is very freeing and allows us to fully relax and enjoy whatever shows up. A plan is a starting point, not a fixed itinerary. We can’t do it all but knowing what our priorities and options are, upfront, really lets us enjoy the moment.

  25. posted by ninakk on

    (also apparently posted as Nina above, oh well)

    Scret Squirrel said “-and then a lot of wandering time also planned in.”

    Yes, absolutely. Wandering about is one of the greatest ways of seeing a place in my opinion. The backbone might have been created at home, but simply drifting here or there is what makes the best memories.

  26. posted by Amanda on

    I love traveling internationally, domestically, whatever. I usually plan accommodations and have a list of ideas, but that’s about it.

    On my honeymoon, the best day was when we listened to a local and went up to a small island that was practically empty. (Well, we found a lot of sheep. Just very, very few people.)

    The following year, on a trip in Newfoundland, the best part was listening to a local and finding an amazing beach in a city of 250 people. No, the beach was NOT in any of our guidebooks. Heck, the city wasn’t found on most maps.

    I’m not a big fan of preplanning many aspects of a trip.

  27. posted by Amanda on

    I forgot to add, in many of the places I’ve traveled, whipping out something electronic would mark you as a tourist immediately. If you’re traveling in Europe, perhaps not, but if you’re traveling in Southeast Asia?

  28. posted by JJ Thorpe on

    I’m a writer who travels extensively and lives abroad from time to time. Along with many tools mentioned here (Google Maps is tops), I could not plan a trip without Chowhound. Not every city or region is extensively covered, but it has kept me well-fed in every state and country I’ve visited. Every recommendation has been spot-on. Kayak (used to be Sidestep) is by far the best airfare search engine, but of course my advice could be wrong in mere months the ways these sorts of things work.

    Not a planning tip: I’m often inspired to write about my travels, so I keep an easily-accessible thin notebook in my pocket or daypack at all times to whip it out upon witnessing an interesting moment, funny event, or the like. A quick jot is often enough to jog my memory when I’m back at my computer to write, and it’s fun to review these memories on the couch at night or on a train ride to my next destination.

  29. posted by Evelyn Cucchiara on

    I too have the trip planning bug! Maybe it’s an off shoot of being organized – who knows? Anyway, my favorite thing to do while planning domestic travel is to seach out the quirky places to visit. Anyone can plan a trip to Niagra Falls, but how many people have been to great destinations along the way – like the Jello Museum in Rochester, or the Anchor Bar in Buffalo where Buffalo Chicken Wings were invented? You can’t make this stuff up, and it’s the quirky places that stand out most in your memory. Anyone else been to the I Love Lucy Museum in Jamestown, NY?

  30. Avatar of

    posted by snosie on

    I travel a bit for a 25 year old! I mean, in the from June 2010 to June 2011, I took 3 overseas trips (from Australia to Europe or US).

    But I get stressed by the planning – being sure I get the best deal, that the hotel/hostel is really like the photos etc.

    Once I get there, I usually enjoy it (although sadly I think I’m a bit ‘been there done that’ which is a REAL shame).

    In planning, I put everying into my google calendar, as well as a paper month planner I always have on me (can’t let it go), and ensure each date gets a ‘staying’ filled in (so I remember to book every night, but not book a night I’m on a plane etc – never happened yet, but it’s possible!)

    I always take an A4 plastic envelope with all the flight bookings etc in date order. I ensure they also have ‘airport/train station to hostel’ directions written on them.

    I don’t bother with maps – usually you can pick up a freebie wherever you are. I don’t have a smart phone. Only when I travel i think ‘it’d be great to have a smart phone’, but then I’d pay massive roaming costs, and that makes me think it’s even less worthwhile!

    I do wish my trips combined more memorable events in them. I was pleased to recently see a Yankees game, and see a Cirque de Soleil performance at Radio City – I’m not usually that organised (or think to look those things us), but it really makes the trip better. Given I can holiday when I like (from 4-9 weeks a year) I should plan around concerts I’d like to see in other places – seeing I keep flying out the day my favourite bands are playing here in Sydney!! Happened at least twice!

    I used to journal (big A4 book) with photos, tickets etc, almost all done on the road. I’m ‘over it’ now too – though I don’t really know what to do with all the ‘trinkets’ from a holiday now. A shoebox doesn’t have the same ‘showability’ to those that ask

  31. Avatar of

    posted by snosie on

    @ Ella – I love that – postcards to myself. Admittedly I write about 20 back to people, which takes time (and you have to them early so they get them before they see you when you get back), but perhaps sending the ones I pick for myself, home, would be more memorable – little snapshots with stories, not just pretty pics!

  32. posted by Joke on

    I agree with snosie, thank you Ella for the postcard tip!!!! Love it :)

  33. posted by Susan in FL on

    @Erin – The back roads Arizona gas station/restaurant/grocery store/post office may be listed in your travel guide under post offices, but unless you are making a once-in-a-lifetime tour of Arizona post offices, you are unlikely to come anywhere near the one I mentioned and get the full isolated, scenic, native American, unusually decorated gas station restroom experience. And I used the terms gas station, restaurant, grocery store and post office in their loosest sense. One pump with outrageously priced gasoline. Burger, chips and Pepsi in a can restaurant menu similar to the one on the original SNL show. A few canned goods, beer and soda pop constitute the grocery. Stamps sold and daily mail pick-up comprise the post office part. Still an off-the-wall experience for the two of us out in the middle of no where. Sorry for all the cliches.

  34. posted by J on

    Wow. I have never been one for planning trips, presumably because I have never had the luxury to travel enough, but I also have no kids or special needs to plan for.
    When I get the chance to travel, it is always to visit someone I know. No need to research or book hotels or neighborhoods, and not much need to research restaurants or tourist spots since I just let the local do their own thing and enjoy tagging along. I have seen some amazing places and done some amazing things that way, by doing what the locals do, which I think more than makes up for the infrequency and overall cheapness of my travels.
    I also tend to just move to new countries, also with very little organization or preplanning, so maybe I am just not a planner.

  35. posted by Melanie on

    I do as much research as I can. The create a spreadsheet with all the information I discover from the guides, internet, conversations, etc.

    I generally don’t have an internet connection when I travel, but if I have addresses and hours of operations for the places, along with a good map, I can manage pretty well.

    Most of my research involves becoming familiar with the public transportation at my destination since I prefer that rather than isolating myself in a rental car.

    As part of my journal for every trip I kept a list of all the different forms of transportation I utilize during that trip. I’ve had up to 14 different types in one week.

  36. posted by Jasmine on

    I don’t research quite as extensively as you, but I do put everything into Springpad (it’s a wonderful alternative to Evernote). I create a Notebook for the trip (e.g., “Bahamas Summer 2011″), and I add links to maps, restaurants, activities, and anything else with a URL. I add a few relevant photos (such as of beaches) to get myself excited about the trip. I make shopping and packing lists to make sure I have everything I need before I go. I make notes with things like my boarding/flight numbers, a scan of my passport, and so on. I make a note of who I want to get souvenirs for, and what I may want to find for myself. I can add tasks and reminders, such as “log onto American Airlines website and check into [flight number]” with an alarm set for 24 hours before my flight leaves.

    One thing I love about Springpad is a feature called the Board: It’s a way of arranging the items in a Notebook (be they tasks, lists, notes, products/restaurants, or bookmarks), keeping them visually organized. Before the trip, I have only the preparation and travel information on the Board. Once I’ve arrived at my destination, I remove those from the Board and fill it with information and links to activities and destinations I wish to partake in during the trip. And toward the end of the trip, I arrange my Board with packing and checklists and the remaining travel plans to return home.

    Springpad has worked wonders for me recently, in ways I never could have imagined with Evernote. I hope more people check it out.

  37. posted by Claire on

    I have planned trips using Excel and random notes here and there…that was kind of disorganized. THEN for the last vacation I used TravelMuse. WOW! You can bookmark fun things (you just have to find the attraction’s/restaurant’s/hotel’s webpage) you want to do and see. TravelMuse will keep them together and put them on a map for you so that you can see where they are in relation to each other. The one downside I had about TravelMuse was that, at the end, you can print a trip guide of everything you put together; well, the trip guide was pretty awful. Fortunately, I brought a Netbook along on the trip, so I could just refer to the trip info I saved on the TravelMuse site.

    For our upcoming trip, I’m trying out TripIt. It works like TravelMuse in that you can bookmark fun things to your vacation planner. One thing I dislike right away is that I can’t find the cool map feature that was in TravelMuse (mentioned above). BUT TripIt does have an option where you can import your vacation calendar into Google Calendar; AND if you schedule things at specific times, those things also show up in Google Calendar….VERY cool!

  38. posted by toobusy2 on

    Planning a trip is my enjoyment. I even do it for my friends that hate doing it. I use all kinds of tools depending on the type of trip. For multi generational family trips, I use tripit so we can all access the data. For long international trips, I use hard copies, and as I am traveling, i use the back as scrap paper. Internet access is difficult in some places still. In Shanghai, I had to take a subway 45 minutes to a more “touristy” area in order to find an internet cafe. (and I speak the language too!)
    But as much as I love planning, I always plan a day that i title “let serendipity be your guide”. I have found so many fun, beautiful, memorable sights by doing that. It also teaches my kids the opposite of planning – how to fly by the seat of your pants.

  39. posted by Bryan on

    Print out all documents – plane tickets, car rental, have plenty of cash in the currency of the country your visiting and in your bank account, have passport if traveling out of the country, learn the language if the country doesn’t speak english and always pack a first aid kit and emergency numbers with you. Have a phone and bring your charger

  40. posted by Moses on

    Haha. How is that fun to travel such a way..
    Just look at calendar when I am free..
    Where I wanna go, roughly to experience what, e.g relax on a beach, get to experience locals day to day…
    Book tickets, book hotel, read some reviews online…
    then wait till that day come…
    Go.. :) then you give yourself permission to get lost… Get out of norms…
    You can resume OCD planning when you get back
    :)

  41. posted by katrina on

    I’m a slight-planner. I’ll book a tour or hotels, do a bit of basic research on the locations and a few places to visit there, book the flights, and research how to dress and behave so as to not offend the locals.

    If I’m travelling overseas I don’t take a phone or a computer. Just a pre-loaded ebook, a digital camera, a small paper notebook and my travel info.

    As a rule I stay at hotels with phones and in-house computer services or a nearby internet cafe – paying to use a computer and phone may cost a bit but I don’t have to carry a computer and phone everywhere or worry about them being stolen.

    Although usually I only access a computer once a week or so to check my emails in case someone needed to contact me. (If it was really urgent they would have phoned my hotel.)

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