From Big Picture to Small Details: Planning a Trip

So far, my actual planning for next year’s Europe trip has been minimal. I’ve been doing a lot of brainstorming and inspiration gathering, but very little detail-gathering or scheduling.

Here’s how I typically plan my trips.

  1. Brainstorm/Gather inspiration/Get Recommendations.
    This is the time when I’ll browse the blogosphere, pick out pictures on Pinterest, and gather suggestions from Google (which generally includes results from sites like TripAdvisor.comor the official tourist websites for those locations).

    Pinterest is full of traveller’s eye candy.

  2. Narrow down choices into feasible options.
    We really can’t expect to see everything we want to in a given location. For example, I thought it would be fun to do a tour of a coffee plantation in Puerto Rico. But it is only available one or two days per week, neither of which are when I’ll be in town, or requires a car to get there. Checking things like hours of operation and seasonality really helps to knock some activities off of the list.
  3. Tentatively schedule and plan itinerary with top priority activities.
    Once I have a rough list of the things I want to do, I start to figure out how we’ll get from one place to the next. It makes the most sense to visit both the Wieliczka Salt Mine and Auschwitz when we are stationed in Krakow, since they are geographically nearby. Thanks to WikiTravel, I know that you must arrive before 10am if you want to avoid a rushed tour group . Thanks to the official mine website (and Google Translate), I know that the last English-language tour for the mine leaves by 6:00pm. Therefore, we could visit Auschwitz in the morning, eat lunch and decompress in Krakow, and then continue on to the Salt Mine in the afternoon, returning to Krakow for dinner.
  4. Create list of alternatives or possible activities.
    There are times when you plan one activity, just to show up and find out that it is cancelled. Or, you plan an outdoor activity just to see the rain clouds gathering on the horizon. For times like these, when we might need to change plans unexpectedly, I like to have a list of the “maybe” events. “Maybe” events are the ones you wanted to include on the list, but cut out of the schedule for whatever reason. I was thinking about this today after I read Jodie Leigh’s post about a last minute tour that she had excluded from her jam-packed itinerary.

Right now, I’m only at step #1 for the entire trip to Europe. I have an extra half-step between steps #2 and #3, because I also need to get some feedback from my mom on what she wants to do.

Since the trip is incredibly nebulous, I probably break it down into each of these steps for each of the cities we want to visit. Since I know we will definitely be visiting Krakow, and I know next to nothing about that city, I’ll start there and focus the brainstorming step on Krakow and surrounding activities. Once I finish that, I’ll take a look at other cities in Poland to see where else we might want to visit.

This is a long process, but exploring the options is half of the fun!

How do you plan your trips? Do you leave it all up to chance once you get there? Do you schedule every minute, down to the last detail? Let me know – I’d love to hear other planning methods!

Categories: Itinerary, Planning

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

9 replies

  1. I tend to do the first two steps, and maybe half of step three. I don’t like to feel too much like I’m on a “tour,” and plus I’m pretty moody, so what I want to/feel like doing changes daily. I usually just get a list of things I want to do and try to fit them all in. A few times (in Barcelona for example), I did absolutely no research before I got there, and just signed up for a short bus tour to get acclimated and joined up with other hostel dwellers.
    I know for a fact that I’ve missed a lot of awesome things by doing it this way, but I much prefer a relaxed approach- and if I missed things, well, it just gives me a chance to go back! 🙂

    • I agree about wanting a reason to go back! I think if this were not my first time to Europe, I’d like to try your way of doing things – just show up and immerse yourself in the culture. But since it is my first time I’m really excited to see as much as I can, if only so I know where I want to go the next time. Because of course there will be a next time 🙂

  2. I usually do some research on the “must see” sites, and plan those. And then I make a shortlist of “maybe’s”, try to keep the door open for new opportunities and not to rush around too much just because I haven’t done my “wishlist” yet. If I like the place I’m in, I prefer to take a couple of days off to relax rather than go see the N-th waterfall or church or another town. Less is more, I say.

    • That’s a good philosophy. I like to plan some days that are high-intensity and some that are more sit-back-relax. That way we’ll be able to focus and see the “must see” sites one day, and then wander and sightsee, or do the “maybe” activities the next.

  3. We are also planning to visit Krakow in December. Auschwitz was the main reason for including the city in our trip, but perhaps we’ll have to add the salt mine if we have time since you’ve made it sound amazing! As for our planning, my husband wants to know every possible detail of every part of our trip so we don’t have any complications or waste any time. While I appreciate his thoroughness, I am a bit more flexible, knowing that no trip will ever go exactly as planned, so why worry too much? We balance our tendencies pretty well, so we always have an agenda, but we leave time for random exploring and spontaneous discoveries. You’ll figure out what works best for you once you get started traveling.

    • I was just talking to my mom about events near Krakow and she said she wanted to go back! Apparently she had gone to the salt mines when she was there 30 years ago and found them to be amazing enough to go again! So that’ll definitely be on our list. Your husband sounds like my dad used to be while planning vacations – everything down to the minute (you should have seen when we finished off our Florida trip by going to all our favorite rides in all three parks at Disney World – before Animal Kingdom – he had every time timetable for the tram down to the minute! It was chaotic and involved a lot of running and was incredibly fun!)

      But your philosphy is much closer to mine! I like to plan every detail, but leave enough room for flexibility. For example in Krakow, I’m planning a minimum of two full days – we can plan to do Auschwitz and Wieliczka the first day, but if we only get to one then we can do the other the next day. If it works out, then we get a full day to relax and sightsee around the city of Krakow, and rest a little more.

      I’ll be excited to see how your December trip works out! I imagine Krakow will be gorgeous in the winter.


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