In last month’s Q&A, I talked about how we go about narrowing down our travel destination when there are so many places around the world we want to visit. I discussed how we weigh the time of year, cost of visiting, events happening in each location, and the number of things we want to do in each destination. We generally pick the destination that aligns best with our goals for each trip, and has the most to do in each destination. In this month’s Q&A, I’m going to answer the most commonly asked questions about how we create our travel itineraries in order to balance time spent exploring and adventuring with time to relax and enjoy a new destination. I hope sharing this process helps you maximize each trip you take too!
Pictured Above: 17th Century Knot Garden as seen from Stirling Castle ramparts.
Q: How do you create itineraries that have such a great balance of time spent doing things like going to museums and gardens, while not missing out on iconic landmarks like the Colosseum and Gran Cenote? I always seem to either pack my days too full with too many activities and end up missing out on half of them, or I find myself with too much extra time on my hands. Do you have any tips for preventing this from happening?
A: It’s all about research! If we know someone who has been to the place we want to visit, we ask how much time they spent doing each thing. Places like Pinterest, Google Reviews or Google Maps, and Trip Advisor also have information about how much people spend at each tourist attraction, which can be really helpful.
If we find ourselves somewhere we aren’t enjoying as much as we thought we would, we have no qualms with cutting our time there short and heading to the next item on our itinerary. If we find that we don’t have enough time to enjoy something we really loved, we may extend our stay an extra day to go back and experience more of that place, food, or what have you, but if that isn’t possible, we just do our best to enjoy the time we do have and make plans to come back someday.
Above: Zamna Overwater Bungalow in Tulum, Mexico (left) & Gran Cenote in Tulum (right)
Q: How do you figure out what the best things to do in each city are, without falling for tourist trap type things?
A: Again, we do LOTS of research before we go anywhere. I use Google Street View to see what each thing we want to do really looks like, I look at photos on Yelp, Trip Advisor, and Google Maps, and I do lots of internet sleuthing through Pinterest. On Pinterest, I have literally dozens of boards (many private for now) about things I want to see and do all across the world. Whenever I come across a news article, photo, restaurant or hotel review that piques my interest, I save it to a relevant Pinterest board for the future.
We also generally choose destinations that we know (or at least have good reason to believe) have lots of interesting things happening, so that gives us plenty of alternatives to explore if we don’t like something we have planned upon arrival.
Above: Seattle Japanese Gardens in Seattle, Washington (left and right), Shinto Shrine Building in Nikko, Japan
Q: I always seem to find myself running back and forth across a new city, wasting so much time going back and forth. Does this happen to you, or do you know of some secret way to stop this from happening?
A: This happened to us once during a really last minute trip where we couldn’t plan as much as we would have liked, and we made sure it didn’t happen again. We now use Google Maps to create our own custom maps. We drop pins of everything we want to do, including the hotel we are staying at, where we plan to eat, and the things we want to experience, in order to get a better idea of the route we should take to maximize our time. If there are any outliers that would take too much time to get to, we nix them from our itinerary and add them to our “backup” list of things to do that we use if something is closed, under construction, booked up, or unavailable for any other reason.
This method helps us save time, cut travel costs with things like Uber or gas in a rental car, and reduces the stress of “what should we do next?” because we will already have a plan of action.
Above: Kensington Hotel (left), Kew Gardens Staircase (middle), and The Kew Greenhouse Café (right) – all in London, England
Q: I’m going to be traveling with a new friend at the end of the year who has really different interests [than] me. How should we build an itinerary we both like, without having to compromise too much?
A: Before you book anything, I recommend reading my post about How to Know If You’re Compatible Enough to Travel Together. Some people, unfortunately, aren’t well suited to travel together. If you decide you are compatible enough to take a trip together, and that you’re willing to compromise, consider setting aside days where you do your own thing as well.
Spend the first day or two at your new destination traveling and doing things together to get familiar with your new surroundings, and if you both feel safe and comfortable splitting up, make sure you have a way to stay in touch with each other and plan to spend a day doing things independently. This way, you will have time to do the things you want to compromise on doing, and then time apart to do things you may not agree on.
Above: Olympic National Park in Washington (all 3)
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