Diving into part 3 of the series, planning the itinerary is the next step and can feel like one massive puzzle. So you’ve picked your destination, maybe it’s two or three cities in Europe or you’re headed to Bali for two weeks. How do you allot your time? How many nights in each place? It’s these kinds of questions and a genuine sense of perhaps missing out on something that can strain this process.
I find the itinerary planning stage to be like a puzzle. You work on the outer border and slowly fill in. My inner planner really enjoys this portion of the travel planning process as it forces me to be organized and make decisions. Last thing I want to do is spend weeks deciding if I want to spend 3 or 4 nights somewhere…
Here’s how I set out to plan our itineraries when we travel.
*p.s You can find the full travel planning series here:
Travel Planning Part 3: Planning the Itinerary
Step 1: What do you want to do?
I think the best way to lay out an itinerary is starting by getting a rough idea of how much you want to do in each destination. I will initially get a sense of how much time I really need to do my top, must do or see things and if any of those will take half or full days. For instance, in Paris, I know visiting the Louvre and the Museé d’Orsay could easily take a half day or more. I like to account for this and “free time” to explore in a list for each place.
Step 2: How many nights for the trip vs how many nights in each spot?
I think this is a very personal question. Often people will ask things like how many nights in Paris? It’s so up to you! There’s some cities where I could spend 5-6 nights and the person next to me could only spend 2 nights. I would take your total amount of nights allotted for the trip and decide how many nights per destination by interest/things to do when your planning the itinerary. Step 1 will really help determine this.
Step 3: Make a “Saved Locations” Google Map before deciding anything..
My top tip for answering the “where to stay” question and “what to do” is to create a Google Map with saved locations. You can save or star your top restaurants, places to see, and hotels. It will be really obvious when you see all of the stars and what location would be best suited. If you’re like me, you’ll love to color note each one like blue for coffee shops, red for restaurants, and green for sights.
After I create a Google Map, I’ll cross reference it with my spreadsheet itinerary (step 4) and be sure that everything alines. I may find that I want one extra night somewhere after this step.
Step 4: Create a spreadsheet.
This will save you a headache and it’s one of the best aids to when it comes time to booking time. In my excel sheets, I will order it by day from arrival to departure and have a column for:
- Top things to do
- Notes for any constrictions — like if a museum is closed on Mondays.
- How to get to said location, like train, plane, bus, or car.
From here, I’ll start filling in my itinerary. Sometimes my destination order in an itinerary needs to be changed if there is some scheduling involved — like a must-see museum isn’t opened a certain day. It may make sense to go somewhere first and then return to the departure city after I do further research. Having a “must-see” list helps prioritize the itinerary.
I like to prioritize my itinerary by what it is I am interested in and why we’ve gone on the trip. We take trips for all different kinds of reasons, whether it’s to unplug, be outdoors, or explore a new city. So I really like to plan out the order of the trip to reflect those priorities.
Step 5: Check and double check the big factors.
Once you’ve laid out your itinerary, I couldn’t recommend this step most before anything gets booked. Double check prices and availability of:
- Transportation between destinations — can you actually get between the two places? I use Rome2Rio for this as it shows every possible way to get between two places.
- Hotel/Airbnb availability — if there’s a must stay hotel, is there availability?
- Opening hours of activities — are my top things to do open?
If you can’t get between two certain cities, you’ll need to go back to your itinerary and rearrange from here.
Step 6: Your itinerary should be pretty well set.
At this point, you know if you can get between places, how much time you want to spend in each destination, and a general sense of what you’ll want to do. The next post will talk about the booking stage and how I handle getting everything confirmed for each trip.
- I always believe it’s better not to try to do it all. It’s unrealistic and creates a rhythm in travel where you’re just going through a list. I like to leave room for spontaneity as I truly believe some of the best experiences are the unexpected.
- If you need itinerary inspiration, see the itineraries for these top locations:
One Week Itinerary by Train for Italy
One Week Itinerary for Northern California.
Four Night Itinerary for Barcelona.
Four Night Itinerary for Lisbon.
Two Week Itinerary for Sri Lanka.
First-Timer’s Itinerary to Japan
10 Day Slow Travel Itinerary for Cuba
First-Timer’s Itinerary for Morocco
Two Week Itinerary for Bali
Ultimate Thailand Itinerary
Save this post for later on Pinterest:
PS — Are You Booking a Trip Soon? Use My Booking Checklist!
These are the sites I use most to book my own trips. Using the links below is a great way to support Bon Traveler’s travel journalism at no extra cost to you. If you need help organizing your itinerary, get my free travel itinerary template here.
1. Book Your Flights
Use Skyscanner to find the best flights. It searches 100s of airlines and websites across the globe to ensure you’re not missing out on any route options or deals.
2. Book Your Accommodations
Use Booking.com for hotels and guest houses. They have the biggest inventory and consistently offer the best rates.
3. Book Your Tours & Experiences
4. Book Your Car
Use Discover Cars or Rentalcars.com to find the best car rental deals. I recommend comparing rental agency reviews on Google to ensure you are booking with the best company in that destination, as the reviews are often more accurate than the car rental search engines.
5. Don’t Forget Airport Lounge Access
Get a Priority Pass membership to gain access to 1,400+ VIP lounges and airport experiences worldwide. The Priority Pass app is the first thing I check when I have a layover. I’ve been a member for over a decade, and having a comfortable place to relax before and between flights makes air travel so much more enjoyable.
6. Don’t Forget Travel Insurance
I never leave the country without travel insurance. It provides comprehensive protection in case anything goes wrong (ie. illness, injury, theft, and cancelations, etc.). I use it frequently for my travels to stay protected.
My favorite companies that offer the best coverage and rates are: