There is something to be said for aimlessly roaming the streets of an energetic city popping into quaint cafes and talking to the locals, not knowing what you will find.
Though when there’s a limited amount of time, I also don’t want to leave seeing something perfect for the bucket list totally by chance. What if I missed the Skyline Trail hike along the Cabot Trail in Nova Scotia? Or the stunning Piaynemo view in Raja Ampat?
I always create a travel itinerary.
How to Make a Travel Itinerary: Create the Best One for Your Trip
In order to make sure I don’t miss any amazing bucket list experiences while exploring a new destination, I always create a loose itinerary that leaves room for unexpected opportunity, like exploring the alleyways along the backstreets of Tokyo.
When I make my travel itinerary strict, it causes me anxiety, but it also can waste precious time when you don’t have a plan. I never want to be spending hours in my hotel room trying to figure out what to do for the day, when I can actually be out there doing it!
Here’s how I organize an itinerary:
How to Store your Travel Itinerary
In the beginning of my travel career, I spent a couple months creating a London itinerary, not wanting to miss a thing. I purchased an expensive map and spent hours putting little numbered stickies on all the places to be visited. These numbers coordinated with an Excel spreadsheet that listed the attractions by name along with other essential information.
It was foolproof-so I thought.
On day one, while walking to Abbey Road, the map fell out of my purse and was gone. Countless hours of planning were down the drain in a matter of minutes. Since then I have never bought a paper map, (especially since almost every airport and hotel has a free one you can pick up when you arrive).
Instead, I create and store all my itineraries with the Evernote app. The app can keep maps, photos and links to important websites that can be accessed on any of my devices. You can also set up an offline notebook in order to see your notes without Internet access, but keep in mind that you will need Wi-Fi to access any links.
You could also use the Notes app on Apple products (though it does not have as many bells & whistles as Evernote) or Microsoft OneNote, which is Evernote’s main competitor.
Do Your Research
If you want to get the most out of your experience, you need to know what you want to do and what will make the ultimate travel venture for you. Are you fascinated by a town’s history, culture or food? Do you want your trip to just be about crazy adventures and a city’s vibrant nightlife? Answering these questions means that you need to do some research for the area you are visiting.
Prior to traveling anywhere I do an online search of “unique things to do in XYZ”, “traditional foods of XYZ” and “best restaurant in XYZ”. I then scroll through dozens of the result sites quickly, making a list in Evernote of all the things that even slightly interest me. It is important to get past the first few pages of the Google results to find more personal stories and blogs, instead of large generic sites that can give you only a touristy perspective.
If the city or country’s Tourism Board website does not come up within the search results, I always check their site for recommendations. I may also see if Netflix has any documentaries on the destination that can be rented, plus browse a few travel guides at the bookstore.
Another good idea is to search a tour website, like Get Your Guide for what sorts of experiences they offer in your travel destination.
After there is a rough list, more elaborate research is done on each attraction and restaurant to determine what will be kept on the itinerary versus what will be deleted. Keep in mind that you can’t see and do it all, so put an asterisk by the items that are absolute must-dos.
Divide a City into Sections
Many large cities will be split up in districts, like Paris with its arrondissements or the London boroughs. Look at an online map and determine the sections of a city you are traveling to. Create a header in Evernote for each district; if a town doesn’t have sections, it can be zoned into four quadrants (NE, NW, SE, SW). If your travels will be through several small villages, your headers can just be the name of the village.
Start taking the items from your master list and placing them in the sections that they are located in. This will make planning your day easier when you know what area you will be headed to and all the things you can do there.
***Tip: You can create a Google Map with pins in all the locations you want to visit for the day, then add it to your Evernote file.
Create a Calendar
Make a calendar for each day of your vacation. You can either do this in a simple list format or create a table. Take a look at your “things to do” list, there are bound to be certain attractions/events that have to be done on specific days due to limited open hours or reservation availability, so put those on the calendar first under the appropriate day and time.
If there are free hours on that specific date, then add anything that is in that same district to it, starting with the important items that have an asterisk next to them. Don’t put specific times on these other entries just squeeze as many as you can in before or after you scheduled event. This way you will have plenty of options on what to in the district that you will be in without having to be strict about the time.
Leave Room for Opportunity & Be Realistic
Even when I am in a location trying to make a tick off the bucket list I create loose itineraries, ones that leave room for unexpected opportunities, because a bucket list is just as much about the journey as it is the checkmark.
There are always times while exploring a city that something incredible sidetracks you, and if you are scheduled with events back to back you may have to miss out. Of course you’re going to want to see and do everything on your trip, but also be realistic.
Don’t expect to land in Europe, after twelve hours of travel and hit the ground running jam-packing your itinerary from sun up to down. Leave room for meals, sleep, jetlag and rest. Plus expect a few hiccups along the way; flights can be delayed, restaurants can lose reservations and an attraction may pale in comparison in person to the photographs on the Internet.
In the Bahamas our tour guide forgot to pick us up at the hotel, it rained for 24 hours straight and the buggy we rented got a flat tire in the first half hour. Yes, it changed our itinerary a bit, but instead of the original plan we met a lovely Bahamian couple that graciously drove us to the local fish fry where we ate cracked conch and drank bottles of Kalik beer.
Sometimes the unexpected is the most memorable part of the journey.
Don’t Forget the Extras
Add your flight numbers, hotel addresses, maps, etc. to your itinerary file for easy access. All my itineraries include this information, plus the currency exchange rate (so I know how much 1 US dollar is worth in the country). It is much easier to look at one file then have to scroll through dozens of emails or check different apps to find what I am looking for.
***Note: This should not be a substitute for keeping all that information stored in emails or printed copies of confirmations just in case.
This and a lot more traveling tips can be found in my book Bucket List Adventures.
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29 thoughts on “How to Make a Travel Itinerary: Create the Best One for Your Trip”
How do you decide how long you will stay somewhere? We are looking to book our first trip to Europ and hope to visit Paris and London. Thinking 5 full days at each but don’t know how to determine that.
Typically, I will research everything I want to do before actually deciding on how long I will stay in a location. After I’ve compiled that list, I seperate the chosen adventures into the cities district and then I will put them all on a mock calendar to determine how much I can see and do on each day. This can determine how many days I need to be in a city, but it also depends on how much time I have to travel too. I think that an amazing overview of almost any city can be seen in 3-4 days. I did both Paris and London in 4. I didn’t get to see it all, but I also didn’t feel like I missed out on any of the monumental things. Five days will get you a lot of exploring in both those cities!
Wow! That kind of itinerary planning takes dedication. I do basic research when I go some place but I wish I can be as organized as you are :) I’ll give Evernote a try. Thanks for mentioning it.
I like my research!
Great article! This is also how I create our travel itineraries with the addition of doing a search for unique souvenirs to bring back home. It takes a lot of time and effort but it also gets you even more excited for the trip knowing what you’ll be seeing! Totally agree on having a loose itinerary – I over planned the first time we went to Europe and even made an itinerary of what paintings to see in museums :0 P.S. Absolutely love Evernote – I feel like my whole life is there :D
I totally over planned my first trip too! I love that you add what souvenirs to look for, that’s something I have never done, but may need to add.
Great article, very useful who love to travel.
Very nice article and photos you I love it thank you for sharing. Good luck
Great tips here–especially on how to use Evernote more effectively for planning! I usually just make a very unorganized list…no more!
I agree that whenever you are on travel always make an allowance to your itinerary. You don’t know along the road you might meet other travelers too that will be going to an interesting place.
I thought I had itinerary planning down, but after reading this, I’m realizing I’m still in the minor leagues! Love the tip about Netflix documentaries and leaving room in the itinerary for opportunity. I used to plan things so rigidly that it at times was very stressful. I’ve since tried to be more flexible and it has made all the difference. Thank you for sharing your trip planning strategies!
I used to be the same and plan very strict itineraries. And you are right—it’s way too stressful!
I wish I had that dedication to planning! Would love to do it step by step though. Gonna try the evernote app first!
Well thank you for those useful tips.
Thank you! It is an honor to be included on this list with this amazing group of customer service and experience experts and organizations. I promise to keep writing! Thank you again
Great blog and thanks for sharing nice facts.
Grateful information. So thank you for sharing.
This is a perfect article to read especially for a first-time traveler. Very informative, thanks a lot for sharing.
Thanks for the practical advice. A well prepared itinerary saves lot of time gets you most out of the journey.
Nice tips on how to store your travel itinerary!
I’m glad you enjoyed your trip to the Bahamas despite the hiccups. I’m from The Bahamas and I love living here
It was a great visit and I hope to return!
Wow. Thanks for the info. A useful article for anyone who wants to travel a lot!
Can you recommend train or bus links for travel in Europe? Specifically Italy, Greece. You have inspired by bucket list!
Thank you for highlighting your valuable words through this article
Thanks for the clearly laid out explanations, makes lots of sense. I do like allowing a bit of down time or for the unexpected too.
I found this review quite informative and helpful, I enjoyed it
Thank you for the information it helps a lot due to i love to travel on my down days, However it would be nice to have some kind of transportation included like a bus or some to make sure we get where we need to be.
This festivals looks an amazing at the first glance, a lot of countries’ respresentative. It should be on the bucket list of the travellers who want to experience cultures and traditions. I will try my best to be a part of this too.