Planning is the part of traveling that we always underestimate the most. We are bad last-minute planners and and we’ll admit it – or good, because we have lots of practice at it! Somehow we find our way to some pretty cool paces and see a lot of amazing sights. Sometimes though, we end up in the back of a truck on a cold rainy night riding to our next destination… Here are some tips for planning a travel itinerary that have helped us.
Tips for Planning – Talk to Other Travelers
Talking to other people is how we’ve learned about most of the places we’ve been to. It’s great if you can find someone who is just coming from a neat place and is really excited to tell you about it. Sometimes we talk to people who are planning on going somewhere cool and want to share their plans with you. We learned the details about the awesome Torres del Paine hiking trip in Chile this way. This is the best way to hear about the great places there are to see, because nobody is going to talk up a boring place. They may recommend not going to a place that they didn’t like, and that is helpful too.
Many people travel around all of South America by just talking to other people without doing any research. However, we do like reading a little about a country or city before traveling there. We used to rely on our Lonely Planet book quite a bit and follow its recommendations all the time. Now, however, we just use it to get an idea of a town’s layout and a few ideas of places to stay before we arrive. As long as we’re in the right area of a town we don’t usually have a problem finding a place to sleep or eat that is within our budget.
Tips for Planning – Look at a Map
Maps are helpful for finding the center of a city where everything is within walking distance. It shows important places like grocery stores, markets, hostels, bus terminals, and airports. We also use a map app for the iPhone called Pocket Earth that also has a few hostels, stores, and places to eat for each town. It also has a wiki guide for the larger cities similar to the Lonely Planet book. It has GPS support which is so amazing to show you where you are in a huge city. It can also tell you if your taxi is taking you to somewhere other than your hotel. Maps aren’t hard to read – just practice before you leave.
Tips for Planning – Lonely Planet Book
This used to be our go-to book for everything, but we’ve stopped taking it so seriously. The main reason for our frustration is the same reason that everyone uses it – it’s so stinkin’ popular. Many of the places that are mentioned in the book have become so popular that their prices are almost double what is listed. This is great for the businesses and fine for travelers who still think a doubled price is a good deal, but irritating for us and many others who are on a tight budget. They have lots of tips for planning an awesome trip, but use it as ideas not concrete plans.
The restaurants reviewed in Lonely Planet are usually not close to where we are staying, so they aren’t too useful either. So much of a restaurant grade depends on the waiter and the menu they offer that it’s hard to go off a guide book for them. We usually walk around where we are staying and gauge a restaurant by the number of people eating there and its menu and prices. The most useful part of the Lonely Planet book is the section on sights to see in and around a city! These are usually good ideas to check out, and aren’t normally overrun by tourists.
Talk to Tour Guides and Hotels to Find the Popular Things to Do
We sometimes just strike up a conversation with someone at a tour guide company to see what they offer, how much everything costs, and how long it’ll take to see or how long a tour would take. Sometimes we decide to do a tour with them, but most of the time we just learn a lot about the city from the person who knows it best. People who work at hotels are also good sources of information since they usually talk to every other traveler who comes through about what to see in their city. They are usually more than happy to share some tips for planning your trip.
There are so many sources of good local information and people are so friendly to talk with it’s almost better to wait until you arrive in a city to plan your trip! We have the advantage of time when we do our on-the-fly planning, but that doesn’t mean we drag our feet when we get to a new city or wait around for ideas to come to us.
We actually travel quicker than we’d like just because we want to see so many things. However, if you only have a few weeks to travel you need to do a little homework before you head out on your trip. You want to know the places you’d like to see and the direction to head when you arrive to a new country. This doesn’t mean you should plan every day of your trip with tours and reserve all of your hotels beforehand.
Leave some room for new plans and spontaneous ideas – those are the best!
Most of all, don’t get too involved in planning and forget to have fun! Leave a comment with your favorite tips for planning a trip!