Have a trip coming up, but don’t know where to start with your travel itinerary? This is what you need to know when it comes to planning where to go and what to see!
I have traveled to dozens of countries, but I didn’t start making a digital travel itinerary until I went to Japan in 2018. At first, I dreaded planning in advance – what if I chose the wrong thing or didn’t schedule enough time? I also wanted to have an adventurous and spontaneous trip!
That said, I wanted to maximize my experience knowing we wanted to hit 6 cities in 10 days – and yes, we did make that happen! It turned out to be one of the very best trips and although we didn’t stick to the itinerary 100%, having a plan allowed us to fully relax and enjoy the journey.
Here is a preview of a day in Tokyo. I had it filled out loosely in advance, mainly with the Imperial Palace Gardens, Owl Cafe and neighborhoods to explore. Afterward, I went in and left notes for what we added or liked. I don’t always add notes, it really depends on where I’m visiting. For Japan, I knew I’d want to share my itinerary with others later so I was more detailed overall.
I will share my specific itineraries in other blog posts, but for now, here is what you need to know to start planning:
1. Start a digital document to keep track of everything
Use something that syncs to your phone and computer. This way you can plan on your computer and have it available on your phone when you’re traveling. I use Google Docs. If you want to dial out of tech while traveling, turning your phone on airplane mode will silence all notifications and still let you access your travel itinerary. Or you can print it out in advance. I tend to do both, and then if I have changes I want to make while traveling I have the option of using my phone too.
I like to start my document with dates. Write out each day you’ll be away so you have an outline of how much time you’ll have. Then include all of your flight information. I like to know when I arrive and when I need to leave. This helps a lot if you want to hit multiple cities too. If I’m going to a very different climate I include weather forecasts as well per date on the itinerary (this will also help speed up your packing!).
2. Make a list of what you want to do and see
Ask yourself these questions: Is this an adventure trip or a relaxation trip? What is it you want to get out of this visit? Do you want to eat, sightsee, tour, experience, explore…? Knowing what you want in advance will help you figure out what you have time to include. I often include my MUST SEE items in my itinerary and then fill in options as backups in case we have extra time and nothing to do. But I do leave a lot of room for FREE TIME, or time when we may not want to do anything but hang out or wander around and explore some recommendations we learn about once we arrive.
TIP: If you’re traveling with someone who says they ‘hate planning,’ make the itinerary but don’t tell them about it. They most likely won’t even notice and will appreciate all of your great ideas!
3. Research, research & do some more research
First, I put a call out to friends and family: who has been here before?! Send me your recs! This leads to some of the very best tips because there’s nothing like knowing what you’ll be getting from the experience. Another good option is to spend time looking at travel blogs. Also use sites like Yelp and TripAdvisor (Yelp doesn’t exist in many countries, so TripAdvisor is good for travel outside of the U.S.) to get more of a sense of what to expect. I take every review with a grain of salt, but I do read a lot of reviews before booking places to stay.
Search on social media too! I have stumbled upon really cool travel experiences in advance just by looking at sites like Thrillist on Facebook. It’s a good way to get visuals of stuff in advance and to find things that may be temporary attractions.
4. Fill in your travel itinerary with a plan
Now that you have your dates outlined and your wish list made, go in and start filling out what you want to do while you’re away. I try not to plan things to specific times – it would stress me out and the whole point of the itinerary is to not be stressed and to give yourself options! I only put times if it’s an event with a time attached (like a show or concert).
If you’ll be driving places or taking public transportation to things with reservations, map it out in advance so you don’t have to waste time figuring it out when you’re there.
Don’t forget to have fun! If your itinerary changes or doesn’t work when you’re there, ditch it. If you have a dinner reservation but a local tells you a better spot, go with your gut. The point is to plan so you have options… and then pick what feels best in the moment!