If I could bring forward the question that I get asked the most when talking about my travels, it is without a doubt the following; “But how do you start planning your citytrip?”.
It seems like many people struggle with putting together an itinerary before departure even though they really want to have some sort of route to follow. Or they realize afterwards that what they had planned wasn’t realistic.
I’m one of those people who will try to plan as much as possible in advance so I don’t risk missing out on something. I know, that’s not always the best way to go, but I can’t help myself. Planning my travels is already part of my experience. Lately I have been trying to tone it down a bit because I do want to get to the point where I can travel a bit more spontaneously.
But for those who are trying to improve their planning skills, here’s how I tackle the task of making an itinerary for a citytrip.
1. What do you want to see?
Figuring out what you want to see while at your destination is of course one of the most important parts of constructing your itinerary. So the first step you have to complete is to inform yourself of what the city or place you plan to visit has to offer. The easiest way to get that information is of course by Googling. But I do love to pick up an old-school travel guide as well. I always look for the guides that have a map with walking itineraries through a city. That’s always a huge help to work out your personal route.
While both Google and travel guides will help you find the highlights, there is more to be considered. And that’s when you dive into the travel blogger community. They will offer experiences of places and more useful tips on what’s worth your time and what actually isn’t. You’ll also find more off the beaten track sights that might be just as interesting as all those major sights. So take your time reading a few blog posts as well. I always end up finding things that might not be overly popular but that I personally find an absolute must-see.
2. Grouping the sights
Once I’ve got a list of all the places I want to see, it’s time to organize them. I’ll pinpoint every sight onto the city map to see how far apart everything is.
Then depending on the amount of days I’m visiting a city, I’ll divide up the city in just as many blocks of sights. That way you won’t end up having to walk or use public transportation to go from one part of the city to another in one day, only to end up in the same part again the next day.
3. Opening hours and closing days
Once I’ve divided up my sights in accordance to the amount of days I’ve got, it’s time to assign each group a specific day. To do that, it’s important to check the closing days of museums and other places that have closing times. Ending up in front of a closed door due to a weekly closing day is one of the most annoying things ever!
Then the actual opening hours each day are also something to take into account of course. Also sometimes during winter season a venue will close earlier than during the summer so check if you’re having the correct times in front of you.
4. How much does it interest you?
While one person might want to spend an entire day in a museum, another would be happy with just an hour of quick observation. I for instance usually won’t end up reading every single piece of information in a museum but I’ll go for the architecture of the building and the main pieces. When I’m visiting a viewpoint however, I do like to take a seat for a while and absorb the view.
So make sure you allow enough time for those things that interest you the most. When it comes to sights that I can’t really estimate how much time I’ll need, I take a quick look at Tripadviser and read some experiences of other travelers to help me determine how much time I’ll need.
5. Advanced puzzling
And then with all the info you’ve got, it’s just a matter of trying to fit all the pieces together. Sometimes a plan comes together pretty quickly while other times it feels like you’ll never be able to work it out. Then you might have to leave something out of it, or move it to another day anyway.
One thing that I try to take into account as well when it comes to viewpoints, is the position of the sun. Views are always that much better when they’re bathing in the sun instead of you having to squint into the sunlight to see that view.
6. Leave some blank spaces and add some back-up
In my itineraries, I always leave some room for extras. You never know what you will stumble upon once you’re there. Also I write down a few things that would be nice to see or visit as well, but aren’t exactly a must. This way you always have something at hand if you end up having a bit of free time on your hands.
And the last half day or couple of hours of my trip are always blank. Those are for wandering the streets without a plan, just going where my feet will take me. Or for something else I came across earlier and didn’t want to spend time on at that time. A little buffer.
7. Weather forecast
The weather is one of those things that we sadly can’t control and that can have a huge impact your travel experience. Going on a boat trip through the city just isn’t as much fun when it’s pouring and it just sucks to be stuck inside a museum when the sun is shining and the skies are blue.
So one day before I leave, I take a look at the weather forecast for the upcoming days. That way you can maybe change a few things and reschedule your museum visit to a rainy or cloudy day and keep the views for the better days. But always stay mindful of those closing days!
8. Change it up!
And last but not least; don’t be afraid to change your itinerary once you’re at your destination. There hasn’t been a single time that I haven’t changed my planning once I’ve arrived. There are always things that you just didn’t and couldn’t take into account.
I’ll always end up switching things or leaving out sights along the way depending on my mood. And that’s okay. I do need to convince myself every time that it actually is okay because the control freak inside of me still wants to stick to the plan.
So, this was my way to tackle the planning process. It’s all up to you how far you will go in this. My goal this year and for the future is to loosen up a bit and allow more room for some “freestyling” because I do find myself enjoying those few hours at the end of the trip where I’m just wandering without a plan. But maybe that’s just because I know I’ve already seen all the things I wanted to. Either way, I won’t know until I try.