Travel is an exciting experience. And normally, when we go on a trip, we try to make it as good as possible- useful, relaxing, satisfying, safe. But to do it, our trips need a plan, because the world and the life around us are not so friendly for the travel. Lack of time, lack of money, sickness, local restrictions, bad planning (missing interesting sites or activities), and many other things try to ruin, cancel, postpone or at least decrease the quality of our trip. So, we need to prepare well, and one of the important things to do is to create an itinerary for travel. Read below how to do it better.
A good itinerary for travel
First, what is an itinerary for travel? It is a travel plan that includes a route with places to visit, and all the necessary ways to fulfill this route- transportation, accommodation, food, money, safety, and ways to make everything better, useful, and satisfying.
A trip can be just visiting one or two places and stay there for a longer time. But also it can be a longer route that passes through many places where you stay for a shorter time. It can emphasize the places to visit, or the route itself. Let’s see these three types of trips and their itineraries.
Itinerary for one or two places
This type of itinerary is often used for vacations. For example, you want to relax at the seaside for 14 days. You just choose one resort, you go there, and in general, you stay there all the time. This is your home, your “base camp” for 14 days. During this time you just relax there, or you can go for a day trip to another nearby place, then again back to your resort.
It looks like such type of itinerary is only for tourists, while explorers or just backpacking travelers don’t travel in this way? No, they do too. For example- look at the expeditions for climbing Mt. Everest. The highest peak on the Earth is their destination, and the base camp is the place they travel. From the base camp, they climb the peak and back again, until the expedition is over and they back home.
Your “base camp”
Travelers can also choose a place to be their “base camp”- a city, a village, a polar station, or something else. First, they can explore the place and its surroundings, then, they can make multiple short trips to other neighboring places and return again to their “base camp”, until the trip is over.
Such kind of itinerary is easy. You just have to arrange your transport from your home to the destination that you will stay in and the transport for return. Also, you have to arrange all the necessary documents, especially if this is abroad. Then you have to arrange only one place to stay for a longer time. And after that, you can arrange some local trips, but in most cases, you can do it while you are already there.
And if you want to travel to one or two more destinations where you want to stay, you just have to arrange the transport between the first and the second destination, and your stay in the second destination.
But if you want to travel to many destinations, you already have to create an itinerary for a different kind of travel- visiting multiple places and a route between them.
Visiting multiple places with emphasizes on the places
This is a type of itinerary where you want to visit many places during your trip, and these places are connected by a route. And your goal is the places, not the line between them.
For example, let’s say you want to explore the best of Japan. You identify the most interesting places to visit, including Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka, Hiroshima, Mount Fuji, Okinawa, etc. And you just focus on these places. In this case, there is not a “base camp”, but only a starting and an ending point, and usually they are the same places, let’s say- Tokyo. You arrive in Tokyo, start your trip around Japan and back to Tokyo, then from Tokyo you back home.
What you have to do as a first step is to arrange your transport and documents for the trip from your home to Tokyo, and from Tokyo to your home. Then, your second step is to connect the places between the start and the end by the transport between them. And then- everything else, for every destination- accommodation, food, and of course- enough information on how to explore every place.
You just try to connect the places by transport in the most convenient way, and you draw your route between the points looking for the fastest, cheapest, and/or most comfortable transport. You don’t care too much about the nature and views between the points- at least it is not your priority. Instead, you just focus on the places and the activities that you can do there.
An itinerary that emphasizes on everything
This is another type of itinerary, and usually, only explorers do it. They not only focus on the places of interest and the activities there but also on the route between them. On such a trip, they want to enjoy every panoramic view, every landscape on the road.
So, everything else about the preparation for the trip that is for the second type of itinerary is the same- transport between home and the starting point, and from the starting point back home, documents, accommodation, food, etc. But now the main difference is the transport between the places on the route.
Now, you don’t look for the fastest, cheapest and the most comfortable transport. Instead, you look for a transport that allows you to enjoy every kilometer (mile) on the road. Obviously, you don’t plan any airplanes between the starting and the ending points. If possible, you also don’t plan trains or buses, although they are most acceptable- at least you can look through the window. But the best way to travel in this style is by your own car or rental car, by motorcycle, bicycle, by private boat, or just on foot, so you can stop at any time, take photos or just enjoy wherever you want.
How to identify destinations and activities
This looks easy, but in reality, is not that simple. It depends on many things- what is your travel purpose, what is the type of your itinerary, have you been to this or that place before, do you want to enjoy it again, or want to see something new, etc.
Let’s say that you want to visit and explore a new country that you haven’t visited before. And you want to do it combining geographical education, adventures, and leisure. For this purpose, the best type of itinerary is to include not only multiple places and activities but also the routes between them.
In this case, the best you can do is to start with the most representative places and activities. Don’t start from off the beaten places (yes, they are more adventurous, however, let me repeat- you are looking not only for adventures but also for geographical education and leisure), unless they are natural and representative (more on that below).
How to identify the most representative places and activities
You can do it easily on the internet. Since these places are usually more popular, more touristy, normally, you can find a lot of information about them.
Good websites are Wikitravel and Wikivoyage– the information there is very well-organized, and usually, they mention all (or most) of the important places to visit. But don’t rely 100% on them too. In my experience, for example, I have noticed that some of the most popular and representative places in my country Bulgaria were missing. Instead, I saw 2-3 other destinations that are quite unknown and in fact, not so special. I noticed the same for other countries too.
So, look at more websites. Today, there are a lot of travel blogs with articles about itineraries. They are very useful, because usually, the bloggers that have written these articles have visited the destinations they write about, and they can tell you more trustful information. In addition, National Geographic and Lonely Planet are good websites too.
Examples of most representative places and activities
What type of destinations you are looking for? Let’s classify them.
Usually, capitals are the most representative cities of a country (with some exceptions). In many cases, they present a significant part of the country’s history. They are full of the country’s symbols and landmarks, and usually, the national (not regional) museums are located there. So, first include the capital of the country, then zoom further to identify all the important places and activities within the capital.
Big representative cities
There are a lot of big cities in the countries that are not capitals but also contain a lot of landmarks and other representative places and activities. Here are some examples: New York and Los Angeles in the USA, Istanbul in Turkey, Shanghai in China, Mumbai in India, Sydney in Australia, Toronto in Canada, Capetown in South Africa, Ho Chi Minh (Saigon) in Vietnam, Rio de Janeiro in Brazil, and many others. Although they are not capitals, they are highly representative, so you should include them in your itinerary, and they are not difficult to identify.
Historical capitals and other historic cities, different than the big cities and capitals above
Those are cities that have been capitals in the past, or at least have a very long, ancient history. Besides the modern capitals and the big cities, there are many countries with smaller cities that best present the history of the country. An example is Xi’an, the ancient capital of China. Yes, today it is a big city, but not as big as Shanghai, at the same time here is the place where you can best learn, touch, and feel Chinese history. In Japan, it is Kyoto, in Vietnam, it is Hue, in Spain, it is Toledo, in Italy- Venice, etc.
These are well-known neighborhoods that can be seen in many cities with a long history. You leave the modern streets, skyscrapers, malls, and other modern urban places, and enter another world, with old houses, traditional architecture, souvenir shops, sometimes local street food, local cafes, bars, hostels, and many other attractions. Yes, usually, they are too touristy, but most importantly, they still can bring you back in time, where you can dive into the atmosphere of the past.
Historical and religious landmarks
These are not cities, but very important symbols of the countries. They can be within a city or can be sites out of the cities. Examples are the Great Wall of China, Angkor Wat in Cambodia, Taj Mahal in India, the Pyramids of Giza in Egypt, and many others. And within cities, you can find the Eiffel Tower in Paris, the Statue of Liberty in New York, the Colosseum in Rome, the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur.
Yes, all these are famous world landmarks, but you can find more local ones, at least enough representative for the country that you are going to visit.
These can be museums, “tribe villages”, or just ethnographic complexes. In fact, many of the old towns mentioned above contain ethnographic elements, not just history, so they also present history, but from an ethnic point of view. Although they are also designed for tourists, they still have a high educational value. Here you can see how the local people live (or usually- how they used to live until recently) – their traditions, customs, daily life, and more.
Moreover, these are the best places where you can see and even join local folklore performances- concerts, folklore games, folklore dance parties, etc. Combined with the atmosphere of the place, here you can dive into another world, and this experience is worth trying.
Popular natural sites
These are other types of landmarks. They are natural, created by God, not by a human, but still affected by humans to be more convenient, more attractive, safer to visit and explore, and well-arranged. Among them, I can mention Niagara Falls in the USA and Canada, Yellowstone in the USA, Koh Phi Phi in Thailand, Mount Everest (its Base Camp) in Nepal, Mount Vesuvius in Italy, or Uluru in Australia.
Usually, these places are turned into National Parks or other types of specially managed areas. They are touristy, often crowded, with entrance tickets, fixed trails (you can’t leave the trails), benches, recycle bins, cable cars, sightseeing buses, or other facilities. Yes, all these things can disturb our passion for free wild adventures, but despite them, nature remains nature and is always worth visiting and explore.
Something natural, but representative
If you are more adventurous and try to escape the tourist crowds and the civilization, you can include natural off-the-beaten places. And if you are looking for something more representative, first get some geographical knowledge.
For example, if you plan to explore Morocco, learn about its natural zones. The country features subtropical coastal areas, high mountains, mainly covered by grass or stones, and the edges of the Sahara Desert- sandy or stony type of deserts.
Find something off the beaten
So, if you want to see, feel and taste the Moroccan Sahara, you don’t need to look for a popular desert destination like Merzouga for that purpose. Sahara is present in many other areas of Morocco, and you can choose something off the beaten, far from the civilization and tourists. After all, your goal is the pure natural desert itself, not a specific tourist destination with its facilities.
But since it is off the beaten, it would be difficult for you to find a good place. You need serious research- on the satellite maps of Google Earth (where you can see where is the desert), on other websites, or any other types of information you can find. Besides, have in mind the safety issue, especially if your information is too little, and you don’t know what to expect there! Anyway, since the Sahara Desert is an important feature of Morocco, you should visit it, and if you are afraid of the unknown, just go to Merzouga.
Destinations for other types of itineraries
In general, these are the types of important destinations that you have to plan if you visit a country for the first time and if you travel for geographical education, adventures, and leisure. Of course, if you travel for other purposes- for example just for leisure, you can exclude some of the destinations and replace them with other ones, more proper- more resorts, more beaches, etc.
Or if you want to emphasize adventures, you can replace some big cities with mountains, canyons, jungles, and other adventurous places. And obviously, it can change in general your choice of the country that you want to visit. If you are looking for mountain adventures, you would not go to the Netherlands or Denmark (countries without mountains). And if you are looking for sea adventures, you would not go to Austria, Mongolia, or Nepal (countries without sea).
Exploring a country for the second time
What if you want to explore the same country for the second time? I would include again those primary important destinations that I have really liked during my first trip there, but not all of them, especially if my time is limited. Instead, now is time for something more off the beaten. And since this is my second time there, I would have more knowledge and experience about that country and it would be easier for me to find off the beaten places- local villages, local natural sites, etc.
Advice: when you go to a country for the first time, make friends with some locals, keep their contact. They can help you and guide you if you visit this country next time!
So, once you determine the destinations, it is time to connect them in the best way.
Connecting the points on the map
Depending on whether the sections between the destinations are important for you or not, drawing a route between them can be different. But in both cases, you still would like to find the cheapest and the most convenient options. And it is not always easy.
You can input the chosen destinations on the map and draw the shortest possible lines between them. Rome2Rio is a good website that can help you to do that, however, don’t rely just on it, especially if you plan a trip to some developing countries. And have in mind that sometimes, what looks short on the map is much longer or almost impossible in reality.
For example, you see a nice old town and a special beach that is only 50 miles away from the old town. It would be very convenient if you “close the circle” traveling from this old town to the beach directly. But there is a rugged mountain between them, and only one narrow road with endless curves that connects them, and you can’t find any information whether buses travel on this road.
Or, you find that there is only one bus daily on this route, but its schedule is highly inconvenient- when you arrive at its last stop, you have to change another bus that just departs 20 min before you arrive, and there is no other bus for the day. You have to look for taxis, shared minivans or other means of transport that are highly uncertain, or very expensive (at least for foreigners). Otherwise, you waste a whole day “in the middle of nowhere”.
At the same time, you have already fixed bus schedule from that beach to the next destination, and if you arrive at the beach too late, you can miss this bus, or at least have too little time to enjoy the beach- it would be better just to skip this beach and go to the next place.
Chances and options
Such situations are unlikely to happen in the touristy and developed countries, but they are normal in some more “adventurous” and poor countries- in Africa, Asia, or Latin America. In some places, there is no transport between the places, but only wild trekking in the jungle, passable only with a local guide, unless you are one of those explorers that cross Amazonia, Antarctica, or other extreme places.
So, you determine the destinations that you want to visit, but when you want to connect them with transport, sometimes it can be uncertain, risky, or just impossible. You have three options- to change your route, making it longer but more stable, to skip one or two destinations (if your time is limited), or just to go straight forward into the risky adventure.
Be always flexible!
No matter how you determine the destinations you want to visit, and how you plan to connect them, always, as more as possible, be flexible! If you have to buy a ticket online in advance, check the cancelation options and be ready for that! Everything can happen, in every country. You can be stuck in a traffic jam and miss an important train, you can get sick, you can lose your documents or money, weather can change and ferries can be canceled. And if your whole itinerary for travel is like a chain- if the chain breaks in the middle, it can ruin the rest of your plan.
So, be always flexible. Let your primary itinerary for travel that you create be just a draft, checking every option for urgent change if something happens! Be ready for changing and skipping, if necessary, especially if you decide to risk going straight forward! If your time is limited, don’t saturate it with too many destinations for short time, even if you want to visit and see “as more as possible”!
Because as a result you can visit more places, but wouldn’t have time to see, explore and enjoy them! Better travel more slowly and make your itinerary more stable, and if you really like the place that you visit, you would always wish to back there again one day!
Check some travel books about planning a trip!
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Hi, we are Krasen and Ying Ying. Krasen is from Bulgaria, and Ying Ying is from China. We are passionate about geography and history, and we believe that the best way to experience it is by exploring the Earth in reality, not in a school, and not virtually.
So, we created this blog Journey Beyond the Horizon, where we share geographical knowledge, travel guides and tips how to experience it when you explore our planet, and a lot of inspiration.
And we wish you a happy journey, not just virtually, but most of all- in reality.