Hello, friends. So you’ve booked flights, hostels, and some transit. Now for the fun part! This Travel Talk is about planning day-to-day activities during travel. This is a rather eclectic post, but stay with me. This is how I typically plan travel for each place I visit.
1) Make a Wish List. The first thing I do when planning the day-to-day is to make a list of everything I could possibly want to see in that place. This list should be all-inclusive. Food, museums, markets, architecture, performances – anything you can think of. Don’t think about all the details yet – this is your wish list! Opening times, entrance fees, public transit, etc. – within reason, these can all be worked out later. And if you end up with too many activities, you’ll just have to save some for the next trip!
I use a number of sources to find interesting things to do in the places I visit. As I’ve noted before, I’m a very visual person – Pinterest is my friend. I’m a specific kind of Pinterest user in that I try to research every travel pin (to be sure it’s a real and accessible place) and to exclusively pin places I actually plan to visit some day. I also like to make trip-specific boards for adventures I’m currently planning.
In addition, I enjoy visiting blogs to find travel information – they often mention attractions that travel guides leave out. Blogs by locals are even more awesome, because it means you get the inside scoop on the city you’ll be visiting. My two favorites for planning this trip have been Taste of Prague for Prague and Red Chili Lounge for Wroclaw. I initially had a bit of difficulty tracking down specific blogs for the places I’m visiting. Does anyone have tips on finding travel blogs?
I do occasionally consult travel guides, but I much prefer a paper book to an internet source. I find Lonely Planet travel guides are fun to read, with solid information, and I like adding sticky-notes to pages to mark the things I want to see. However, I find their website somewhat unwieldy and unhelpful. Likewise, sometimes I’ll just do a Google search (Images or otherwise) to find out the top sights for a new place. I usually return to Pinterest or blog sources to find out more.
So go ahead: make a wish list! Think broadly about what you can do. I’m really into botanical gardens right now, and I also love architecture. Eric would like to visit the Prague Zoo, and we both love structuring our day around a few excellent meals. I also want to take some time to seek out a few places I visited on my last (very brief) visits to Prague and Krakow, so I can share them with Eric. And I’m not ashamed to admit I’d like to do a little shopping in Dresden, where there is a Kiko Milano, a brand I really enjoyed discovering while in Italy, and a Primark, which I’ve always wanted to shop at.
For the final, comprehensive list I like to use something like Word, Excel, or a handwritten document. This is so I can easily add more details later. Pinterest is great for ideas and I still try to add as much to it as possible, but for easy access to the information, some other list type works better for me.
2) Collect More Information and Prioritize. Now’s the time to investigate some more details. Check the open days and times, the location and ease of accessibility on public transit, and consider the cost. I always use Google for currency conversions, using the three-letter currency code or the name of the currency (e.g. 5 pln in usd tells me that 5 Polish zloty is $1.34). Also consider the season you’ll be visiting – is the attraction even open? What time does it get dark? Add these notes to your list.
The next important step is to designate your must-see places. Look at your wish list and decide what you’d most like to do, see, and eat. This is all very personal – don’t let a guidebook tell you what you should and should not see. Use some kind of notation on your list to indicate what you’d most like to do.
It’s hard for me to prioritize because I just want to do everything. But looking at my list for Prague, I can pick out three or four things I really really want to see. You might pick one per day or several per day…whatever works for you. Prioritizing a few activities will make planning each day easier because you can structure your day with the one or two important things you’ve chosen, and fill it out with the other things you want to see. More on that later!
At this stage, only eliminate the things you know will be cost prohibitive or completely inaccessible. Everything else can go into the pile of things to do in between your must-see attractions.
3) Group Daily Activities. I find the best way to do this is to plot everything on a map. Google really works best for this – just be sure you’re signed in so it will save. I have a phone app I’ll be using on the trip that has a map that can be used offline – let me know if you’d like to know more about that!
After it’s all plotted, you can start to group attractions for each day. This starts to get into the nitty-gritty. How much can you do in a day? How much travel around the city do you want during the day? How much do you want to walk? Will you have time to return to that area? Think about your own travel style, how full you like your days, and how much you can reasonably see without being rushed.
This is my Prague map (click to zoom – sorry it’s not easier to read!). It includes gardens, museums, palaces, restaurants, churches, and other places to visit. To plan a day I’d pick a group of these that are fairly close together – say, all the ones on the west side of the river (for reference, walking from Prague Castle to Cafe Savoy should take only about 20 minutes). I really like the idea of walking from one end of a neighborhood to the other and taking in sights along the way, so that’s partially how I’m scheduling this trip. We’re going to be in Prague for five days, so we can be a bit more leisurely and also have some time each day for just general wandering and taking in unanticipated sights. We’ll also have time to return to some of the neighborhoods if we want to.
Create a bunch of groupings that work for you. You might want to wait to pick the date of each grouping until you can check the weather, buy tickets, or verify opening times, but I like having a bunch of different daily plans that we can choose from for each day of the trip.
I’m still trying to decide exactly how to write up these daily plans and bring them with us. I want some flexibility to them because I’m trying to keep this trip a bit more low-key than some of my past excursions, but I also don’t want to have to sort through my whole list at the beginning of each day. I’ll let you know what I come up with.