One of my biggest challenges when it comes to travel is striking a balance between planning what we are going to do and allowing time to be spontaneous. I have written before about the importance of seizing the opportunities that present themselves, but it is still important to have an overarching plan to help guide you through your travels.
Before we travel, I do a lot of research. I seek out people who have been to the places we are going to pepper them with questions. I scour the Internet for can’t miss sites and off-the-beaten-path treasures that I want to make sure our family experiences. I spend hours looking at maps, learning the areas we will be in and determining the best routes for our family. The best way to be a good traveler? Make a good plan.
Travel books are an invaluable resource. I have read, marked, highlighted, and reread our travel books by the time we begin packing our bags. I make note of good and bad days to do things. (Museums are closed on Mondays, the show we want to see only happens on Tuesdays and Thursdays.) I make note of these things and try to plan accordingly. For example, Barcelona’s Magic Fountains are only scheduled on Fridays and Saturdays during the time of year that we will be there. Since we are arriving on a Saturday, it is the first thing that we are doing once we arrive. If I neglected to plan that, or if we decided to be spontaneous once we arrived, we would completely miss that opportunity.
Additionally, I keep a list of when things are more economical. Some museums offer days or hours when they are open to the public at no charge, and that is helpful to a family of four trying to stretch our travel dollar. After doing some research, I discovered that tickets to tour the Biltmore Estate are less expensive if bought seven days in advance. I am happy to do a little pre-planning in order to save money in the long run.
When we travel, I want to make sure that we truly experience the place we are lucky enough to visit. The best way to get an overall view of any city is by taking a tour. Our family, in particular, loves a good bike ride, so bike tours are a great way for us to get our bearings in a new place. Walking tours, Segway tours, and bus tours are a fun way to get a lot of information in a relatively short span of time. We try to schedule one of these on our first day in a new (especially foreign) city. It’s also nice to have English-speaking tour guides give you insights into their city.
While hotel reservations are usually easy to come by in the States, they can often be a bit trickier overseas. In several European countries, for instance, it is hard to find accommodations for a family of four. By planning and making reservations ahead of time, we have yet to find ourselves unable to locate affordable accommodations.
Once I have everything researched and planned out, I rough out a schedule. I put every detail that might be important on that plan so that I can better understand what I was thinking as I created our itinerary. If we are traveling with others (as we frequently do), it is a good way to communicate with them where we will be going and when. I also try to include costs, make notes about available times, and list addresses when necessary. It is helpful to me to have all of these details in one place so that with one glance I can see flight numbers, entry fees, or length of stay. Some people might think this is going a bit overboard, but it works for us.
Traveling is the best thing that we do as a family, but it is also work. When you put the work in at the beginning, the end result pays off in enormous ways.