Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Travel Tip Tuesdays: How to Make a Trip Timeline

What’s the easiest way to plan what we’re going to do when we get there? I always want to plan things so that we don’t waste time doing nothing, but I get overwhelmed trying to figure out a timeline for things.

This is a very good question, and as I was writing this blog, I realized that the subject deserves two blogs to cover it properly. Thus, I’ve divided it into two parts: timeline skills and planning skills. Planning skills will come next Tuesday, but in the meantime, here are some tips about timelines!
Spontaneity is the cause of many lovely adventures,
such as stumbling onto a nude beach, as my sister
and I did on our  first trip to San Francisco!

First of all, find a timeline format that works for you. I usually write out my plans as a list, but it might be more helpful to use a calendar, either digital or paper. When making a timeline, you might want to cover these four elements:

Transportation. Note your planned travel times to get to your destination. When traveling by plane, this is straightforward, but driving time can significantly vary. Either way, be sure to leave lots of room. When traveling from Missouri to North Carolina with my siblings, our transportation plans consisted of, “Drive a little past Atlanta and get a hotel. Drive to Emerald Isle the next day, arrive sometime in the evening.” Leave lots of room for bathroom breaks, picnics, and traffic jams.

Lodging. Know in advance where you’re spending the night. This is essential to the peace of mind that allows you to run around all day having a good time. If you have enough money, this isn’t a worry, because you can always check into a hotel. If you’re on a budget, devote a bit more time to figuring this out in advance. A hostel is a nice low-budget option if the city has one (be sure to book it ahead of time; they fill up fast). I also recommend couchsurfing. Think creatively. When I was traveling solo, I spent an in-between night at an IHOP. When six friends and I were traveling together, we threw our sleeping bags on the concrete at a rest stop on the salt flats of Utah. 

A rest stop in Utah: I had no idea I was
chatting with my future husband.
Activities. This is the most unpredictable part of planning (and something I never worried too much about, which often resulted in me wandering a city for hours trying to figure out what to do). My best advice is to research your destination(s) in advance, and make a list of activities and sights that interest you. Divide this list into “Must Do,” “Want to Do,” and “Do If You Have Time.” Group the activities by geographical location: it makes no sense to zigzag all over town.

Food. It’s a good idea to have some notion of what food is available in the various places you visit. If you have a lot of money, this usually isn’t something to worry about. But if you’re on a budget, it can be tricky. I suggest that you always carry enough food and water to get you by. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve found myself stranded in a part of the city (or in the middle of a state park) without any cheap food around. If you have to stop what you’re doing and attempt to locate food, you waste a lot of time. Snack all day long to avoid interruption. (Here are some of my favorite travel foods.)

A few other tips:

Let things take as long as they take. If you realize that you need five hours to experience this museum to its fullest, take the five hours and don’t worry about what you “should” be doing otherwise. If you realize that this park just isn’t as nice as you thought it would be, don’t feel guilty about going on to something else. 

Keep the weather in mind. “Spend day at the beach” is foiled pretty quickly when a lightning storm hits. Be sure that you have a back-up plan, or can shuffle around your schedule to accommodate the weather.

Plan rest days. If you are traveling more than three or four days, build in at least one rest day where you don’t have any big activities planned. Otherwise, you might need a vacation from your vacation when you get home!

Don’t let your schedule cripple you. A timeline is here to help, not to restrict you. I love being spontaneous, so if I find out about a neat museum, a cool little restaurant, a farmer’s market or a busker’s fair, I rush to go off and see it. If you feel obligated to stick to the things you’ve written down, you may miss something. That said, a schedule is there to help you prioritize what is really important to you, and if you follow it, you’ll end up making the most of your time instead of wasting hours trying to figure out a game plan as you go along.

Next week… more planning skills!

Have a travel question? Leave a comment and I’ll answer in a future blog.

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