My Notebook of the amazing places I have visited and the memories and experiences I don't want to forget.
When going away on holiday / vacation I am always of the opinion that time is valuable. After all you are paying hundreds of pounds / dollars / euros etc to get to your destinations, plus the car hire, accommodation, and so on. In addition if self employed you are missing out on wages throughout your time away. Consequently it is important to make the most of your time and that means planning ahead.
If you want to be really anal about it you can add up all your expenditure during your time away. I mean everything; accommodation, transport, food, entertainment, sightseeing, etc and if self employed the salary/wages you would have got had you not taken leave. Then divide this figure by the number of days or even hours you have been away. This will give you a rough approximation of how much your time is worth. I imagine like me you will be surprised to learn how much it is effectively ‘costing’ you. As a result of this surely it makes sense to try to cram in as many experiences, events and once in a lifetime moments you can, within your budget obviously.
What is the point of flying half way across the world to stay in a shoddy hotel in neighbourhood that’s far away from all the sights and places that you want to visit? Or getting to your destination and spending a large proportion of time working out how to navigate the city finally locating ‘that’ restaurant that had been recommended to you only to find it is closed on the day you turn up. Or turning up at a super exclusive bar to find out you needed to make reservation weeks ago. To prevent things like this happening you only need to do one thing PLAN. Plan ahead and maximize your very precious time. I enjoy planning and organising and researching and analysing; it is part of my day job. I enjoy it for various reasons. Firstly it gets me excited about visiting all these places and experiencing all these things. Secondly it means that I can get a bit familiar with the geography, the distance between where I am and where I want to get to, the public transport available to me, the type of food establishments etc that are in the area and so on. Lastly and post importantly it means that when I am on holiday / vacation I know what my plans are and what I want to do and therefore do not spend my time researching and reading when I should be observing and experiencing.
I appreciate this is not for everyone, there will be people out there shouting ‘just go with the flow’, However imagine this scenario; you have just spent 11 hours on a plane, you have jet lag, you check in to the hotel and you are hungry and tired. You want to eat but don’t want to eat mediocre food at the overpriced hotel you are staying at. You leave you hotel and wonder around deciding where to go finally a few hours later you are in a chain restaurant eating crappy food and paying more then you should for it. Instead this is me; I get to my hotel, I have already researched and know there is a great little restaurant just down the block, it’s not fancy and it’s fast meaning that I can get my food and not have to worry. The food doesn’t disappoint because I have researched it and read countless of reviews. I return to my hotel happy and ready for the rest of the holiday. So that is why I plan, however that’s not to say that my itinerary is set in stone. If I am recommended a place whilst away I won’t hesitate to visit it or if I drive past a restaurant that looks interesting and full of people by all means I will go in there and maybe have the best meal of my holiday. However if when driving I see nothing that looks decent at least I know there is a restaurant just round the corner which has great reviews. And I know this because I did my research prior to leaving home. Oh and I know the route I’m taking is better then the one the sat nav is recommending because it does past that state park with those incredible views. So yeah go with the flow, just make sure that the flow doesn’t mean that you end up eating at chain restaurants and sleeping in overpriced hotels.
Clearly if you are going on a beach / resort holiday or vacation you will not need to do this much planning, especially if the whole point of the holiday is just to relax, recharge your batteries and do as little as possible. However on the whole my holidays are pretty busy, full and and require tight schedules so planning is paramount. I want to make sure that when going away my itinerary is up to scratch.
Here is a guide to how I organize my time and my itinerary:
First I read a number of guidebooks on the places / areas I plan to visit. I also use the internet to see what would interest me as a sightseeing tourist. This normally gives me a rough idea of what places I want to visit; firstly which cities/towns/resorts/national parks and secondly the areas in those cities/towns/national parks for example the museums, the city, other cultural places, the hikes/walks I would like to do and so on.
From this I compile a list of locations that I want to visit and think about the route. The route will be dependent on how much time you have (number of days/weeks) and how far you want and are prepared to travel.
Next think about how long you will need in each location. What do you want to see / do? How long will that take? By reading the guidebooks you should have a rough idea where the places you want to visit are located in a town/city and therefore a rough estimation of how long you will need to do all the touristy stuff you want to do. Again the same is true of national parks, reading guidebooks and going on the official parks websites you should be able to ascertain how long it will take you to do the hikes you want to do, and where they are in relation to each other. It is important to mention that you should also check that the places you want to visit are open at the time. Some museums may be closed on certain days and some national park entrances may be inaccessible at certain times of the year. You do not want to end up in a position where you travel to a location only to find that the place you want to visit is closed, or the entrance that you wanted to take into a national park is closed meaning your journey time will be greatly increased.
After ascertaining how long each attraction will take I can then roughly estimate what I can do in one day and consequently how long I will need to be in one location / city in order to see everything I want to see. Obviously I am greedy and I always want to see and experience more but I have to prioritise so I always have a back up list of places to visit or to see if time allows.
Next you will need to decide when to depart a location. This will also involve looking at the distance between your starting off and destination point. Firstly I use Google maps for a rough estimate as to how long it will take to get from point A to point B. It may be that the distance is too great and you need to find a stopping off point. Once I have my rough route and the time required to complete it sorted out I look at the accommodation.
Accommodation: I usually use Tripadvisor for this; I have found it pretty accurate in describing the accommodation. In big cities the choice is huge. Here it depends on the area/district you want to stay in. That is usually my first filter. This will remove a substantial number of hotels/B&B. Next obviously is price, but that is dependent on the person. Next is the rating, it is important to remember that all hotels are going to have some negative ratings. This needs to be taken with a pinch of salt for example I have stayed in hotels that had quite a few negative reviews from over 2 years ago, but all recent reviews have been positive. I was very happy with the accommodation and the negative reviews clearly where made prior to the hotel vastly improving or perhaps being taken over. Secondly some negative reviews are unwarranted and it’s about sifting them out. A lot of city hotels are noisy, that part of staying in a city and moaning about something like that is unfair (in my opinion). I often read reviews to give me an idea of which parts / floors / sections of the hotel to avoid. For example I have found a great Hotel in San Francisco and when I stay I ask for a room on one side of the hotel, as it is away from the main road and the bars and therefore a lot quieter. It may seem like a lot of work, but I really enjoy it.
Restaurants / Food Establishments / Cafes / Bars: Being a bit of a foodie I always want to ensure that I eat at some of the best places and most iconic locations wherever I go. And that doesn’t usually mean the most expensive places. Obviously where you chose to eat is dependent on personal preference. When travelling to Europe I tend to use Tripadvisor, Blogs and Yelp, although Yelp has not quite taken off in Europe so the reviews are limited. In the States I use Yelp and Foursquare, between these two sites you can usually ascertain the places you want to go to. It’s not just about the reviews but also about the vibe/ambience of the place and the cuisine and obviously the location. At this stage I usually make a note of the place, the address and the opening days and times. Often the small independent places keep shorter hours or are closed one or two days a week so it’s important to make a note of this. I also make a note if it is a place that I definitely must visit or if it is a secondary/back up option. Museums, parks, and other attractions are normally market on a city / town map. However restaurants / cafes / bars normally are not. Once I have my list of places I normally mark their exact location on the map. I usually have a list of them on the side of the map or in a notebook and give each one a letter (e.g. A, B, C) this is my key and I mark this letter on the map. So for example Blue Bottle Café = A. So if I want see where it is I look at the map and find the letter A and that is where Blue Bottle Café is. This can be useful in the opposite way. You are out in an area, you fancy a coffee, you look at the map and the letter A is in close proximity to your location, you look on the map and see that this is Blue Bottle Café, so you are sorted.
Once I have this list I can plan my itinerary in more detail. So for example I have 3 full days in San Francisco and there are a number of places I want to visit. There are also a number of food outlets and bars that are a must visit. I see which ones are located in the same area or in close proximity. For example there is no point going to visit the Golden Gate Bridge in the morning (which is the north) and then deciding on a lunch spot south of the city centre in the mission area, then the following day going for lunch near the bridge. So I always look at my places on a map and plan a daily itinerary incorporating food stops / café stops in the vicinity. Sometime this will still require a bit of travelling however if planned well it should decrease the amount of time wasted and therefore increase what you can see / do and experience in the city in the time you have. It is also important to check that the places you want to visit are not closed on that day, because that can really mess up your itinerary.
If certain locations are not within walking distance I usually make a note of the public transport that I need to get from point A to point B. This will give you a heads up as to what transport to get and save you valuable time looking at maps at the bus stop.
This might seem regimented but it is meant to serve as a guide. For example if you get to a place 30 minutes late it doesn’t matter, but if you are a few hours behind schedule obviously something from the daily itinerary will have to be foregone. It is important to know if you are or are not on schedule so that you can make informed decisions on what to leave out if necessary. Hence the schedule is important as a guide, not as a regimented ‘you must do this at this exact time’ document.
This leads on neatly to being on the road, sometimes a road trip will involve a whole day of driving to get from one place to another. There may be no attractions on the way that you want to visit. However you still have to stop to eat and stretch your legs. Usually I look at the distance; I start off with the destination. What time do I want to get there? Do I want to get there before dinner / after dinner for example? I then work backwards. How long does it take to get there from my original starting location? So what time do I need to leave there with the view that I will have one possibly 2 stops and accounting for any traffic I may meet along the way. Based on this I will know what time I need to leave my staring destination and where I will be around lunchtime. I can then use Google or Yelp to find a suitable lunch spot or coffee shop. It may be that there is a particular place I want to visit for lunch or dinner, so I will plan my journey around that and leave my starting off point at the appropriate time to get there for lunch or dinner for example.
I usually then write out this itinerary in a notebook so that everything I need is in one place. Location of hotels, restaurants, cafés, bars, attractions and their opening hours. Directions / Public transport to these places and length of time it would take to get from point A to B and from B to C. What time to leave point A, how much time you have in point B etc. I have a clear itinerary of where I want to eat Breakfast / Lunch / Dinner however this may change based on events that occur during the day. I may have breakfast and be so full I skip lunch, or I may be delayed due to the sightseeing during the day so instead of going to a sit down restaurant we grab something quick instead. Consequently it is important to have back up options of food places which I also record in the notebook and I can turn to that section if needed.
So that’s how I do it and will continue to do it. Might be overkill for some but for me it’s making the most of your time whilst away. Doing this also increases the anticipation and means I cannot wait to visit these places.