Creating your own travel itinerary can be quite daunting. There is so much to consider, to look out for and to research when starting the planning process. Where do I want to go? How do I want to travel? What do I want to see? And so many more question that need an answer. Which is why some people prefer to do organized trips altogether. And certainly there are perks to every way of traveling. However, if like us, you prefer to build your own travel itinerary and you are in a position to do so, you came to the right place.
Over the last years, we have planned numerous trips ourselves. After some time we noticed that we had developed some sort of scheme that we followed every time we started planning a new trip. In this guide we want to answer your question on how you can create your ultimate travel itinerary! We share our way of creating travel itineraries and provide step-by-step instructions for you to follow while planning your own trip. Additionally you will find numerous tips and tricks we use in order to create the ultimate customized travel itinerary!
Why plan your own trips?
Before we start with the steps to building your ultimate travel itinerary, let’s answer this question first: Why plan your own trips? The number one perk, for us at least, is that we get to experience an itinerary that is completely tailored to our own interests. We can literally choose from beginning to end what we want to see and do in a certain country.
Step 1: Figuring out the when, where and how much time do you have?
The very first step of planning will consist of figuring out the framework for your next trip. At this stage you should think about the following questions: How many days do I have available for this trip? Five days, one week, two weeks … . When do I want to go? This spring, during the summer, in May, in November … . And finally, where do I want to go?
Maybe you know that your next leave from work will be during one week in May and you only need to figure out the where. Or you know you want to visit Japan in autumn, so you only have to determine the how-much-time-question. Usually these questions are intertwined. For instance, the length of your trip will determine how far you can travel. You are probably not going to go to Thailand, if you live in France and only have a 5-day window for your trip. Also if, for example, you want to see the northern lights in Iceland, summer is certainly a very bad time to go.
Of course another very important question to answer at this stage is: What is my budget for this trip? This question definitely influences the when, where and how-much-time questions quite substantially. However, in this guide we decided to leave the budgeting aspect of travel-planning aside, since we plan on writing a more in-depth post about it.
Step 2: Do some research
After finding answers to all the questions from the previous step, the framework for your next trip is now set. The next step is to do some research on your travel destination. This is quite a lengthy one, if done right, but also quite an important one, since the whole layout of your travel itinerary will come down to what you found during the research stage.
What we like to do is browse through other people’s blog posts, websites and/or social media posts that are related to our next travel destination and save everything that peaks our interest on a customized Google Maps map.
Usually our research roughly consists of the following categories:
- Top XY-things to do in… , these are usually your generic lists of MUST-SEE things in your travel destination. These posts can help to get an overview of the popular sightseeing spots.
- Travel Itineraries, and yes, you want to build your own itinerary, however it is not a bad idea to get a feel for what is feasible in your time frame. Also the more possible options (cities, national parks, monuments, hikes, activities, etc. …) you can find, the better for eventually building an itinerary out of the things you are interested in.
- After looking into the more popular spots, we also like to look for some more off the beaten path options. Here, usually websites from people that actually live in that specific country come in handy, since they have way more time to explore an area than the average traveler.
- And finally, if you have a very specific interest, such as for instance diving, collecting pottery or multi-day hikes etc., specifically search for these as well.
Every time we find a sightseeing location or activity we would really like to do, we save it on a customized Google Maps map. Many of you might already know how to create one, however in case you do not, we have a small tutorial on how to do so (coming soon).
Another important point during your research should be figuring out what you need in terms of travel documents. Do you need to apply for a visa, fill out an online form, etc. … as well as the time frame you need to take care of the needed documents in.
Step 3: Figure out your starting point
Your starting point will be the location where you enter the country. If you fly to your travel destination, it will probably be the city near the airport you fly into. This is very often the capital of said country, but not always. So in this step, if you haven’t already, turn to your trusted flight search engine and look at the options you have.
As an example, when planning our Ireland road trip, the only direct flight options we had between Ireland and Luxembourg all flew into Dublin Airport. So the starting point of our travel itinerary was quite clear from the beginning.
Usually this is also the stage where we book our flights. Because then there is no going back. You have your flights, you will be going to that country, so, now you need to figure out the rest.
Step 4: Figure out your way of transportation
After your flights and starting point are set, it is now time to think about how you want to travel through the country you will be going to. Are you planning on doing a road trip? Or do you prefer traveling by train and bus? If you are not sure, consider the following questions:
- What is your preferred way of transportation? There are people that do not like driving in a foreign country, if that is you, then the answer is fairly easy.
- What is the best way to get around in your travel destination? Your choice will probably also depend quite heavily on your travel destination. Some countries are easy to get around in by public transportation and others not so much. Here I would do a little research, often times the transportation mode that most people use in a specific country is the easiest one. If everyone does a road trip, that probably means that a lot of people came to the conclusion that it is a good way to get around there. If everyone travels by train, that probably means that the railway system is quite efficient. Of course this does not mean that you have to do what everyone does. But it can give you an idea, without having to look up every connection one by one.
- What do you want to see and do? If you mostly want to visit cities, it is probably easier to travel by train or bus from city to city. If you wish to visit some more remote places, you might need a car depending on your destination.
You can of course always mix and match, i.e. only book a car for 2 days while visiting that one remote place you wish to see. If you decide to rent a car for the whole length of your trip, I would recommend booking a rental car at this stage, since the rest of your itinerary will depend on you having a car. If that is not the case then you can book transportation at a later stage. Also maybe consider whether or not you need an international drivers license.
Step 5: Start building your itinerary
Now that you know where your journey starts (and ends if you fly to and from the same airport) and how you will be traveling, it is finally time to start building your itinerary. We split this step into a few sub-categories and tried to visualize what we mean by showing you the process of how we came up with our Ireland itinerary.
1. Group the locations from your previous research
For that purpose we will now return to our Google Maps map, we created earlier during the research stage. What we would recommend doing is to roughly group all the location pins you have saved into areas. This way you get a rough idea of the areas you would be visiting if your where to visit every pin you saved. We like to write down the areas either in a Word document or on a piece of paper. As you can see on the map below there are also some pins that just do not fit into one category.
2. Figure out how many days you would need in each spot
Then take some time to think about how much time you would like to have in each location. If you can’t decide on an exact amount, write down a time range, for example 1-2 days or 3-5 days etc. … . Here again, if you have no idea at all, you can do a little research and look at what other people recommend. Write whatever you decide on next to the areas you wrote down in the previous step.
Now of course you probably do not have unlimited time for your trip, so you need to prioritize. Are there locations that are more important for you to visit than others? What are your absolute MUST-SEE’s and what are the things you are okay with skipping?
4. Check distances between each spot
Next you should look at the distances between the areas you want to visit. If there are to many kilometers between each area, then you will be spending a big part of your trip traveling from place to place instead of exploring. So maybe try to stick to the part of the country that contains most of your prioritized areas. And leave another area of the that country for a future trip.
As an example: If you look at the map with our prioritized areas above, you will see that there was an area (Giants Causeway, Dark Hedges, etc.) in Northern Ireland we really wanted to visit as well. However from Galway to that area would have been a five-hour drive. We did not want to rush through our trip and so it ended up making more sense to stick to the southern part of the Irish island for this trip.
5. Assemble your itinerary
Now that you have gone through all of the steps above, you have all of the puzzle pieces you need to assemble your itinerary. Taking into account the length of your trip, how much time you would like to spend in each spot, what places you prefer over others and how much time you need in between each spot, you can mix and match the different areas until you come up with an itinerary you are happy with.
As a tip: try to put as much change of scenery into your itinerary as possible. If you start your trip with city after city, they will eventually start to look the same. We like to alternate between spending some time in a city and then some time in nature. This is of course based on preferences as well.
Step 6: Start Booking accommodations
Now that you know the layout of your itinerary, it is time to start booking. Usually we start with our first accommodation of the trip. However afterwards we usually book whatever we find first. If you need a car to get to a specific accommodation in a more remote area, always book the car before the accommodation. Otherwise you might end up with an accommodation you can’t get to. Also, I think we repeat this in every itinerary post, but we like to change rooms as little as possible. So if there is something that can be done as a day trip, chances are high we will do so.
Step 7: Fine-tune your itinerary
After completing the last step, most of your trip is set and you are good to go. What we like to do at this stage is to do a little “fine-tuning”. What we mean by that is that we go ahead and look a bit more in detail what we could be doing in each location. If for instance we know we are in Dublin for three days, we might look up some restaurants that are recommended. Or when doing a road trip we will search for great viewpoints along the way.
However, what we never do is plan an hour-by-hour itinerary for each day. We love planning trips, but we think there is a limit to how much you should plan in advance. Usually we will have a rough idea about what we will be doing the next day, but we do leave quite some room for spontaneity as well. And sometimes we end up doing something completely different than what we anticipated and that is okay as well!
Step 8: Finally, happy travels
And with that, the only thing left to do, is to go on that trip and have fun exploring!