Planning your Itinerary – the Basics

Where do you want to go?  What do you want to see and do?  The first part of planning a trip is answering these questions.  Choosing where to go and developing an itinerary takes careful thought.  Whether this is your first time abroad or your hundredth, itinerary planning is vital.

New Town Hall, Munich, Germany
New Town Hall, Munich, Germany

It is important when planning a trip abroad to look at a map.  Although this step seems obvious, it is sometimes ignored.  People will pick three or four cities they’d like to visit – Paris, Rome, and Berlin, for example – but if you look at the map, you will see that these cities are very far apart.  It’s better to visit places that are in the same region so you don’t spend as much time traveling from place to place.  Here are a couple suggestions:

  • London, Paris, Bruges, and Amsterdam
  • Nice, Cinque Terre, Florence and Rome
  • Munich, Vienna, Prague and Berlin

If you have more time, you can expand on these itineraries or you can combine two of them.  Don’t try to visit all of Europe in one trip.

How much time should you spend in each place?  If this is your first time in Europe, you might prefer to visit more cities – each for a couple of days.  If you have been somewhere before, you may want to spend more time in that place in order to explore it more deeply.   On your next trip, plan to visit the places you missed this time.

“Assume you will return.” Rick Steves

Moving around and staying one night in each place is exhausting.  Mix one night stays with some of two or more nights.  For example, stay two or three nights in the same place when you first arrive.  Follow that with a one night stay; then a two or three night stay.  Of course, if you can stay more than one night in each place, do.

If you are traveling for three weeks, avoid shorter stays or add a longer stay of five or six nights in the same place so you have time to relax.  If you keep going at a quick pace, you will need to rest up from your vacation when you get home.  On a recent trip, we stayed:

  • 2 nights, 1 night, 2 nights, 2 nights, 1 night, 6 nights, 5 nights, 3 nights, 2 nights.

We knew the first part of the trip would be very busy, so we stayed longer in a couple of places in the middle of the trip.  Also, in the first part of the trip we visited places we had not been to before.  Now, we know where we would like to spend more time on a future trip.

Eiffel Tower, Paris, France
Eiffel Tower, Paris, France

It’s nice to vary what type of place you visit.  Mixing stays in small towns with those in larger cities offers a welcome change of pace.  Paris, London and Amsterdam are large cities – Bruges is smaller.  Other smaller cities or towns that could be added to this itinerary are Delft or Volendam, Netherlands; Vernon, Rouen or Caen, France; or Bath or The Cotswolds in England.

When you have determined where you would like to go, look at the map again.  Determine the order you would like to visit the places you have chosen.  Although you can usually travel between locations in either direction, sometimes one choice is optimal.

A Sunny Day in Venice, Italy
A Sunny Day in Venice, Italy

If you are traveling in the spring, it makes sense to travel from the south to the north.  It is generally warmer in the south, so starting there, you will travel with the warm weather.  If you start in the north, it could be cooler, but by the time you get to the southern portion of your trip it might be hot.  If you are traveling in the fall, you would do the opposite.

If you are traveling in the summer or winter, consider the weather where you are traveling.  Southern Italy and Greece can be very hot in the summer, but pleasant in the winter.  The Scandinavian countries can be terribly cold in the winter but comfortable in the summer.

The Louvre Museum, Paris, France
The Louvre Museum, Paris, France

Once you have a rough plan, begin to research each destination to figure out what activities will be priorities.  Adjust your timeline if necessary.  Make note of days when sites are closed – the Louvre Museum in Paris is closed on Tuesdays.  Plan out what you will do each day, but leave some flexibility in your schedule in case something doesn’t go as planned.

There are many considerations when deciding on a travel itinerary.  Although careful planning does not guarantee a perfect trip, it pays to do what you can to maximize the possibility.


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