Top tips for planning your travel itinerary

You’ve finally saved the coin and organised the holiday leave you need for your next OS jaunt, but you’re lacking a bit of motivation in the planning department. But where do you start? Building a solid itinerary is the most practical way you can fire up your nomadic imagination, organise your key trip objectives and smash those travel goals.

Be realistic

Forget impractical strategies like red-eye flights and booking a day’s worth of tours upon your arrival – you’ll just end up exhausted. Plan for jetlag and make sure you’re well rested before you jump straight into exploring.

Get an idea of what you want to do by creating a list by locale and then putting it into priority order. Sounds a tad basic, but handwritten notes on a map can help you get your bearings and will allow you to minimise travel time between the fun stuff.

Consult guidebooks and online forums for useful feedback in terms of how long you’ll need for each activity and trawl tourist board websites for must-do stuff like festivals and local events.

Plan key activities around public holidays to avoid delays (unless you’re keen to join the crowds), and include a little chillax time – it’s worth allowing at least three days in major cities so you can wander on a whim if you feel like it. And forget trying to visit 20 cities in 20 days – you’ll end up with a whirlwind of experiences and a bunch of on-the-fly selfies with no solid memories to back them up.

Don’t cram multiple, popular sights into a day’s itinerary either (it will just up the stress levels) and be honest about your likes and dislikes – if you’re not really into old things, swerve the museums and 16th century castle tours.

Be practical

You can do all the prepping and planning you like, but if your passport’s outdated (or non-existent) you’re not going anywhere. Passport processing can take at least three weeks if you’re applying for the first time and will set you back around $250. You can opt for priority processing, but it’ll cost you extra and will still take up to a week to get sorted.

Factor in delays in traffic and scheduling before and after your flight and allow plenty of time to navigate the shenanigans of Customs – depending on the country you’re travelling to (and whether you’ve followed the proper procedures), it can be a time-zapping process.

Flying into or out of smaller airports can save you coin, however make sure you weigh the thrift up against the time saving. Secondary airports tend to have higher luggage fees and a weaker transportation infrastructure, meaning you could be outlaying for expensive cab rides or lengthy commutes by public transport to get anywhere near the city centre.

Adding connecting flights to your itinerary (as opposed to non-stops) can also be risky unless they’re absolutely necessary, as it means additional travel time, a higher risk of delays and the possibility of your luggage going AWOL in the transition process. It can also disrupt sleep patterns and result in you spending lengthy, bleary-eyed periods hanging out in dismal airport food courts.

It also helps to be mindful of the location of your accommodation. Sure it’s worth considering out-of-town options if they offer value, however you need to ask yourself whether the cost of transport to and from your sightseeing preferences warrants a cheaper choice.

Be flexible

Although the dictionary definition of an itinerary is “a detailed plan for a journey, especially a list of places to visit”, planning things down to the nth degree is just over complicating things. Venues close, timetables get delayed and weird mishaps happen – it’s all part of the nature of travelling. Embrace the freedom of fewer restrictions and look forward to the ‘happy accidents’ that occur.

Schedule free days into your itinerary and let the flow of your destination lead you to spur-of-the-moment exploration. Revisit sites that inspire you, discover activities you’d never dreamed you’d enjoy and connect with locals who can scratch the touristy-trap surface of your location. They’ll offer you insights into stuff you’d never find in any best-selling guidebook.

Be brave

Yes, travelling can be scary but let’s face it, you’re not exploring uncharted territories and you’re certainly not the first person to travel the world. Millions of peeps do it every year and many have the confidence to tackle those well-worn travel trails, time and time again.

Embrace the fact that you’ll be creating some once-in-a-lifetime moments and meeting like-minded adventure seekers who may in fact become lifelong friends. Be confident and adventurous, face your fears and try new things. You may hate some of your decisions, but you won’t regret any of them. And if you’re still struggling? Remember you can always go home.

Be connected

Gone are the days when an Excel spreadsheet was your go-to in terms of formulating travel plans. In this wonderfully adept digital age, there are a heap of websites and apps out there that can make planning a seamless itinerary as easy as.

TripIt allows you to create complex itineraries online that are easily shareable with friends and family, is a hassle-free way of combining details like accommodation bookings, tickets and travel confirmations and the site also automatically gives you loads of useful info (like directions, maps and weather) that can fine-tune your plans.

Similarly, TripCase centralises all your documentation in the one place and it can also provide free flight alerts and alternative travel options if you’re on the go and need an app that’s easily accessible on your mobile.

Mygola offers slick-looking itineraries that you can use as a basis for planning your trip, customise by adding or removing elements like restaurants and local sights and then view on a map that you can then share with fellow travellers or stuck-at-home relatives.

If you know where you want to go, TripHobo can offer recommendations on local transportation and possible activities, including site details, ticket prices and opening hours.

Need a bit of help organising your accommodation? Then check out TripAdvisor which hosts interactive travel forums that offer ‘unbiased traveller reviews’ in terms of things like amenities and location. It’s also packed with travel tips from experts and enthusiasts who have ‘been there and done that’ before.

And if you’re still at the stage where you’re building an inspirational wish list of future travel destinations, TouristEye can help turn those daydreaming fantasies into reality, offering advice on ‘250,000+ experiences and destinations’ from around the globe. This site is owned by none other than Lonely Planet (the world’s largest travel guide book publisher), so it’s probably worth a look.

Need some more inspiration? Check out our Top Travel Apps blog … and get packing!