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One Person's Methodology for Trip Planning

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Something I’ve been observing on the Fodor boards for many years is an apparent uncertainty on the part of some members as how to go about planning for a major trip. As one of the things from which I have always derived enjoyment is trip planning and our trips have always been extremely successful for us, I began wondering to myself if my approach might have some validity for others. The following is submitted for member consideration. After all, isn’t one purpose of this board to share one’s travel experiences with others? If you disagree with anything I say in this post, that’s fine. If you choose to enhance it with tips of your own, so much the better for everyone because we are all able to gain from your knowledge and experience. If there is nothing of any value to you in it, move on and waste no more of your time on it.

For many years we have taken one major trip a year. That usually means a journey lasting anywhere from a month to five weeks with the longest one taking six weeks. Each begins with the fundamental decision that we want to maximize our time to take full advantage of the big hit that traveling long distances takes on our bodies and wallets. When we were much younger we took what is regarded to be the “typical American” approach of squeezing in as many cities and countries as one can into the days available. Today my wife gives me the highest marks when I present her with as few one-nighters as possible. My physical condition only permits me to roll one suitcase but I’m not permitted to even lift that. Thus, despite the best planning in the world, the good lady wife must lift the cases in or out of the car from time-to-time and she, naturally, wants to keep those occasions to a minimum.

We have a photograph of us in those much-younger days when we spent a week in Hong Kong, two weeks on a small cruise ship from there to Beijing, then several nights in Tokyo followed by several nights in Kyoto. We carried, by actual count, eight separate pieces of luggage. Remember the days of garment bags? Remember the days before suitcases had wheels? Remember the days of black tie and formal dresses on cruise ships? Remember the days when frequent flier miles got you first class seats and unlimited baggage allowances? Today we travel with one rollie each and my wife carries a single shoulder bag. (As I write this, my daughter and her husband are on an 18-month trip to Asia each carrying a back pack and a single day bag apiece. She did not get it from me!)

We use the following logic (not exactly rocket science): it takes less effort and energy to drive an extra hour or so in a day to return to the same place we left from that morning than it would to check out of one hotel in the morning and into another in the evening. Sounds simple but it is amazing to us how many people seem to ditch that piece of simplicity in their planning.

The first thing I do is “size” each trip. Where Michelin has a Green Book I always buy that and look at all the ★★★ (highly recommended) items. I evaluate each one as to whether or not it is of interest to us and if it is even feasible. I do the same with their two and one star entries. In addition, I look to the Fodor and Steves books for their specific must-dos in order to develop a balanced consensus. For example, Newgrange in the Boyne Valley of Ireland is a highly recommended site in all three of those primary sources. But, I’ve determined from my research that Newgrange is a place which requires a lot of walking, standing around listening to guides or looking at exhibits, and a shuttle bus. In addition, we understand there is some walking underground in confined spaces which the claustrophobia introduced to me by my first MRI resists. Knowing that standing is one of the most challenging things I can do because my prostheses object to that action, attractions which I select for us have to take that into account. On the other hand, we have both learned that my wife can easily take the guided tours which she enjoys so much whilst I can use my iPad, read a book or two (such as the two small books on which I have posted regarding Irish Place Names and Irish Family Names), and take in the other sights (including the other travelers) at the venues we’re visiting while I’m waiting for her tour group to return.

The Green Book tells me the historical sites to visit, Fodor, Steves, and others the more current and fun attractions. In addition, those books often suggest how much time to plan on each place (Steves and we are in very close sync in that regard). With a good sense of time required in each base site, I then turn to my Microsoft Autoroute program to tell me how far and how long it is between places. Finally, I have to make an assessment as to whether or not decent and competitive lodging exists in each of those cities or towns which I think I would like to make a hub for our “hub and spoke” approach which has us staying in a central place and making day trips from it and returning to it in the evening.

Once I know how long we require to cover our primary target area and have matched that knowledge with our known commitments, I can then establish our preferred leave and return dates (the bookends). At that point it is time to call United (our preferred but not sole carrier) to see what flight options are available. Our most desired mode of travel with United is to book the least-expensive upgradable coach fare and then use miles to upgrade us to Business Class. Usually I begin planning trips a year in advance. In this case we only made the decision to visit Ireland in March when I realized that my recovery from prostate surgery the previous November would actually permit us to travel comfortably in September of this year. By that time United told me that they could not offer us any upgrades whatever at any time in September period full stop. We then had to make the decision whether or not to buy Economy Plus seats which were available. In the event, we did and that proved to be the right decision. Barely.

Once the bookends are established I then go about fine-tuning the entire itinerary. That requires a lot of time to make sure that we have no days that would really stretch us beyond our comfort level. After a lot of discussion of the pros and cons of each of our stops, we are ready to begin booking our lodging. It has always been my practice to book hotels in sequence of arrival. Should I run into difficulties in getting in somewhere down the line I don’t have to go back and start over again, just juggle what I need to as I go along. For example, when it looked like I might not be able to get into the place I wanted us to stay in Dingle, I saw that we might be able to switch Dingle with Kenmare. Fortunately, that wasn’t necessary but the option did exist and I knew that because of my recently developed familiarity with the area and distances. And, Herself was very pleased when I presented a plan containing only two one-nighters. We actually added one more at the very end but that proved to be well worth it.

Of course, sometimes the bookends are established for you by outside factors such as a business trip onto which you can tack some vacation time or the pesky need to report into work because your employers feel your vacation time should be somehow limited in what might seem (to you) to be an arbitrary manner. In those cases, having identified the most important venues to you, you will be better able to develop a workable itinerary.

Here’s hoping that those of you in need were able to benefit from some trip planning ideas which work well for us. In another post I’ll describe some of the basic resources available to all of us that can be used to develop a more effective itinerary according to your own needs and desires.

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