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got1tiel Jul 22nd, 2004 02:55 PM

to plan or not to plan
with the resources of the internet my upcoming paris trip is being planned with more precision than a shuttle launch.

I read some remarks here suggesting against over planning and after some thought i came to the conclusion that
the importance of planning is based on 3 factors:

1 how intuitive is it in that country to get around to the attractions/opening hours/local customs/language difficulties
2 the importance to the traveller that he sees these attractions at all during that particular visit
3 the amount of time avaliable to visit the location

when abroad can you tell if other travellers around you have planned or not?


dln Jul 22nd, 2004 03:17 PM

Well, Sam, it wouldn't have taken a rocket scientist to have figured out that the woman kicking her luggage viciously in the streets of Sorrento hadn't planned her arrival with any precision.

No names of course, just sign me...

"She Who Doesn't Read the Reservation Form Very Carefully."

FromAtlanta Jul 22nd, 2004 03:25 PM

I am a planner - I couldn't go anywhere without knowing where I was going to be sleeping. (I know people who do that and it is terrifying to me)People who go somewhere without any idea what they are going to do is terrifying to me too. ;)

Getting a good idea of what you want to see and do helps save time-and you are able to set a budget.

I DEFINITELY agree about "over planning" though. Planning every second of your day is a burden. Sometimes you may feel like just kicking back and people watching for awhile. You have to allow time to be at least a little spontaneous.

Keep doing what you are doing-look at the websites. Plan your trip. Make notes. Just try to prioritize in case a few things have to get cut.

Hope this helps.

suze Jul 22nd, 2004 03:53 PM

Well sometimes it's obvious that folks are Planners when they tote guidebooks with them, read them over breakfast, etc. But honestly, usually I don't notice other travelers much.

My own planning style is for flights and hotels only, the rest I figure out each day. I'm casual but as someone mentioned above would hate not to have a plan for where I'd sleep that night.

shellio Jul 22nd, 2004 03:55 PM

Interesting question, got1, and one that I was thinking about yesterday, when I read a post with so much included in each day of the proposed itinerary that my first reaction was to wonder if the poster would have time to draw a breath. It's absolutely counter to the way I like to travel.

As I get older and pickier about my accommodations I plan them more carefully. Other than that, however, I go places I'm interested in, with only the sketchiest idea of what I intend to do when I arrive. I will have done all my research, but I rarely make any decisions ahead of time.

To me, that's the fun part. I like to wander and do what I feel like doing when I get up in the morning, keeping in mind for example that a certain museum is in a particular neighborhood and I can drop in if that's what I feel like when I'm nearby.

I usually manage to see most of the high points of a city, and if I miss something, I've had a good time anyway. It helps that I don't like to visit too many different places on any one trip, usually spending at least 5 days to a week in a single city, so I'd probably have to work to avoid seeing the major sights.

Having said that, however, I must admit I've been lucky enough to know that I'll probably be able to go back again if I want to.

corbow Jul 22nd, 2004 04:23 PM

I'm trying to achieve a balance between planning and going with the flow, after a childhood of traveling with a mother who never made reservations for anything. We spent many an hour hunting for a place to stay during those years. I don't need to plan all my activities, but I feel more secure if I have transportation and lodging booked in advance.

That said, I'm hoping for more flexibility on our next trip and trying to book only the nights we'll spend in cities where we might otherwise have trouble finding a place.

ira Jul 22nd, 2004 04:29 PM


I plan each trip down to the second.

I carry my itinerary with me (most of the time).

I then note what I didn't do.

(I think that overplanning is better than underplanning. You can always take advantage of the serendipitous moment.)

SydneySteve Jul 22nd, 2004 04:40 PM

I agree. I think it all depends on your character attributes. I too am a planner and a bit of a control freak. I need to be able to deal with the unexpected and the greater degree of planning the better - I have just arranged a 53 day itinerary with every hotel booked, every flight and train seat/bed reserved and allocated. Where I have doubts about a hotel I have marked my itinerary with alternatives and I have set up my itinerary so that I can click on the relating web sites. I have forwarded all my hotel and other confirmations and receipts to my Blackberry hand held device to saved files. All I can say is that I believe I will be relatively unstressed during the journey and will have more time to make good decisions and have fun. There are clearly some competitive aspects of travel - particularly summer in Europe.

Patrick Jul 22nd, 2004 04:41 PM

I don't think it's possible to overplan. On the other hand, it's only a problem if you INSIST on following those plans no matter what. The plans should be just that -- plans -- not 'written in stone' requirements.

FromAtlanta Jul 22nd, 2004 05:13 PM

Patrick, I have seen your comments around this board and I have to say it, you are awesome :) (I especially loved your comment on the "euro" but that thread mysteriously disappeared)

This is very good advice-very well put!

Mary_Fran Jul 22nd, 2004 05:54 PM

I think the amount of pre-planning that is necessary depends to a certain extent on the country one is visiting, and whether you will be in small or large cities.

On my first, 12-day trip to Europe, we booked the first and last nights, in Paris, and one hotel in in Honfleur. For all other rooms, we booked rooms for the next city in the TI the morning we were leaving the previous city. It worked out just fine. Most of our rooms weren't particularly memorable, but it was not expensive, our accommodations were satisfactory, and we had the flexibilty to go with the flow. I thought the French tourism department was great.

The next year, we did the same thing in England, booking our first and last in advance, but reserving through TIs in one city as we were leaving another.

In Italy and Germany, however, we obsessively planned and reserved all our rooms in advance. No doubt we had much nicer accommodations, but we also spent considerably more than we did flying by the seat of our pants.

I do believe in planning, but I'd rather put off the final decision about what to do with my day until breakfast and then play it by ear. We try to do one big thing in the morning and one in the afternoon, and not look back at the things we missed.

nytraveler Jul 22nd, 2004 05:58 PM

I agree that some people plan to the extent that it seems more like a military operation than a vacation.

We plan the basics - really have to since our vacation time is strictly limited (at this stage we have more $ than time - when younger had more time and less $ - there never seems to be a great balance) - including hotels and car rental.

We also do a list of the main things we want to do and note any special closing days or times - but that's it - we never plan day by day. We just wander from there - with a couple of guide books for suggestions - but also do a lot of road-trip type just poking into cute towns or chance discovreed little churches or museums.

Of course its harder if you only have a day or two in each place - then you need to be more careful - we do at least 5 days in major cities and 3 in smaller ones - so we have the freedom to be flexible.

StCirq Jul 22nd, 2004 06:45 PM

For me, there are two distinct phases to travel:

1. The planning part: I tend to be a type A control freak personality, so I plan every little thing so that I don't end up wanting to visit museum A on a Tuesday when it is closed or take a train to place B on a Thursday when there are limited train connections. I write it all up in detail and make copies for everyone. I include possible side excursions, note local places to eat, write down phone numbers of theaters or shows or whatever that I might want to call to make reservations. I'm prepared, to say the least.

2. The actual part: I let the weather and my mood and other immediate factors dictate what I actually do. I don't fret if I don't make it to every place I meant to make it to, and I always leave myself open to the possibility of taking a complete detour and doing something spur-of-the-moment, because those are often the most rewarding trip moments.

When traveling in high season, I DO like to have reservations for hotels, though - I'm no longer open to the possibility of spending the night in a car or train station.

julies Jul 22nd, 2004 07:23 PM

I look for a balance. i read obsessively beforehand about where we are going to visit so that I really have a handle on what I really want to do and see and what I am not interested in. In high season or if I want a particular place to stay I will book hotels ahead of time. However, I always have this nagging fear oabout what if I don't like a location and want to move on or what if I really like a place and want to stay longer. We have been lucky however, and only have found ourselves in a situation where we wanted to leave early a couple of times. However we never plan what we will do each day or, heaven forbid, where we will have lunch and dinner. Sometimes going with the flow has its advantages. An example: we were in Regensburg, Germany and happened upon the cathedral which was undergoing extensive renovations. During renovations they were offering tours of the highest interior reaches of the cathedral (which hadn't been open to the public for several hundred years). All reservations had been booked months ahead of time. Yet we were told if we hung around we might get a cancellation. We did, and we were lucky. It was truly a once in a lifetime experience. On the other hand, I have regretted not being careful about planning. We drove for an hour and a half to visit Giverny to see Monet's garden. When we arrived we were surprised at how few cars were in the parking lot but thought it must just be an off day. Turned out the place was closed on Mondays. I learned there about double checking opening dates and times.

Clifton Jul 22nd, 2004 07:53 PM

I find that my attitude on this has been changing lately. I'm becomimg less inclined to plan out trips. A rough outline maybe. Let's face it, no matter where I go, I've always got a list that's longer than the time I have to see everything. So I'd rather research than plan.

In tha past, trips have been fine, but sometimes it's been time to move on to the next reserved place, and frankly, I'd rather stay put. Or vice versa. This next trip, we fly into a city and will make reservations for the first few nights. Then we'll head out across 2 (hmm, or 3?) countries and since it's off season and areas that are not heavily touristed anyway, I'm really looking forward to winging it. We did similar for a portion of an Australian trip last year.

Research - feeds the need to obsess on travel, without tying you down!

taggie Jul 22nd, 2004 08:00 PM

Isn't Patrick sensible - hits it on the nose.
I plan quite obsessively - with colour-coded spreadsheets and the like - because the planning and anticipating is part of the trip for me. Not as much fun as the actual journey, but fun in its own way.
Aside from the odd night, I usually have everything reserved in advance and have a list of possibilities for the nights that aren't reserved. And I plan possible activities for each day. However, these day plans often go right out the window, which is great, because we always discover wonderful things through spur-of-the-moment decisions. And as one poster said, just kicking back and watching the people go by and absorbing the ambience of a place, can make for the most memorable part of a trip.

What corbow said struck a chord with me, because my family vacations as a kid were never ever planned much in advance and we wasted so much time looking for accomodation. Then we'd all fight and want to come home early.

I am planning a trip at the moment where the first part will be with my sister (first time with only the two of us travelling); for the second part I will leave her and meet up with my husband and another couple, then yet another couple. It's hard to accomodate everyone's wishes, so it takes a lot of plotting. We've all made lists of our top 5 must-see things, so hopefully we can keep everyone fairly satisfied, but we've all vowed that we'll do our best to roll with the circumstances. We shall see!

Merseyheart Jul 22nd, 2004 10:05 PM

Oh, planning, absolutely. I'm idea of roughing it is going without a hotel reservation. When I'm in London, I make a schedule, and fill each day with several things I want to do. They're marked in order of preference--must, prefer, and can-do-if-there's-time. Then, I adjust for weather, transit breakdowns, or serendipity.

Melissajoy Jul 22nd, 2004 10:24 PM

Well, there's one way to tell the planners from the non-planners...Those people you see standing in big long lines in the hot sun...they are the non-planners. I see them at Disneyland, standing there for hours waiting to get on Splash Mountain while we breeze right past them with our fast passes.

We also saw the non-planners standing in long lines to get into museums in Italy while we breezed right past them with our museum reservations...

Also saw lots of non-planners (or poor planners?) eating boring-looking food for high prices at the "obvious" restaurants on popular piazzas, while we wound our way to harder-to-find treasures in less obvious locations...Like the family-run restaurant we found in Rome where you got all the Italian home-cooking you wanted for 20 euros each, including the wine, 5 courses, and the dessert, and you got to eat surrounded by Italian-speaking regular customers. No way we would have found that place without our Rick Steve's guidebook and our Streetwise Rome map, for example.

But that doesn't mean we planners don't like spontaneity. We just have more time to be spontaneous...While the non-planners are standing in long lines, we have already been there, done that, and that leaves us with some "unplanned" time which we can use to enjoy just wandering about and making new discoveries.

On our recent first family trip to Italy with teens, I planned everything, but I remembered to schedule enough "unplanned" time into our trip!

paula1470 Jul 22nd, 2004 10:26 PM

I really agree with Patrick's remarks.
I am usely traveling on a fairly tight budget and somewhat of a time restriction. So I am pretty obsessive about getting the best flights and hotel rooms. I want to know where I will be and when I will get there. I am usually traveling with other people, kids, friends, sisters, so I want to make sure everyone is happy. That said, once I get that part done, I make almost no plans for what we will do each day. I make a list of the things we'd like to see, make note of days where things might be closed and that's about it. Some of my best trips have been stumbling over places that I might never have put on my list.

Lexma90 Jul 23rd, 2004 12:07 AM

I'm another one of the obsessive planners who includes lots of free time. I make lists and notes of sites and sights to visit, maps where needed, lists of restaurant possibilities. I book anything that must be booked in advance. I group together anything that's in close proximity.

Once we're actually there, we pretty much go with the flow. If it's a nice day, we'll do outdoor stuff; if not, we'll veer toward the indoor activities. Each morning during breakfast, I drag out my notes and we decide what we want to do that day.

I also make up a "must-see" list that includes input from all members of the group - especially important when travelling with kids. That way, we all know we'll definitely do X, Y and Z sometime during the trip. We'll fit in A and B if possible, and have another handful of things we'll fit in if it works out.

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