After reflecting back on our trip to Italy and thinking about all the planning I did for it, I thought I’d share some tips, resources and things I learned while preparing for our trip. If you’re one of those people who like to just wing it this is not for you. I am definitely a person who likes to do lots of research and lots of planning. So once you’ve picked your destination, booked your flights and hotels, here are my top tips and resources for planning a big trip.
1. Create a Central Trip Folder - Whether you use a notebook or an online resource, create something where you put all your travel information in one spot. For my Italy trip, I used Google drive because I could easily edit everything and create one folder with everything I needed in it. Plus, if I lost any print outs during the trip, I could access it from my email on any computer.
2. Start with a Calendar – If you’re a visual person like me you might struggle with remembering what days you’ve planned what. For example, our Italy trip was 11 days (with 2 days of travel) and I couldn’t remember what days we were going to be where. So I created a calendar on a spreadsheet within Google drive. From there I could fill in what city we were in and plan out our daily itinerary. Here is what mine looked like. It’s not the prettiest, but it worked perfectly for me.
3. Research and Plan Itinerary: Now that you have a calendar set up, you can start filling in with your itinerary. This is the fun part! You probably have a few must-see sights/activities that you know you want to do, but don’t forget to do some research and make sure you’re not missing out on some more authentic activities as well. And don’t forget to research restaurants too! When I started the planning process I made a list of things to do and see in each city and listed them in the ‘must do’ and ‘want to do’ columns and went from there. Also, at the end of this post I’ve shared a couple of great online resources to use in helping with this step – Tripomatic and Tripadvisor.
4. Document Important Info in One Place – Don’t forget to make sure you have important info like hotel names, phone numbers and addresses or flight information in one spot so you aren’t searching through emails or multiple papers. Again, I used Google docs and just added another tab for this one.
5. Have a plan for travel to/from hotel and between cities – Maybe this seems like a no-brainer, but I did a lot of research on transportation to and from the airport/train station to our hotels and also between cities ahead of time. I kept it all in one place and had all the details including what train station we needed, the times trains left and prices for everything. Here’s what my plan looked like.
6. Pack Light and Smart - Everyone says this, but seriously, do it! I definitely overpacked for our Italy trip and regretted having to lug that suitcase around, especially on the trains! Definitely bring an umbrella, but rethink packing 5 travel books and multiple pairs of shoes.
Helpful Trip Planning Resources:
Tripomatic.com – I used this site for our trip to Italy and I LOVE it. It is map-based (great for visual learners like myself). You tell it where you are going and it will show you suggested, must-see places on the map and you can also add your own destinations. Then you plug in your hotel and put in places you want to visit while you are in the area and it suggests what order you do them in based on location and the time/distance between each. So, for instance, in Rome I wanted to see 10 places and I wasn’t sure what I could feasibly do in a day and where they were in relation to each other. Tripomatic did that for me. I highly recommend it, especially for planning trips to Europe and places where you have several stops/sights to see and lots of walking to do. I do not use it for simpler trips – like our trip to Orlando where we were just going to Disney for a whole day.
Tripadvisor.com – I use this a lot on all of our vacations. It’s basically a big site of reviews – from restaurants to hotels and activities and attractions. It’s a great place to start getting ideas on what activities to do or where to eat based on the reviews. You can also search the reviews for specific topics – like taking the bus from a specific hotel in Italy – once you get more into the little details.