This article was previously published on my other blog EverydayHelene.com but through some housekeeping I decided that it was more useful to move it here.
I get asked this question quite often so I thought I would share my process. While I have been traveling for as long as I can remember I was never particularly good at it. I used to think just getting in my car, driving to a new town, and wandering around was suffice. Creating a travel itinerary is essential to getting the most out of your trips. It doesn’t mean that you need to obsessively stick to it, I personally use mine as a guide.
There is a lot of discussion in travel communities about planning travel itineraries and there is no right or wrong way to do it. This is why I did not title this article “Best way to plan your trip” this is how I do it, because of my personal interests, but this method can be applied to anyone with adjustments.
First, where are you going?
For this article’s sake, I will show you the itinerary I made for a solo trip to Barcelona. You can read my article about my experiences to see the actual result of the itinerary here.
Second, part of this step, how long do you have? This will determine how much you can do, obviously. For this trip, I was in Barcelona for four days, by myself, which means I could do whatever I want!
Google is your best friend.
Google your location “Barcelona, Spain” and see the results. Google is very intuitive and does a lot of the work for you.
The first image shows the results if you click to view more on Points of Interest it will bring up the page shown in the second image. Now you have a list of all major points of interest in your location.
Now, if you know anything about the internet, you probably know do not trust this 100%. If you stop at this step you may end up seeing the least interesting things or missing out on the best! This is a starting point. From here I would write all of these items that I am interested in on a list in my notebook.
Now this second part of step two is personal. Since for this example I am going to Spain, the language is Spanish, not English. So when I write down each item in my list I will write them in Spanish, and for some, I may do an English translation.
The point in doing this is so that I know what these places are called in the language that is spoken where I am going, so if I need to ask where it is or any questions, I know how to call it.
I also do this because sometimes in other countries Google Map locations may be in that language, and not English. I do not know the trick to this, sometimes it is in English, sometimes not. This is important for a later step!
This time search for “sightseeing in Barcelona” “must see in Barcelona”.
This is an example of the results. As you can see there is some overlap in articles, but there are also different ones. Since I do this often I know the sources I prefer so I usually check Time Out, The Guardian, the local tourism board site, and Trip Advisor.
From these lists I check my list, if something from my first list comes up multiple times and is known to be a do not miss item I place a star next to it, just for my reference.
I repeat this process with other websites. Trip Advisor if I didn’t click through on step three, Pinterest, and Buzzfeed. Yes, you read me right.
Pinterest is amazing for planning itineraries and a new addition to my process. This is where you will find other blog articles written about the very place you are going! This is how I get insider information on the places I want to see or if I missed something. Essential when going new places for the first time during high season.
Do I need to book in advance? Something I did not do in Barcelona for Sagrada Familia, and almost missed out, because you do have to book in advance in the high season. Through these blog articles, you can also read about hidden gems the traveler found, restaurant or accommodation recommendations.
Buzzfeed. Yes, I know everyone has their opinion about them but hear me out! I use Buzzfeed to find the best food of where I am going. Yes, those very articles that you read about your town, and you get so outraged you leave comments shouting “what about x!??!?!?! the best coffee in town” Yup. That is what I am seeking on this page. I do read the articles if there is one. I check out the photos, does this look good? But mainly, the comments are the gold mine. Local people with local pride shouting their favorites is where I find my restaurant recommendations. Sorted.
As you can see when I searched “Buzzfeed Barcelona” in Google the article “20 Things Locals Love About Barcelona” came up. A great resource for checking your list, but also look at the screenshot below of the gold mine in the comments section.
From these comments, you can learn an insider tip to getting a bus to Park Guell, which is actually quite useful. I didn’t know when I went and did a lot of extra walking in very hot temperatures.
You also see some recommendations from the list, so there is a personal endorsement from someone who appears to live in Barcelona. Perfect!
At this point, you might feel like you have exhausted your resources but if you want to take it another step, this is what I do if I have some extra time or want to dig a bit deeper. The previous steps mainly give me the major sites. Obviously, if you are personally into art, architecture, music, etc you should Google what is going on when you are there.
This step might be a bit out of reach for the average person who goes on one trip a year, as they might not have built up the communities interested in travel. I have a Twitter and Instagram where I follow a lot of fellow travelers, and I am a member of a lot of Facebook communities. These communities are invaluable. I can go there, say “Hi I am going to Barcelona what is your favorite coffee shop, favorite bar, hidden gems, etc.” and locals or others who have gone will share their secrets. That is how I add the little extra to my itinerary.
Want to go the extra mile when traveling abroad?
I like to research a few phrases in the local language such as: hello, thank you, goodbye. I check what currency they use and the conversion just to get an idea.
And finally because I love food, I write down a few local dishes. Every time I travel I try to have a local dish for as many meals as possible. Why is this in the itinerary planning? Because you need to find the best restaurants that serve those foods to add to your list!
Probably my best advice for trying local foods, without spending a fortune, and avoiding tourist traps… markets. Find local markets for street food. Most of the time you will find the local dishes at a fraction of the price compared to restaurants. Sometimes there are daily markets, like in Barcelona there was La Boqueria, but other times there might just be a market a few days a week.
Now you probably have a page full of places to see, restaurants or markets to try, coffee shops or pubs and it feels very overwhelming. I haven’t said it explicitly but of course, you edit your list to your interest. Don’t think you HAVE to go to the art museum because it is ranked high or considered a must see, only go if you want to. Once your list is full of things you would enjoy experiencing you can begin this step.
Open up Google Maps, sign into your account, if you don’t have one, you need it for this step. Search for your location to start.
Then search for an item from your list. As you can see in the image below I searched “La Boqueria”. See on the left part of the page there are options below the blue, note Save with a star. Click the star!
Then a star will appear at that location. It is essential that you are logged into your account because that is where your stars will be saved. Make sure you can access this account on your smartphone.
Once you enter all of your places your map will look like this:
Stars everywhere! From this view, you can see where everything is that you want to see. That way you can plan what day you do what item, so you aren’t running across a new city back and forth all day.
So that is how I plan my travel itinerary!
Next week I will be releasing an article about my favorite Google Map secret which involves using maps without data and accessing your stars.
I would love to hear how you plan yours as I am always looking for new creative ways to find new places to see when wandering in new locations. Let me know in the comments!