5 Reasons to use a Trip Planner

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We all like to think we can pull together a trip last minute – just jet off and start the adventure without any prep. I’ve done it and sometimes it’s fun to be spontaneous, but usually, it’s not the best way to go. I don’t like using precious vacation time to buy things I forgot to bring, or find out there was a conference in the city I’m visiting and all the hotels I wanted are booked. I don’t like looking for ATMs to get money. I don’t like being stuck in a town where everything it closed, because I forgot it was Sunday. I prefer to spend a bit of time getting it together, so I’m prepared. Doing a little planning won’t take gobs of time and you don’t have to plan every little detail – just checking for holidays, days of the week, times to get around, how far are things apart and how long things might take – just the main things to make sure you’re not stuck. You can use as much or as little as you choose, so just do what’s right for you and your style.
The idea is to have a balance between planning and spontaneity.
Sometimes I like to fly to my first destination, then hop on a train or another flight to get where I’d like to start the trip and work my way back. Or, I might plan to do something relaxing the first day, like a trip I made to Amsterdam. The canal boat trip was great. I got a little overview of the city and just sat there relaxing and taking a few photos. There are a variety of ways to pull together a trip, but planning it a little in advance will help you make sure you use your time efficiently, so none is waster. OK, I’m not talking about planning everything. That’s not fun and leaves no room for spontaneity. I’m just suggesting you take some time to plot out the trip in advance, so you’re clear about what’s ahead. I think it’s fun and a great way to get more out of the trip, because every time you work on it with your planner is almost as good as going.
Learning from my mistakes is my hobby, in a way. I don’t like repeating the same problems  over and over, so I developed the Trip Planner which keeps me from repeating the past time consuming mistakes:
– Ready to turn in a rental car and needing gas, only to find they’re all closed because it’s Sunday.
– Not realizing how long it takes to get to the airport or train station.
– Not knowing there are more than one train station in a city.
– Over booking parts of a trip by not allowing enough time for the “little things”, like getting a Eurail Pass signed before using it, having enough foreign money with no time to go to an ATM, retiring a rental car and the agency is closed, etc.
– Going way over budget for the trip.
– Leaving gift shopping until the end of the trip and discover it’s a holiday or a Sunday and stores are closed.
– Not realizing that each time you fly, drive or train to another city, it’s a “down day”.
Personally, I love the planning part of a trip because it makes me feel like I’m actually going on the trip in a few days, even if it’s months away. It helps me think though what I’m going to do. It helps me narrow down to the things I really want to do. I can build in time or days to be spontaneous, so it’s not a structured trip, which I don’t like at all. I often start six months in advance, so every time I spend time on planning, I feel I’m leaving soon, which is exciting. Call me crazy, but it’s fun to mentally entertain how it will all “play out” for real. I imagine myself arriving at the airport and how I’ll feel, which is usually a bit drained from jet lag. I’ve traveled first class and coach and no matter how many things you do to avoid it, you’re going to feel a little out of sorts for a while, but knowing it in advance will help you plan accordingly. Sometimes I like to create a revivals lounge, click here for what that means. Other times, I like to hop on the next link in the trip, arrive at a place I want to “veg” and recover, so I’m ready to go faster than if I’d just pushed on. I find that taking care of myself helps me feel on top of the world and ready to go faster.
Anytime you want to plan a trip, I highly recommend doing it way in advance. I use the spreadsheet I mentioned earlier. It lets you start planning in a fun way – a little here and little there, just working on it when you have time and want to feel you’re putting energy into the trip. If making a big trip means waiting for several years, you can. Explore a variety of trips. One year we had 10 or 12 different ideas and had fun playing with the options. You don’t have to fill in all the spots, just think of where you’d like to go and start with one entry point, and go from there. Each time you “play” with your Trip Planner, you’ll feel you’re getting closer to going. You don’t have to book or pay for anything, you’re merely making a list of placed you’d like to go and then you can mentally ask, “How long would I like to stay in that place?” Then do a little research for what there is to do and add or subtract days and/or cities. There’s a lot that goes into a trip where you move around and having it organized way before you start booking things helps a lot. Mine has a column for costs, so you can plug in figures that are aproximate, so you can see what the approximate totals might be. When I do this, I can see how much each thing costs, so I can cut back on a few things or splurge on others.

So, what are the top five reasons to use a trip planner?

1. Helps utilize the Bargain First Class style of traveling.

When I travel, like everyone, I prefer 5 start hotels, first class flights and the best restaurants, but frankly, I can’t afford it … all the time. I’ve created a style of travel I call Bargain First Class Travel. Most people feel they have to travel one way or the other, but why not do some of each? That’s what I do. I love staying in 5 start hotels in cities like Paris, Milan, Barcelona, Amsterdam, Prague, Berlin and other cities where there are more great hotels that are in the best areas. This same time going to and from the places you want to visit. When we travel to smaller towns, cheap hotels are just fine. We usually aren’t there long anyway. When we stay in nice hotels, we often purchase wine, cheese, bread and paté and eat in our room while watching foreign TV, which is fun in a “local” sort of way. We don’t do it all the time, but it’s a way of cutting costs and why not enjoy the expensive room you’ve rented. We also love eating street food. It’s cheap, but mainly, it’s fun to explore what locals eat when they’re in a hurry. In Spain, we love tapas and Pinxos (Basque region version of tapas, or what Rick Steves refers to as gourmet tapas). This is a very cheap way to eat and it’s so tasty too. This way, we can splurge on a few more restaurant meals that are “important” – recommended or discovered, or a nicer hotel. The point is, we vacillate and enjoy both. When you use the Trip Planner, you can plot our when and where to save and splurge. Traveling around Christmas also helps cut costs because hotels aren’t usually filled, so getting upgrades is easier and deals abound. I recall the Grand Domine Bilbao the first time we went. It’s across the street from the Guggenheim. We paid about $160/night, and it included parking, wifi, a view of the Guggenheim and a beautiful breakfast buffet on the top floor also overlooking the Guggenheim. What a deal.

2. Keeps you aware of holidays and times businesses are closed.

As we were planning a recent trip, we had a 7 hour train ride from Copenhagen to Berlin. Originally, the plan was to make that trip on December 31st, which would have put us in Berlin for New Years Eve, BUT, we realized we’d be there on New Years Day and EVERYTHING would be closed, so as a traveler, there’s virtually nothing to do other then walk around or sit at the hotel. Thanks to the Trip Planner, we noticed this and adjusted the trip, so New Years Eve would be in Copenhagen and the train ride will be on New Years day. While everything is closed, we’ll be speeding along on a high speed train watching the world float by and taking breaks for meals or naps, wherever sounds good. Perfect. See what I mean? A little planning and we’ve skipped a potentially wasted day of the trip. The same goes for other holidays, so it’s good to check for holidays surrounding your trip. Sometimes it makes a trip more special, but sometimes it means higher hotel prices and it could be potentially over crowded and less fun.

3. Helps manage the costs.

Sometimes we have a budget figure in mind for a trip, so the Trip Planner helps you keep a running total as you plug in rough costs for each item. I usually guess at costs in the beginning just to make it fast. Then if it feels like it’s coming together, I’ll start doing some checking and replace the guesses with real numbers. Sometimes you can’t get accurate costs if the trip is too far out, but you can still use rough figures, based on similar times of the year.

4. Prevents “cutting things too close” … not allowing enough time to get from place to place.

One of the most common problems with most people’s trips, they forget how much time things take. I was in Milan and originally planned to take the metro from downtown to to the airport. Well, we found an amazing deal on Rimowa suitcases at the shop in the hotel. (I still think the price was a mistake, but they’re real and we love them.) That meant we had 4 bags instead of two. That’s just too much to manage on a metro, so we decided to take a cab. Well, the ride there took over an hour and a half, which really cut our time short at the airport – VAT Tax Refund, checking bags, etc. Everything takes longer than we think, due to lines and other issues that seem to come from  no where.
Also, it’s best to remember that every time you change cities, it’s a “down day”. If you’re taking a 2 hour flight, for example, you need to allow time to check out of the hotel, get to the airport, check luggage, go though security, grab food, coffee or a snack, get in line to board, board the plane, fly, disembark, wait for luggage, cab, shuttle or metro to the hotel, check in, go to the room, relax for a few minutes, decide what to do next. All those steps can easily take most of a day and all for a 2 hour flight. Once there was a woman in front of me in security who was carrying live snails in her carry on!!! That held up the line for an extra 30 minutes. How do you plan for things like that? You can’t. The key is to resign yourself to knowing that every city you add, you’re going to have one “down day”. Make the best of it, or better yet, look into taking a train instead. Most trains go directly into the city center, so you can eliminate a long ride to or from the airport. And, you can skip security, checking bags and more. This is discussed more here. And, if you follow my directions, you can go First Class and it’ll be even cheaper than flying coach.

5. Keeps the trip details in focus, which stimulates research and the fun of “getting it together”.

Honestly, I don’t love to do research, BUT, as I run across things, I look into them online to explore the possibility of visiting it or not. Each person has they’re own criteria and interests, so there’s no guideline, other then following your hunches. When I saw the Helen Mirren movie, 100 Foot Journey, I thought it might be fun to go to the location site where the film was shot – St. Antonin-Noble Val, France. I did some research to find the name of the town and learned about the making of the film and how the two restaurants outside of town were “built” for the movie, which was fun to know about. The town itself was so beautiful and I’m so glad I did. It’s the cutest little 13th century village that’s not really close to much, but getting there was an adventure. So was our time there, but that’s another story.
The point is, maybe you’re a car buff and would like to go to the Mercedes Museum in Stuttgart or prefer going to the opera in Paris, let these things help you determine where you go. At least that’s what I do.
Most of my friends travel and we all have different reasons for traveling. Two of my friends love going to off beat places and have been in countries where trouble was brewing – Iraq, Syria, Turkey and Armenia. Not my thing, but they love it. Another couple go on trips together or separately. They love teaching in developing countries and are riveted by the politics in some of these countries. I like to travel to relax and fit in to the local culture. I love chatting with locals and learning more about them, their city and country. I like taking photos of beautiful things and places – reminders of my trip and photos that are more like art then photos. I usually come back with 10,000 photos. That means I choose beautiful cities and places that are in intriguing, unique or beautiful. Just think of what’s interesting to you and plan your trip to include some or all of it. Then do research on those things when you want to put energy into your trip and decide if you want to go there or not, and how much time you’d like to spend there.
Planning can be fun and make your trip awesome, instead of merely good. It’s hard to go wrong either way, but planning helps me milk every drop out of a trip, so I feel I got a lot for my time and money. Cheers!
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On December 22, 2015
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