How To Plan An Itinerary For Independent Travel
Every now and then we want nothing more than a package holiday. To be picked up at the airport and plonked down in a beachside hotel where we won’t venture any further than the resort.
Antonia Windsor is a London-based freelance journalist specialising in travel, arts and global issues.
However, most of us now want something more from a holiday. We are bombarded by adverts telling us we can get the cheapest rates in hotels by booking online, low-cost airlines tempting us with flights abroad for under £100 and easy access to loads of information on what to see and what to do in our chosen destination. But how do you piece it all together into a meaningful holiday? How do you join the dots and make sure you aren’t arriving at a self-catering apartment on a Monday morning (when shops are shut in France and Italy), or driving through the night to get to a hotel that looked much closer to your previous hotel than it actually was.
As a travel writer I often get itineraries drawn up for me by tourist boards or public relations officers. They know the place they are promoting like the back of their hand and I can usually trust that what they have packed into a day is achievable (though they generally assume writers get up at 7am and are happy to go to bed at midnight).
Their itineraries are very detailed, including museum visits, city tours, where to stop for lunch and dinner and where to party. The itineraries I draw up for my own travels are much looser. I give myself the space to do things on a whim, or to go off piste if I want to. But the basics are there. The hotels are booked in advance, I have worked out car hire, calculated distances and given myself plenty of time to get from A to B. Here are some simple tips to help you next time you are planning your own holiday.
1. Decide where you want to go
This may sound obvious, but I don’t mean just choosing the country or the region, I mean researching the area and drawing up a list of all the things you want to see and do. It is usually best to hire a car so you are completely independent and can visit more than one town or city, but it is also possible to use the chosen country’s public transport system – it will just require a little more research!
2. Get out the map and calculate journey times
Once you have decided the places you want to visit, get out a map and see where they are in relation to each other. You need to imagine the travelling. Ask yourself how long you want to spend in the car each day. Do you want to always take the scenic route, or do you want to do motorways to cut the journey time? Do you want to spend more time in one place than another? I no longer use paper maps, but use maps I find online. If you Google the name of your first destination “to” the name of your second destination, Google will helpfully give you the driving time. So if you search “Rome to Pisa” the first result will tell you that the driving time is 3 hours 45 minutes.
3. Book your flight
I book my flight before finalising my itinerary because you can get the best price for flights if you are flexible on the days you travel. And you will get a greater selection of flights if you are also flexible on the arrival and departure points. So, for example, if you have decided that you want to explore the area of Italy between Milan and Venice, you can search for flights arriving into or departing from either of those cities, and perhaps also look at flights into a halfway point, such as Verona in this example. This will impact whether you make a circular tour, or a linear one. And will help you decide your arrival and departure points.
4. Plan your itinerary
Now that you know the places you want to visit, the journey times between each of them and the arrival and departure airports, you can book your car hire and work out an itinerary that will tell you where you will be for each night of your trip – enabling you to book accommodation. You can choose to either book the accommodation for the arrival night and departure night, and leave the nights in between flexible, or book up each night of the trip. If you are opting for the former you will need to check there are no major conferences or events on the dates you are travelling so you don’t end up stuck for accommodation, and it is not advisable to do this in peak tourist season.
However, in off-season this can give your trip a spontaneous feel and enable you to linger in the places that you love. You can also get some great last-minute deals if you turn up at a hotel and ask for their best rate. Once you know the dates you will be in a place it is a good idea to send the tourist office an email and ask if there are any special events or activities on the days you will be visiting, that you can incorporate into your trip. It might also be worth checking opening times for museums or attractions that you particularly want to visit and then you can work these into your itinerary. I also like to search the travel pages of my favourite newspapers and magazines to see if they have done a recent “24-hours in” or “weekend escape” feature on the place I’m visiting as this usually gives me ideas of things to do and see.
Before you go, share your itinerary with your loved ones, so they know how to get hold of you in the event of an emergency. And remember, even the best-laid plans can change, so travel with an open mind and enjoy your very own tailor-made tour.