Stephanie Spitler
May 08, 2012 6:00 am

Time for travel confession #3: Sometimes I’m kind of a sucky planner. I try, I really do, but almost all of my trips have been booked mere weeks before the departure date. What’s excellent for spontaneity is not always so great for in-depth itinerary planning.

Do you have a favorite planning method? Do you pore over guidebooks and magazine articles, sign up for airline fare alerts and book your trips years in advance? Or do you find a last-minute deal and book it, letting the money you save dictate your destination?

There are pros and cons to both of those methods. Of course, there’s no right way to plan a trip or vacation. Some people love the excitement of the unknown; content to book the flight, pack their bag and take off, ready to see where the wind will take them.

And then there are the folks who like to have a plan for each day. Before they step foot in the airport, they know that on Wednesday they’ll be in Versailles, and on Thursday they’ll be in Paris. And for the people who like to have everything planned out, but don’t necessarily want to do that planning themselves, tours can be a great option. They’re minimal planning with maximum sightseeing benefits.

I land somewhere in the middle. I’ve done a tour before, where you ride a bus to the day’s destination and have everything planned out to the minute (even free time is planned, which I find distracting. I constantly look at my watch during the “two hours free time” to make sure I don’t miss the bus. Not exactly free and easy sightseeing, but that’s the price you pay for convenience).

And the great thing about tours is the convenience. You don’t have to worry about deciphering train schedules or searching for a hotel or standing in line for tickets to the day’s attraction. Aside from optional excursions, souvenirs and meals you eat on your own, everything else is (usually) included. And there’s something nice about getting to know your bus driver, tour guide and the other folks along for the ride with you.

But for me, the biggest down side is that you’re not master of your own trip. Schedules are made for a reason (usually to maximize your sightseeing time), so you can’t decide that you want to linger a bit longer in a little café, or spend more time wandering the cobblestone alleys of a medieval village. If the bus is leaving, you’d better be on it (I speak from experience. After seeing a family frantically chasing down our bus at the Giant’s Causeway, I always make sure to be back EARLY).  (Disclaimer: there may be more flexible types of tours; I’m just speaking from my own experience.)

I prefer the freewheeling, grab-your-backpack-and-go kind of trip. I usually base myself in one city, and take day trips out. It’s nice to be able to leave your bag in one room and not have to spend half your day wandering the streets looking for a place to spend the night. I also like the freedom to mix it up. Maybe I’d planned to spend Tuesday at Neuschwanstein, but it’s raining and cold and the next few days are forecasted to be beautiful. No big deal; I just switch up the museum day I had planned for later in the week. Crisis averted!

Everyone should try all different types of travel until they figure out what works best for them: tours, backpacking, planning every minute, planning almost nothing. The preparation can be (almost) as much fun as the trip itself, but remember to be open to the opportunities and unexpected surprises that will come your way.

Are you a planner, or do you leave your itinerary loose?

Advertisement