It has recently come to my attention that some of my friends and coworkers have a misconception that I am carefree, spontaneous, and free-spirited when I travel. After I stopped laughing at the notion, I explained that there is literally no circumstance in my life in which I am any of those things. On the contrary: I am intensely anxious. I’m glad I am perceived otherwise (haha, I’ve tricked everyone), but in truth, I plan out every part of my vacations. In fact, I have a binder for every trip.
Since we are still early in my blogging journey, and since I am about to embark on a new vacation, I’ve decided to tell you my process for planning a trip.
Step One: Decide upon a location where I am not likely to be raped, murdered, robbed, or hopelessly lost. I do a lot of research about safe locations for women to travel alone. I don’t usually travel with other people, but I’m trying to start doing that so I can go to more exotic locales and still feel safe.
Step Two: Come up with an itinerary. I make a list of all the places I want to visit, and then I figure out the best way to see all of them. Driving? Rental car? Uber? I rented cars in the Netherlands and Ireland, but I will be relying on Uber/Lyft (and rides from friends) for my upcoming Florida/Bahamas trip. Then I map out the best route to most efficiently see everything I want to see. I usually research other itineraries people have posted online to see if they have any helpful tips.
Step Three: Make my binder. I like to buy pocket dividers, and I label them for each location/day. I include print-outs of my hotel/AirBNB confirmations and any plane or rental car reservations. I print out information about attractions I want to see, maps of places I want to go, and mini-itineraries for walking tours. I found some great walking tours for Amsterdam and Brussels and had a great time. When I go to other countries, I rely on Wi-Fi for my internet, so I can’t readily access maps and walking guides while I’m there. By printing them out and putting them in my binder, I can throw it in my purse on any given day for quick reference.
I also make these weird, obsessive, Type-A worksheets for myself that include pretty much every piece of information needed for any given city/location. I gather lists of places to eat, museums, and places to sight-see. I make sure to include the hours of operation and any fees. When I went to Amsterdam, I went to like 20 different museums (cheese, art, tulips, artwork about cats, houseboats, prostitution, etc), but several of them were closed on Mondays. By planning it out ahead of time, I was able to see almost all of them.
(Someday I will post about the IAMsterdam card and how it saved me a bajillion dollars in entrance fees in Amsterdam. That day is not today.)
I utilize Pinterest for ideas, tips, and suggestions for every place I go. There are so many travel blogs in this world, and people post some really helpful things. I like reading other people’s city guides to help me figure out the best plan. I learn about all kinds of helpful savings cards (like IAMsterdam), hidden attractions and secret locations (like Au Bon Vieux Temps in Brussels, Belgium – a tiny bar hidden in a wall that serves the ultra-rare, super-amazing Trappist beer, Westvleteren 12), and lists upon lists of the best foods in various places. With my upcoming trip to Florida, I’ve learned about several apps that inform you of wait times for rides in real-time so you can hop on during a slow time. We’ll see how well those work, but the ladies of Pinterest are apparently fans.
Another thing I love is maps. I print out maps of airports so I know how to get from one gate to another. I am not anxious about flying itself, but I do get overwhelmed sometimes when I don’t know where to go. It’s also helpful to know where the best bars are for pre-flight drinking! I also print out maps of amusement parks so I have some idea of how to most efficiently ride everything. And I print out maps of cruise ports so I don’t get lost and miss my boat.
OH! And! I try to write down helpful phrases (like “Waar is het toilet”) just in case I need a quick reference. You can’t always rely on Wi-Fi and you never know when you’ll need to pee.
Then, when I’m done obsessively hoarding travel tips, I put the binder in my carry-on luggage so I have easy access to all of my travel plans. It is SO REASSURING to me. I still leave room for spontaneity, but it’s just very comforting to have everything planned out as much as possible. You can’t be afraid of the unknown if it’s all mostly known, right?
So, as you can see, if you thought I was easy & breezy with my traveling, you were very wrong. I hope people still want to be friends with me after this!