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Independent Travel: 6 Tips for Planning Your Itinerary

Itinerary planning is the most challenging part that prevent someone to be an independent traveler. Yet, itinerary planning can be an exciting and rewarding process of the traveling itself. Successfully traveling an itinerary that you plan yourself (or with your travel partner) reward a traveler a sense of accomplishment.

Planning your itinerary is very important for an independent traveler. Whether you are going for a backpacking trip, honeymoon or family trip, planning your itinerary way ahead of travel gives you a better experience during the travel itself through:

  1. Budgeting. Without any itinerary, it would be impossible to calculate your travel budget. Travel need transportation and accommodation, and these needs translate into how much money you have to prepare before you travel
  2. Sense of Security. Knowing when you are going to spend the night when you travel, or means of transportation to get you to your next destination would give you a sense of security when you are on the road, away from home.
  3. Pleasure of travel. When you have your itinerary fixed, you won’t need to spend the time on the road planning for your next leg of travel. You will have more time to experience the place you are visiting.

So, how to plan for your itinerary? The 6 tips below will help you to plan your next itinerary for your independent travel.

Start with High Level Plan First

When you start planning your itinerary, don’t plan too much detail at the beginning. You should generally start from looking for general information of your destination, such as place of interest, things to do, or seasonal event such as festive.

Planning too much detail from the beginning will normally results in over planning. Over planning happens when you tried to cram in too many activities in your itinerary in such short time. By having a high level plan, you can see where the most place of interest are, or which place of interest a must.

Once you have your high level itinerary, start working on the detail. Include travel time between places. It is normal when you work on the details, your itinerary become very crammed. Then it is time set your priority by removing some destination that is less interesting.

Destination that is seasonal would normally high priority in your itinerary. When we plan our itinerary to China, the Shanghai Expo 2010 is our top priority. All other places such as Huang San Mountain can wait for later trip.

Plan Well Ahead of Time

Planning your own itinerary will need at least 2 times the amount of time you will be traveling. For example, if you plan to travel for 10 days to Bali, you will need at least 20 days to plan your itinerary.

Another reason to plan ahead is to get a heavily discounted air ticket. Air ticket are normally sold at a discount a few months before the travel date. At least, finalize a high level plan first so that when the discount email arrive in your inbox, you’ll be ready to make your bookings.

Less is More

When planning your itinerary, you should avoid the temptation of cramming too much in a short period. Traveling to a city to another takes time, and by cramming too much place, you will spend most of the time on the road. It is very tiring and not something you will enjoy at all.

Each city in your itinerary should worth at least 1 full day to really experience. You should generally plan to travel between cities on the alternate day (i.e. Arrive in Monday, Tuesday to fully experience the city, and depart on Wednesday).

Of course, there’s always exception. In our last trip to Bali, we move to new city everyday. It is because we have been there before, and also we know what we want to do at each location, and we have so much flexibility by driving ourselves. We can easily cut the stay short or prolong the stay when necessary.

Information is King

The main source of information for independent travelers are guidebooks, friends who has been there, or from internet. Traditionally, guidebook and friends were the main source of information for independent travelers to plan their itinerary. The Internet has emerge as a new source of information that is broader and more up-to-date.

Guide book such as lonely planet or rough guide have the benefits of being written by credible writers, who has been there and doing some research. But it might only be accurate at time of writing, and especially in fast growing destination, it become less accurate.

Friends who has been there can offer a valuable insight from their experience. However, the information is limited to what they have travel, and sometime it might not match your interest

Internet offers an enormous information through travel forum and travel blog. An independent traveler can easily find up-to-date information through search engine. These information, however, might not always credible

With each source of information has their own strength and weakness, it would be best to use all three of them. Information from guidebook can be cross-checked with the internet, and information from friends wouldbe useful when you start working on the detail of your itinerary

Guidebooks is not The Bible

Some independent traveler easily mistake the Guidebook as the bible. They stick to the itinerary, stay at the same hotel listed top on the guidebook, eat at places recommended by the guidebook, and took the transportation as advised by guidebook.

Guidebook, as the name said, is supposed to help, or to guide you to travel to a destination. There are several reason why it has to be used as a guide, not to be followed word-by-word. Remember that, guidebook was written several time ago, and not up-to-date. Hotel might closed, restaurant might degrade, new restaurant might show up. And finding a new good restaurant to eat, or great hotel to stay is a real reward to an independent traveler.

Internet review or advise from friends might be better and updated. But it also serves as guide, as everybody has a different style of traveling.

Leave Some Room for Flexibility

Unless you are a tour leader, you would want to put some flexibility in your itinerary. The reason is that, there are places that might be more interesting than what you initially thought. In such place, you might want to give it additional few hours, or maybe extra day. After spending hundreds dollar and hours of flying, finding a place better than you initially thought would be a chance that you want to experience as much as possible, right?

Our stay at Taman Ayu Cottage in Seminyak, Bali is one of the example. The cottage has such a nice inner courtyard, that we spend few more hours at the terrace sitting with a cup of tea, and start writing off some not-so-interesting place. We also shifted our breakfast plan to brunch.

On the other hand, a place might be more boring than you initially thought. In this case, you want to be able to cut short your visit, and move on to your next plan in your itinerary that should be more interesting.

In our last trip to Ubud, Bali, we just found out that we came during a festive day, when most of the traditional shop and restaurant closed. We looked at our itinerary, and almost immediately cut short our stay in Ubud, arrive just in time for sunset at the Beach of Tulamben.

Do you plan your itinerary differently? Or have some tips to share? We would like to hear your tips in the comment box below