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Notes from the Homefront: How much is Too Much (Planning)? Plus! My Itinerary

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So I’ve been planning to take this round-the-world trip since last June, but it only occurred to me around January that I should probably start PLANNING this round-the-world trip.  I was then faced with a decision: how much of this trip needs to be planned out? And how?

Obviously I will need to plan ahead of time for things like visas, immunizations etc. But I’m talking about planning my itinerary here- where I want to visit and in what order. Everyone seems to have different philosophies when it comes to trip planning. From what I see there are two basic schools of thought:

  1. The anti- planning people- Usually confident seasoned travelers, these folks seem to abhor planning of any kind. They like to buy a ticket, roll up and see where the wind takes them. While they have maximum flexibility, they are often subject to higher ticket fares by buying at the last minute, and the lack of plan can lead to inefficiency and backtracking.
  2. The must have a plan people- I think this is more common among newer, more nervous travelers, but it’s not exclusive to them. These people plan down to the day where they will be and what they will be doing. While this approach can mean maximum efficiency (especially if you are short on time) these travelers sacrifice a lot of flexibility. I mean what if it rains? What if you fall in love with a city and simple NEED an extra week?
guide books

Creative Commons License photo credit: johninbkk

Where do I fall? Well somewhere in the middle really.  I want to be flexible and open to opportunities that may come my way. I realize that making extensive plans is probably going to lead to more frustration than anything else 5 or 6 months into my trip.

However I also really, really love planning things. Ever since I was a little girl and my dad handed me Walt Disney World for Dummies and said, “Hey, you handle this” I’ve had a love affair with guidebooks. The anticipation that comes from learning about a country is a real and big part of the enjoyment of the trip for me. I can’t really imagine showing up in a new place without any idea of what’s important there or what I might like to do. I would hate to miss out on something really awesome because I didn’t do my research first.

So trip planning has become an exercise in compromise for me. I’m buying some of my tickets ahead of time but not all of them. I’m going country-by-country and pouring over the guidebooks but I’m steering clear of itineraries or concrete plans. I’m compiling lists of things I would like to do but not committing myself to anything. I think my notes will be really useful once I’m on the road, particularly as I won’t be bringing any guidebooks with me. At the same time it should leave me open to decide what I want to do and see as I go along.

Atlas, it's time for your bath

Creative Commons License photo credit: woodleywonderworks

When it comes to planning I think it’s important to do whatever makes you feel most comfortable. If you are a novice traveler, that may mean planning out every day of your trip. If you can’t stand the idea of concrete plans then don’t make them. In either case its important to remember that part of travel is being flexible in your plans, beliefs and practices.

So without further ado, here’s a first look at my (still evolving) itinerary:

***ETA: This is no longer my itinerary. For an updated look at where I’m going, check out my About page***

  • Japan- My first stop will also be my most expensive! My target date to head out will be September 15, but this is subject to change. I’ll be visiting a friend teaching English just outside of Tokyo and seeing as many highlights as I can fit in a scant two weeks.
  • New Zealand- Sky diving, bungee jumping and other adrenaline thrills await me here. After a quick relaxing jaunt to Fiji it will be on to…
  • Australia- I’m planning to spend about two months traveling primarily the east coast of this enormous country. It’s here I will be meeting up with my travel soul mate Liz and spending some quality time with my crazy old Australian roommates (on is in Brisbane, the other in Melbourne). I suspect these will not be healthy times for the old liver.
  • Southeast Asia- here’s where the plans get a bit fuzzier. Sometime slightly before or after Christmas I’ll fly into Bangkok. Over the next 5 or so months I’ll be exploring this region and reviling in the lack of snow. Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos and hopefully Burma if I can get a visa. Eventually I’ll head south down to Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia. This area of the world fascinates me and happens to be very, very cheap- wins all around.
  • Egypt- Around May I will fly from one of the major city centers of SE Asia to Cairo.  I’m not entirely comfortable exploring this region on my own so I will probably sign up for a group tour with Gap Adventures. Ideally, I would love to do this tour, which takes you through Jordan and Syria to Turkey, but it may be beyond my budget.
  • Eastern Europe- Some of my favorite places I’ve visited in the past were in this region, so I want to take some time to see more of the area. Tentative list of countries to visit includes: Turkey, Albania, Macedonia, Kosovo, Bulgaria and Romania (possibly the Ukraine and Slovakia as well) before I head up north to Poland where I fly to my final destination…
  • Northern England- My last stop on the trip, around August 2011, will be Hadrian’s Wall, which I hope to hike the length of along with my Dad and Step-Mom who will fly out to meet me. From there I’ll probably head down to my favorite city of London for a few days before flying back to the US.

***ETA: This is no longer my itinerary. For an updated look at where I’m going, check out my About page***

So that’s the plan, still very much subject to change and adjustment. So far in my readings/planning I’ve only gotten as far as Australia so there is a lot still to be figured out logistically. I’m really excited about the year ahead of me! Of course any comments and suggestions are appreciated.

Your turn: How much do you like to plan?

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99 Responses to Notes from the Homefront: How much is Too Much (Planning)? Plus! My Itinerary

  1. A September 26, 2011 at 9:09 PM #

    I was planning a trip around the world but I haven’t been able to save for the trip due to I can’t find a job, Well I have one but I can barely make it. But, who knows… anyway… I like your website and I feel the desire to persue my dream of traveling again. I have just being told by so many people that my idea was so inmature…

    • Steph September 29, 2011 at 4:17 PM #

      Hang in there and keep working for your dreams. It doesn’t matter what anybody else says!

  2. Kevin October 10, 2011 at 5:13 PM #

    I think you nailed this one on the head Steph. Being a backpacking, Hostel kinda dude, yes even at 47 yr.

    I make a very basic itenerary of where I’m going. The “only” part that may be detailed is leaving the U.S. From there, I know I will have a layover somewhere in China. I will pick the flight with a span of several hours until next connection, instead of a short layover, then go see what I can see. I may even ask the taxi where to go, as long as I’m back in time for the connection, if that fails, Hostel time.
    Once you leave your Homeland, hey…it’s your call. Fly straight thru (I’m doing U.S. to Malaysia) or blow off that concreten plan and hit a few side trips on the way. Concrete Iteneraries are stressfull, what do you get from that. Do a basic plan that can be flexible. Although, your right that maybe for the experienced, but I became experienced by not having an Iteneray.
    PS : If you blow off the strict Itenerary, get in touch with some Ex-Pat’s in the countries your going to. They are a wealth of info.

  3. Shanna Schultz November 29, 2011 at 12:09 AM #

    This post really resonates with me. When we started taking big international trips, I did an INSANE amount of planning. Now, it takes less time because I do a little bit less of it and I have become more efficient at it.

    I, too, hate to feel like I might be missing something great in a city that I am visitng, and I think, too that short trips require a more rigid itinerary than longer ones (if I have only a short time in a place, I want to make sure that I am taking full advantage of it.

    I am in teh midst right now of planning two weeks in Thailand…I have been researching for months and I am still changing the itinerary as I am finding other places that we will want to visit.

    • Steph December 4, 2011 at 5:03 PM #

      I agree, short trips require much more planning to make the most of your time.

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