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Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Itineraries: do you use them when you travel? Or do you simply create your own?

Do you use itineraries when you travel? Do you rip out those '48 Hours In...' or '3 Perfect Days in...' pages from travel magazines and newspapers when one catches your eye? Do they end up staying at home lost among your paperwork or do you slip them into your guidebook and take them with you when you go some place? And when you get there, do you actually use them? And what about guidebook itineraries? All travel guidebooks feature them these days; I've just written a bunch myself. They're either organized by duration ("one day in Milan", "weekend at the Lakes" etc) or by theme, with sights and activities suggested by subject or interest, such as "'3 days of food and wine in The Veneto". You get the idea. I'm curious to find out who uses itineraries and how you use them. Or do you simply make up your own? We met a couple of Italian travellers in Australia last year and the woman methodically underlined sights in her guidebook and then wrote out day-to-day itineraries. Her boyfriend was happy for her to do although he didn't seem to mind either way. My interest is partly motivated by comments from readers, in particular Sarah, who in response to my post on casual tourism wrote: "My other half is definitely a casual tourist! Which drives me slightly nuts... I like to plan to ensure I don't miss anything. On our last two holidays, I'm there with the map and the tourist book and he's just like... "can't we just wander around and see where we end up?!" Argh!" I'm interested in hearing from planners like Sarah to find out if you use itineraries and how you use them - what do you do if they're not working for you, say, if you don't like the author's choices, or order of selection, or if there's too much to do on one day? Do you abandon them and create your own? If you're an itinerary user, I'd love to hear from you.


The Global Traveller said...

Definitely create my own. Some of the best experiences come from discovering things for yourself and getting off the beaten trail.

Lara Dunston said...

Hi Global Traveller

Thanks for commenting! But I guess you mean you 'create your own itinerary' by being a casual tourist/traveller (see my last post), if you're discovering off-the-beaten-track places...?

I guess what I'm asking is whether travellers who create their own itineraries - who do research before their trip and then sit and write down their own itineraries - actually use those and follow those? I know some people do and as a travel writer I put a lot of work into creating itineraries for the books and stories I write, and editors take a lot of care too, but I'm trying to find out how many of my readers actually use and follow itineraries - even if it's their own...

Rachel Cotterill said...

my husband likes to follow the little area maps in the eyewitness guides, but hels also happy to be flexible when we spot an interosting side street. Have never followed recommendations for museums or food, though.

Lara Dunston said...

Hi Rachel - well, I'm glad to hear that! Because now I'm one of those people who puts a lot of efforting into creating those walks and those little maps. Terry and I used to do the same thing - we'd arrive in a city and we'd do the DK walk or just explore the illustrated area just to get a feel for the place then we'd go off on our own once we figured out where all the action was.

That's interesting that you've never followed any recommendations for museums or restaurants though. I'd love to know why. Once again, because we put so much effort into those, especially selecting and trying restaurants and then writing the reviews. I'm always interested to hear how travellers use them, and find them, and if they don't, why?

Thanks for commenting!

David said...

I'll often follow the general path of a suggested walking tour, but very rarely to the letter.

Most of the time, I'll decide what I like the look of in advance and create my own rough itinerary (ie. I want to to do A, B, C and D. B and D are close, so I'll do them after each other).

But I do like some time for an aimless wander too, just to get a feel for a place.

I've never used one of those 48 hours in... pieces however. And, to be honest, I find them quite dull to read. They don't cover any one aspect well.

David said...

I'll often follow the general path of a suggested walking tour, but very rarely to the letter.

Most of the time, I'll decide what I like the look of in advance and create my own rough itinerary (ie. I want to to do A, B, C and D. B and D are close, so I'll do them after each other).

But I do like some time for an aimless wander too, just to get a feel for a place.

I've never used one of those 48 hours in... pieces however. And, to be honest, I find them quite dull to read. They don't cover any one aspect well.

@pinkzibra said...

Hello Lara,

I tend to really use itineraries if I'm short for time, but most of the travelling I've done has been in bigger chunks like 3 months to a year and that is when my idea of an itinerary is more vague and flexible.

I will always do some research before travelling (reading blogs and lonely planet forums) and I often have a rough intinerary in my head but then things don't always go as planned and my itinerary constantly changes.

Eg. In Mumbai I had a list of all the places I wanted to visit over 3days and I was so freaked out by the chaos I only lasted 1.5 days and headed straight to Udaipur.

I find guide book itineraries really useful when i'm trying to guess how many days I should spend in a place and to make sure I get to point B by a certain date (e.g to catch a flight or bus...doesnt always happen though!)

I've found I'm pretty laid back though and never stick to itineraries 100% but find it useful as a general guide.

In certain countries where there are visa limits I tend to make more of an effort with itineraries. E.g the 30 day tourist visa in Thailand I would have a rough plan so I know where/when I can exit to Cambodia to do a boarder run for visa renewal.

In Tibet I really tried to read up and plan an itinerary as there was the possibility of travel restrictions being put in place so time was of the essence. When I was in Tokyo for 7 days I followed the itinerary in Lonely planet, it did all the hard work for me and i packed in as much as I could.

Now that I'm stuck behind a desk, if I had the chance to go on holidays for 1 - 2 weeks I would definately make use of more itinerary resources.

Lara Dunston said...

Hi David

(I'll try not to use 'efforting' this time - particularly as I'm responding to a professional travel writer!)

Look, I agree with you that many of these itineraries are dull - depends on the publication of course - but when they're great, when the writer has really taken some care to think them through and kept their audience in mind, they can be fantastic. I think the Hemispheres ones are super.

It's good to hear what you like to do and how you work. Personally, I love figuring out walking tours, but I think it would be wonderful to create a tour where you surprise people and say, "You can leave the tour now and take a wander down xxxx street, which might be interesting..." but in actual fact you know it's an amazing street and it's going to be the best part of the whole walk!

Guidebook editors never seem to buy those ideas though... with walking tours they seem to be fixated about mapping (understandably) so I suspect the surprise alley might not be included if it can't be mapped.

Thanks for your input! I always love to hear your opinions.

Lara Dunston said...

Hi Ida

That's all really interesting, thanks!

I totally agree that itineraries are definitely helpful for planning larger trips. Great idea of yours using them to plan around visa runs.

I find them great if you only have a 24-hour stopover in a city too. I remember when we visited Tokyo on a stopover a long long time ago, and we didn't use an itinerary and we were a bit overwhelmed and ran around like crazy. The best bit of the day was actually lunch when we stumbled across this tiny street of simple noodle houses that weren't in our guide and had a cheap fun lunch as well as just enjoying the neighbourhood. But we could definitely have done with an itinerary that time!

Thanks for commenting!

Sandy O'Sullivan said...

Hi Lara,

As I started reading this, I was thinking - in response to your question - that I absolutely always have itineraries... but then I realised that the way you (and maybe everyone else in the world, actually!) were framing an itinerary is a bit different to the way that I think of it, as basically a 'remember to book stuff' tool.

First of all, heaps of my travel at the moment is about research or about my work in some way... and so I am always doing it in terms of work... but you know what it's like, even with work there is some downtime, and I often have time to go and do something wherever I am. So, when I first read what you wrote about itineraries, I thought you really just meant knowing what town I'm in, how I'm getting there, where I'm staying etc... not really about restaurants, let alone stuff to do.

I do love planning travel though and how I travel and where I stay (and how far it is from whatever I'm doing - close is good, or if interesting stuff is in between where I am and what I'm doing that's great too... so clearly even that basic stuff brings up some interest in the area. For instance, I just decided to prebook two sets of five days in Washington DC for early May and early June and although I'm gonna be at the Smithsonian down on the Mall, I booked somewhere a fair bit away, and I think it was really because I wanted to make sure that I did experience the city (also its a nice place and a nice area).

The whole itinerary planning, booking stuff etc ahead of time, all of that, I think gives me the scope to be spontaneous. But I LOVE reading guidebooks, especially the Lonely Planet ones and I love reading travelogues, so I read them and get completely inspired by them, but don't actually follow them. And even the maps, I hardly ever use them in the actual place, but I do use them to make a mental map of an area.

The other thing, and I think it responds to that question that you had of Rachel who said she didn't follow restaurant recommendations. Yeah, I tend to read them and get a bit of a sense from them... but I do have one big problem. Because I'm a vegetarian (and have been one for 23 years), and because vegetarian entries in mainstream guidebooks almost exclusively focus on health food - and I'm an ethical vegetarian, not a health-focused one (at all!!! Ha!), I tend to think that they entirely miss the mark... and mainstream restaurant reviews almost never mention vegetarian options... so what I will often do, is read the recommendation, then go to menupages or allmenus or one of those sorts of websites and check out their veggie options. This is especially important if I have a business meeting (oh you know, it's often a meeting with a research student or a research colleague, not a formal thing), but I always want to know if there is at least something nearby that would work. And, funnily enough, that's why sometimes chains are easy (though boring and I hate the food), because at least a noodle chain is consistent for delivering something that I am sure is properly veggie... but, yeah, boring.

So, itineraries are sometimes about that, but more about just getting the basic where I'm going, what I'm doing stuff happening.

The final thing (and I think I echo pinkzibra in this), I am doing this trip that covers more than 5000 ground kilometres in about 25 days, so using the itinerary to guess at what timeframes I need is an important part of it... I am woefully hopeless at estimating this stuff (I once took a friend on a Vancouver-San Francisco-Chicago-Vancouver trip working it on a kilometre range and not realising that the book said miles... I can't be trusted!). The last time I drove up to Darwin, I actually overestimated time, and so an itinerary does help with that stuff too.

But I have to say, I love this discussion of itineraries... I just really wish I could find a properly good itinerary template online that I could populate, I am really finding it frustrating not having that.


Sandy O'Sullivan said...


I have another reaction to this... having read through all of the comments and having your words totally sink in, made me go and look at a range of guidebooks that I have. I have been reading, and been fascinated by guidebooks for more than 25 years, and I think there are few of the main books I haven't read for the places I have visited. But... until you just said it now, I didn't even realise that there were itineraries in any of these books. There are, of course, but somehow my way of reading a guidebook made me hunt around for info and kind of ignore the narrative that suggested what to do on a three day or a five day. Looking at them now (as I am with the LP: USA guide), I think I saw them as call-out boxes of suggestions that were about reminding you of the most prominent places in a city, not necessarily the most interesting... so I don't know if I would follow them. I would, however, at least after this realisation, remember that they exist.


marina villatoro said...

I say, what's the point. Every time I make any itinery or plan, it always gets fouled up. I mean, I have a clue of what i'm going to do and where I might be going. but it always goes differently. So, i say, make very general plans, unless on a really tight schedule, and enjoy where the wind takes you.
The Travel Expert(a) and an Expat with a Twist

Zenaida said...

Hello Lara, I love to read itineraries, just as I love to read recipes. Then pick and chose to make up my very own, according to my personal interestes.

Travel Muse said...

I used to make up itineraries with military precision for our trips, but it drove my husband crazy. There was one trip to Barcelona where I was basically bossing all of our friends around and pushing them into doing *everything* on my itinerary and that put an end to it. Now I use the 3 days in and guidebooks as a jumping off point. What do I HAVE to see? What's nearby (food, entertainment, green space), how close is it to my hotel/the metro and most important how is the weather? On a sunny day I won't spend my time in a museum. Likewise if it's raining I don't wnat to go hiking all day. All the factors come into play. I tend to think of the 3 day itineraries as inspiration, so they are definitely valuable to me!

meesposito said...

Ironically, the more I travel, the more I've been reading guidebooks, but what's crucial is how I process the information. I usually write out an itinerary of my own based on what I've read; I don't follow it to the letter because on every trip there is a surprise or two. For example, I was in a department store in Seville and struck up a conversation with a gentleman. We wound up spending the rest of the afternoon in what seemed to be every tapas bar in Seville! It was a completely unplanned event.

Larry said...

I never use pre-planned itineraries. I generally read guidebooks completely through and make a mental note of the things that I feel are important to see (which don't necessarily correspond to the "most important" things to see in each place). Then I plan my own time.

A reasonable part of this is snobbery on my part. I think I see following a guide book itinerary as one step up from following around someone with an umbrella. Since what I like most about travel is the sense of exploration, I want to feel like I'm setting the course. I mean no offense to hard working tour guides or itinerary writers, I'm just trying to fathom why it is I'm allergic to itineraries.

Ideally, and in my past, I wouldn't even have a day-by-day itinerary. Now that my trips are, for the time being, mostly limited to my children's school vacations (that is, they're short) I do find it necessary to plan in advance and sometimes even to book hotels in advance.

Oddly enough, I make something of an exception to my rule for the Michelin Green Guide for which I've retained a great degree of affection (we used it a lot when I was a kid) but which, I've noticed, isn't very good, at least in the English translation.

And, personally, I file all those "36 Hours In. . ." articles from the Times under "Unclear On The Concept".

Jamie Sinz said...

We certainly fall into the casual traveler category, but I do read the itineraries before we go. They often have recommendations about the time of day to visit specific places, so I jot that down in my notebook and reference it when we are making our plans the day of. I also find them helpful to see how much people think they can do in one day. Since we wander...a lot...we could never do everything a guidebook itinerary recommends. One thing I do take note of is walking tours and would rip them out to take with us. In many cases they are written like an itinerary, but for some reason I find them more flexible.

Ela Zizli said...

I'm an itinerary user especially if my time in a certain place is limited but I found that I could hardly stick to it especially if I'm traveling with my sister and we're in a place where there are a lot of shopping areas. The one hour alloted to that place would balloon to two hours!!!

Lara Dunston said...

Hi everyone! Thank you so much for all your fantastic comments - I've been racing to meet deadlines and haven't had time to respond, I'm sorry.

Hi Sandy - I guess when I talk about an itinerary, rather than it being something to use simply to book stuff, I just see it as a plan/list of things to do, the whole point being to try to ensure you have a good time. BTW, I'm so intrigued by this huge trip you're planning...

Hi Marina - if you end up discarding the itinerary and having a great time anyway, then that's fantastic. What drives me nuts are the people who discard the itineraries and have an awful time. Those people who go to a place, don't do anything, and come away hating it. I think they're the people who need itineraries - or rather, the people we writers create itineraries for.

Hello Zenaida - I'm exactly the same actually! I see them partly as an inspirational tool - the good ones anyway - to get me excited about a place, and partly as a planning tool, but like you, I pick and choose.

Hi Travel Muse - exactly! When they're written well they can be inspirational, can't they? Your story is hilarious! I've only ever travelled with a big group of friends once and that was enough. It's something Terry and I won't do. We'd love to go away and stay with friends at a house or something, but I could never see myself travel with a huge group to Rome or somewhere. Congratulations on doing that!

But I think you have to plan a trip like that well don't you? Maybe not with military precision, but I can so easily see people disagreeing and having arguments. We used to go out to dinner with groups of friends a lot in Sydney many years ago, and it simply never worked if we didn't plan it in advance. If we all wandered to a street full of restaurants then nobody could agree on where to go, it was just awful. I hated it. I could never imagine extending that scenario to a few days or a week! Ugh! But I have other friends who do it and love it. Each to their own. :)

Hi Michael - I think maybe you're reading guidebooks more because the more you travel, the more you're 'improving' as a traveller if you know what I mean - you're wanting more out of your travel experiences - and the guidebooks are helping to give you those ideas as to things that will challenge you perhaps? Sounds like you had a fabulous time in Seville. Yep, I'm always in favour of discarding those plans for those serendipitous moments.

Hi Larry - well, you're welcome to use Cool Travel Guide any time you want to fathom something out! These kind of reflective comments are exactly what I hoped to get from the blog. I love it when readers explore these issues on my pages! Thank you!

Larry, definitely agree that itineraries are best for short trips. I like using them for stopovers - those "24 hours in Singapore" itineraries are super when you only have 24 hours in Singapore.

But like anything, you want to know that you're the reader the itinerary has been written for - because not every itinerary is going to appeal to every reader. Which is why I like the guidebook trend in recent years to provide themed itineraries - whether it be a foodie itinerary, a fashion or shopping-focused itinerary, etc. The difference between a guide with an umbrella and a guidebook itinerary is that the guide with the umbrella has created a crowd-pleasing itinerary - it's bound to be mainstream to appeal to the 110 people or however many in her/his group. Hopefully those in the guidebooks are more targeted to their specific readerships and more attuned to their interests or they're providing a range of themed itineraries based on people's needs.

Hey there Jamie - yeah, I think we definitely cram too much into itineraries - I say 'we' meaning travel writers in general - but that's what editors want and magazine editors especially tend to know their readers well. I guess their thinking is that the kind of people who use itineraries are probably the kind of people who want to cram lots of things in.

We used to have family and friends come to stay with us a lot in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, and I'd create itineraries for them, and most people would follow them to the 't' and love them. I'd think I'd have them worked out perfectly then I remember one couple who did everything on the itinerary and more! They rushed from place to place, they were hyper the whole time, but they absolutely loved it. I think they're the kinds of people itineraries exist for.

Hi Ela - that's funny! But that's fine isn't it. If the itinerary can kick-start your experience, but then you veer in another direction - as long as you have a great time, there's nothing wrong with that.

Thanks for all your comments, everyone! Much appreciated.