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Saturday, April 4, 2009

The beauty of a good itinerary: it's simply about showing you a good time

I asked you in my last post if you used itineraries and, if so, how you used them. I loved your responses - from Michael who creates his own itineraries but is happy to be spontaneous if an exciting opportunity presents itself (like tapas bar hopping with a friendly stranger in Spain!) to TravelMuse who has planned itineraries for trips with groups of friends with military precision. Zenaida and The Global Traveller both read itineraries for inspirational value then once on the ground discard them to chart their own journeys of discovery. Larry sees following an itinerary as one step up from following a tour guide with an umbrella, while David finds the '48 hours in...' itineraries a dull read, never covering anything particularly well, and Jamie notes that it wasn't always possible to get through everything a guidebook itinerary recommends. Itineraries can be dull to read, and they can be jammed with so much to see and do that following them is more hard work than it is fun. And when they try too hard to please everyone they can ultimately please no one. One itinerary recently published that I came across was in fact all of those things, which is actually what motivated my last post - and I'm going to come back to that tomorrow, because it's itineraries like those that give good itineraries a bad name. Seriously. I've literally written hundreds of the things, for scores of guidebooks, papers like The Independent (on Dubai, Muscat, Doha), in-flight magazines such as Hemispheres (3 Perfect Days in Dubai), which I think publishes some of the best itineraries around, and travel sites such as Viator (see our 3 day Dubai itinerary). Some editors take itineraries very seriously and they want their writers to do so too. They write detailed briefs and if writers diverge from these then they want to know why. I recall an exchange of emails with Simon Calder who had questioned how much eating and drinking I had readers doing on my Doha itinerary, going from a meal at the souq, on to aperitifs, then straight to dinner; he'd wanted them to do something more active in between. Hemispheres editor Randy Johnson was also a stickler for detail, raising concerns about whether I had people doing too much on a particular day in my Dubai itinerary. What I enjoyed about working with these editors on those itineraries is that they cared about their readers. And so do I. When I create an itinerary what is always utmost in my mind is: am I showing my readers a great time? That's where the 'art' of creating a good itinerary lies.


Sandy O'Sullivan said...

Oh...oops, I spent three years in Dubai and I didn't do a coupla those things. But at the same time, I actually don't think it's too crowded an itinerary... I mean the point isn't that they MUST do everything.

After following this whole thread, I am going to be so much more aware of the idea of the itinerary, though I'm still scared of schedules in every part of my life, so I still wonder if it will be the thing I can do with travel. I think I worry that I will miss the unexpected moment if I plan it out too much, but I also don't want to miss out on stuff cos I didn't know it existed (which is I think why I read so many travel books, but don't follow them). I still put a lot of it down to being a vegetarian and almost necessarily discounting food recommendations, and then wondering how much the rest has the same kind of resonances.

Rachel Cotterill said...

It's funny, I'd rather follow a walk proposed in a guidebook (which is still a sort of itinerary) than something which tells me where to eat or which galleries to visit... I have no idea why that is the case! But I'm enjoying your thoughts, from the itinerary-writer's perspective :)

Erica said...

You never fail to come up with interesting blog topics.

When it comes to itineraries, I sometimes rip out those 24 hours in... or 48 hours in... but only for inspiration. I would never follow them meticulously.

Lara Dunston said...

Hi Sandy

That's funny you should say that "the point isn't that they MUST do everything" because that's exactly what the point is. The people who use these itineraries that Hemispheres and The Independent publish actually *do* do everything. That's why the editors are so concerned to get them right, because if they're not right, they'll hear about it. They know that through research and feedback - and that is why they take so much care to get them right. We assume too when we write the guidebook itineraries that many people will follow them to the 't'. I guess that's one reason why I'm curious to find out more about my readers, and whether any of them those people?

Sandy, I think you're going to need to open up a vegetarian restaurant - one that *you* want to eat at - and you know what it's probably going to be enormously successful because I'm sure there are a lot more people around like you...???

Hi Rachel

I find that statement so interesting - that you'd follow a walking itinerary but not reviews. I'm going to have to explore this more... am I sounding like some kind of travel therapist?! Sorry! But I'd love you to think about it more and let me know why. Gosh, travel writers put so much effort into researching restaurants, hotels and museums - that must be where 80% of our time goes when we're in a city updating a book. To think there are readers like you who pay no attention... are we wasting our time? Could our time be better spent doing something we haven't even thought of?! I'm eager to expore this issue too now! :) Thanks for your comments, Rachel!

Hi Erica

Why thank you! You know, I only blog about the things I'm reflecting upon as I'm travelling and writing, and because I'm working on one book at the moment that is totally itinerary driven - a brand new series for a major publisher - it's something I'm giving a lot of thought too...

Thanks for your feedback, Erica! Much appreciated.

Terence Carter said...

Rachel, I once wrote a walking tour of the souqs in Tripoli, Lebanon, with details on odd little shops and old hammams that you could visit (including details of who has the keys to open them) as well as places to stop for coffee etc. and the publisher didn't want it because it was almost just a 'straight line' through the souqs.
I often wonder how many people visit there and miss all of the things that I had noted because the publisher couldn't see past the fact that the walking tour didn't really say 'turn left here' etc. every 10 meters. I argued that people would miss some of the things I had noted because of the chaos of the souqs and the almost hidden laneways, but then the editor had NEVER been to Lebanon, so I guess it's hard for someone with little Middle Eastern experience to understand. I actually like a good themed walking tour, because with some places you don;t really know where the 'good stuff' starts and finishes in a neighbourhood.

Heather on her travels said...

Inspired by your series of posts I've reflected on our 3 day trip to Berlin last week - the itinerary I planned and what actually happened.

I'd say that we did about half of what was on my plan, although not necessarily in the order I'd planned it. The rest were delightful surprises we stumbled upon.

Here's my 36 hrs in Berlin