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How To Create A Travel Itinerary (10 Easy Steps)


travel planning

Some of you absolutely love flying by the seat of your pants when you travel, but the rest of us need structure — even if it's just a little bit. I'm someone who likes a lot of structure on trips, and that doesn't mean I necessarily have to plan out every second of every day and stick to it. It just means that I like to be prepared. And my itinerary is one big way I do that.


 

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Creating a travel itinerary basically involves two different tasks: doing research and making decisions. This guide will show you what goes into both of these parts of the process. However, the one thing you will need before beginning this journey is where you're going and when.


Additionally, as you'll notice throughout this post, I'll be using the example of a long weekend trip to northern Arkansas. In this case, we're pretending that there's a half a day's drive on Friday morning and a half a day's drive on Sunday afternoon/evening. The rest of the weekend can be planned!


travel research

— DO YOUR RESEARCH —

I cannot stress how important doing some initial research is when you travel. Not only does it tell you a little more about where you're going, but it also helps mitigate avoidable issues and unforeseen issues.


itinerary categories

1. Create a document and add your travel categories.

Open up a new Word doc or Google doc, which is where you'll be adding all of your information and creating your itinerary. Next, type out some headings for your travel categories. For example, when going to an area that won't have as many activities, I might only create three headings: Things To Do, Things To See, and Restaurants.


However, if I'm going to a more intense destination (such as a big city) where there are going to be a lot of things to do, then I might create even more categories: museums, outdoor activities, things to see, shops, restaurants (breakfast, lunch, dinner), Instagrammable spots, etc.


itinerary activities

2. Research the activities at your destination.

There are a variety of ways to learn about the fun things to do wherever you're going. To get a list of the tourist spots, look on the town's or city’s website and popular sites like TripAdvisor. For some more off-the-beaten-path activities, read blog posts and ask family/friends who live there or have visited a bunch. Of course, you can also hone in on that destination and scroll through social media.


From here, start adding these activities to the various categories on your document. It's important to include more things to do at this stage than just the activities that look the most enjoyable. (We'll get to why this is important later.) However, if there is anything you are not remotely interested in, then you don't need to include it. Or if you're trying to do a really low-budget trip and can eliminate any expensive activities at this stage, then feel free to do so.


itinerary activity information

3. Add the cost and hours to each activity.

The former is important if you're following a budget. (If you don't care how much money you spend on your trip, then you can skip this part.) The latter will be important when putting your itinerary together.


For example, let's say you're traveling over the weekend, and there's a museum you really want to visit. When you look at the hours of the museum, you discover that it's not open on Sundays. Now you know you have to add it to Saturday's schedule. But if you hadn't looked, you might have waited to do it on Sunday and found it to be impossible to visit. Or, perhaps you're looking to go to a museum and you'll need to know how long the average person takes to get through it. These hours are also important to know before creating your itinerary.


By the way, you can also consider adding the website link to each activity. This will allow you to come back to it for more information. Or if you're planning to share this potential itinerary with someone (a spouse, your friends or family), you'll have everything ready to go to show them what each activity entails.


restaurant research

4. Research restaurants at your destination.

Obviously, you're not going to type out the name of every restaurant at your vacation spot (unless it's a small town). So choose which restaurants to add based on if their food looks good, if the restaurant is unique, what the restaurants’ ratings are and your budget. Most of the time, I will also separate them into smaller categories when adding them to my doc: breakfast/brunch, lunch, dinner, dessert.


restaurant information

5. Add any important information to each restaurant.

Unlike the activities, I don't add the hours of every restaurant. Usually putting them in the breakfast, lunch, dinner or dessert category means I've already looked at when they're open and labeled them accordingly.


However, there are other things you could consider including with each restaurant name: the menu link, if you can make a reservation, how much it costs (using $, $$, or $$$), what type of food it is if it's not easy to tell from the name, etc. This part is up to what you think you'd like to know the next time you review this list without researching the restaurant again.



travel decisions

— MAKE DECISIONS —

Now it's time to take all the information you've discovered and start making some decisions. Yes, there are strategies that can help you choose (they're discussed below), but remember that this is your trip. Only you can decide what you want out of it.


itinerary outline

6. Create an outline for your itinerary.

Begin by adding a heading for each day (for example, Friday, Saturday, Sunday). Underneath these, be sure to include travel time/days. For instance, if it's a long weekend trip and you're driving the first half of Friday and the last half of Sunday, include it as a reminder. I usually add mealtimes, too, because I need consistency when it comes to when I eat.


Also include any other pre-planned activities. For example, if you're visiting a friend and meeting up with them, then that’s important to add first. Although I don't usually include extremely specific times in my itinerary, I definitely do for things like this so that I don't miss any plans I've already made.


highlighted itinerary activities

7. Highlight the activities and restaurants that MOST interest you.

If every activity and restaurant is highlighted, then that won’t help you. So, I suggest highlighting 3-5 activities for a weekend trip, and 5-10 for a weeklong trip. These really should be the things you most want to do! Or, if you're looking to travel as cheaply as possible, highlight only free activities. In this case, the cost can outweigh the interest.

itinerary for Arkansas

8. Add must-do activities that are time-centric.

This is when those hours that you researched really matter. So if one of your must-do activities is only possible on Saturday and the others can be done any day, then add that one to Saturday. Is there something you prefer doing in the morning? Then add it to one of your mornings.


Time-centric means a lot of things for me when traveling: if there's a time of day I prefer, what the activity's hours are, if I want to avoid people as much as possible, if I have enough time to get through the activity within that timeframe, if I have a restaurant reservation, if I'm watching a show and it starts at a certain time, etc. All of these time-centric options are important to think about at this stage.

Above, you'll notice that I added a state park to Saturday morning. (I prefer to do my outdoor activities in the morning). I also put the mill on Sunday morning because I think photos will look best in the early morning as there will be fewer people and not tons of light. Additionally, since the Crystal Bridges museum is one of the activities that will take the longest to visit, I added it to Saturday since I'll have the most time that afternoon.


itinerary for arkansas

9. Fill in the other activity slots in your itinerary.

Now that you've focused on the timing aspect, continue prioritizing your highlighted activities and try to add as many as you can. If you have extra time, add a few of the other activities you might enjoy that weren't highlighted.


But also remember not to smash too much into one day. Leave a little downtime for unplanned occurrences and in case you need a little break time.


Don't be afraid to rearrange either. One example of why this might be necessary is transportation time: Check the travel time from one activity to the next. If two back-to-back activities aren't even close to each other and it would take a while to get to the second, then you might want to move around a few things to save time so that the location of the back-to-back activities match.

full itinerary for northern arkansas

10. Include some or all of the restaurants.

Lastly, add in the restaurants you most want to visit. Then you can continue filling in the rest of your meals, or if you prefer to wait until the day of to see what kind of food you're feeling, you can do that. However, if you yourself or you're with a group that often goes back and forth about what to eat for hours, it's best to add all of the restaurants to their designated slots beforehand.


printed travel itinerary

— Extra Travel Itinerary Tips —


Here are a few other more generalized tips as you follow this guide:

  • Do the research portion on a laptop/computer rather than on your phone. It's much faster and easier.

  • Follow these steps for each destination if you're going on a trip to multiple places, even if you're just staying in one location for a day.

  • Print your itinerary document in addition to having it on your phone. Reading it on a piece of paper can be faster than looking it up on your phone. Plus, it could be something fun to pass around to your kids so that they know what your trip will look like.

  • Don't delete your list of extra activities and restaurants. If your schedule changes, something is closed even though online it said it was open, or you have more time than you planned for, you can simply choose another activity or restaurant from your list.


packing for a trip

If you've followed all of these steps, then you should have a complete itinerary for your trip ready to go! And this will not only help mitigate any stress you might have been feeling, but it will also help you decide what you need to pack. After that, all that's left to do is enjoy your vacation!

 

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