I read a NY Times article recently that said people actually derive the most pleasure from the planning phase of vacations rather than the actual vacations themselves. I'd like to think that I get a lot of pleasure out of my vacations, but I have to admit, I love a good spreadsheet.
In the weeks leading up to any given vacation, you can find me at my desk furiously compiling research from multiple sources to create the best trip possible. This isn't to say that I'm trying to plan out an itinerary for every day and leave out the possibility for spontaneity. Quite the opposite, actually. By knowing all of my options ahead of time, I can make better decisions once I'm there.
For example, did you know that most museums around the world are closed at least one day a week (usually Monday or Tuesday)? If you don't know that kind of stuff ahead of time, you might end up missing out on some great art! (Or you know, being forced to go to ALL a city's museums on one day). Speaking of museums, knowing how long you want to spend in each one and what you want to see is key. Pro Tip: Do not go into the Louvre without a plan. You will regret it.
Another time that planning comes in handy: eating. Since one of the best parts of traveling is the food, why would I leave that completely up to chance? Case in point: without research, we would never have eaten my favorite meal in Barcelona. I'm fairly confident that Staci and I would never have "just stumbled across" a hole-in-the-wall place down a dimly lit alleyway in the crappy part of town. Knowing that Bourdain was a fan gave us the incentive to seek it out.
Need more convincing? What happens when the coffee shop in the museum too pricey but you're just dying for that latte? It's not a problem because you already know about that super cute coffee shop across the street. Did your plane land before most things are open but you're starving? No worries! You already know about the highly recommended bakery that opens at dawn. You get the point.
I can already hear you saying, "That's all well and good, but why would I waste time planning when I already bought this nifty guide book?" Well good for you and your lazy ass. If you want to settle for one person's suggestions, by all means, stick to that book. I, on the other hand, prefer to gather recommendations from a bunch of different sources so that I can have a more well-rounded experience. I typically grab from Lonely Planet, Rough Guides, New York Times 36 Hours, Anthony Bourdain, Yelp, local bloggers and of course, friends.
Now for the fun part (I'm not being sarcastic, this is actually my favorite part). I compile everything, cross reference it and put it into a big spreadsheet. It's color-coded by category (of course!) and organized by type of attraction, price, hours, address and notes. I do this for every trip. It helps me familiarize myself with how many churches, museums, markets, etc., that I want to visit, when things are open, and why I wanted to go there in the first place.
For this trip, I made a Google map of each attraction. This sorta new form of Google Maps is super helpful in visualizing how far apart each attraction/restaurant/bar is so that I can tell how much I'll be needing to walk. This is especially important for me on this trip since I'll be one foot down.
It doesn't end there. On the plane, Staci familiarizes herself with the guide books. By the time we land, we already feel like we sorta kinda know a place. At least enough to get started.
I know it seems like work, but really, its fun! I get to sit at my windowless desk, daydreaming about exploring a new city. Then, once I'm there, I know exactly what the city has to offer and where to start.
Need more planning tips? Just ask! I'm obviously very happy to help!