I’ve discovered that, for me, the key to planning enjoyable and meaningful travel experiences is beginning with realistic expectations. There are many reasons to travel, styles and personalities of travelers, experiences each person wishes to have, and perhaps different physical needs. Acknowledging these factors and aligning my expectations allows me greater focus when planning an itinerary. I’ve learned to tailor the experience based upon who will be on the trip, our various needs, capabilities, and desires. Aligning expectations enables me to appreciate each experience for what it is meant to be, to be present in the moment, and not feel as though I ought, or want, to be doing something else.
When I first traveled alone I covered an insane amount of ground in a day, starting out at 9 a.m. and not returning to the hotel until late in the evening, perhaps even 9:00-10:00 p.m. in the summer months when it stayed light so late. This was mainly because I had limited time between work obligations; but also, because I fell prey to the “I should see” syndrome. Over time, I’ve realized that, for me, slower is better. When traveling with my husband in Paris, we prefer to go to one museum or historic site in a day, build in plenty of time to sit and relax over a coffee or in a park, and perhaps spend a day with no itinerary just walking and discovering. We also like to break up the day with a rest in the late afternoon and then attend a classical music concert after dinner.
ALIGNING EXPECTATIONS: THINGS TO CONSIDER
1. What is the purpose of your trip?
There are so many reasons we travel, from a dream vacation, a romantic weekend getaway, or to attend a special event. Acknowledging the purpose of your trip will inform all of your decisions; such as where you stay, where you eat, and the sites you see.
2. Who is going?
Traveling solo, with a partner, or with a group are all wonderful, yet different experiences. The accommodations, restaurants, and activities should ideally be tailored to make the trip enjoyable for everyone.
3. What is your ideal pace?
Are you constantly on the go, doing as much as possible in a day? Or do you prefer a leisurely pace even though this may require being more selective about what you do?
4. Will you stay in one location or move around?
Do you enjoy discovering new places, moving on every few days to explore somewhere new? Or do you like to stay in one location and get to know it in-depth?
5. What are your interests?
What are the top things that would break your heart if you didn’t do them? If traveling with a companion or a group, you may choose to alternate the types of activities each day, or even split up at times to pursue different interests.
6. What is your general budget?
Expenses add up quickly, especially when traveling abroad. It may not be possible to do all the things on your bucket list, stay in a boutique hotel, and eat at stylish restaurants. Deciding what to splurge and scrimp on are personal decisions and deserve some consideration.
7. What are your eating patterns or dietary needs?
Food can be such an adventure, and perhaps even the focus of your journey. However, it can also be stressful, especially if you have dietary restrictions or allergies. For instance, I have a gluten sensitivity and eat a plant-based diet; so, it’s necessary for me to research ahead of time and go armed with a list of restaurants and cafes. I’ve also learned that it saves time each day if we stay in an area close to these restaurants.
8. What time of the year will you travel?
I find this one to be very important. Depending upon the weather, it may be too hot or too cold spend long periods of time outside, which requires more indoor activities. Also, if it’s the high season, sites may be very crowded and require booking ahead or waiting in long lines.
9. Have you been there before?
If not, then it’s good to factor in time to get your bearings. Also, it will take a little more time each day to figure out how to get to where you’re going, especially when navigating a new transit system.
10. What are the cultural norms at your destination?
One reason we travel is to experience different ways of life; however, this requires openness and flexibility. If traveling abroad, differences may include the types of foods eaten and when, opening hours and days for shops and sites, and the availability of public restrooms.
In conclusion, by taking the time up front to assess the purpose of your trip, your travel style, and the patterns of the culture of your destination you will have the basis to build an itinerary that not only meets but surpasses your expectations. We are all unique and there is no “right” way to experience a place. It’s to your benefit to be honest about what you, and/or your companions, enjoy or need to feel your best and get the most out of your journey.
How do you start your planning? Please share your own tips in the comments section.