Don’t give in to all the lies people will try to tell you as you plan your trip.
You can’t be spontaneous if you have a plan.
Plans get in the way of experiencing the local culture.
The process of planning is stressful and time consuming.
Instead, know that if you plan your trip the right way, you can be spontaneous, experience culture, and have minimal to nonexistent stress levels.
You need to come to grips with the fact that you will never see it all. Stop setting unrealistic expectations that your trip will never live up to. There is always more to see and do in any destination.
Eliminate unrealistic expectations by avoiding a jam-packed schedule for your trip. Do you want to spend your trip checking off as many items as possible from your list? Or do you want to enjoy incredible experiences while making memories that last?
You can plan your trip in a way that allows you to see the sights without the burden of stress that inevitably ruins your trip along the way.
Check out our easy method that will help you simplify your travel and embrace the experiences on every trip you take.
We have planned so many trips and created so many trip itineraries. All of our planning and first hand experience has led us to develop an efficient method for determining what sights to see.
For us, it is important to keep a minimalist perspective on our travel. This means we do not try to pack our schedule full of plans for every second of every day.
It is far too easy to get bogged down with a mile long list of all the places you want to go and things you want to see. What we’ve found is that these lists are extremely cumbersome and unrealistic…especially with kids in tow.
And so…we came up with the 3 + 3 method.
3 Tourist Attractions
The first “3” in the 3 + 3 method is for tourist attractions. These are the most popular sights to see at your destination--the attractions that people instantly think of when you mention the name of a location (ie Buckingham Palace, Golden Gate Bridge, Great Wall of China, African Safari, etc).
As you plan your trip, you want to determine which 3 tourist attractions are the highest priority for you to see. You CAN see additional tourist attractions, but you need to be at peace with not seeing them.
We have seen incredible sights by establishing our top priority must-see tourist attractions. And we are ok with not seeing many of the other touristy sights.
In Paris, we saw the Eiffel Tower but never went to the Louvre.
In Bavaria, we visited Neuschwanstein Castle but only saw Hohenschwangau Castle from a distance.
In Iceland, we swam in the Blue Lagoon but never climbed a glacier.
In Maui, we explored the Road to Hana but never hiked any of the lush island mountains.
3 Unique Experiences
The second “3” in the 3 + 3 method is for unique experiences. These sights, attractions, or activities are typically NOT found on the destination’s top 10 list.
Information about these experiences may be sparse. Be prepared to do a little extra research as you plan your trip to figure out which unique experiences are available at your destination.
As a matter of fact, you may not be able to plan them at all for your trip ahead of time. Instead, you may need to select these unique experiences upon your arrival after talking with some locals.
Unique experiences often center around the locals’ favorite experiences. After all, they ought to know best! Nobody is as familiar with what the destination has to offer as the people who call it home.
We always rely on locals’ restaurant recommendations. I find it futile to try and plan out every meal for a trip (not to mention exhausting). Instead, we ask locals where their favorite breakfast, lunch or dinner place is.
PRO Tip: Take it one step further and ask the locals what their favorite dish is on the menu. Then you can have a delicious meal without regretting the order you made… especially when you can't even read the menu.
Following locals’ recommendations is how we ended up eating delicious pizza in Venice, savoring a flavorful breakfast on the Maui coastline, and drinking a refreshing pint in the warm breeze at a beer garden in Munich.
We would not have found these places on our own. And we definitely would have never run across them if we remained in the touristy areas alone.
Parks + Playgrounds
If you are planning a trip with younger kids, spend time at a local park. It may seem lackluster to you, but I guarantee your little ones will be thrilled! (Especially if you just made them endure being endlessly dragged around a museum for 2 hours.)
When we visited Disney’s Aulani Resort & Spa on Oahu, we took a break from meeting Mickey Mouse and his friends to walk along the coast to a big open grassy area. My toddler boy was living his best life jumping off rock after rock and running full steam across the wide-open lawn. That’s all it was--lots of grass with some trees and big rocks.
Countless times, we have ventured off to local playgrounds near our accommodations in Phoenix, Minneapolis, San Jose, Beverly Hills, and more. It’s the perfect way to see other local families and give your little one an opportunity to release energy.
One of the most incredible ways to experience the vibrant life of a community and get a taste of their culture is by attending a local festival. Do a simple Google search while you plan your trip, and you will find there are festivals and local events happening year-round all over the globe.
We got to experience Festa del Redentore in Venice (although this one was not planned--we got suuuuuuper lucky). We saw Venice at its celebratory best! Lines of boats cover the water as they wait for the hour-long (yes…60 freakin’ minutes!) fireworks show, unlike any display I have ever seen.
I can now say from personal experience--local festivals are one of the most wonderful experiences in a city. You get to enjoy all the fun activities while simultaneously learning about their history and culture. It doesn’t get any better.
For you adventure seekers, plan a high adrenaline experience like skydiving in San Diego or paragliding in the Lauterbrunnen Valley. You get a breathtaking aerial view of your destination while embarking on a true adventure that doesn’t just happen anywhere.
Again, ask for local recommendations to find the secret snorkeling spot or best mountain sunset view. Bo got a local’s recommendation and got to snorkel at Secret Beach (that’s actually the name of it) a prime spot that locals go to often but tourists never know about.
Off the Beaten Path
However you plan your trip, make sure you go beyond the tourist areas and neighborhoods. Try to live like a local even if it’s only for an afternoon. Meander around and see what you come across.
Wander around neighborhoods. Stroll the quiet streets of Florence in the morning. Discover the bustling Roman piazzas at night. Walk along a river or around a lake. Soak in the serenity and see what you find along the way.
Once, we took a late-night stroll along the River Tiber in Rome. While we had planned the walk itself, we had no idea what we would find. We happened upon a little street fair on the edge of the river filled with hanging lights, restaurant pop-ups, live music, and even foosball! (Obviously, we stopped and played a game!)
Strolling through the neighborhoods is one of our favorite things to do abroad. It's often beautiful, relaxing, and a great opportunity to strike up conversations with locals.
Wander through nature. Explore the beautiful creation all around you. Hike through a forest without a specific destination in mind. Pack a picnic and find a picturesque spot to enjoy it. Walk along a Hawaiian shoreline and catch the best sunset views. Meander through a garden or park and admire the local blooms.
It’s so easy to get caught up in all the man-made infrastructure and entertainment. Take time to soak in the vibrant colors of nature all around your destination.
Plan your time frame
You may be wondering, “We can only do 6 things our entire vacation?! How is that enjoyable?”
It’s important to know that our 3 + 3 method can be applied to three different periods of time. Based on which structure you choose, you may repeat the 3 + 3 method multiple times over the course of your trip.
You can plan your trip with the 3 + 3 method filling in your daily schedule. Each day would have 3 new tourist attractions and 3 new unique experiences.
This time frame fills your schedule up the most. It’s usually a super packed and busy day, which is what we try to avoid. So I generally don’t recommend this format for families (or really anyone). Instead, for a daily schedule, adjust your plans to a 2 + 2 or a 2 + 1 format to avoid trying to do too much.
If you are still insistent on filling up your schedule, then be prepared because this may take extra (or, quite frankly, too much) coordination. If you still want to fit more into each day, looking into a local tour that includes some tourist highlights and a few local gems could be the perfect solution.
Know that you likely won’t have extra free time because your day will be FULL with 6 different sights and activities. I’m telling you…it’s just too much to actually enjoy. Slow down and embrace some moments along the way.
Duration at Destination
For a slow but steady pace, plan your trip to include the 3 + 3 method for each destination you will visit. This will typically give you multiple days to complete each set of 6 things.
This format is our personal favorite, so I always recommend people start to plan their trip this way.
If you are only visiting one city, you can break your trip into 2-3 day chunks by area or activity type. Focus on 1-2 each day, and leave the remaining time in your day free to explore at will. (Or free to take a nap…sleep for us parents, not our kids).
This structure and pace allows you to have more flexibility without feeling like you have way too much free time.
If relaxation and free time is what you are looking for, you can apply the 3 + 3 method once for your entire trip. Meaning, you will only plan to do 6 of your highest priority activities throughout your whole time away from home.
Obviously, this is the most general and over-arching planning method as it leaves enormous amounts of room for spontaneity or pure relaxation. If you love being spontaneous or relaxing for 80% of your trip but don’t want to regret missing out on a couple of big things, then this is the format for you.
When you plan your trip using this method, there are a couple things you need to bear in mind.
You can always PLAN LESS than 3 + 3 but DON’T PLAN MORE!
The goal is to prioritize, enjoy a variety of experiences, and avoid a jam-packed itinerary.
Notice, I said “PLAN.” I’m not telling you to sit in your hotel room for the rest of your trip after completing your 6 things. If free time presents itself, then by all means explore the additional sights and experiences you would enjoy.
The main point is to keep your plans minimal. Avoid setting unrealistic expectations that lead to a busy and stressful day, or a day filled with disappointment from not seeing everything you had planned.
When you are choosing which experiences make it on your 3 + 3 list, make sure each experience is aligned with your (and your family’s) interests. The popularity of your 3 + 3 experiences is irrelevant.
Are they things that YOU (not the rest of the world leaving reviews) will enjoy?
Using our personal interests as the filter when we plan has led us to visit the Leonardo Da Vinci Museum in Florence, filled with his machines not his art. And it’s why we viewed the impressionist art at the Musée d'Orsay in Paris instead of the Mona Lisa at The Louvre.
In planning your trip as a family, you are going to have to compromise.
Bo compromised and humored me as I reenacted poses from the Sound of Music at Mirabell Palace & Gardens in Salzburg.
I compromised and enjoyed Bo’s Normandy full day tour.
We both compromised in spending hours at a playground for Austin.
But we also include experiences that we all will enjoy. Even if you are compromising for one or two things along the way, make a point to include common interests for your whole family in some of your 3 + 3.
Ultimately, if you plan your trip with 3 tourist attractions and 3 unique experiences that are catered to your interests and the time frame of your trip, then you are sure to make it Worth Every Trip.