One of my favorite things to do is to PLAN our upcoming trips. It’s so exciting to start researching and learning all about the place we are going to visit. Ideas start flooding my mind of places to go and things to see and activities to do. The possibilities are endless when you plan a trip to just about anywhere!
One of the main secrets to planning a successful trip is creating a solid trip itinerary. While some may try to argue that it’s not necessary, I beg to differ.
Having a trip itinerary reduces your stress level because you are not trying to remember dates and times and names and places and prices all in your maxed out brain! Us moms have enough things to keep track of in our minds!
Instead, give your brain a rest. Plan it out ahead of time and write it down on your itinerary.
Rest assured knowing the details are all taken care of, and you can access them in a moment should you need them. No more searching through hundreds of emails trying to find that ONE confirmation, or trying to find Wifi in order to look up the phone number of your hotel.
Follow these five simple steps to create the key parts of your trip itinerary, and you will have the necessary planning done to make the most out of your family trip!
First things first
When to Start
You can start creating your trip itinerary as soon as you start planning your trip. There is no rule about how soon you can start.
I generally don’t start the itinerary until a month or two out. This gives you enough time to do any additional research that comes up while compiling crucial details.
The exception would be for those trips like backpacking around Europe that require lots of traveling between cities and countries. There were so many moving parts to that trip of ours, that I started creating our itinerary about 6 months before we took off.
What You Need
You’ll need either paper and pencil (stick with something that can erase…at least for the first draft) or a computer or a smartphone with your favorite itinerary app. Choose whichever method comes naturally to you.
I love creating things digitally while at the same time having the flexibility to customize structure and design, so I create my itineraries with my computer in Google Sheets. (template to come!)
The only other details you will need are any trip confirmation emails, receipts, or research information you have acquired. Alright, let’s start creating this thing!
How to create your trip itinerary
These are the five main steps when creating your trip itinerary. I have listed them in order of importance, and I highly recommend you complete them in order.
Depending on your travel style, you may choose to only include the information from steps 1-4, or if you are wildly spontaneous, only steps 1 or 2!
It’s up to you to determine how many details you actually want to plan out ahead of time and include on your trip itinerary. My recommendation is to always include steps 1-3. The remaining steps 4-5 can be included sparingly or not at all.
You want to leave room in your trip itinerary to actually embrace experiences that come along on your trip. Don’t make the mistake of trying to follow a strict schedule because you will get disappointed and frustrated when it doesn’t all fall perfectly into place. After all, some of the most memorable experiences are the ones we don’t expect.
As long as your ultimate expectation includes flexibility and you maintain that mindset as you travel, you’ll be good to go! Follow these steps and get your trip itinerary put together in no time!
Step 1: Establish Your Time Frame
This is the most basic component of your trip–when are you going? How many days or weeks are you spending in each location?
Select your trip dates and structure your trip itinerary to display them in an easily viewable manner. You are generating the time frame outline that you will then be able to work within as you add all other details.
PRO Tip: Make sure you can view at least a few days on your itinerary at one time. You could fit up to a whole week on a single page/sheet/piece of paper. If your trip is longer than 1 week, break your itinerary up into multi-day chunks on each page, so it’s manageable.
Step 2: Record Transportation Times
If you are flying to your destination, then the next thing you want to do is to record your flight times. You don’t want to miss a flight.
Within your trip itinerary, you can include the flight number and confirmation number. This way, the key details of your ticket purchase are accessible in one central location.
There are trips where you may have more than one major mode of transportation. Now, I am not saying you should schedule out every Uber or Lyft ride you plan on taking around the city. I’m referring to bigger modes of transportation (ie plane, train, bus, ferry, etc) that operate with set schedules and pre-purchased tickets.
Once you have determined how many days you want to spend in a particular city, you can determine how you will get from city A to city B.
If you are planning on rolling with the punches and figuring it out as you travel, then more power to you. You don’t have to book a specific ticket, but you could simply put on your itinerary “train to city B”.
Knowing your transportation times help give you a snapshot on your trip itinerary of how much time you have each day to spend doing other exciting things. Then you can allocate your time appropriately to venturing around while still making sure you don’t miss your flight or train.
Step 3: Include Accommodation Details
If you are going to one hotel, resort, or rental for the duration of your trip, then this step will be quick! Simply put the essential details in for your accommodations. Make sure you are placing the following information on your trip itinerary for the days and times it is applicable:
- Address (Don’t forget this part–you have to know where you’re going.)
- Phone (If something comes up or your plans change, you can easily contact them with updates without having to scour the internet for the right contact number.)
- Confirmation Number
- Check-in & Check-out Time (Optional)
If you have multiple destinations where you will be staying overnight, then you should include the essential details above for each stay.
PRO Tip: If you don’t like having all of these details clogging up your trip itinerary, you can keep a separate page as a part of your itinerary that holds all of these details for reference. If you are using Google Docs or Google Sheets, you can always add a comment or hyperlink to the information to avoid having too much text on the file itself.
Step 4: Add Must-See Attractions
Now that you have the basics of time frame, transportation, and accommodations in your trip itinerary, you can start to add any of your must-see attractions. This would include sites (ie museums, gardens, churches, parks, castles, etc) and activities (ie hikes, tours, entertainment, bike rentals, paragliding, etc).
You are placing high priority attractions on your trip itinerary. This ensures you don’t miss an attraction that is important to you and your family.
It is up to you to determine how much of this you want to plan out. If you have certain days that you want to see and do certain things, then go ahead and place attractions on specific days. Otherwise, you could simply have a list that can be spread out over the duration of your trip.
Do not set time limits for your must-see attractions (unless it’s something specific you have to make a time reservation for) because you will run into the problem of scheduling out your whole day down to the minute. This creates stress instead of alleviating it when things don’t go as planned and throw off your entire schedule.
Generally, we don’t schedule out the attractions we are going to do. There may be one or two things (like reserving a date and time to paraglide with a company) that we have to schedule, but the rest we just like to keep flexible.
Step 5: Add Dining Reservations
The final step is to add in any breakfast, lunch, or dinner plans you have made for your trip. If you have made a reservation, include those details on your trip itinerary.
Make sure that any dining plans align with wherever you will be spending your time that day. You don’t want to have to catch a train 45 minutes across town just for dinner when you could’ve eaten at a lovely restaurant next door to where you were.
Outside of places like Disney World, where you need to make reservations for special dining experiences, we almost never plan out which restaurants we will eat at. On a rare occasion, we will have maybe 1 or 2 restaurants in mind to try to visit at some point during our trip.
We mostly just roll with the punches when it comes to restaurants. We don’t like to have too many things scheduled because we never know exactly where we will end up at lunchtime or what little gem of a restaurant we may stumble upon.
PRO Tip: Ask locals for restaurant recommendations. This is what we often do, and they almost always direct you to the best places in town!
Trip itinerary design
Now that you know what steps to follow for entering your information, it’s important to decide how you would like to design the trip itinerary itself. While you have the option to always write it out with paper and pencil, I recommend going digital.
A digital trip itinerary keeps things minimal. You have one less item you need to carry around with you. All the details you will need will be in the palm of your hand.
PRO Tip: Take screenshots of your itinerary. Just in case you need your itinerary and your app isn’t working or service isn’t great, you will still be able to see the image with all the necessary information.
That being said, here are a couple of my personal recommendations when it comes to designing your trip itinerary.
I am a huge fan of Google Sheets, and Google Docs can be a good alternative. Whichever you choose, I suggest having two sheets/pages–one for a scheduled time frame with basic info (like a schedule), and one with more details for each item to keep the schedule from getting clogged with text (again…think minimal appearance). If you are Google Sheets/Docs savvy, then you can even hyperlink the details into the scheduled itinerary.
If you want to take things to the next level with the organization (which I ALWAYS want to do), then you can have a different color for each of the five steps above! Yesssss!!!! This gets me so pumped!
Color coordinating gives you the ability to quickly glance at your trip itinerary, and your eyes will be instantly directed to what you wanted to see. This organized visual structure cuts down on constantly reading through your entire itinerary.
It also helps you during the creation process. Color coordination allows you to see any missing gaps in your itinerary without having to read through every line of text every time.
Trip Itinerary Apps
If you do not want to have to design and structure your trip itinerary from scratch, then an app might be a good option for you. Since I like customization and organization I always opt for creating my own, but here are a few good app alternatives to consider.
Go for it
Ultimately your trip itinerary should help you organize important information that you need throughout your trip. It is a plan to reference anytime you need it.
The key details will all be included in your trip itinerary, so you’re never scrambling for information or worried that your reservation never got confirmed and you’ll end up on the street tonight with your kids sleeping head to head on a park bench.
However, it should not be a restrictive schedule on how to spend every minute of every day. That’s just not possible with kids! Flexibility is always KEY! Instead, it reduces the stress of having to constantly figure things out on the go.
Now, you’ve got all the steps. Start creating your itinerary for your upcoming family trip! Remember, keep things minimal. The goal of a trip itinerary is to simplify your travel so you can embrace every experience. That is how you make it Worth Every Trip!