HOW TO PLAN A PERFECT HOLIDAY
For the last few weeks I’ve been working on an itinerary for my upcoming trip to Sicily (can’t wait and also can’t wait to tell you guys all about it afterwards!) as well as some day trip adventures here in the UK and I have to admit there’s literally nothing better than planning a holiday.
Do you know the sure way to find your true passion in life? Think about the thing you do when you procrastinate on all the stuff you’re supposed to be doing. That’s exactly it!
The thing I enjoy most, and often spend countless amounts of hours on, is holiday planning and anyone that’s ever joined me on one of my adventures has commented on how much they’ve enjoyed the itineraries I crafted (people are way too kind!). So in this post I’ll share with you my 10 steps to planning a perfect getaway.
READ AS MUCH AS YOU CAN
The very first thing I do when planning a holiday (after booking the flights) is read as much as I can about the destination. I use mostly Google and Pinterest to find articles and blog posts about a place I’m going to and familiarise myself with major landmarks, the most popular things to see and any must do activities.
It’s a perfect starting point for your research. Only once you have a good overview of the major tourist hotspots you can start looking beyond the surface and explore off the beaten track places.
CHOOSE ASPIRATIONAL ACCOMMODATION
I’ve stayed in all sorts of places over the years. I’ve found that when traveling with friends or family I much prefer the flexibility and authenticity of Airbnb but when travelling solo I usually choose a hotel because I just find it a little bit sad returning to an empty apartment at the end of a day. But irrespectively of whether it is a hotel room or an apartment, I always choose somewhere a little bit more luxurious (but not overly extravagant) than where I live. My London flat is really small and has no outside space so staying somewhere spacious with a garden or a terrace feels like a breath of fresh air and makes my holiday so much more indulgent.
So go on and book a hotel with a freestanding roll top bath or perfectly style Nordic style Airbnb apartment that looks like from an interiors magazine. It will make your stay a real treat.
RESEARCH FOOD SPOTS
One of my favourite things to do when traveling is trying the local cuisine and I’ve not yet been to a country where I didn’t like the food. In order to avoid restaurants aimed specifically at tourists I take my research right down to the basics.
I type ‘restaurants + the name of the city I’m traveling to’ into Google, then click on the map and proceed to spend hours checking out every spot on the list. Whilst I do glance at how many stars a restaurant has, I don’t particularly concern myself with reading reviews. It’s not possible to please everybody and even at the best restaurant in the world you can be sure to find a couple of people who didn’t enjoy the experience. Instead I prefer to look at the website and the photos to make up my own mind as to whether I like the look of a place. I also often visit their Facebook and Instagram pages to see if I like the interior and if food and drinks look appetizing.
In bigger cities such as London, Barcelona or Amsterdam I would narrow down my search a bit and type things like ‘brunch + the name of the city’ and ‘coffee + the name of the city’ into Google to make sure I capture as many potential places as possible. Sometimes I would also do a search in the language of the country I’m traveling to, for example by typing ‘trattoria Palermo’ into the search box.
This might sound like a lot of work (and it usually is) but this is the way I personally do it and for me it’s totally worth it. Trying local cuisine and checking out new bars and restaurants is one of my favourite things to do when traveling and I allocate a big chunk of my time and attention to this element. It’s absolutely fine if you don’t want to be that comprehensive but I’d recommend looking at the first 2-3 pages of Google results to see what interesting places you come across.
REACH OUT TO LOCALS
Nobody knows the place you’re traveling to better than the people who live there so if you have an opportunity to reach out to any locals for recommendations and insider tips definitely go for it! When researching my Sicilian getaway I chatted on WhatsApp with my Airbnb host who was super helpful and gave me a long list of restaurants and cafes to try including information on which of them require booking ahead and what are the must try dishes on the menu. I also sent her a list of all the places I found doing my own research to get her take on which of those are good and which (if any) I should avoid. If someone goes out of their way to help you, I’d recommend taking a little token gift with you (a small box of chocolates or a nicely packaged English tea work perfectly) to say thank you.
Also, if you’re a blogger, don’t be shy about reaching out to fellow content creators. I received some invaluable advice and tips from Maria who runs the site Travellector and is a Catania native.
LEARN ABOUT PUBLIC TRANSPORT
Taxis might be convenient but you can’t truly experience the city you visit until you use public transport. From old school traditional orange and yellow buses in Malta, through Amsterdam trams to regional trains in Portugal with about a metre gap between the train and the platform, it’s an integral part of traveling and a perfect opportunity to experience the local way of life. Unless you’re going to a very remote location or you have a very full itinerary with tight timings to get between places, you can use public transport.
Familiarise yourself with different options available, prices, ticket types and learn how to wave down a bus as that differes from country to country.
BOOK KEY EXPERIENCES BUT LEAVE THE REST UNPLANNED
I am very much a planner but when traveling I do my best to allow time to be spontaneous and wander aimlessly because that’s the best way to discover a new city. When traveling with friends and family I usually make evening restaurant reservations (I tend not to book lunches unless I know it’s a super trendy place where it’s not possible to get in without a reservation), especially at the weekends, but when traveling solo I always just walk in. I’ve not yet been turned away as restaurants can generally accommodate a single person. When I travel alone, I can also be more flexible with meal times and try to eat out when it’s less busy. I also only pre-book activities or museum tickets if I know the queues are usually long or if I need to visit at a particular time.
CREATE A GOOGLE MAP FOR YOUR TRIP
For every city I visit I create a personalised Google map. It allows you to input the address of your accommodation as well as the locations of all the sightseeing spots, restaurants, bars and any other places that you’d like to check out (you can colour code them too!). It’s a perfect way to get an overview of where things are and how far they are from each other and your accommodation which makes planning each day so much easier.
If you’re traveling with friends, you can share the map with them so they can keep track of the itinerary or even add their own suggestions. And once you’re on holiday, all you need to do is download the map onto your phone so when you’re wandering around exploring you can always check if any places from your wishlist are nearby.
FAMILIARISE YOURSELF WITH YOUR DESTINATION’S LAYOUT
This is super geeky but I spend a lot of time looking at a map of my destination on Google. I want to make sure I have a good understanding of where my accommodation is, how far the nearest bus stop or a train station are and how far it takes to walk between various places. I have a photographic memory so by familiarising myself with the location layout, street grid and the locations of the major landmarks on paper (or screen) makes me feel much more comfortable and confident once I’m actually there.
But even if you’re not amazing at remembering where places are I’m sure you’ll still enjoy daydreaming about walking through the city streets. It will help to create a sense of anticipation and make you even more excited about the upcoming adventure.
FOLLOW INSTAGRAM HASHTAGS
In the age of social media I couldn’t not include Instagram as a research tool. A couple of weeks ahead of your trip, follow hashtags related to your destination to get a sneak peak at the most picturesque photo locations, stunning views and mouth watering foods.
I’ve got mixed feelings when it comes to recommending looking at geotags to see exactly where photos were taken and help you create a list of places to visit. Geotagging has received a lot of criticism lately for fueling overtourism as people flock to beauty spots lacking the infrastructure to support high numbers of visitors. I’d suggest you check out this short article from National Geographic to learn about some of the potential risks of geotagging. I personally only check (and use) location tags when researching potential restaurants, bars, shops or well established tourist spots such as museums. For anything else I prefer to only use more generic tags such as a name of a city or a country a particular spot is in.
DON’T OVERDO IT
Rushing around from one museum to another will only leave you exhausted and all the things you see will merge into one leaving you with no unique or lasting memories of a destination. Saying that, I’m certainly not against visiting museums or galleries but to give myself time to explore at a leisurely pace I don’t schedule more than one or two of them each day allowing plenty of time for cafe stops, lazy brunches and long walks in between. I also don’t force myself to see things of no particular interest to me just because they’re on the top ten places to visit in the city.
For example, when visiting Stockholm I skipped the Abba Museum and the royal palace and instead spent one afternoon exploring Fotografiska and another geeking out at the Vasa Museum (I love anything to do with maritime history). In Oslo I hadn’t visited any of the city’s more than 50 museums and I didn’t feel bad about at all, instead preferring to spend my days exploring parks, enjoying river walks and indulging in plenty of coffee and pastries. It’s best to focus on places and activities that really gets you excited.
Wow this is certainly the longest post I’ve written so far and a very comprehensive guide to how to plan a perfect holiday (can you tell I’m a planner? ;) ). But I’ve never been on a holiday I didn’t enjoy and I’ve never come back disappointed from a trip so I think it works. Hopefully you will find it useful too and I can’t wait to hear where your next getaway is going to be! Let me know in the comments.