After 9 years of creating travel itineraries - I have come to follow my own little process. I even crafted an excel travel itinerary template and I am sharing in this post the methodology and steps I always take !
1. Select the country for the travel itinerary
First pick a country, either like this famous French lottery ad or from an existing bucket list. There is no better ways, just let your mind wander!
(Pardon the bad subtitles encryption, but this ad in France is like a national private joke now. I had to add them myself to share this to the world ! but I am no pro at this at all :) )
My first stop is usually the French Ministry of foreign affair website section called “advices to travelers”. I would seek the similar platform of your own country. On the French one I can get real and up-to-date information about safety, visa process for my citizenship as well as any mandatory vaccines I must have. It also has all the great links to the official visa websites of the country I want to visit. This avoid wasting time searching for visa information and ending up on un-official agent site who do the procedures for you expensively.
2. Create the rough structure of your travel itinerary
Once I have decided that traveling there was safe and my timeline to get the visa was okay - I start into the details of the travel itinerary.
My first step is often to see the couple of recommended itineraries from the lonely planet - either I own the book or sometimes it can be found on their website.
It’s also great because you can buy just the chapters that you need on their shop in digital format so I can have them with me to work wherever I am on my iPad Pro (see how I turned mine into a blogging station).
This way I have a rough idea of names of places, where most of the tourists go. Sometimes their itineraries are great and suit my needs, and sometimes it will be the “what I should avoid list” to stay off-the-beaten track.
Then I start searching, searching and searching the internet with key works such as: itinerary, road trip, one week in, two weeks in etc...
This is to be able to understand the most common routes and get a sense of what can be achieved in the same timeframe as mine.
By that point, you have been exposed to dozens of travel plans, amazing photos and videos. You should start to get an idea of the key sights or activities you want to do.
It’s time to put it into a format that suits you.
3. Put the travel itinerary down into a readable format ! My excel travel itinerary template !
Over the course of 9 years, I almost always work with the same excel file format. You can download the empty template here ! Do customize it to your liking !
Tab 1 is the overall route breakdown - it’s the non-detailed piece that helps me get a rough sense of what can be done in a day and timeline.
I put weeks. Usually colors the dates if they are public holidays or week-end. Then, the following details per day: Morning, afternoon, evening, night, transport and comments.
I would just put lists of visits & sights to see in morning, afternoon and evening to see how busy my days are. I try to plan per half days or full days (then I merge the cells together). I have a night row to be able to add either the city where the night will be spent or if I have to take an overnight bus or train. Transport is where I would put information such as: self-drive, flights ETA, train or other relevant mode of transport. Comments are any other things that I must know at a glance.
Once I have done all the above - in this page I can see a general overview, when I need to rent a car, where I will be tired from an overnight train and need to put the next morning as “rest” for example. It gives a good and quick summary of my trip.
Under this table, I usually copy/paste all the links to amazing blogs, content that have significantly helped me build my travel itinerary. So that when I am traveling, I can go back to them or just to re-read them later on as I continue the fine tuning of the travel itinerary. I also copy paste the website or contact of the travel agent, tours and other diving center I am considering.
4. Time to dive in budgeting the details of the travel itinerary
The second tab is the detailed budget. It’s where I go into the neaty-gritty and I start compiling the numbers. This usually is done by another round of detailed research and some educated guesswork.
As I am still wired as a French person - my currency of reference is always the Euro. Most information you find on the internet are often expressed into the local currency too.
Therefore, in this file on the left side, there is the detailed day to day budget and on the upper part and upper right there are all the information that are permanent: any relevant exchange rates as well as food budget.
My food budgets are my buffer in most itinerary. First, because I love to eat and I don’t like being restricted to try that amazing restaurant I saw on a blog. Second, when you walk all day long, I need to plan for coffee or beer break - these are important to budget too! I mostly budget breakfast unless I have already pre-booked all accommodation and they all contain it.
At the very end of this list of possible detailed expenses, I usually add up the fixed costs: visa, flights and vaccines. Then make the total. Most my budget files have a buffer of 10-15% more (mainly thanks to the oversized food budget) and if I am unsure of a cost, I always put it at the highest that I could find on the internet to be on the safe side. These extras allow as well for souvenirs shopping (since I never budget that).
I keep track on my budget white travelling by using the app called Trabee pocket. I have done a full review of it here.
5. Add more tabs and details to suit your needs
When the travel is a long one - I often create 2 more tabs - they help me with the bookings and as a checklist:
Transport: listing in the date of departure and arrival, as well as from and to. Then I fill up the exact time and company or method. If a private driver I would also add the contact information in the notes.
Hotels: I would list here, the check in and check out date as well as the number of nights. Then once the bookings are made, I add the name of the hotel/hostel and the contact information or website. In some countries, I even add the GPS coordinate or I pre-save the addresses into google maps (to find them quicker when I need to find my way to them).
On average a travel itinerary takes me between 1 week and 3 days depending on how familiar I am with the country I am researching. Since I am always on the lookout for new travel ideas - I often compile lots of notes so I can be much quicker. If I have no idea at all and no-one I know to give me pointers, I can take up to 2 weeks to research a destination fully.
To me making those itineraries is already a good part of the trip, it builds my anticipation and I get really excited when I start looking at all the photos and videos available from other fellow travelers!
Some extra research tips to create your travel itinerary
- Don’t believe the instagram photos only. It takes a lot of skills to take photos of a highly touristic place and making it look like it’s empty. (Like Maya bay in Thailand?) Always research non-glamorous and less qualitative photos of a place just to make sure you set your expectations right.
- If you are a frequent traveler, don’t hesitate to cut some of the things that don’t impress you anymore. This way you can just take time to see the off-the-beaten track and more difficult to reach locations. Like for me: temples. If they are not UNESCO listed, have a very special view point or are en-route, then I don't make special detours to visit one and if it’s the only thing to see in a city, I can skip the city altogether.
- I found that in the Lonely planet, the places that where mentioned with the least amount of details or just as a small paragraph are often the ones that I personally liked the most.
- Don’t rely only on books & internet. Your colleagues, family and friends are the best source of information because they probably have the same expectations as you!
- Don’t be cheap. If you are not on a super long journey, then you don’t always need to follow a backpacker lifestyle. It’s important to know where to spend and where it’s okay to spend more to get a better experience. No-one will judge you if you splurge a bit, and you will forever keep the memory, that is priceless.
- I use extensively google translates which is really useful in countries like Taiwan or Japan when the best online resources are not in English.
Credit for the banner photo: