Friday, March 16, 2018

plan'n'organize your individual trip to perfection

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I have to remind myself that this blog's focus is travelling, and although this comes along with the extra-niche art - including art trips to exhibitions just around the corner, since my around the corner might be your around the globe -  I sometimes focus too much on art and artsy people. This has to stop, I need to get back to the root of this site: travelling bye:myself.
Especially after my book review on Meike Winnemuth's trip hopefully made your mouth water for more travel.

Don't worry, you don't have to walk this adventurous trail alone - I'll help you to plan and organize your trip safely.
(Photo: © Mimi Green )

Today I will put in words what I've already published in a brief, instructive video: How to plan and organize your trip from scratch. Whether you're going back to re-explore a place you've been before or you're conquering new frontiers, whether you'll go bye:yourself or with a large group, the following concept has worked for me for years now, so if you need a little support, try it out and let me know what you're thinking and if and how I could improve it.

The following strategy is based on a two to four weeks vacation. The concept and structure can be adapted to a shorter trip or even a weekend. If you are travelling more than a months, you might not need to get that organized beforehand since getting stuck in a place or 'losing' a couple of days won't affect you so much. If you have only a quite limited amount of time and you want to see as much as you can without racing mindlessly, the following approach will certainly help you making the best of it.

Choosing a Destination

I guess that everybody has a bucket list of places to be visited before...kicking the bucket. If you will be travelling by yourself - and possibly for the first time, there are places more recommendable than others.

I guess Europe should be easy everywhere, no matter which means of transportation you choose: there is an extensive system of public transportation basically everywhere, and of course you always have the option to rent a car.

In the US you're fine as long as you're driving, which might make you not only a single traveller, but a lonely one, too. Since I'm not driving, I did everything by public transport which can be a bit complicated and tricky. So since travelling the US by yourself, you're most likely to really stay entirely by yourself, I would first recommend another region where you're chances of meeting other travellers are bigger.

In Asia, I'd recommend Thailand to you newbies, since there are many single travellers (men and women), you'll find a decent system of public transport and you have the option to join organized trips to remote points of interest (which allows you to get in touch with other individual travellers).

For the same reasons, in South America, I'd go for Peru. Here you can buy a bus ticket that brings you from Lima all the way down to Lake Titicaca along the so called "Ruta del Gringo", i. e. passing all the destinations of interest where you can individually stay as long as you wish before taking the bus to the next stop. By the way: An extended travel info on Peru is planned for next month, so stay tuned.

Waiting at the bus station in Ica for the night bus to Arequipa.

Choosing an Itinerary

A assume that you don't want to spend your entire vacation at a beach front hotel. To do this, the only advice you need from me is to stock up on sun screen.

If you want to see as much as comfortably possible over a limited amount of time, I suggest you get a good guide book and consult the internet. Since I'm living in Germany, I cannot recommend guide books in your language, in German I like Dumont a lot, but they are quite conservative. A good guide book will already trace a certain route, so that will give you a first direction how to travel. According to your interest you can skip or add stops or travel the suggested route in the opposite direction. But a book will be only the basis of your planning, you should cross check and double check your itinerary and the stops on the internet. Here you can also inquire how long it takes to go from one place to  another. Don't even think about calculating your travels based on distances in miles resp. kilometers: going from Hamburg to Berlin takes 90 minutes by a rapid train. The same distance by bus in a Latin American country will take like 6 hours. So the best way is to look for the bus and train schedules online and verify how long it actually takes to go from A to B.

map of peru - made with google maps
Example for planning the South part of a Peru-trip,...

screenshot of cruz del sur timetable
...and verifying schedules, prices and other options. Plus you can see, that going by bus takes 3,5 hrs for approx. 160 miles.
Most tickets can be bought online, and you see, that the prices differ a lot and should be bought in advance if you want to save money.

I'd recommend to foresee at least two nights for a city, if it's a good gateway for day trips, add one more night for each trip.

Unless it's a big city with a large number of points of interest, I plan to arrive in the (early) evening so I can go for a short walk and grab a bite. Then I spend an entire day and leave at noon or in the early afternoon of the third day - to arrive at my next destination again in the evening.

At beach destinations I add about two nights to relax. In addition this gives me the opportunity to run some errands like for instance doing laundry. Although most laundrettes will have your laundry ready within 24 hours, it's always safer to slate for an extra day.

Talking 'bout clothes: Like I wrote before, I'm not doing backpacks, especially when I'm meandering through a country and don't stay longer in one place. My experience is that after a while you either a) carry a big load of mixed mess around because all your stuff is cluttered, or b) you are repacking your junk at every destination anew, or c) you end up wearing the same clothes day by day to avoid a) and b). I'm using a large travel bag with wheels.

Note: Starting your planning, keep the time difference in mind, especially when travelling East; you will loose a couple of hours. It happened to me on my first trips to Asia: I didn't consider that I'd arrive only in the evening, in addition tired from the long flight, so I just crashed. This way, having booked two nights, I had only one day for a big city.

Actually a little visualization helps, so maybe you want to download one of these free calendar templates.

A great tool to compose an individual trip is Tripwolf. You can pick a country, a region, or a city and you'll get many useful information and ideas what to visit. It's not as complete as a guide book, but it's a good supplement to your other sources. You can use it on your computer or download the app that is working also offline.

Good for you: If you happen to go to one of the countries I've travelled*, at the beginning of every review, you'll find my itinerary. It's embedded in a dynamic map which gives you a good overview and allows you to follow it as it is - or easily alternate it to your needs.

Research and planning - whether online or in books - is part of the fun.

* This blog is still a baby. If it was human, it could hardly walk. Therefore presently you'll find only a fraction of the destinations I'll introduce. Thanks for your patience and understanding. Besides, I'm always willing to answer your individual questions.

Checking Schedules and Determine Length of Stops

Checking schedules doesn't mean only checking domestic flights, trains, and busses. Checking schedules should include also Public Holidays in the region you're travelling in order to get stuck or pay too much (e. g. Semana Santa, the "Holy Week" before Easter, it's the peak holiday season in Latin America. Don't even think about not booking beforehand or you won't get tickets and end up at the most expensive accommodations).

You should find the answer to all your questions regarding your trip such as visa regulations, vaccination requirements, flights and accommodations, voltage - or public holidays - in the links I put together in my World's Most Complete Traveller Information.

You should also check visiting info of attractions you want to see like for instance museums or even national parks. In the US, at many museums there's a (sponsored) day where the entrance is free or on a 'pay what you wish' basis, so you might want to take advantage of that. In Europe, most museums are closed on Mondays - and some originally enough on Tuesdays, so you better check their website thoroughly beforehand.

You should also pay the official online tourist info a visit to check if there's something special on like a theater play, an exhibition, or a sporting event you'd like to see.
So after checking all this, you'll be able to determine how long you'll stay in each place - and possibly adapt your itinerary accordingly.

The same way I determine the route crossing a country I sketch strolls through cities and neighborhoods, i. e. I check where the points of interest are, what's a good time being there (it doesn't make sense to plan to go to a museum that opens only at 11 a. m. at the beginning of your day)

map of lima - made with google maps
Example for planning of a city tour: Starting at the Parque de las Leyendas, visiting the Larco Museum, and ending the day at the Museo de Antropologia y Arqueologia - easily walkable, even in the summer heat.


My early booking - and early packing for that matter - are legendary. All my friends make me look like a fool laughing at me booking flights and accommodations and sometimes bus and train tickets months ahead. And at the end they are all jealous when I get the best seats for the best prices.
Same goes for accommodations whereby I actually do prefer those where I can cancel the booking free of charge up to let's say a week before arrival. Although I seldom change the route and dates, it does happen that I still stumble over an even better deal after I booked so it's good to be able to alter or cancel. If the deal is too good and cannot be changed - I still go for it.

An often heard argument against my way of booking so much ahead is that it makes me all inflexible. Yes, that's true, but think about it: if I have three weeks, i. e. 21 days, and want to see let's say six to eight places - how flexible can I be? I will have only two to four days for each destination, and checking beforehand usually gives me a pretty good idea, where I can happily leave after 36 hours and where I should stay for a couple of days. A limited amount of time for a roadtrip doesn't leave too many options to be 'flexible', anyway, so why not booking ahead an saving time and money?!

I probably don't need to list all the websites like skyscanner and kayak and expedia where you can find flights at reasonable to cheap prices. Unfortunately there is no such thing as the best site. So if you want the best deal, there is no way around checking all the different sites plus the airlines' pages.

The same goes for accommodations. I already wrote in an earlier post that there is definitely no website comparing all the other pages plus all the hotels' sites and showing you the best price. This can be an orientation, but you might always find a better deal on another site. Another thing that I already wrote in that post is, that booking in advance might be worse in certain areas like some Asian countries, Peru, Mexico - places where you can easily negotiate a good bargain on the spot. So here you have to do a little research, too.

Although Airbnb has conquered the lodging market almost ten years ago, I've never ever stayed with them. Simply because I enjoy having someone cooking me breakfast and making my room while I'm gone - I love hotels. But if you are travelling by yourself and do want company from time to time, why not give it a try?! But quite honestly - I've never heard from any of my friends that stayed somewhere through Airbnb that they made Pizza with their host or all the great stuff the company promises in their commercials. My friends often found the key behind an old flower pot or had to pick it up at the dry cleaner's next door and don't even have a clue what their host looks like; there was no Pizza involved.

Another thing you should consider when booking an accommodation is a convenient location (or you will end up in one of the places I described earlier). This is another thing I check beforehand on google maps and print it out.

I picked Lima for the examples in this post because it's quite typical: Although there is a - thus a little confusing - bus system that gets you to every part of the city, you cannot check it on Google Maps beforehand. In many other cities it's possible and makes planning a bit easier.
In my example you see that the hotel is very close to the old town and about less than 4 miles from the last spot on the above sketched sightseeing tour. 
Here's another example - this time from Kuala Lumpur. You see that when the public transportation system is more 'regulated', you can get a very precise routing door to door. 

If you intend to use public transport, just search the city and key in 'public transport' and you'll be surprised. This way I've even found online bus schedules for posh beach destination Naples in Florida where yet local people were convinced they had no public busses - here's the proof.

(Note: While this blog is growing, I will add more and more reviews of my trips and let you know if booking in advance is advisable for a particular place. Meanwhile, please feel free to contact me if you have any questions or need any recommendation - I'm always looking forward hearing from you!)

I  💙  PAPR

Although this super-hip headline might tell you differently, I'm old. I'm not a Digital Native. Although I love the Internet and every wonder that comes with it - I'm writing a Blog, after all! Still there are things I want on paper: I'm hauling big books around the world, and I like my plans and information and confirmations and tickets in paper. So I'm printing everything out (like for instance maps like those map excerpts I posted above).

It came handy more than once being able to show the cab driver quickly a piece of paper with the hotel address (and sometimes even a small photograph) on it instead of desperately waiting for internet connection while smiling at him apologetically.

Plus I like how from stop to stop the folder holding all the printed info gets lighter and lighter.

Single travel with a safety net

Maybe it's you first trip by yourself and you feel a teeny bit insecure. Or you want to make sure to get in touch with other travellers. Or you are simply a bit lazy and want to leave the planning to others. Well, you still don't need to go on a All Inclusive hotel vacation. There are agencies organizing either the entire route or a part of it for you. It works like the Hop On Hop Off system you know from cities: You buy a pass and you can join the tour on certain days at certain stops. Sometimes there are even some day trips and tours included.
The biggest one covering every continent is In Asia you have, and drives you through South America. You can travel Europe by, Australia by, and in the United States offers travel passes.

Although it's convenient and fun, you should compare the prices to individual booking and reconsider: Especially the tours in Asia and South America are really pricey compare to what you would pay if you organize your trip by yourself.
But it is definitely an option.

Going by Greyhound is neither as fast nor as elegant as this canine logo symbolizes; but it's a decent, acceptable option.

Before I leave you to your books and brochures and websites, please note that I'm not a fan of all this "the best...", "the ultimate..." - often followed by a 10 or a 20 (or if the blogger is as busy as a beaver, it even might go up to a 100).

Don't wanna read this, don't wanna write it, neither.

What I've sketched above, is how I do it and how it is working best for me. And if you even find an inspiration or a new idea, I'd be very happy. If I encourage you by this thorough planning to try travelling bye:yourself for the first time, that would be just great, and I'll be glad to assist.

So if you have any questions, don't hesitate to contact me - and follow me, not only around the world, but on this blog, on facebook, twitter, and instagram.

If you choose to pin this post, please use this picture:


  1. Planning a trip takes time and preparation for sure. And so much depends on what you like, what you want to experience, and what the country has to offer.

    1. That's right - and exploring all that in advance for me is big part of the fun - hence I can imagine that for others it must be torture doing research which bus goes where at what time etc. Anyways, happy travels to you, Patricia

  2. Such great tips. I think the next hurdle is to have the confidence to do It!

  3. There's so much information in here that I had never thought of before. Great post! I'll definitely be putting some of these tips to use when I'm getting ready to travel.

    Megan -

  4. There is some really useful advice on here! I have pinned it to my Travel Planning board, as I think a lot of others would benefit from some of these helpful tips and tricks :) x

  5. The best way to do it - just to pack and go, don't think so much because otherwise you won't make it. I agree totally with your tips and I didn't know for some, thanks for sharing it! And I agree that the Europe is the best start if you want to travel solo!

  6. I am so glad I came across a blog like this. The advice you provided are really good. It's not easy to plan individually to be honest. Thanks for sharing.

  7. Loved all your suggestions. I have a friend who is planning on travelling around Europe on her own and is very nervous. I'll definitely be passing this on to her!

  8. Last time, I choose destinations quite randomly. My company sends me somewhere and I stay over weekend. Also I follow my friends and visit them all around the world.

  9. I am going to Tuscany next month so I do like the sound of Tripwolf to give me some travel recommendations on what I should see and do when I am out in Italy. Have you ever been to Italy before?


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