Location, Location, Location

When trying to figure out where to go, keep in mind that the destination should try to encompass all the interests of the traveling parties.  For instance, for one of our trips, my husband, Paul, was interested in visiting some World War I battle sites.  I wanted to tour the wine country, castles and relax at the beach.  Especially in Europe, you’ll be able to find destinations that have something for everyone.  However, it is realistic that all your destination desires may not be close to one another.  This is when looking at a map (I know, right?  Who looks at those anymore?) is your best bet.  Follow the terrain, Google images and scout out things to do via Trip Advisor or Lonely Planet.  The first thing we do is get our hands a little dirty with some simple research to create a draft budget and itinerary.

For instance, my husband, Paul, already knew distinctive sites where parts of World War 1 (WW1) were fought, Belgium and France.

So, we decided to plan our trip in these countries.  We studied a map of Belgium, then of France to understand the lay of the land.  We wanted to hit major sites in Belgium then work our way through the western front in France to some of the wine country then on to the Mediterranean coast (French Riviera).  We decided that driving would be better than taking a train due to the multiple stops along the way.  This helped us put together a plan for the details.  It’s easier to create an outline first, then fill in the blanks later.

For example, here’s what a high-level draft itinerary looks like:

Click for High-level Itinerary

Peñíscola, Spain

Next step is to fill in the gaps of where to go.  While looking at the country maps, list the most desirable points of interest to visit.  Google Maps usually provides points of interest when viewing the maps.  Mark up a map if necessary because this may determine your travel route.  This approach may seem a bit literal, but this is the way great trips are coordinated.  Get creative by studying the route and finding towns with interesting names that stand out, then Google the town, view images and read up on the history, reviews, etc.  Once I saw a town on a map in Spain called Peñíscola.  Yes, that’s right.  As my immaturity set in, I laughed and laughed, then researched the town, images, even watched a video about it.  It was seriously the most amazing place I had ever seen.  We added this destination to our itinerary and it was our favorite out of all the other places we visited in Spain thus far.  You’d be surprised what you find.  It’s not conventional, but worth the research.

French Riviera

When researching multiple destinations allow enough time to see as much as you want.  There will be times when there are not enough hours in the day.  When driving between towns, pick ones that are not too far away from each other.  You can Google “Distance from A to B” to ensure you have enough drive time, meal time and tour time in a day.  It makes sense to create an hour or so buffer for travel time because GPS devices may not be as reliable as advertised.  Be prepared to get lost at least once.  Because of this, it’s best to tour no more than 2-3 towns in 1 day.  Also, you might want to save time to stop somewhere not on your itinerary along the way.  You may think that just town hopping may be OK.  Just remember, many towns have parking issues, traffic and lots to see, so make it count.  Find points on the map that seems interesting to stay overnight (or a few days) along the way to your final destination.  This helps break up the travel time and allows you to explore towns in more depth, while minimizing stress during your trip.

Add any preferred towns, possible attractions and travel distance to your draft itinerary.

For example, based on our Belgium/France trip, we decided to fly into Brussels then rent a car from there.  I followed the road map from Brussels to a major point in WW1 Belgian history, Ypres.  Paul definitely wanted to go there!  I was curious to spot a castle or two on the route so I Googled “Castles from Brussels to Ypres.”  I found Graventsteen Castle in a town called Ghent on the way to Ypres.  Total score!  We both got what we wanted in the first leg of the trip.  I added this attraction to our list and now our itinerary started to get more detailed.

Alternating interests truly creates a travel balance.  This will help prevent any information overload or boredom if there’s too much of one thing or another.  Definitely break it up!

Verdun, France

Referencing our travel plans, there was only so much war history I could handle.  I wanted to learn how to drink a perfect champagne (OK, or just drink champagne).  We looked at the map and found a perfect route down to the Champagne region.  Hence, alternating interests.  Then referencing the map once again, we found Verdun, which is another WW1 site close to the wine country.  After another historical information overload, we decided to shift our gears in a more leisurely direction.  We knew we wanted to hit the coast, and some towns on the map totally stood out.

All these items were added to our To Do list.  Here’s an example of a more detailed itinerary.

Click for More Detailed Itinerary

Keep using this as a template until you have all your preferred locations listed.  Once the locations and attractions have been added, next is to start thinking about when to go and for how long?


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