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How to Make An Itinerary: The Steps to Perfect Travel Planning

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Creating a travel itinerary is the best way to stay organized, whether a first-time vacationer or a seasoned traveler. A travel itinerary or schedule, whether for a solo business trip or a giant vacation with many other travelers, aids in the planning process and the actual traveling part.

If this is your first time hearing of such a thing, a travel itinerary is a document or digital system that helps organize all the necessary details when planning a trip. It first helps you actually plan to maximize your travel experience but also serves to provide easy access to important information along the way.

Some travelers use their itinerary to remain on budget, some use them to help plan their wardrobe, and some need one to know what they’re doing each day. (And some travelers just go with the wind – our writer Stuart is that type)

If making one of these sounds like a daunting task to you, it can be – but it certainly doesn’t have to be. Some people find that it makes the process much easier; it’s certainly handy along the way.

TL;DR – Make an Itinerary in 5 Easy Steps

Step Description Tools/Apps
1 Choose a Destination Google Maps
2 Choose a Date Your Calendar
3 Download an Itinerary Template or Make Your Own Google Sheets, Microsoft Excel, Canva
4 Settle on Your Travel Plan & Make To-Do Lists Stationary, Microsoft Excel
5 Book Everything in a Careful Order and Fill in the Details Various Booking Platforms

How to Make an Itinerary for Travel

Need help with travel itineraries, your bucket list, or even your packing list? Follow our guide below to create a comprehensive itinerary for your next trip with ease, whether it’s a day trip, business trip, road trip, or round-the-world trip. Not only will you enjoy all the benefits of having one, but you’ll also have an extra memory to keep from your travels!

Steps 1 & 2: Choose a Destination & Dates

You may or may not already have these steps completed – if you want to make a personalized itinerary for an upcoming trip that’s already booked, just skip these parts. But for travelers who don’t yet have dates, destinations, or either, these are actually the first parts of putting together an itinerary. They are interchangeable if you’re truly starting from scratch, and you can start with one or the other.

Selecting Your Destinations

Map in Google Flights
Google Flights / Google Flights

Do you want the perfect sunny beachside getaway or a snowy mountain retreat? Do you want to see a different country or prefer to stay within your state?

These are the fun questions to ask when making travel plans – before the stressful parts come along! There are important considerations to make with destinations, though. As you explore places to visit, check to see what kind of hotels you find.

You don’t want to spend time researching only later to find nothing but dumpy motels or ultra-expensive five-star resorts. Ensure that any hotel candidates have access to transportation and specific activities you may want to do.

At the same time, do a quick search to see if any special events are happening at your destination, such as concerts, conventions, or similar things. On the one hand, you may want to specifically be there for something cool. On the other hand, you may want to avoid places that will be very crowded and expensive because of an event you don’t care about.

See Related: Travel Itinerary Generator: We’ll Plan Your Trip in a Minute!

Selecting Your Travel Dates

Flight Dates in Momondo
Momondo / Momondo

Your destination candidates may have specific periods or seasons that are better and worse for visiting, which helps narrow down dates. For example, you don’t want to be visiting the Greek Islands in January; you also probably don’t want to go to the Bahamas in the summer hurricane season.

Of course, you may only have certain periods or dates to travel. In that case, use the same logic as above, but in reverse. Then, use tools like Google Flights’ “search anywhere” to find a great destination with cheap flights, or use Momondo’s color-coded calendar to see when the cheapest flights to your destination depart.

Sketch it Out

As you research dates and destinations, keep track of what works and what doesn’t. This doesn’t have to be formal – just simple notes organizing places and dates.

You can even jot down a few hotels, activities, and other details, allowing you to visualize everything on Google Maps for the next steps. You should have roughly planned one or more trips at this point, allowing you to either decide on an idea or continue creating a sample itinerary to show others coming along!

See Related: The Traveler’s Guide to Europe: Exploring With A Flexible Itinerary

Step 3: Download an Itinerary Template or Make Your Own

Search for travel itinerary templates on etsy
Etsy / Etsy

Now that you have one or more feasible trips in mind, it’s time to organize everything nicely on paper (or digitally). This is the part that can really help you make sure you haven’t missed anything, as a truly complete travel itinerary will have spaces to fill in for things you may not have thought of before.

Any travel itinerary should include all the details important to both the planning phase and the travel itself. Besides day-by-day or even hour-by-hour scheduling, a good itinerary should have space for:

  • Flight numbers and/or train numbers
  • Ferry boat names and operators
  • All booking information for car rentals
  • Confirmation numbers for everything
  • Hotel addresses and contact details
  • Planned activities’ booking information, contact information, and things to know
  • Anything else along these lines appropriate to your trip that may need later reference

You can simply download free itinerary templates from the internet. Sites like Etsy have more premium options available for purchase and are not very expensive. Getting a pre-made travel itinerary template like this is a great choice for travelers doing this for the first time and who aren’t confident in constructing one themselves or for those who like pretty things.

But you can DIY a travel itinerary. The simplest, best way to do it is on Google Sheets or Microsoft Excel, as it will be seamless to build, add, and edit along the way; you can also access these on your mobile device later.

Those travelers who like pretty things can design something more beautiful on Canva. Use the previously mentioned free itinerary templates as inspiration to make sure you aren’t missing any components.

Step 4: Settle on Your Travel Plan & Make To-Do Lists

A sample itinerary constructed for free with Microsoft Excel
Woodrow Matthews / ViaTravelers

At this point, you’ve decided on a trip plan, selected or built a travel itinerary outline, and possibly even booked some portions of the trip. It’s time to finalize plans, fill in the details, and organize your next (very important) steps.

Start by filling out your travel itinerary fully, whether you’ve booked things or not. However, make it clear if something is already booked – for example, put a checkmark next to it. You want the travel itinerary to come together so you can see what’s done, what needs to be done, and what you may have missed along the way.

You’ll want to leave room in sections for additions and edits later in the process – like adding confirmation numbers and phone numbers once things are booked. If this is a road trip itinerary, organize each day to include mileage estimates, fuel and bathroom breaks, and rough route estimates.

Once the tentative travel itinerary has been built, you can save time by creating to-do lists for finalizing bookings and locking everything in. Preview the next step to see how you can organize these lists strategically to ensure you don’t lose any money in the booking process.

Step 5: Book Everything in a Careful Order and Fill in the Details

Flight Booking Details in Priceline
Priceline / Priceline

Whether you’ve organized your to-do lists as such or not, I highly recommend booking each part of your trip in a specific order, rather than booking package deals. That order is based on free cancellation opportunities along the way.

For example, if you book flights first but then wait more than a day to make your hotel reservations, you run the risk of finding out that your hotel of choice is sold out or suddenly way too expensive. Now, you’re stuck with a non-refundable flight booking. If the situation was the opposite, and you first booked a hotel but then found your flights to be too expensive, the hotel would probably be totally cancelable.

Therefore, I try to stick to this rough order of booking things, depending on cancelability:

  1. Car rentalsCar rentals are usually fully cancelable and/or refundable.
  2. Hotels – These are mostly fully cancelable, but sometimes not within short notice periods, and not at all though some third-party sites.
  3. Activities & excursions – These can go either way, as premium ones sometimes can’t be canceled but are usually pretty flexible.
  4. Flights, trains, buses, or ferries – These are mostly non-refundable, except within 24 hours of booking for most major airlines, so don’t lock these in until everything else is good to go. Some buses and ferries (depending mostly on size) may not be bookable, but you may be able to buy passes ahead of time.

While my order of things usually works, be sure to check each item on your trip, as every provider is different. Of course, there are non-refundable rental car and hotel rates that usually get you a small discount. Personally, I don’t go for these – I value flexibility more than a few percentage points off my total.

See Related: Best Websites for Cheap Flights and Hotels

Step 6: Maintain the Itinerary Over Time

Momondo Pop Up Price Alerts
Momondo / Momondo

Travel itineraries are always prone to unexpected changes, both before and during travel, and a good one will recognize that. Therefore, leave some space in each area to account for them. You will appreciate having a record of things that seem small at the time but become needed later.

For example, if you followed our guide on how to get cheap flights and you set price alerts for your route even after booking, you may find that the price drops, allowing you to rebook and take credit for the difference to use in the future. That’s definitely something to note, as it may result in a new confirmation number, flight route, or other details.

Another example is contacting a hotel or restaurant to make a special request. If you spoke on the phone with someone and asked for something like connecting rooms, note the agent’s name and the date and time of the conversation. This way, you’ll be prepared if the provider doesn’t follow through.

Read Also: Why DIY Travel Itineraries Are the Future

Step 7: Travel and Keep the Itinerary Close

American Airlines First Class Flight Seat
Kim Magaraci / ViaTravelers

Well, if you’ve carefully organized all the information pertinent to your trip, you should have accomplished a few things. For one, you should have successfully accounted for all the small details of a trip and planned quite thoroughly.

For two, you should have all your travel information at your fingertips like a pro. And for three, you should have a beautiful travel itinerary to distribute to your friends, family, or anyone else coming on your trip!

If you want to go the extra mile to impress anyone reading your itinerary, add some tips around the excess space. For example, suggest that everyone download local maps to their phone if they don’t have cellular internet access in a foreign country or a rural area. Or add the local currency of a place with a basic exchange rate so that everyone is prepared.

Most importantly, ensure you can access the itinerary during the trip, as you may need to refer to it for important information – or to know what you’re doing next! You can continue to make notes on it for things that change, just as you’ve been doing all along, or add in memories of each part. You’ll continue to appreciate this for years if you save it and reflect on a well-done trip.

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