Planning any trip is no small task – no matter where you’re headed.
While many travellers throw caution to the wind, trusting they will find what they need along the way… among our global travelling buddies we've found that planning beforehand goes a long way -- particularly if you're only going for a weekend.
Top 5 tips for planning a weekend itinerary
1. Explore all avenues – Google is your friend
When it comes to planning any away trip, the first and best place to start is with our good friend: Google.
Using Google’s endless searches, you can look up popular places, trusted hotels, B&Bs or even popular restaurants and bars, so that, before you plan any activities, you know you have a reliable list of food and accommodation options available to you – especially if, when you get there, one turns out to be less-than-favourable or otherwise, fully booked.
Apply search terms like “best hotels in Cape Town” or “top restaurants in South Africa” and you will quickly be presented with a number of options – and usually, most, if not all, of these will be good, respected or popular institutions.
This is the first and possibly the most important step to begin with, especially if you don’t want to endure a disappointing experience in a new (or even familiar) place.
2. Check TripAdvisor and Instagram for reviews
Whether you love it or hate it, TripAdvisor is still one of the most indispensable travel resources we, as modern travellers and digital nomads, have within virtual reach. You can find almost any place on TripAdvisor – and now, they even rate activities and experiences too, making it easier to reach a final decision about a town or guided tour.
While not everyone gives helpful or even credible reviews, by and large, there are some trustworthy and frank ones to be found on TripAdvisor. In fact, some reviews even contain valuable nuggets of information (like whether a hotel is child-friendly, or what type of cuisine a restaurant specialises in), and can be extremely helpful when it comes to planning a trip or even narrowing down your endless list of options to a ‘top five’ instead.
And, because you can also ask questions on TripAdvisor, you might even be able to dig up more user-specific information too.
When checking for the most accurate overall rating of a place, as a rule of thumb, it’s a good idea to look at the past six months. I’m not saying you need to read through all 50 reviews from October – but checking three from last month and then one or two from further back can show you whether the place under review has improved or worsened, especially when it comes to consistently adequate service, a change of ownership (which can mean improvements…) or even new amenities and offerings.
Now, while many travellers know to turn to TripAdvisor for sound advice, honest reviews and of course, an overall sense of a place – few people realise that the visual social media platform, Instagram, can be equally helpful when it comes to finding good reviews and positive experiences online.
Although Instagram users are unlikely to post a picture of a bad travel experience (no doubt captioned ‘#WorstTripEver’) – there are some pearls of travel wisdom to be found on Insta.
In fact, some of the best travel ideas and destinations have, by chance, been sourced through this social app, especially as our followers generally post varied and interesting content, offering insight into both local and global spots that even the most travel-conscious user might otherwise never have discovered.
And, with the introduction of features like the photo story, bookmark tool and share option, prospective trip-planners can easily view, save and share their next great idea.
But, if you still have reservations, need a little more convincing or just want more background info, click on the Location and see what other Instagrammers have posted about the eatery, guesthouse or area you are interested in.
3. Plot travel times and distances using Google Maps
Especially if you have to work on a tight travel schedule or need to cram in activities, looking at Google Maps for an indication of directions, distances and local landmarks can be oh-so-useful.
Whether you’re travelling by foot, car or bus, you can measure the general travel distance (which gives a pretty fair representation – although this can change on the day, according to live traffic) from Point A to B and even plot out a safe route.
If you don’t want the hassle of printing out directions, re-opening the Maps app or following a chatty GPS system’s guidance, take a screenshot of the map, instructions or points of interest, which you can use as a landmark, or when you need to ask a local resident for directions.
It’s also helpful to make note of important street names and nearby places, just in case you get lost along the way – after all, you never know what might jog your memory and put you back on track!
4. Pack what you need – and a little bit extra, just in case
Ah, packing… it’s every travellers’ worst nightmare and, in many instances, it is easily the trickiest part of any trip! Even if you’re planning a weekend away, the conundrum of what to pack – and what to leave behind – is an ever-present issue, especially with limited car or luggage space.
Even if you know what weather a country or region is under, it’s always a good idea to pack for both warmer or cooler weather, just in case the winds of change roll in.
So, while you might expect glorious sunshine and humid conditions for your trip, it’s both practical and sensible to pack in a warm jacket or wind-breaker of some sort, to combat wind, rain or anything else that might be thrown at you.
Likewise, when it comes to comfortable footwear, pack in some of each kind, so that, if on your weekend away, you want to head to the beach and do a hike, you can rest assured knowing you packed both trusty climbing shoes and a slip-on pair of sandals for a quintessential sunset stroll along the shore…
Above all else, remember to pack according to your trip. If you know you’re staying in a luxury hotel, you probably only need to pack in a toothbrush and toothpaste (although some even provide those!)… whereas if you’re camping or staying in a backpackers’ lodge, basic toiletries (shower gel, a sponge, a clean towel) and toilet paper are a good idea. In fact, you might even want to take your own pillow, sheet or light blanket so that you know you have fresh bedding and something to keep you warm too!
When it comes to day journeys and overnight trips alike, pack in things like food for the road (dried fruit and nuts, health bars and water) and some form of entertainment (whether it’s your book, iPad or child’s teddy) to ensure both hunger and boredom are kept firmly at bay… at least until you reach a suitable pit-stop or final destination, that is.
5. Always decide together
And finally, irrespective of who you plan to travel or meet up with, always remember to take their needs, level of fitness/health and personal hobbies into account. Just because you love the beach doesn’t mean your partner wants to visit every beach around anymore than you want to hike every hill and mountain with them!
As with anything in life, the best solution is to find common ground and shared interests. If your group of friends are music-lovers, then you know a concert in a park might set the tone for a memorable weekend – but if, in fact, they are actually history buffs, then find a cool museum and explore that with them instead! Likewise, if some of you enjoy adrenaline-fuelled experiences and the rest enjoy quiet, indoor activities, plan a mix of both so that you meet each other halfway.
Also, keep in mind that what works for one group, might not work for your next travel buddies because you can’t expect your parents to enjoy doing the same things as your young kids or twenty-something college friends… Take everyone’s wishes into account and do your best to find balance, so that everyone, whether young or old, is accounted for and that no one feels left out.
This is especially important if you have relatives or friends who have different beliefs or follow a religion that doesn’t allow for, say, drinking… If that’s the case, don’t chose ‘bars only’ for your itinerary, find spots where both drinkers and non-drinkers can feel comfortable and at ease, because this will ensure that everyone has a good trip, no matter their personal beliefs or individual differences!
There you have it! Five useful tips for planning a weekend itinerary – and the best part of all? These can generally be applied to any travel excursion, no matter where in the world you’re headed or who you’re going there with…
Travel tip shared by Tamlyn Amber Wanderlust