Le Monsieur and I spent most of the weekend hunkered down at home to start mapping out our itinerary and booking activities for our trip to Italy at the end of the month. We’ve learned the hard way that it can be easy to fritter away precious vacation days if we don’t plan well, but we’re still trying to find that perfect balance between scheduling activities and leaving time open for spontaneity and relaxation.
Our first visit to Rome was brief (3 full days) and we felt as though we barely scratched the surface. We’d done very little planning ahead of time (we’d mostly focused on the longer Florence portion of that trip). We did squeeze in a guided Coliseum tour, and walked ourselves through the Forum ruins, the Vatican museum and St. Peter’s Basilica, several churches and cathedrals, the Spanish Steps, the Galleria Borghese, and (as we tend to do) spent a lot of time wandering the streets trying to decide where to have lunch. And gelato. It didn’t help that Europe was having a major heatwave that year, and our enjoyment was diminished by discomfort in 90+F degree temperatures.
In a city like Rome, (or Paris, for that matter) it can be very hard to narrow down what to see and do, especially on a shorter visit. We’ll be in Rome for 4 full days, and are trying to be more strategic this time.
- Break it down. Sometimes we schedule activities by locale keeping to one area or neighborhood per day. For this trip, le Monsieur suggested that we set aside each day for a specific type of venue…Museum Day, Park/Monument Day, Shopping Day, etc. It sounded like as good a launch point as any.
- Get acclimated. We’ve learned to keep our first day in a new time zone relatively unscheduled, in case of jet lag or fatigue, or “tender” tummies. For our first full day we’ve downloaded some self-guided walking tours, and will spend as much time outdoors and moving as we can manage to get oriented and help ourselves adjust to the time change.
- Plan meals. We’re making lunch reservations in the vicinity of planned activities each day, rather than leaving it to chance. This will save a lot of time and angst!
- Prioritize. We’ve pre-purchased tickets for some activities and guided tours that have limited hours or availability, so we can plan around those.
- Pace ourselves. Though there are so many things to see and it’s tempting to try to schedule every minute, we’ve learned that there’s a point of diminishing returns. We’d rather see and do fewer things each day and enjoy them fully than feel rushed through or at the point of Sensory Overload where it all becomes a blur. Some of our very best moments traveling have been those unscheduled breaks spent sitting, sipping and people watching.
After Rome, we head to Lake Como for 3 nights/2 days. We’re not scheduling much for this portion of the trip aside from dinner reservations; the idea is to build in some down time in the middle just to relax and be off the clock.
Then on to Venice for 5 nights/4 days. We’ll be using many of the same strategies for scheduling our time in Venice as we have for Rome. We’ve already booked a couple of tours/activities that I’m super excited about and am looking forward to sharing with you.
We rely on a variety of sources for suggestions for accommodations, activities and dining. Le Monsieur has subscribed to several travel-related publications over the years, and regularly reads a lot of travel and “foodie” websites like Chowhound. I’ve picked up some ideas on Pinterest, as well as from other bloggers. We’ve learned to make notes when we hear of something that might be interesting, and then refer back to them as we begin planning.
How do you set your itineraries when traveling? Do you mostly plan ahead, leave it until you arrive, or a mix of both?
Images via Wikimedia Commons. Sadly, most of the photos I took on our first trip to Italy (2011) were lost when my laptop crashed a few months later. Now, in addition to backing up my laptop to an external drive, I upload all of my photos to Dropbox!