Drawing up a daily itinerary

Make a list of the sights and activities you want to do and figure out which to do when (Photo by Reid Bramblett)
Make a list of the sights and activities you want to do and figure out which to do when

A surefire method to make sure you get to see and do everything on your list

You’ve been so careful planning every other aspect of your trip; don’t leave the sightseeing to chance. I’ve seen too many people arrive at the doors of the museum or church that was to be the highlight of their trip only to find that it’s closed that day. And they’re leaving tomorrow. 

You shouldn't micromanage your entire vacation, but it doesn’t hurt to do a little advance planning to make sure you manage to squeeze in at least what’s most important to you. 

After being shut out of my share of sights by not reading the fine print ahead of time, I’ve come up with a fail-safe method for creating daily agendas. I happily ignore my schedules as often as I follow them, but at least the process of drawing them up alerts me to the odd hours of special sights. 

The following steps may seem like a chore, but they take less than 30 minutes on the train on your way into town (or in your hotel room on the night before you arrive). 

Some people prefer to go with the flow and see stuff as they come across it, and that’s perfectly fine. But if missing Shakespeare's Globe will ruin your trip, this bit of advance paperwork can be a godsend. 

Although this section deals mainly with sights, don’t forget to look for, and mark, any restaurant or activity that you want to be sure you hit. Many restaurants close at least one day of the week; if you’re in town for two days, make sure you’re not going to miss that great-sounding pub.

Other “extras” to check the hours on include day trips as well as cultural events (for example, does the theatre have performances every night? When are the soccer matches?).

  1. Write all the sights you want to see down the left side of a piece of paper. Next to each, write the open hours, and then make a third column showing the day(s) each is closed. Underline any opening or closing hour that’s exceptional (say, if something closes at 6pm instead of the town’s usual 4 or 5pm; underline the “6pm” part). For outstanding exceptions (wow, it closes at 7:30pm), double-underline. Do the same for any unusual closed day. Mark places that stay open through siesta. If any sight has particularly restricted hours or days, put a box around it.
  2. Below the list of sights, make a list of day trips and other activities you want to fit in (a show at a West End theatre, a tour of Westminster, a pub crawl).
  3. Take a second piece of paper and make blank daily schedules for each day you’ll be in town, with each page marked with a day of the week. Put in headings for Morning (leave five to six lines), Lunch (one line), Afternoon (five to six lines), Dinner (a line), and Evening (two to three lines).
  4. Use the hours-at-a-glance sheet you made in step 1 to fill in your daily itinerary chart smartly. Stick the earliest-opening sights first thing in the morning, the late-closing ones at the end of the day.
  5. Fill in the later morning and earlier afternoon with the sights that keep more standard hours. Write on the schedule a time to arrive at each sight and when you need to leave in order to get to the next one. Schedule things that aren’t as important to you in between things that are. That way, if you find yourself running short on time, you can cut sights out and still not miss the best stuff. Do this with a map in front of you, and budget time to get between sights. Don’t pack the schedule too tightly, and don’t forget to write in things like “tea break.”
  6. Stuff the itinerary in your pocket when you go out for the day. Cross things off as you see them, and if you misjudged time and miss something, circle it so you can rearrange your afternoon or next day’s schedule to fit it in. Bonus: These itineraries always help me later when I'm two weeks behind in writing my journal.
  7. Don’t over-schedule yourself. Build in one day each week for relaxation and decompression, or for getting the laundry done, or to cushion your plans against impromptu day trips or festivals. Do the same for each day, leaving a bit of "free" time in there for waiting in the ticket line at the train station, heading to the post office to mail postcards, going shopping, or just sitting at an outdoor cafe table to sip a cup of tea.
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