11 Tips For Crafting the Perfect Travel Itinerary

iStock
iStock

So you’ve chosen the perfect vacation destination. With the easy part out of the way, it’s time to work out the details: What will you do there? Where will you eat? How will you ever manage to see it all in a week?

For some, this is the fun part. Others find this a stressful, overwhelming process. If you fall into the latter camp—or just want to step up your vacation-planning game—we’ve compiled some expert tips on how to make your dream trip a reality.

1. DECIDE WHAT KIND OF TRAVELER YOU ARE.

First, think about what kind of person you are in your daily life. Are you a planner or a go-with-the-flow guy or gal? Do you prefer to plan a bunch of activities on weekends or spend your downtime in front of the telly? When you travel to a new place, your preferences aren’t going to magically change (just like you aren’t going to wear that one outfit you packed—you know, the one that's been languishing in your closet for a year).

“I forgot that I’d be bringing myself with me to Paris,” Travel + Leisure's Richelle Szypulski wrote of the time she almost ruined her solo trip to the City of Lights. “Like many people do, I failed to note that I’d be the same person, with the same tendencies and traits, walking through the Tuileries as I am in Central Park.”

Instead of worrying about what you “should” be doing on vacation, Szypulski recommends figuring out what kind of activity you find most restorative—whether it’s spending a week on the beach, traipsing around a city all day and returning to your hotel just to sleep, or somewhere in the middle. Once you’ve decided what kind of traveler you are, you’ll have some idea of how much or how little to add to your itinerary.

2. DON’T OVERPLAN ...

For Type A personalities, this is easier said than done—but it’s not impossible. There’s always the temptation to cram everything into one trip in a frenzied attempt to get the most bang for your buck, especially when you’re heading abroad. But when you spend your whole vacation rushing from Point A to Point B, you aren’t really experiencing that place. You’re merely ticking items off a to-do list.

Let’s say you’re planning your first or second trip to Europe. Instead of trying to hit four countries in 10 days, travel expert Roni Faida recommends spending time in two major cities that are easy to travel between—Paris and Rome, for instance.

Similarly, you don’t want to overload your itinerary with too many activities. “There’s nothing wrong with just doing one or two things a day,” Faida tells Mental Floss. “There’s nothing wrong with enjoying a lovely brunch and spending an hour in a museum if that’s what you want to do.” In her Travel + Leisure article, Szypulski recommended filtering rather than accumulating pins on Google Maps, or whatever you happen to be using to plan your itinerary, whether it be a Word document or good old-fashioned pen and paper. Decide where you really want to go and resist the urge to keep piling things on.

3. ... BUT DO REMEMBER TO INCLUDE THE IMPORTANT DETAILS.

The business hours, address, and cost of any sites or activities on your itinerary are worth noting. If you need to take any trains or buses from place to place, it’s also helpful to have station addresses and schedules on hand so you don't have to look them up each time.

When traveling to a country where English isn't the official language, ask someone at the front desk to write down the address to your hotel—as well as lesser-known attractions—in the local language. Taxi drivers will most likely recognize the English names of more popular sites, but for places off the beaten track, it sometimes helps to hand them a piece of paper instead of pantomiming and pointing for 10 minutes.

4. MAP IT OUT.

Instead of planning every single day of your trip down to the minute, Lia and Jeremy of the Practical Wanderlust travel blog suggest coming up with a few different options for your daily schedule. “Planning each day of your vacation can set you up for disappointment: maybe one day you wake up not feeling up for the activities you have planned, perhaps the weather turns, maybe you find something else you’d like to do instead once you arrive,” Lia and Jeremy write. “Instead, we recommend planning out a few day options to choose from: perhaps a group of activities all in one area, or a day of seeing museums.”

One way of doing this is to map out the places you'd like to visit. "We like to map stuff out a little bit to group things into manageable days—if you find a cluster of things close to each other, group them together and call that an option for a day’s itinerary," they advise. Google MyMaps is a great tool because it lets you create personalized maps and mark the locations you’d like to check out.

5. GIVE YOURSELF TIME TO REST.

If you do happen to be the type of person who overplans, try adding some scheduled breaks to your itinerary. “I think people have to give themselves permission to slow down on vacation—especially Americans,” Faida says. “We just feel like we have to go, go, go.” How much rest you’ll need depends on whether you prefer fast or slow-paced travel, but make sure there’s at least one block of time where your itinerary is blank. If you’re traveling across time zones, be sure to give yourself the chance to sleep in and adjust. Otherwise, you’ll be especially cranky when you’re bumping elbows with 50 people in front of the Mona Lisa at the Louvre.

6. LAY OFF GOOGLE.

Sure, Google is a helpful tool when it comes to itinerary planning, but it isn’t the only tool. With the way search engine algorithms are set up, you’ll see pretty much the same results that everyone else who Googles “things to do in Los Angeles” gets—and thus, you’ll end up doing what every other tourist is doing.

Instead, Faida says a city’s tourism website is a good place to begin your research. She also recommends tried-and-true methods like turning to a guide book—she should know, she wrote one about Paris—and checking the local newspaper for interesting events once you arrive at your destination.

7. CHECK TO SEE IF ANY FESTIVALS OR HOLIDAYS ARE GOING ON.

Here's one thing you can Google: If you love a good party and being surrounded by a million of your newest best friends, then Oktoberfest in Germany, Holi in India, and Carnaval in Brazil may be on your bucket list. Planning a trip around a festival or holiday is a great way to mingle with locals and experience the culture of a city or country.

Alternatively, if crowds aren’t your thing, it’s helpful to know when certain destinations are best avoided. Major holidays can mean crowded airports and long traffic jams, so you’ll want to do your research and plan accordingly.

8. SCHEDULE A HANDS-ON ACTIVITY.

A pasta-making class in Italy or a tango lesson in Argentina are great ways to learn about the culture while learning a new skill. It’s also a useful strategy for travelers who fret if they don’t have a set schedule. “For me personally, planning in advance to do one or two specific things at specific times each day—even if I end up canceling or changing that plan—is far less intimidating than taking on a blank slate every day,” Szypulski writes.

Don’t feel like learning a new skill when you're supposed to be relaxing? No problem. Many cities also offer free walking tours, which are a great resource if you don’t want to shell out money on a tour guide. For a few options, check out freetoursbyfoot.com and freetour.com.

9. TAKE ADVANTAGE OF YOUR LONG LAYOVER.

The eight-hour layover is often regarded with dread, but what if you turned it into a pre-vacation rather than an internment at the airport? If you still have some energy after your flight, check your bags into an airport locker and head out into the city. You won’t be able to see it all in an afternoon, but it’s plenty of time to enjoy a local meal and get a feel for the place.

(But if you’d rather just sleep for a few hours in a hotel, check out our article about some of the options for daytime hotel stays that are available.)

10. BE FLEXIBLE.

“Things are going to go wrong,” Faida tells Mental Floss. “There will be something that happens that you didn’t expect.” Hopefully, these are minor bumps and not major issues, but it doesn’t hurt to be prepared for all possible outcomes. Even if you have travel insurance, Faida suggests tacking a couple hundred dollars onto your original budget to serve as an emergency fund. It also helps to manage your expectations so that you aren't crushed when situations don't align with the plan you had in mind.

11. TALK TO YOUR TAXI DRIVER.

Again, if you search online for the “best pizza in Chicago,” there’s a good chance you’ll end up somewhere crowded, overpriced, and touristy. Resist the urge to research, and talk to real people instead!

Faida says she always asks taxi drivers, hotel housekeepers, and grocery store clerks for local recommendations on where to eat, where to watch the sunset, and other must-do activities in the area. “I ask the people that most people ignore,” she says. “When I’m in a foreign country, I really want to eat like the locals eat. When you ask a housekeeper or someone who’s not in a managerial position, usually you’re going to find great food on a budget.” Talking to locals is a good idea whether you’re flying to New Zealand or merely driving to a neighboring state. You never know what kind of suggestions you’ll get.

If you ever get stuck while planning your itinerary, look up some travel blog articles about your chosen destination. There's a good chance someone else has already been there and written a detailed account of what they did, saw, and ate. Happy planning!

What Do the Numbers and Letters on a Boarding Pass Mean?

iStock.com/Laurence Dutton
iStock.com/Laurence Dutton

Picture this: You're about to embark on a vacation or business trip, and you have to fly to reach your destination. You get to the airport, make it through the security checkpoint, and breathe a sigh of relief. What do you do next? After putting your shoes back on, you'll probably look at your boarding pass to double-check your gate number and boarding time. You might scan the information screen for your flight number to see if your plane will arrive on schedule, and at some point before boarding, you'll also probably check your zone and seat numbers.

Aside from these key nuggets of information, the other letters and numbers on your boarding pass might seem like gobbledygook. If you find this layout confusing, you're not the only one. Designer and creative director Tyler Thompson once commented that it was almost as if "someone put on a blindfold, drank a fifth of whiskey, spun around 100 times, got kicked in the face by a mule … and then just started puking numbers and letters onto the boarding pass at random."

Of course, these seemingly secret codes aren't exactly secret, and they aren't random either. So let's break it down, starting with the six-character code you'll see somewhere on your boarding pass. This is your Passenger Name Reference (or PNR for short). On some boarding passes—like the one shown below—it may be referred to as a record locator or reservation code.

A boarding pass
Piergiuliano Chesi, Wikimedia Commons // Public domain

These alphanumeric codes are randomly generated, but they're also unique to your personal travel itinerary. They give airlines access to key information about your contact information and reservation—even your meal preferences. This is why it's ill-advised to post a photo of your boarding pass to social media while waiting at your airport gate. A hacker could theoretically use that PNR to access your account, and from there they could claim your frequent flier miles, change your flight details, or cancel your trip altogether.

You might also see a random standalone letter on your boarding pass. This references your booking class. "A" and "F," for instance, are typically used for first-class seats. The letter "Y" generally stands for economy class, while "Q" is an economy ticket purchased at a discounted rate. If you see a "B" you might be in luck—it means you could be eligible for a seat upgrade.

There might be other letters, too. "S/O," which is short for stopover, means you have a layover that lasts longer than four hours in the U.S. or more than 24 hours in another country. Likewise, "STPC" means "stopover paid by carrier," so you'll likely be put up in a hotel free of charge. Score!

One code you probably don’t want to see is "SSSS," which means your chances of getting stopped by TSA agents for a "Secondary Security Screening Selection" are high. For whatever reason, you've been identified as a higher security risk. This could be because you've booked last-minute or international one-way flights, or perhaps you've traveled to a "high-risk country." It could also be completely random.

Still confused? For a visual of what that all these codes look like on a boarding pass, check out this helpful infographic published by Lifehacker.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, send it to bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

Taco Bell is Opening a Taco-Themed Hotel in Palm Springs This Summer

Taco Bell Corp.
Taco Bell Corp.

For some, having a Taco Bell and its cheese-filled menu within driving distance is enough. For others, only a Taco Bell destination vacation will do. This August, the popular fast food chain is going to convert an existing Palm Springs, California, hotel into a burrito-filled Taco Bell getaway for a limited time.

The Bell Hotel will have all the usual amenities—rooms, food, gifts, and a salon—operating with a taco-themed cosmetic facelift. The nail salon, for example, will feature Taco Bell-inspired nail art. (Though we're not entirely sure what that consists of—possibly nails that resemble hot sauce packets.) The gift shop will feature Taco Bell apparel. Guests can also enjoy the standard variety of Taco Bell menu items. According to Thrillist, some new additions to their line-up are expected to be unveiled.

The as-yet-undisclosed hotel in Palm Springs will be operating as a Taco Bell partner for five nights total. As with pop-up stores and other publicity campaigns, the expectation is that guests will share their bizarre Taco Bell resort experience on social media and create some buzz around the brand. Taco Bell is no stranger to audacious marketing, as in the case of their Taco Bell Cantina in Las Vegas, which books weddings. Recently, the company also began making home deliveries via GrubHub.

The Bell Hotel website is now accepting sign-ups so fans can be notified when reservations open. The facility is expected to open August 9.

[h/t CNBC]

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