How to plan a trip away 1 – Itinerary

While we’ve been in Germany, our pattern has been to have a trip away somewhere every few weeks or so. Seeing other places in Europe was very much a reason for coming here in the first place. This blog post is about what we do to plan and book stuff for such trips. It was getting a bit long, so I’ve split it into how we do general/itinerary type planning, and then tomorrow you can get the one about how we find accommodation.

Where

Within a couple of weeks of getting settled in Germany (so, October), Joe and I made a list of where we wanted to go in our year, and we have stuck to this list. This is the list of anywhere that’s more than 4 hours to drive to. Less than that, you could just rattle off in a weekend with maybe one night away, so no great planning required there.

Near the top of the list was Italy, where I have family in the north and, apparently, there’s a few things to see further down as well. So I’ll use that Italian trip as the case study for this blog post.

Sometimes we’ll just go with, “OK, I am NOT leaving Europe without seeing the Colosseum”. So that adds Rome to our itinerary and of course, while we’re there, we might find other things to see as well.

When

Joe and I are both self-employed, so we can just up and go anytime. Joe just needs to make sure he keeps an eye on his emails so while he’s away he can accept bookings for when he’s back. Otherwise he has an unpaid holiday followed by a very lean patch for two weeks.

With the kids, because they don’t have big exams, their schools are happy enough for us to take them out during term time – provided we do obvious stuff like ask in advance, and don’t take the piss. So far we have only taken them out for an extra week in February – the school holiday was one week, and we went to Italy for two. Plus I took Jack out the one day we went to Ruhpolding. We are very lucky in this regard – I believe this is not the case for locals!

Molly is the hardest to persuade that a visit to the Colosseum might be at least as rewarding as a day chatting with her school friends and making sure she attends football practice.

For Italy we chose February because we planned to have a few days in Alto Adige with our German friends, and that’s when they were going skiing.

Itinerary

So once we pick the country, we plan an itinerary that is about 4/10 on the “ambitious” scale. We like to spend at least two nights somewhere, if not three. More about why a “one-night stand” doesn’t work a little later. We like to focus on, as I said further up, the sort of towns or places are on our list of “I am NOT leaving Europe without seeing [ xx ]”. There’s always a longer list of “What about here? How about there?”. And if we make it to even one of these places, we are doing very, very well. We can’t see it all, so instead we ensure that we go to the one that most important to us.

We use Google Maps to work out how long it will take us to drive somewhere, and whether we want to save a few euro and not go on the motorway (there’s an “avoid tolls” option in Google maps). An 8-hour drive would be the absolute maximum for a day’s travel, and we would only do this right at the start and right at the end of our trip, ie, to put some good distance between us and home.

For Italy we did:

  • 7 plus hour drive to Friuli, then 4 nights there.
  • 4.5 hours to Alto Adige, 3 nights.
  • 6 hours to Rome, 2 nights.
  • 3 hours to Amalfi, 3 nights.
  • 4.5 hours to Tuscany, 3 nights.
  • 4 hours back to Friuli, 2 nights.
  • 7 plus hour drive back home.

So you get the picture.

For Italy, that itinerary seemed to work really, really well. In hindsight I would have loved another day in Rome but I guess that means I will just have to go back one day!

Motorways or backroads?

Motorways in Germany are free, but in most other countries you have to pay either a toll or buy a windscreen sticker called a Vignette for a certain number of days. And going the backroads is prettier right?

Well, we decided to pay the money and take the motorway. It wasn’t that expensive in Italy and it just means that you can get to your destination so much quicker, because it’s about spending time in Rome, not spending time in the car, right? Yes, there is an argument that it’s nice to meander through the backroads, but that’s an argument that loses weight in winter, and frankly the children aren’t that interested in gazing out the car window at the nice hill, or the nice tree, or the nice stone.

The one time we didn’t get the motorway was the drive from Friuli to Alto Adige where there wasn’t really a motorway except for the last hour (and we used it then). And that drive was spectacular. The mountains were AMAZING and yes, I will do another blog post with photos of that amazing region of the world.

“Itinerary? Why didn’t you just jump in the car and play it by ear?”

I totally hear you, so please let me defend my planning if it all sounds a bit obsessive. The main reasons were we were going to Italy in a German school holiday week. There are 80 million Germans, and they are nothing if not a nation of travellers. Also I believe it was a French and British school holiday week.

We stayed with family in Friuli so it’s good to let them know what your dates are so they can roll out the airbed and plan things to do with you. Finally, it’s cheaper if you book your accommodation beforehand, particularly when there are four of you, particularly if you are going to Rome in a school holiday, and particularly if you are after the sort of accommodation we look for. Which will segue nicely into my next blog post tomorrow.

And as you’ve been so good, let me throw in a couple of pictures from Italy. I will do separate blog entries for each of these destinations, with proper pictures, but for now you can have one from Rome, and one from Alto Adige:

Lunch at the Spanish Steps
Lunch at the Spanish Steps
Molly on her "sled" - basically a giant plastic spoon.
Molly on her “sled” – basically a giant plastic spoon.
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