Apr 072008

Peder once told me, “A programmer is someone who would spend an hour now doing something that’ll save him five minutes later.”

It’s so true.

After years of traveling (and especially mistakes made and lessons learned on my trip to Brazil), I’ve slowly but surely pieced together what I consider to be a very effective way to prepare for an itinerary-free vacation.

For anyone out there who might benefit from my trials and errors, I present you with…


  • At Home – General Preparations
    1. Read GETTING STARTED (front of the book), possibly making minimal notes.
    2. Read DIRECTORY and TRANSPORT (back). This is one of the most useful sections – highlight carefully, make notes, form packing lists, determine transportation times, etc. On separate paper, also note must-see locations and activities – these will be incorporated into the relevant chapter’s notes later.
    3. Skim HEALTH (back) just to be aware of possible risks and symptoms.
    4. Read FOOD & DRINK (front), highlighting only food/drink names so you can refer to them quickly while ordering or reading. Don’t highlight descriptions, which will make names harder to pick out at-a-glance.
    5. Read ITINERARIES (front), adding to the list of must-see locations.
  • At Home – Area ChaptersEach chapter in Lonely Planet represents an area (state, country, etc) that contains a bunch of locations (cities, towns, parks, etc). Here, I determine what locations are worth visiting and make that information easily accessible while on the road. Read through the chapters fully, and…
    1. While reading each location, highlight interesting sights/activities (yellow). Skip lodging/food for now, unless there’s a specific MUST-EAT (highlight it).
    2. For each location that looked interesting, make a note with a page number and brief summary on the NOTES page in the back of the book. Since you’re reading one area-chapter at a time, the list will naturally be grouped by area. Whenever you finish a chapter, draw a line to divide it from the next (for easy reference). And don’t forget to include the locations from your “General Preparations” list as you go.
    3. For each location that looked interesting, also highlight it on the map at the front of the chapter, making it easy to see what’s nearby at-a-glance.
    4. As you read, you’ll probably find interesting locations that are geographically nearby but fall into different chapters (due to being across a political border). Make reference to these in the front of each chapter, with page numbers. This list, along with the list on the NOTES page and highlighted maps, completely tells you what interesting spots are around you.
  • As You Travel – Location DetailsBefore heading to a new city, go back through that that city’s section. You’ve already marked the interesting sights yellow. Now…
    1. Highlight eateries (green), but DON’T highlight the eatery’s name – instead, highlight the type of food (important for at-a-glance reading).
    2. Highlight the city’s MAP with spots of interest (yellow) and quick-eats (green), making it easy to see what’s nearby as you roam around without stopping to read the text.
    3. DON’T highlight lodging options, because once you’ve found a place to stay this will only clutter the book. Only highlight your actual hotel/hostel on the map.
    4. DON’T highlight transportation in general, because you don’t yet know where you’re coming from and this creates clutter. Two exceptions: Circle the charts in big cities that show times/costs to various destinations, and highlight access info for hard-to-reach spots or spots with unusual requirements (i.e. no public transportation).
  • Additional Reading
    1. ENVIRONMENT (front) often contains cool areas to visit.
    2. HISTORY, PEOPLE, ARTS, and RELIGION sections are interesting, but don’t give much info in terms of where to go and what to do. Read these last or while traveling, as time permits.

To make things easy to pick out, I always use the same color schemes. For highlighting:
• Yellow – Sight/Activity (most common)
• Green – Food & Lodging
• Orange – Safety/Risk/Scam
• Blue – Transportation (and other important information – visas, etc)

Also, I bookmark frequently accessed pages for quick look-ups:
• Red – Current Location
• Purple – Current Location’s map page
• Green – Food (for quick reference when ordering…put the tab on the FOOD section’s “best eateries” page.)
• Blue – Transportation (one tab for the current location, one for the main transport section in the back)
• Yellow – Notes Page, in the back

Happy Travels! 🙂

  5 Responses to “How To Plan A Trip”

  1. Well, I like you’re plan. Very organized.

    Here is my plan: Decide destination and book a few nights in a hostel on the internet (chose based on user ratings). Buy lonely planet and put it in suitcase. Think about reading it on plane. Fall asleep instead. Get to hostel. Meet some people. Go out to eat or sightsee or enjoy the nightlife. Next morning look at the chapter for where you are for ideas. Go to flickr and look at the most interesting photos for where you are. Go to the places that look cool. Wander aimlessly. Meet some locals. End up doing stuff you never would have thought of and is not in the book. When you’ve had enough, go online and book a hostel in another area and get to the train/bus station. Repeat.

    It’s worked for me so far 😉

  2. Option number 3: Travel with someone that is well organized.

  3. LOL…..you are such a dork 🙂 I can totally see you doing this

  4. Alana: Lol! I do pretty much all that hostel / meeting locals / doing-stuff-that’s-not-in-LP, but after researching at home ~ That way when it’s time to book a hostel in “another area” I know exactly where I want to go (and how to get there) 😉

    Rory: Yep…like I did in Brazil!

    Andy: Damn straight. And proud of it 😉

  5. How about this: 1) Get off plane
    2)Wave US Dollars around, don’t bother with local currency
    3)If locals dont speak English, just talk louder
    4)Look for nearest McDonalds
    5) If in area with famine, hand out Bibles
    6) Complain about local services, best if prefaced with “In the US, the _______ is so much better”

    People will realize you’re American and go out of their way to help your unprepared ass

    taken from “The Ugly American”

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