Realistic Planning

You can’t see and do everything in a short period of time. My preference is for quality over quantity. Which is fortunate since I am not a high energy particle.

I touched a little on this idea when I talked about planning around having jet lag.

A few things that I have learnt to plan for:

  • Travel time from place to place.
  • To add time beyond the minimum recommended to see things, because I process more slowly and like to take photographs.
  • Realistic levels of physical activity. I can hike 13 miles on fairly even ground (I did it last June on our Hadrian’s wall walk), but on steep or choppy terrain that goes down to 9 or 10. High altitude affects that as well. Lately I have taken a couple of falls, and had some bad back days, and that has made me aware that I am smart to go places where there is an alternative activity if I am not up to hiking.

Travel Time

Most big cities are spread out and, often, have really bad traffic. It can take way longer to get to places, even within the same city than it seems when you start looking at everything you might do. If you have a long list of must sees you can easily find you spend the entire day going from place to place, not being in the places you want to see.

Lama Temple

One way to manage that is to choose a smaller area within a big city to explore each day. One visit to Beijing I only had a day in the city between arriving in the late evening from Seattle and flying to Chongqing in the morning on the following day. Even though I wanted to see the Temple of Heaven, I chose instead to go to Donccheng north, just two subway stops from where the airport train comes into town (I stayed near the airport since we were going to fly out to Chongqing the next day) and visited the Lama Temple and the Confucius Temple, which are only about a quarter mile apart. That made for a very relaxed and interesting jet lag recovery day.

Confucius Temple

Extra Time-beyond the minimum recommended

Another aspect, for me anyway, is that I just like to spend time in places, especially if I know I am unlikely to ever see them again. It is really easy to overdo it when you are making plans. It has taken me a long time to learn this lesson.

When we went to Ireland for the first time, only my second trip overseas, we brought along my grandparents, at that time in their early 70s (Grandma recently turned 96!) and my son, who was five (he turns 30 today!). I had the trip carefully planned. We drove around the whole island. With 20-20 hindsight we would likely have had a better trip if we had stayed longer in fewer places.

Two nights is just right

One example, in Dunmore East. I walked down to the beach and enjoyed it on the day we arrived, but everyone else stayed back at the B&B. We only had one night there, so no one else got to walk on the beach, because we left before the tide went back out the next day. My son and grandparents would have loved that beach, and it would have been a chance to visit with local people.

A lesson learned from that trip: it is better to stay in a place two nights if you really want to see it, and remember it. Our best memories were from the places we had a little extra time.

Photographic insight:

If you are into photography staying two nights is especially beneficial, because you get two chances at both evening and morning light, one of each of those after you have the lay of the land. While logistically that isn’t possible everywhere on every trip, it is worthwhile to choose a few locations per trip where you do that. If only there was a way to plan the weather…

But one will do

Even if you can’t spend two nights, staying one night very close to what you want to see can give you a time and stress reduction advantage over a day trip.

An example of this is a trip I took solo to Qufu. I got there mid-afternoon then spent the late afternoon and early evening walking about and getting oriented, so I could get up early and do the “san Kong” (Three Kongs: Confucius Temple, mansion and the burial ground called the forest). It was helpful to be going back to my base camp in Weifang, not a new place, at the end of the 3 Kongs.

In fact wandering the touristy area after the tour groups had headed off to Tai’an was one of my favorite parts of that trip.

Qufu is touted as a day trip, and indeed many people do it as a half or three-quarter day, then speed off to Tai’an to hike or take a cable car up Taishan over night to watch the sunrise. (My son and I went to Taishan but spent two nights, one in Tai’an and one at the top of the mountain, you can read about this trip in my series Sleeping Dragon Slowly Opens One Eye. I can’t imagine doing both of these trips in one 24 hour period! Most certainly not enjoying them as well as I did.

Taking two nights for Taishan was a sanity saving choice

Physical Activity Levels

Maybe I am just old, but, if so, then I got old early (which may be quite true), or am just a wuss.

Les Eysees in the Dordogne.
Les Eysees in the Dordogne.

On our walking trip to southwest France I bit off more than I could chew and had to readjust the middle. Even though I wore my boots for at least 50 miles before the trip and trained with both boots and loaded pack I wound up with blisters. Bad enough that we stayed a couple extra days in Les Eysees then took a train to Sarlat, which we would not have seen otherwise.

Since then I try to always have a back-up plan. There were a few places where we stayed on that trip where it would have been much harder to make adjustments.

Last summer’s hike along Hadrian’s Wall path in north England was carefully planned to not be too much for me (my husband probably would have enjoyed, or at least enjoyed talking about, a more ambitious itinerary.

We decided to take the trip because I took a fall visiting my son in China and, most likely cracked a rib. Once healed that led me to suggest that if we did want to take the Hadrian’s wall walk ever, maybe we should do it promptly instead of delaying until one or the other (most likely me) of us was no longer able to do it.

We used a tour company that arranged your accommodations and transported your luggage between accommodations so you only had to carry a day pack on the trail. I chose the longest package length of 10 nights and added two extra days at a couple of places so we could go to museums(figuring that a full day of hiking wasn’t going to give us enough time to enjoy a museum).

So-o-o glad we added those two days. The weather went south on us (actually the storms came from the west) and after a long-ish day of not so great weather, we called the place where we were spending the next two nights and asked if we could be picked up a few miles earlier. Then we hiked the difference ( 3 or 4 miles of steep hilly terrain) to where we were supposed to go the day before and visited the museum at Vindolanda (we would have loved more time there) on our extra day, instead of just visiting the museum.

The extra day gave us time to savor the landscape

Even my tough-guy spouse thought this was inspired. After a downpour going those three extra miles would have had us miserable and having trudged past, instead of savored,
some of the most spectacular scenery along the wall.

How do you handle planning to make a trip a vacation?

3 thoughts on “Realistic Planning”

  1. Omg – the wisdom in this: going place to place, not being in the places you want to see
    – so good-

    And then your seasoned experience with the photos and just a nice post for travel tips but also for life in general – eh?

    Liked by 1 person

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