It usually starts on a rainy afternoon for me – that moment when I know it’s time. All the ideas that have flitted through my mind, all the reviews from the travel section, all the Pinterest posts, begin to swim to the surface and demand attention.
Wrinkle-free clothes look chic (add a scarf and the right jewelry and you could wear it 7 times…)
Travel-size products are everywhere.
Luggage stores are fascinating.
But, once you decide to take the trip, to just do it, how do you start to put it all together? For me, it all starts with a spreadsheet. Really.
In business school, we would start a financial model for an idea with a blank spreadsheet. This was tough for some folks to do. You’d hear the question, “But, aren’t you just making it up?” Well, yes. In the end, we all learned to take that empty spreadsheet, create some basic assumptions, identify some facts and decide the desired outcomes. Then, we began building a picture.
It was never “right” at the beginning but by creating a rough picture we could start changing the pieces, shifting the variables. Pretty soon, we had a working model whose outcomes would change as we turned the dials a bit. It was just getting started that felt hard.
This idea that I learned in school doing case studies of imaginary widget factories (with decreasing utility for said widgets while widget raw materials costs increased) actually works for me for trip planning. For you, it might be a dream board, a flow chart or a set of post-its.
What matters is asking the question: What are the basic blocks? This is a great way to distill your your big technicolor travel dream into parts and start to prioritize the pieces. The center of your dream could be a place, an event, or a season. I wanted to see the spring flowers bloom along the Seine in Paris, preferably from a boat, admittedly wearing my new yellow trench coat. There just isn’t much opportunity for a yellow trench in Tennessee, but in Paris?
After scouring web sites to define the range for “spring”, I thought about what I wanted to trip to be like. I’d love to see the full moon on the Seine so which weeks during March, April or May would have a full moon? Then during those weeks, was there a concert, festival or other event I’d like to see? Any major events going on whose crowds I’d like to avoid?
This gives my trip a shape — once I put in the date range that gets me where I want to be, but still with wiggle room, it’s a great time to look for good airfares. Can I leave 2 days earlier or come back a day later? Then, I decide the top three or four experiences that the keys to my big technicolor dream trip. Sometimes this causes a shift within the trip …if I only have a week, the days the museums are closed in one city or the night tickets are available for an opera in another can shift the days within the master plan but no problem. It’s all in context.
Once I have an arrival and a departure, and a few major activities, I start to have fun. There is enough structure to see the trip as “real” and start working on the details and extras. Then I begin to write the travel brochure for my big adventure.
Here’s one thing I quit doing. Until recently, I planned out every day charting out what I would see, where I would go, how I would get there. Every morning I pulled out my marching orders from home and struck out.
Then it hit me. Travelling on my own demanded more. I wanted to learn to choose what I wanted to do each day, on that day, to intentionally listen to my own heart and to take opportunities and to be brave.
My “home self”, the self sitting in PJ’s months earlier surrounded by travel books was as stern a taskmaster as a professional tour director insisting I only had 15 minutes for the Louvre. I had become my own dictator. I wasn’t really living in that moment.
Now I just have the non-negotiables charted (and this gives me a bit of confidence) and work from a list of possibilities that I pull out from time to time. Doing what you most want to do on any particular day is more difficult than you might think but worth the experience. Shuffling off the coils of what I should do, what friends suggested, what Rick Steves would do, to follow my own path is the goal for me.
What I Learned
- Just start. Create a spreadsheet or chart for the number of days you have and start filling in the blocks. (Remember to check travel times and train schedules).
- Pay special attention to the three or four things that are key to your trip – check exhibits, opening times, holiday effects and availability for these most important plans.
- If you don’t feel like going to the museum, at all, no one has to know. One brochure from the hotel lobby and your secret is safe.