TWB Road Tips: Creating An Itinerary

Our self-appointed task here at Travel With Balls is not only to inspire you to hand out soccer balls to kids when you’re journeying through a developing country, it’s also to encourage you to travel with a spirit of adventure and a bit of daring.   Yeah, it’s more work to plan your own trip instead of handing the arrangements over to a travel agent, and it entails a bit more risk to travel independently instead of with a tour, but it’s also a helluva lot more fun and ten times more rewarding.   From time to time we’ll use this blog to offer a bit of advice for those who want to journey out into the world on their own; for those who want to experience what it means in the broadest sense to Travel With Balls.

  First Things First: Creating An Itinerary

1. Buy a Lonely Planet Guidebook.  When my beloved soul mate, husband and favorite road dog, William, and I decide we want to visit a country, the first thing we do is purchase a Lonely Planet Guidebook to that destination.  We are not getting paid to plug LP (although we sure wouldn’t mind!) — over the years we’ve simply discovered that LP really is the most thorough and useful guide out there when planning a trip.  Occasionally they are guilty of gross hyperbole when describing an attraction (they make the Manuwatu Gorge in New Zealand sound like a must-see wonder of the natural world — in reality it’s a shallow pit compared to the Grand Canyon or the Royal Gorge in Colorado…) but the material is well-organized and always includes reliable information about lodgings in all price categories and good places to eat, which are two major concerns when you’re on the road.   We read the information about the best time of year to visit and the sections detailing the highlights of the country’s various regions.

2. Make a list of the places that sound compelling to you.   We try to pick a few different regions that will allow us to experience the diversity that most countries offer.  For instance, in Nicaragua we visited the old colonial city of Granada, the Lake Nicaragua island of Ometepe and the Pacific Ocean surf town of San Juan del Sur.  In Costa Rica, we began in Manuel Antonio, a wildlife paradise on the Pacific Ocean, then made our way inland to the volcanic spine of the central plains of Arenal and finally wrapped up our trip in the rainforests of Tortuguero on the Caribbean coast.

3. Don’t try to cover too much ground.  Ideally, we’d love to see every inch of every country we visit, but after traveling through 50+ countries we’ve learned that less is usually more.  Rather than spreading ourselves too thin by trying to see too much of a country, we select a few locations and spend more days in each place.  Traveling to a new city or town every day or two wastes a lot of time on packing and unpacking and being in transit  — better to choose a few places, relax into their rhythms and get to know some of the locals.

4. Write out a calendar.   We print up a blank calendar and then fill the days in with the names of the places we plan to be.  (Ex: Dec. 1-5 Granada, Dec. 5-8 Ometepe, Dec. 8-11 San Juan del Sur).  This provides a loose structure for our trip and helps us plan what we want to do with the time we have in each location.

5. Submit your itinerary to the Lonely Planet Thorn Tree Forum.  This free, online forum for travelers ROCKS!  You can pose any travel question on the forum and fellow travelers who are currently in or have recently been to the country you’re asking about will respond with incredibly helpful info.  After we sketch out a proposed itinerary we always post it on the site and ask if our travel plans are realistic for the amount of time we have to accomplish them.  We can’t overestimate the Thorn Tree Forum’s usefulness — it is an invaluable resource when planning any trip!

6. Remember — your itinerary is not written in stone.  Don’t think you have to follow your itinerary to the letter just because it’s written down.  Always feel free to adjust and revise your plans according to what is happening in the moment.  On the Costa Rican leg of our journey, we had planned to visit Tortuguero first but the rains in that region were torrential when we arrived in CR so we shifted our schedule and went to Manuel Antonio first.  By the time we arrived in Tortuguero a week later, the nasty weather had lifted.  If you’re really enjoying a certain place, why not spend an extra day there and scale back the number of days you’ll spend in another location?  Likewise, if you’ re not feeling a certain place, leave earlier than you planned and use the extra time in another place further along in your trip.  That’s one of the greatest gifts of traveling independently — the freedom to be flexible!

Peace & Blessings,