As fall approaches, the weather cools, the rain begins to fall here in Southern Oregon and I start to remain indoors more often, it’s a perfect opportunity to start working on the details of what I hope to see and do while I am in a couple of the major cities I plan to visit on my 120-Day Holiday next spring.
The first city I will explore is Paris. I will have two whole weeks to take in the sites at the onset of my journey! There is such a variety of things to do and see in Paris; museums, cathedrals, gardens, architecture, art, fashion, lights, parks…. food! Because I am going to be exploring in a relatively small geographical area, I like to make a separate map from my “main itinerary” travel map. I can add a lot of detail in this “zoomed in” smaller space rather than clogging up the “big picture” itinerary map.
To find and add each detailed piece of information I want available to me as I travel, I take notes as I read guidebooks & travel magazine articles, search online, or get recommendations by friends. I find interesting tidbits or helpful information. Naturally I want to remember these details without having to keep it in my head or having to access the guidebook all of the time while I travel. So, I put a place mark on my city map designating the location of my “must see/must do” list items as they develop and I can continue to add details as I research and discover more. After taking a page or two of notes from a chapter I’ve just read for instance, I head to the computer and add each tidbit I’ve found to my map little by little.
For instance, say I want to visit the Louvre Museum. To find and create a place mark for that museum I put my cursor in the search bar at the top of the map and then type in “Louvre Museum,” Google maps finds the exact location of it and puts a red exclamation type place mark on the map. When I click the ‘add to map’ button it remains on my map and will even include the address, phone numbers, a hyperlink to their website if available, etc. It’s really cool and I know exactly where it is located and has all the pertinent information I need in one click!
After I save it, I designate the icon I want to use in order to tell at a glance what kind of sight it is (a museum, a garden, and church, etc.) and I can also type in additional information of my choosing to the title or information sections of the place mark.
On the Paris Map I have used various shapes of standard icons to designate types of sites – flowers (for gardens and parks), an artists’ palette (for museums containing famous paintings and other artwork), an icon which shows a person walking (for walking tours around neighborhoods I want to follow), a cross (for cemetery’s or churches), etc., etc.
Take a close-up look at the legend to my Paris map below – and then the whole map with the icons marking the spot where the individual sights are located within the city:
I also created a detailed map of Belgium and the Netherlands, and one for the city of Amsterdam. I’ve chosen different types of icons for these maps to demonstrate the variety available that one can choose from when creating a personalized map.
The first map below indicates the driving route I intend to take through that region. It also has yellow hearts marking the birthplaces of my Dutch ancestors from the 1600’s which emigrated to the new colonies in America as well as a handful of 1800’s German ancestor emigrants who were the pioneer settlers of Golden, Illinois. (I clicked on one of the ancestor yellow hearts so you can see the type of detail I put into the place mark that I want to have at my disposal.)
In the following map of Amsterdam, I used the same shape of icon throughout to mark the museums, markets, gardens and various other sites I want to be sure to see, but, I made each one a different color and listed them as such in the legend. It’s a more ‘simplified’ version and less “hectic” to look at if you so desire.
These maps contain a ton of information and serve as a basic plan for my travels. I have found that taking the time to capture details while planning my trip really adds to my travel experience. I have a basic outline of what I want to visit and experience but one which still allows for flexibility to wing it as each day evolves. If I’m ever at a loss of something to do on any particular day, I can easily refer to my map and refresh my memory to make a decision. I usually have more than ample amounts of sites to visit and very possibly will not get to each and every one of them; however, I can also prioritize them into the “must see” or the “would be nice if time allows” categories as well.
Having a general plan to follow while I am traveling provides a comfortable serving of confidence for me as to what will happen and what I can expect to see. It also helps me to make the most valuable use of the time I have available and can save me time and money.
However, I have found that remaining flexible is key to having a fulfilling experience filled with surprises around every corner. This map is only a guide to follow. A tool to utilize as I explore. It is not a hard and fast itinerary. I allow for change and flexibility wherever I can.
When I immerse myself in my new surroundings, I interact with the people I meet. Unforeseen opportunities present themselves and “off the track” experiences occur. Those are the adventures I cherish the most – the serendipitous type. I feel comfortable allowing changes to occur here and there as I go, making adjustments in a variety of ways, but I feel comfortable allowing this to occur, especially if I am traveling solo, simply because I have a good solid plan in place that keeps me headed in a general direction at all times to fall back on or deviate from as the need arises.
As an example, this past summer I spent 3 nights in a wonderful hostel called Skellig Lodge in the town of Ballinskelligs along the Ring of Kerry in southwestern Ireland. (I highly recommend those lodging facilities and it’s owner and the upmost hostess – Freida!) While I was there I met some interesting young teachers while making dinner one evening in the self-catering kitchen and eating together in the dining room.
As a result of those impromptu interactions, I learned that in a town just down the road a piece there were youth music competitions occurring all week long, contests such as ceilidh youth orchestra division competitions, individual instrument competitions, etc., and that there would be a full-on annual street festival in the center of town with local musical and dancing talents galore as the finale over the weekend. It was not a town I had planned to visit at all, and hadn’t even planned on driving through, but remaining flexible and having a willingness to go out of my way a bit and adjust my planned itinerary, led me to one of the best experiences of my trip – all from spontaneous tips from fellow travelers over dinner.
When I have traveled without a lot of planning, just “winging it” and letting the wind blow me where it will – granted, I had a good time (I always have a good time) – but in comparison it usually wasn’t as enjoyable and memorable as one that I invested more energy and time during the planning stage. Often, I would miss sights I would have visited if only I had known they were nearby, done a bit more research, planned a bit better. Each method has its advantages and disadvantages. I for one, prefer to invest time in planning; in doing so I’ve found that it provides me with a richer experience by far.
What shall I write about the next installment? I’m not quite sure yet. Perhaps some miscellaneous topics, such as “what to pack” for such an ‘extended visit’ like this 120 day version, how to handle and plan for what I call necessary ‘domestic days’, ‘dip into the culture by going grocery shopping’, or something else I want to share with you that hasn’t even occurred to me yet!
Until then, happy planning while you’re dreaming big! Dream up the perfect vacation custom designed by you – for YOU! Let an image form in your mind, imagine it to the greatest detail you can muster and to the best of your ability. But be careful what you ask for – what you dream – you just might get it! Look what happened when I started dreaming just a short while ago! 120 days of Adventure! 4 Months of Fun and Frolic! Wow!
What will YOU dream up?