How To Plan A Tour Itinerary

by Olivier De Winne
Published: Updated: 2 comments

For my first holiday abroad, I used a package company to plan my trip – flights, bus transfer to hotel and visits. Everything was planned for us. It cost us a lot of money and after 2 days we disliked following someone else’s tour itinerary. With this kind of holiday, you need to follow a time table. They dropped us to visit a site and we had 2 hours to do it. Whether you like it or not, you need to go back and join the rest of the group at a designated time. With a travel itinerary like this there is no time to discover the locals, no time to discover traditional restaurants and no time to enjoy the places you like.  I don’t know about you, but I go on holiday to get rid of the “metro boulot dodo” and I don’t want to be stressed by the time. On top of that, you also don’t have the choice about where you are going to eat or sleep.

As I said, for this kind of package holiday, you also need to pay a lot more money. For some, it is the perfect holiday with no worries or surprises, but not for us. Holidays abroad should be more than a nice hotel or nice food.  Holidays abroad are a way of meeting locals, learning how they live and how they cook.  The more you interact with local people, the more they will share with you. We have discovered some amazing sights Off the Tourist Treadmill by using local knowledge. Locals know where to go to relax or to have the best view because they live there. When you start to get away from the package holiday, you realise that you are not the only ones benefiting from local knowledge. All the other backpackers receive the same advice and often you meet them at the guest houses. Another benefit when you plan your trip is that you are going to share experiences with other travellers and create links with them.

After your holiday, you are going to meet your friends and share unforgettable memories.  Your friends are then going to tell you what they did during the holidays and I bet you 80% of the time they are going to say, “We stayed in a very nice hotel with a beautiful swimming pool next to the beach, the buffet was amazing…” After 2 months, they will have completely forgotten this holiday.  On the other hand, you will remember your itinerary format because you met locals and other travellers, went to amazing places, made connections and had an authentic experience exploring the country by local transport.

I have travelled a lot and I always remember places on my trip map where I experienced the wow factor. I always remember the freedom of travelling like a local. Doing what you want, when you want has no price. When we find a great place, we stay longer to enjoy it and sometimes when we dislike a place, we leave the next morning. Time is your ally not your enemy. Without a fixed timetable, time becomes your best friend.  You are the best trip planner! Rule number one is don’t rush!  If you have 1 week, don’t try to visit all the country, stay in a small area.

If you are afraid to step out of your comfort zone, we are here to help you. It isn’t difficult at all. To prove it I’m going to do a step by step guide to plan your perfect trip itinerary.

Where Can You Go?

This is your is your choice and depends on your personal preferences, but you need to think about what you want to see. Maybe you prefer to be immersed in a big city, go for a trek, drive in the snow or perhaps you want sea and sun. The second question to ask is when do you want to go? Obviously, you would not want to go for a 10 day trek in the monsoon season. If you want to travel in Asia, you can click here to check out our article about the best time to travel country by country. The third question is how much do you plan to spend? If you travel off peak, you will be able to stay longer in the same place than someone who is travelling in peak times. It is cheaper to travel in India or Asia than Australia or Canada because daily subsistence is less. The best aircraft fare is for a departure on a Tuesday. If you check prices on the website, the next day you are going to notice that the prices go up. Why? Because these sites are using cookies and they remember your research. Have you noticed that the last search is already on your computer when you reconnect? So, to have the best prices, the rule is to check on a computer at work, in a cybercafé or at a friend’s house. Check many different websites like Skyscanner, Opodo, Cheapflights, Kayak or if you go to our Resource section, you will find a multi airline companies comparison tool (click here). When you find the best deal for you, complete the booking from your home computer.

Ok, so now you know where to go and I do too. In this article, I’m going to give you a step-by-step holiday itinerary for Sri Lanka as an example.

However, first you need to be realistic. You don’t want to build an itinerary where you need to wake up at 5 am and travel all day to finally arrive and have no time to visit your destination properly. Travel is an experience and this experience needs to be the best for you and we are here to try to help you achieve it. So, this is a travel itinerary example. You can use these principals to build your own, but make sure you don’t rush your trip. If this is the case, you need to make itinerary sample shorter and more realistic in accordance with your holiday time. Don’t forget to allow 2 or 3-days free time at the end to relax properly. You need to leave the country well rested so that you avoid the feeling of being on the go all the time. Off The Tourist Treadmill promotes slow travel.  You need time to simply enjoy the landscape or enjoy a temple. You shouldn’t rush and just take photos, you need to live in the moment. For these reasons, it is good to travel without a tour operator. You are not compulsory to leave the place you love because you must, but you have the freedom to stay here longer to enjoy it.

How To Plan A Tour Itinerary

What Are The Best Sites To Visit To Plan A Tour Itinerary

Your first job is to research what you want to see. Take a piece of paper and write down everything you want to visit. Of course, there are many useful trip planning websites including Google, but you can also find good information on Pinterest. Another way of finding places is to look at photographs for sale. You can try websites like Unsplash, Istockphoto and Shutterstock. Another way is to use a forum and ask what to to see in Sri Lanka.  Be your own itinerary planner by using the internet!

I have done all my research and here are my points of interest:

– Udawalawa: National Park to see wild Asian elephants

hoe to plan a tour itinerary

– Sigiriya: Ancient rock fortress


– Galle: Historic city and Unesco World Heritage Site


– Kandy: Famous for Buddhist site


– Nuwara Eliya: Tea plantation

Nuwara Eliya

– Nilaveli, Pasikuda, Nivalaveli Beautiful Beaches


– Anuradapura: North capital and famous for ruins of an ancient civilization and Polonnaruwa: City of the King and World Heritage Site

Now you know what you want to see, you need to plot these places on the map to make the optimal road trip planner. To do that, open Google Maps and add your points of interest.

My map looks like this.

At the moment, this trip planner map looks very messy. Let’s try to rearrange the itinerary with Google Maps. For that, you just need to move points of interest logically to create a nice loop. Your map should look more like this now:

map 2

Well done!  We’ve made a good start. Now you need to check how it is possible to go from point A to B. We always prefer to use public transport. In Sri Lanka, you can use buses, trains, taxis and Tuc-Tucs. Google will be your best friend to find this information. If you have difficulty to find what you are looking for, you can use forums like Trip Advisor or Quora. For Sri Lanka, I found this website which helped me with my trip route planner because it enabled me to find all the bus and train routes around Sri Lanka. Look out for a train and bus trip planner like this for your destination.

I also know that I want to take the train from Kandy to Ella. This train journey looks amazing.  Check out this video below. So, as you may see, our travel itinerary template no longer works. So, let’s improve it.

On the buses website, I found the bus number 04 which is going to Anuradapura.

Afterwards, we can carry on to Nilavwli, Pasikuda beach, Polonnaruwa, Sigiriya, Kandy where we can take the train to Ella with a stop at Nuwara Eliya. Next, we can go to Udawalawa to finish in Galle where you can enjoy the beach and relax. We always allow ourselves a few days to relax because it is a good time to reflect on everything we experienced during our vacation.

Final Map

map 3

Travelling with locals in buses or trains is going to give you a lot. You will see the real country and how real people live. You are going to learn about what they are eating, where they buy food and how much they pay for it.  Be vigilant and ask to pay the same price when you go shopping! You are going to notice as well that most of the locals are very happy to share information with you. When you travel as a backpacker, you have time to sit and listen and feel the air on your face. Immersing yourself in a country is very relaxing. The more you relax, the easier it will be to speak to locals. If you approach them very stressed and ask them where your train is, they may be scared. What you need to do is to plan one day ahead and you ask them for tomorrow’s train information during lunch at one of the street food places or at the hostel. Don’t forget you are not alone. At the guest house, you are going to meet other backpackers and they are going to give you tips and you will exchange tips with them as well. Maybe you are going to meet them on the same train. This has happened to me a few times. There is always a solution to find your way around country. When we travelled around the Yucatan Peninsula, I couldn’t find the information on how to get to Holbox Island from Chichen Itza before we started our trip. It was only when we arrived at Coba, the solution presented itself. I was chatting with the owner of the guest house about food and at the end I asked him whether he knew how I could get to Holbox Island.  He replied that I needed to head to Valladolid with the second-class bus (which stopped outside his shop) and then take another bus to Chiquila.  At Chiquila he told us that we needed to take the ferry to Holbox Island. We followed his advice and it was perfect. Locals are always your best guide and itinerary maker!

The next step is to create a travel itinerary template Excel file to keep track of your research or you can download mine here.  In this file, you are going to put all your travel itinerary planner information and how you expect to travel from point A to B. I don’t advise to book hotels in advance because you may want to stay longer in one place and less in another. Don’t forget that flexibility is the key to a successful trip. However, you can do some homework and look for hotels where you might want to stay. The best advice I can give to you is to go to the hotel and ask to see the room. If you feel comfortable in this hotel, you can book the room. Otherwise you can go to the next one. A hotel room doesn’t need to be expensive to be comfortable. We don’t want to spend too much money on hotels. Don’t forget you are in the room just to sleep. For us, the room needs to be clean and this is our main requirement. It is also rewarding if you can mingle with other backpackers and share tips. There is no age limit on backpacking. I backpacked when I was 20 and I still carry on now. In India, we met 2 ‘young’ women (60-70ish) who had been backpacking in Asia for a few months and they fully intended to carry on for another few months.

I hope you now feel more confident about planning your holiday without the need of a travel company.  How to make an itinerary is easy and you are the best trip maker! If you have any questions, please ask in the comment box below.

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Rufus 18/10/2018 - 01:00

Stunning story there. What happened after? Thanks!

Off The Tourist Treadmill 18/11/2018 - 19:11

Hi – We planned this itinerary for a Christmas vacation but our plans had to change and we are heading to the US instead. Watch this space for this itinerary … Thanks for commenting.

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