I admit that I'm a compulsive planner but even I get weary of planning every detail. I have found however, particularly in this last year when we went on two major trips, that the more you plan the smoother the trip goes. It is better to over plan and drop items from your itinerary than to waste a good chunk of a day trying to decide what to do. It's not that I'm not in favor of taking it slow, savoring an afternoon in a cafe or bar and letting spontaneity be your guide, but don't let indecision or lack of knowledge about a city or region prevent you from exploring.
There are the obvious tasks you need to plan such as lodging and airline reservations. I've never been a fan of arriving and then deciding where to stay...who wants to waste time in a great new city trying to find a place to spend that night? Not me. I usually start with TripAdvisor, Fodors Forums, Slow Travel sites as a start if I'm looking for a hotel.  If  renting a house or apartment, type the location, "rental" and see what comes up. I do a lot of cross checking across sites once I zero in on a few properties, paying close attention to reviews. For specific recommendation in Italy and Provence, please review my pages on those locations.

Ground Transportation:

Once the lodging and air tickets are booked, it's time to zero in on how you are getting to and from the airport/train station to where you are staying. Options range from taxis, private car services, car rentals, Airline/Hotel shuttles to public transit. Your selection may depend upon the number of people you are traveling with and how tired you think you will be. I've done it all: taken Amtrak to Newark, rented a car to fly from JFK, Heathrow Express to get into London, the train from the Stockholm airport into the center of town, cab and car from Charles de Gaulle, private vans in Tokyo and Beijing, hotel shuttle in Guangzhou, walking (!) in Kyoto. The important thing is to PLAN it. You will be tired from the travel and don't want to decide this after a long (and probably sleepless) flight. If it is only a couple of travelers and the public transit is good, this is often a great option. I've done both a car from Heathrow and the express train and much prefer the train. It was also simple in Stockholm but I made sure I knew exactly where I was going, even going to the effort of using Google earth so I knew what my path would be and what buildings would look like when I exited the subway station. If you are going to use a taxi, make sure you know where the licensed taxi stand is and don't use one of the services that trawl the area outside of customs offering rides. Their prices are usually much higher and they generally aren't reputable. Keep in mind when your return home you will most likely be exhausted. So though it may have worked great to drive or take the train to JFK or Newark, on the return, I strongly recommend having someone pick you up if you have over an hour drive from the airport to home.
Don't forget to do this planning if you are traveling by train between locations on your trip. This is something you can easily forget as, for example, you might assume that car rental is in the station (usually NOT the case) . Again, print off a map before your trip (or download a map app on your smartphone) and figure your route before you arrive. The one mistake I made on our trip to Asia was in Kyoto. I had good directions on how to get to the inn we were staying in from the station...but it took us half an hour to figure out how to find the right exit OUT of the station. So review the facility maps of the stations and airports that you will be traveling through.
I strongly recommend that you use smart phone apps to help you navigate both in cities and as you are driving in the country. The best app I had in Tokyo was the Tokyo Rail Map, where I put in the starting subway station and the end point and it would give me the route. I paid a minimal amount for this so that it would work offline and it was fabulous. If you don't have data coverage, there are quite a few apps (that you may pay for) that can offer downloadable maps that are really useful. Often your GPS will work even if your phone doesn't.

Itinerary Planning:

Besides these basic logistics, I recommend having an outline for each day of what sites you want to see. Start with an overall bucket list and then break it down by day, grouping by location and your level of endurance.  Intersperse museum visits with shopping time and be sure to build in cafe breaks! You will probably make the list too long and overly ambitious but that's okay. Better to not get to places than to be struggling with what to do next. I highly recommend using local guides for a day or too. They can really maximize your time and give you a unique experience. Also look for companies like London Walks  which are low cost but excellent walking tours that meet at tube stations and are lead by locals. I've found them highly entertaining. For a short list of private guides I've used in France and Italy see the end of this page.  
If you are traveling with kids, make sure you include places that they will be interested in...particularly on the first day. You want to engage them right away. Also when you are traveling with younger kids, realize that you will be traveling at their pace.
 Keep in mind the first day you may be jetlagged but you also want to keep yourself active so you aren't tempted to fall asleep (NEVER take a nap!).  So I avoid museums on the first day and recommend walking and easy sights. Explore your neighborhood, if you are in the city. Find the local pharmacy and shops for things you've forgotten, hit a few major sites. For example in Paris, I usually hit Notre Dame and Ste. Chapelle, then wander over to Ile St.Louis for an ice cream and window shopping on the first day. Save the Louvre and other museums after you've had a good night's sleep. If you are in the countryside of Provence or Tuscany, explore a local village, find the grocery store and local tabac where you can get your morning cafe au lait and pastry and afternoon aperitif!


We are foodies, so restaurants are always a big part of our trip. I usually try to do some research ahead of time, using the internet for recommendations such as Zagats, TripAdvisor and other food sites. Sometimes this takes some searching; for example in Japan, most of the reviews were in Japanese and even using Google translate, they weren't great. But then I happened upon a wonderful site: was a tremendous resource. We found a marvelous craft beer bar through this site. They also had another site: that had lots of recommendations on places to see.
The hotel concierge can be a great resource too, but you need to make sure they understand what type of food you prefer so that they aren't just offering their standard tourist recommendations. Of course some of our best finds have been through serendipity...wandering by a place and going with your gut. We found the incredible places in Tokyo this way...judging a place by the crowds of Japanese lined up for tiny sushi and ramen spots.
If you travel a lot and can access the executive lounge in Marriotts or Hiltons, you can often save money by taking advantage of the lounges for breakfast or happy hour/late night drinks (I've often seen people making their dinners out of the happy hour snacks). But I caution you on this as I think it dilutes the experience in the cities. Some of the best times we had in Tokyo was bar hopping after dinner, whereas in Hong Kong, we rushed back to the JW Marriott to take advantage of their free bar...there were plenty of great bars in Hong Kong that we missed and I regret that in hindsight.


Paris: In Paris, I recommend Michael Osman ( and his email address as a private guide. I've used him as a guide with my kids, and on a "girlfriends" trip and recommended him to everyone I know going to Paris. He is an American who studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, so his tours of the Louvre, D'Orsay and Orangerie are fabulous. But he can also structure a tour that hits whatever your interests are. With the kids we did the Louvre, Montmartre and the 4th arrondissement. He took us on the pubic buses which was a great way to see Paris, rather than passing under sights in the metro. Michael is highly entertaining and very knowlegible and I love him!
Normandy: If you are interested in Normandy, I recommend Mark Worthington as a guide. He takes you to all the beaches and ends at the American cemetery. His email is: We used him on one of our early trips to France and the kids have said that this is one of their most enduring travel memories. I have sent other people his way more recently and they have raved about him.
Italy: For Rome or Florence, I've mention David Lown on the Italy page, but will repeat the recommendation here with his contact info: He gave us an incredible tour of Rome as well as an excellent back alley tour of Florence. I've had friends who used him to go through the Vatican museum as well and loved their experience.

Lastly, I've found Evernote to be a great tool for trip planning. It is an app that runs on the iPad, iPhones and other smartphones and computers. You can use it as a briefcase to store all your travel related documents, store website pages, etc...really any info related to your trip. If you pay for the premium version, all of these will be available offline. I find it much friendlier and useful than Dropbox.

I know this was a LOT of information. If you have any questions, feel free to send me an email...I'm always happy to share experiences or offer advice! My email is listed on the right sidebar.

1 comment:

  1. a good chunk of a day trying to decide what to do. It's not that I'm not in favor of taking it slow, savoring an afternoon in a cafe or bar and letting spontaneity be your guide,