The joys of planning loosely…


Booked in advance – Pousada do Infante, Sagres. Posh, but rather good (and they did discounts for those over 55!).


Booked on the road – Pousada de Juventude, Lagos. Basic and a bit like UK hostels used to be (no bad thing that!).


Political demonstration in Lisbon city centre on a Friday afternoon. Lots of views, but no aggravation at all.

It’s been interesting to see how many people go onto travel forums expecting others to come up with suggestions or even a full itinerary for the person that’s posting on the site.

Laziness on the poster’s behalf? Yep… and a lack of imagination too if poster can’t be bothered to think of a country or area to visit.

The other good one is posting a long list of places to visit in a ridiculously short time scale rather than thinking about it and doing their own homework about what can be achieved, seen or visited in that time scale without spending hours on buses or trains.

As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve headed off to foreign climes at two days notice when the weather here in the UK turned inclement.

Or hit the hills around Mayrhofen after booking a week’s half board in a three star two weeks beforehand. Or planned road trips around the Norwegian Riviera and the area south of Lisbon at six weeks to six months in advance of the trip taking place.

Planning a trip isn’t that hard to do. Yes, you can get a package deal, but you may be paying over the odds for that privilege. There’s a host of printed material out there from Lonely Planet, Rough Guides, DK, Berlitz and others to help make up your mind as to where to go in the time allocated to the journey and the initial budget for the trip.

Most of the posters on the forums mentioned earlier have been advised to forget about using the internet by self and others in the early days of planning their trip and hit a library, book shop or charity shop to get a paper guidebook or two (or three if there’s a 3 for 2 offer on the go) and read it to get an idea of what’s on offer, what the guidebooks have in the way of suggested itineraries or what’s feasible at the specific time the trip is likely to take place.

When you’re reading the book or books, it’s worth having a notepad and some Post It Notes by your side to make notes of places, accommodation, activities and travel modes that appeal to you or to mark any interesting facts that you’ve found in the book. If the book is mine, then I also have a fluorescent highlighter pen to mark up items of interest.

I’ll undertake those same processes in a rival’s publication and then compare and contrast what’s said about towns, cities, attractions and hotels, guest houses, posh gaffs or hostels.

If a place is mentioned in two or more guides, then I’ll investigate further and that’s where the internet comes in, especially when it comes to booking the flights and the first and last night’s accommodation.

Sometimes this works and sometimes it doesn’t – we’ve stayed in a couple of ‘Art Deco’ places in recent years in both the UK and elsewhere and as a result of my visits, we’ve come to regard any comments about ‘Art Deco’ in accommodation listings as more like ‘In need of renovation’…

Places of interest are investigated as are festivals or any events that could impinge on travel or accommodation availability over the period that I’m likely to be in the area.

Public holidays play their part too – I’ve been in towns and villages that have been packed on public holidays and had to cope with it taking double the usual time to get home and have visited or worked in cities where the only place that’s busy is the local retail park…

Another pointer to consider is whether you’re making the trip on your own or whether your partner or a friend is going along too. It’s great to do your own thing, but if it’s not your partner or friend’s thing then Houston, we have a problem.

When I’ve done some reading up, Caroline is encouraged to read through the guidebooks as a way of getting her thoughts and preferences on where to go and what to see or do.

Compromises may be made in the loose planning of the trip or even on the day – if Caroline wants to visit somewhere that doesn’t interest me, then she goes into a gallery, museum, cathedral or church to see what it’s about and I’ll go and have a coffee, a beer or just sit and read until she reappears. Simples!

When it comes to using the internet for research, then it’s a good idea to have specific questions in mind when posting on forums as a means of gleaning advance information.

This could be about first or last Metro journeys to the airport, availability of ATM’s, medication, vegetarian or vegan food if it’s not mentioned in a guidebook, the cost effectiveness of travel passes or whether a car hire or tour company is worth doing business with.

There are times when you get some real berks or right trolls adding their ‘comments’ to the  equation, but for the most part, fellow travellers will help out wherever they can to give others the benefits of their collective experience. Some may have visited your destination recently or may even be there at the moment as either a visitor or as a resident.

Once done, then it’s time to do that loose planning. Have the basics and the aspirations sorted before you head off, but leave time and space to go with the flow and to make things up as you go along, especially if things don’t go to even the loosest of planning.

We had to sleep in Lisbon Airport last year before an early check-in for our flight back to the UK. We’ve spotted Norwegian news bulletins about fires on the main Bergen-Oslo railway line and ended up dodging political demos too.

We’ve also found some gems too – cafes, restaurants, attractions or views just by looking at local noticeboards or by simply wandering around. It all adds to the fun and to the overall experiences!

But once that loose planning is done and you know roughly where you’re going to go and what you may or may not be doing, there is once thing left to do – draw up your packing list. Which is where the first of next week’s postings may come in handy!

About Keith Rickaby

I’m a writer and photographer who has worked in the tailoring trade and the outdoor/travel clothing, equipment and footwear game. Past lives include working as an outdoor instructor, managing three bands and doing PR work through an agency or my own contacts. Was a student in the mid-90s and I'm originally from the North East, but now based in Yorkshire and back to home life after three years with a travel and outdoor activity based retailer.
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