Panorama of Manarola, Italy
Panorama of the small coastal village of Manarola, Italy

I have been traveling internationally for more than 15 years now, both by myself and with my family. Over these many years I have created a system for myself so that I keep track of the most important things.

Using a consistent and efficient system ensures that my travel experience matches my travel dreams. This is when great travel experiences happen. This is smart travel.

I call my travel planning system SMART and here’s how I use it to create my own efficient travel plans.

Specify your dreams

The most basic first step toward smart travel is to understand my travel dreams. The first part of my travel dreams has to do with my expectations. The question I normally ask is a simple one: what am I looking for from this trip?  Is it a quiet get away trip on a beach?  Or an exhilarating journey in history in France or Italy?

Understanding your expectations is the first step to enjoying your travel.  It is the first step to making sure your travel reality matches your dreams. It is very important to understand your expectations before making any travel plans.

For more details you can read The most important step towards becoming a smart traveler

Maximize your time & money

The second step to becoming a smart traveler is to come down a bit from my dreams to reality and maximize the resources I have: time and money. Being able to have more time and money available for travel enhances my travel experience.

Read more about squeezing the most out of your travel budget.

Aim at your destination

Now that I have more specific expectations and maximized my resources it is time to start looking at my destinations and see if they can deliver on my expectations. A rough itinerary is a great starting point. Big tourist destinations, cities or landmarks are the starting point.

This is where I begin to make my travel dreams a reality which means creating some rough travel plans. I know what I expect and what I like, and I also know the same things for those who will travel with me.  Now it’s time to see what my destination can match with my dreams.  This is the initial research where I use simple online tools to create a rough list of places to see and things to do.

Initial rough travel plans are like a template for your detailed travel plans that will come later. You can see lots of examples in my walking tours

Research

Now I start to bring it all together…expectations, resources and destinations.  Based on my expectations and what I like, put together with my research and understanding my limitations will result in a lot more detail in my list of places to visit.  This process goes back and forth between research and travel plan all the time.

This is when your rough travel plans become more detailed. Take a look at my detailed walking tour of Verona, Italy for an example.

At this point all this work should bring in a lot more details like addresses, travel times and geographical groupings of the places you want to visit.  This way you make sure that you will not be wasting your time once you are at your destination.

Travel

Now your travel plans have dates, times and addresses. You are ready to start booking tickets, hotels and transportation at least for the beginning stages of your trip. Here are my recommended travel resources that will help you save some money.

Then just go and enjoy your travel destination!

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