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

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.

Let me show you I use my EARFUL system to make my own efficient travel plans.

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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


The second part of my travel dreams are things I like.  The questions I normally ask is also very simple: What do I like?  Do I like to see shows, museums or old churches? Do I like cities or villages? Or both?


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

Frustrations and limitations

Now I have to understand my limitations. Most of us, myself included, have three basic frustrations when it comes to travel: not enough time, not enough money and the limitation of our travel companions.  Understanding these limitations is a very important step in making sure your destination matches your imagination. Once you understand them, you can start to maximize your limited resources: time, money and companions.

Your travel plans must reflect your own travel limitations. Read more about maximizing your finances while you travel.


Now I start to bring it together…roughly.  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 unification 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.

Now your travel plans have dates, times and addresses. You are ready to start booking tickets, hotels and transportation. Here are my recommended travel resources.

Then just go and experience your travel destination!