How to Plan the Perfect Itinerary and Still do Everything

There are many types of travelers in this big ol’ beautiful world we live in. There’s The Planner, sitting in their room for hours putting together emergency contact spreadsheets and itineraries to hand out to their loved ones before leaving.

An Occasional Traveler, only leaving the comfort of their home a few times a year, who sometimes vacations by driving only a few cities over from where they live.

And we can’t forget about The “Wing It” Traveler, never wanting to create a schedule so they can live spontaneously in their new destination. The list goes on.

The Inca Trail to Machu Picchu was the most incredible experience we've ever had while traveling.

And then there’s me, The “Do Everything” Traveler. I am gifted with the burden of needing to experience everything I can when I find myself going somewhere new. If we skip over seeing a particular site, I feel weird, even uncomfortable. It’s like I’ve missed a meaningful part of that city that I might not get to see again.

What about experiencing all the signature dishes of the region? I can’t skip one, or something feels wrong. This burden is both a curse and a blessing. I try to see and do it all, but that chaotic goal causes more stress than I bargained for.

I am a completionist, a perfectionist, and a list-maker. That’s just how I do things. Oy vey…

Signs of a “Do Everything” Traveler

If you travel often, you have probably become well enough acquainted with yourself to know what type of traveler you are. But what are the signs and symptoms of a “Do Everything” Traveler?

  • You over-plan your trips, creating a jam-packed itinerary with barely enough room for relaxation.
  • There is always a compulsive need to see every sight, eat at every well-reviewed restaurant, go on every walking tour, try all the… Just all the things
  • You usually find yourself experiencing travel burnout at the end of your trips.

Bridge of Sighs, Lima Peru <3 They say if you make a wish while crossing, it will come true.

Sound like you? Don’t worry. It’s not a bad thing to want to do everything! You just need the right tools to make sure your trips still go smoothly while still allowing you to do what you want.

It takes a bit of mental training in order to correct that annoying, uncomfortable feeling you get when you have to skip something on your trip itinerary. Kind of like a habit you have to kick, it will take time and practice.

The “Do Everything” Traveler is usually a high-functioning person (when they have to be), always striving to be as prepared as possible for all situations. They love checking things off lists, but that really shouldn’t be what travel is about. You can still do everything and not get overwhelmed or reach burnout, it just takes a little rewiring of the brain.

Stop Over-Planning

“I had some beautiful one-on-one time with my mom this week, where she was teaching me oil painting techniques. She shared how some artists sketch their scene before beginning, but she emphasized that a sketch on canvas is temporary—a guide only—which should not be too detailed, and is not to be strictly adhered to, as doing so can reduce a painter’s spontaneity and hinder creativity in the moment.

I relate that lesson to managing my time, as well. I am starting to discover again what’s really important, what I want my life to look like and how to live life more fulfilled. Thank you for helping me realize that it’s my painting and I can paint it like I want it.”— Elizabeth Grace Saunders, author of How to Invest Your Time Like Money

On our way to Sacsayhuaman, we found this overlook of the city that made us stop and stare. (Cusco, Peru)

I’m so happy I found that quote! It really resonates with me because I am a painter who has a hard time with things not being perfect on my canvas.

You know what they say— anything in excess isn’t good for you. So keep that in mind so you don’t over-plan your next adventure! You’re probably racking your brain trying to understand, “How could over-planning be bad for me?”

The answer is stress. The last thing you want is to hop off a red eye flight, only to start hustling early the next morning to make it to every stop on your list. It is inevitable that you won’t be able to get to everything that day, and not meeting those goals will definitely pack on the stress. Trips should be fun!

Let yourself wander. Connect with people when you travel. These guys in riot gear were so nice! (Lima, Peru)

Let yourself wander. Give yourself the freedom of a flexible schedule. Your itinerary should not lock you up in handcuffs, but instead be a soft, guiding light leading you from place to place. Time is tricky and cannot be planned for.

You don’t know if a sudden downpour will rain on your parade and force you indoors. What if your bus is late? Did they close down that restaurant?! And what about that delicious-looking food truck tempting you in the middle of your scheduled activities? Don’t lose that spontaneity, and don’t let your list make you automated.

You don't really think of climbing the side of a cliff when you think about beaches... (Paracas, Peru)

Here’s what you should do:

  • Create an itinerary with a general plan for each day. Include what activities, events, and places you want to see.
  • Prioritize those activities, planning to see the most important one first.
  • Plan around that first activity based on location. This reduces the amount of travel time needed to get around, and will help you explore an area little by little and branch out.
  • Schedule a few free days. We like to schedule a free day every few days and add some onto the last leg of our trip, so we can wind down and get ready to leave.

You will have the urge to control everything, but unfortunately you can’t, my friend! Embrace life instead of seeking to control it. If you schedule too much in one day, you are actually restricting yourself in many ways. You’re making your trip all about a list instead of your experiences and missing out on surprise opportunities.

Those surprises are what make a trip fun! So try and live in the moment instead of looking forward to the next item on the list. Know that having a day that’s 100% complete is rare. If 70% of your day is complete, that’s a good day.

As you travel, expect the unexpected so you can enjoy surprises along the way. (Lima, Peru)

Don’t obsess! Just de-stress. Kick that guilt you feel for missing an attraction to the curb! Find a good balance between discovery and having fun.

Organize Your Itinerary

If you’re The “Do Everything” Traveler, you’re probably a sucker for organization. I know I am! There are tons of things you can do to make your schedule look neat and tidy. Not only does it look nicer and less stressful, it just looks good. Right?

First things first. Make sure you do your research to discover events or celebrations happening while you are visiting. Check out positive reviews on places you want to go, and look up the closing times for museums and restaurants. Consult a guidebook or sample itinerary. Don’t forget to see what holidays are coinciding with your trip so you can celebrate the local way!

What are these sculptures looking at, I wonder? (Lima, Peru)

I love to search for my destination on Pinterest, save all the pins I can, and steadily read them later to gather all possible information that I can. It makes me feel better knowing that in my research, I am soaking up information from a ton of different viewpoints.

I also use the Sygic Travel app to plan my trips. The app lets me organize each day, find locations on a map, and tells me the travel time between locations. After that, I use what I’ve planned on the app to create a paper itinerary in case my phone dies.

After completing the steps above to create your itinerary, think about time. Remember that you can’t plan for it, but you can give yourself a general idea. Don’t pay attention to the suggested or average time spent at an attraction.

You know yourself! Give yourself enough time between activities in case you decide to stay longer, choose to make an unforeseen pit stop, and have enough time to travel to the next to-do. In fact, give yourself extra time for everything on your list.

The Lima Cathedral was a beauty to explore. <3

Be realistic. Don’t set yourself up for failure! Create an itinerary that is catered to you, your likes and dislikes, and how you travel. Are you known to snap a picture and go? Or are you one to linger, exploring somewhere slowly and thoroughly? Factor sleep and travel times into your plans. Plan to see a few major sights a day, and in between places, leave yourself enough free time to do whatever!

Avoid Travel Burnout

You might associate burnout with the overwhelming feeling you get when you’re being dumped on with papers and homework at the end of a semester of college. Some say it only occurs for long-term travelers, but I say it can happen to every traveler.

Travel burnout can be prevented! Follow all the steps above and you can avoid the overwhelm and unneeded stress that comes with creating a travel schedule.

Peru is so colorful and picturesque, it blows my mind. (Cusco, Peru)

One who has travel burnout may experience the following:

  • Lack of excitement to see or do anything
  • Homesickness
  • Sensory overload, leading to withdrawal and wanting to do nothing
  • Sleep deprivation
  • High stress, low energy

You are somewhere new, navigating in unfamiliar territory. Of course your mind and body will be overwhelmed with such a chaotic change of environment.

It’s okay if you feel disinterested after traveling for so long. That doesn’t make you an ungrateful diva. It’s also okay if you don’t feel like doing anything. That doesn’t make you lazy. You are recuperating from a drastic lifestyle change, so let it happen.

We planned our itinerary for three weeks in Peru, and there were still a few days that had us constantly on the go that I could’ve tweaked in the early planning stages. Thankfully we paced the last week very slowly.

We hung out in our Airbnb for a few hours watching movies with English subtitles, only going out a few times a day to try a local restaurant or see something new. It was really chill and definitely eased my mind, finally giving it the rest it needed. Although, I’m still impressed with the amount of things we were able to do in just three weeks!

On the man-made islands floating on Lake Titicaca, these boats are a work of art!

There’s traveling in a new location, and then there’s the act of traveling itself. The act of traveling involves boarding enough planes, buses, and taxis to leave you 100% done for a lifetime.

Start off on a good note by booking your initial flights with as little connecting flights as possible. Connecting flights reset your sleep schedule and lead to layovers where it might be difficult to catch some shut-eye in a loud terminal. This can happen especially if you already have relentless insomnia, like me!

Avoid travel burnout by:

  • Splurging when you need to
  • Booking a quick trip home
  • Traveling slower
  • Connecting with people
  • Taking time for yourself
  • Find ways to laugh when something goes wrong
  • Keep that sense of adventure

It’s Okay to do Everything

So why do we do this to ourselves? Why do we over-plan and feel the compulsion to do everything there is or ever was? It could be that you don’t have much time to travel and you want to cram as much as possible into your trip. I totally get that.

In America, we have some of the least vacation days in the whole world, and that sucks! So it’s understandable why you want to do everything. Consider doing what’s most important to you only, leaving a lot of time open for you to relax at the spa or take a beach day. Have a plan and make it a smart one.

Take some time out of your schedule to walk on the beach. (Paracas, Peru)

If you’re like me, your biggest fear is of the unknown. You hate feeling uncertain and want to be as prepared as humanly possible when you jet off to a new place.

As we get older, we get a bit wiser as well. I know what the consequences will be if I over-plan, and what stress levels I’ll reach if I don’t take time to rest during a trip. If I aim too high, my itinerary may suffer some oversights due to planning too much. It’s hard, but embracing the unknown is something I am working on and growing from.

So… do all the things! Be mindful of your limits and be realistic when creating your schedule. You can find time to do everything and still have room to be spontaneous and keep stress to a minimum. Which will you regret more: not being able to see an attraction because you’re choosing to take it slower, or having a blurry memory of the places you did visit?

The slow traveler isn't afraid to make pit stops along the way to support the locals.. (Cusco, Peru)

Are you a “Do Everything” Traveler like me? How do you manage your itinerary and still avoid travel burnout? Let me know in the comments below! I’d love to try something that works for you.