Travel takes such a toll -- on resources and on time. That's why I believe that to fully enjoy your trip, a lot of planning is required. Now don't get me wrong -- I am all for spur of the moment and serendipitous surprises but you can do this within a well planned trip -- it's not a paradox.
Here then are my proven travel planning tips to help make your next trip a success!
1. Do the math! At the very start, before you even start any planning, have a realistic idea of how much you want to spend. Whether this is just for a long week-end or for a once-in-a-lifetime getaway, you need to have a set idea of how much your budget is. This actually dictates how the rest of the planning will go.
2. Hit the books! The travel books, the guidebooks, the language books (if you're going to a non-English speaking country), the e-books. Knowledge is power and will help you from making mistakes, falling into tourist traps, missing that must see place, not finding that delicious meal in that only-the-locals-know-about-it restaurant. I get a lot of useful information from the internet -- a lot of countries have tourism web sites that have very helpful and complete links to just about everything you need to know.
3. Find a friend! Someone who has been to the place you're going to. Or has a friend who's just been there. Or even better, a friend who lives in the area you're about to visit. Personal experience and tips from those in the know can be very valuable. I remember on a trip to Rome, I was told that just in case I over shopped as I traipsed through Italy, I could send everything back to Manila via LBC, which has an office in Rome. Great news which saved me the stress and euros of paying for overweight luggage. I have since passed the same tip on and friends have used it and thanked me for it!
4. Calendar it! After careful planning and research, I take a calendar and write down each and every thing I plan to do each day I am away. This way, I do not miss out on specific things I wanted to see or do. For example, I like taking private walking tours with local guides. I prefer non-touristy areas and a local guide can put together a walking tour that suits my interests. I also enjoy attending cultural events like classical music concerts, ballets, operas -- these activities have to be planned, reservations made, tickets bought and calendared way in advance. By the time I am ready to leave, my calendar is pretty full!
5. (S)pace yourself! Even if your calendar is full with all that you plan to do and the places you want to see, leave enough time to relax and rest. Sleep in till mid day! Wander around and get lost. Put your feet up on a park bench. Sit in a coffee shop and people watch. Enjoy your trip! And then, start planning for the next one!