Some explanations and assumptions

This page is to help you understand the information-dense travel itineraries I post on the “Trip plans” page. Over the years, I’ve developed my own kind of idiosyncratic format for encompassing all the relevant information, and I just wanted to make sure you weren’t confused by anything.

I keep all my trip plans in a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet, and then copy them (manually) over to a table to post on the blog. Every spreadsheet has the same column headings:

DayStart pointEnd pointDistanceDrive timeSpeedLeave start pointTime at stop 1Time at stop 2Time at stop 3 Arrive end pointExplore end pointComments/stopsLodgingMap

Let’s break down each heading:

  • Day refers to which day of the journey it is, of course. In my own Excel sheets, I actually have separate columns for day of the week and date; it’s probably a good idea to keep track of the days of the week because restaurants and museums are often closed on particular days, especially Sundays and/or Mondays.
  • Start point and End point are literally where you wake up each morning and go to bed each night. The Start point is obviously, by necessity, the same as the previous day’s End point.
  • Distance is the total distance you will drive that day, always in the local measuring system: miles in the US and UK, kilometers pretty much everywhere else. If the entire day is spent in one location, then this is blank.
  • Drive time is how many hours you should expect to spend driving that day, rounded to the nearest quarter-hour. More about this later. If the entire day is spent in one location, then this is blank.
  • Speed is simply Distance divided by Drive time, either miles per hour or kilometers per hour, as appropriate. If the entire day is spent in one location, then this is blank.
  • Leave start point is the time at which you actually start driving away from your Start Point, rounded to the nearest quarter-hour. Obviously, other activities, such as eating breakfast, checking out of a hotel, filling up with gas, and any last sightseeing at your Start Point need to be scheduled around this. If the entire day is spent in one location, then this is blank.
  • Time at stop 1/2/3 are how many hours you should expect to spend at your various destinations during the day, rounded to the nearest quarter-hour. Note that this is from parking the car to pulling out of the parking spot and includes walking to/from your parking spot, paying entry fees, etc. Not every day has three destinations, so some of these may be blank. On the other hand, days may occasionally have more than three destinations, in which case I combine the time at the third and any subsequent destinations into Time at stop 3.
  • Arrive end point is the time at which you arrive at your End Point for the day, rounded to the nearest quarter-hour. Again, this is pulling into a parking spot and doesn’t factor in things like checking into a hotel. If the entire day is spent in one location, then this is blank.
  • Explore end point is how many hours you have to explore/sightsee in your End Point, rounded to the nearest quarter-hour. More about this later. If the entire day or the next day is spent in one location, then this is blank.
  • Comments/stops provides information about the things you’ll be seeing and doing that day. When it says “via,” the items that follow correspond to the “Time at stop 1/2/3” columns. There may also be information about things to see at the Start or End Points in the morning or afternoon, and is often suggestions of places to eat or drink at the End Point.
  • Lodging is a specific place to sleep at the end of the day. Since I usually only book specific lodgings close to a trip, this is usually blank. I typically only plan specific lodgings well in advance if there is a famous or especially character-ful hotel that you really must stay in.
  • Map always simply contains the word “map” with a hyperlink to Google Maps driving or walking directions for that day. If the directions are especially complex, they may be broken up into two or three parts.

Let’s look at an example from my “13/14 nights in Ireland” trip plan.

DayStart pointEnd pointDistanceDrive timeSpeedLeave start pointTime at stop 1Time at stop 2Time at stop 3 Arrive end pointExplore end pointComments/stopsLodgingMap
3 Dublin Glendalough73 kms2.5 hrs29 kph10:00 AM1 hr0.5 hrs1.5 hrs3:30 PM4.5 hrsRent car; via Powerscourt House & Waterfall, Wicklow Mtns NP. Hike at least to Tonelagee NE Top (2.6-mi round trip, full summit is 4.2-mi). Eat at The Conservatory?map

A lot of this is pretty self-explanatory, but let me point out some specific things.

First, as I noted above, under the Comments/stops column, the places that follow the word “via” correspond to the three stops in the Time at stop 1/2/3 columns, so in this case, I’m assuming 1 hour at Powerscourt House, 0.5 hours (I always use hours, not minutes) at Powerscourt Waterfall, and 1.5 hours in Wicklow Mountains National Park. How do I decide how much time to allot for each destination? Well, it can be tricky, but I use a couple of rules of thumb:

  • 0.25 hours (15 minutes) for just a standard “viewpoint,” or a sight or spot of natural beauty that you pull off and go “wow” at. After all, there are only so many pictures you can take and so much oohing and ahhing you can do. I expand this to 0.5-0.75 hours if you have to walk a little bit to get to the sight, or if there are short walking trails there.
  • 1.5 hours for a standard “cute town” with a charming character, a neat downtown to walk around, interesting architecture, maybe a little museum to poke around, etc. I expand this to 2-3 hours or more if I know there are multiple really interesting and worthwhile things to see in a town, or in a city.
  • 1-1.5 hours for a single museum or building
  • 1.5-2 hours for hiking. If there’s a specific hike I want to do up to the top of a specific mountain, I will look at Google walking directions (if available) and see how long it will take, and if doable (I’m not exactly a mountain-climber) and I’m willing to commit the time, I’ll budget longer. For just a standard “walk around and enjoy the scenery” kind of hike, though, I limit myself to 2 hours.
  • For specific attractions (usually tours) that take a pre-determined amount of time, such as cave tours, boat tours, or steam or cog railway trips, I do my best to research exactly how long it takes so I don’t drastically under- or over-budget time.

Second, if you open the Map hyperlink, you will see that the driving time given is less than what I have in the Drive time column. This is always the case, for every day, in every one of my trip plans. Why? Because I have consistently found that no matter what, I always underestimate how long it will take to drive from point A to point B. Sometimes it’s due to unavoidable pit stops and fill-ups, sometimes it’s due to traffic or stop lights, sometimes it’s just due to wanting to pull over and take a picture of the beautiful scenery (something I do quite often). So to compensate, I always round the Google driving time up to the nearest 15 minutes and then add an additional 30 minutes. The only exception is that for very short driving days (1.5 hours or less), I will round up and then add just an additional 15 minutes, but otherwise, I do this every time. This might seem extreme, but I find that otherwise I’m always lagging behind my arrival times.

Also, this might seem obvious, but just to be clear, the time in Arrive end point equals the time in Leave start point + Drive time + Time at stop 1/2/3.

Third, look at the Explore end point column, which represents the amount of time you have to explore and sightsee in your end-of-day destination. How do I arrive at that number? It’s the next day’s Leave start point time minus this day’s Arrive end point time minus 14 hours. These 14 hours, from 7:00 pm to 9:00 am, represent a time when I assume you’re not out and about sightseeing and are instead doing things like eating dinner, relaxing in the hotel room, sleeping, showering, and eating breakfast. This leaves you only 10 hours a day for all your driving and sightseeing, but I think that’s as it should be. I deliberately built this feature in to prevent days from becoming painfully long and give you time to rest and recuperate (so you don’t “need a vacation from your vacation”), and also because I’ve had many experiences of staying in an interesting town, but because of how late I got there and how early I had to leave the next morning, I had no time to (or wasn’t in the mood to) explore/enjoy it. This is a shame and I wanted to prevent it.

Finally, you may have noticed that I did not leave time for lunch during the day! This is a conscious choice and is almost ubiquitous in my trip plans. If I eat anything for lunch while traveling, it’s only an apple and maybe some canned fish (for protein) during a pit stop – I almost never eat a sit-down lunch while traveling. This goes along with the previous point – if I’m only leaving myself 10 hours a day to sightsee while traveling, then I want to get as much time as possible out of those 10 hours! I might grab something from a convenience store if I’m starving, but I try not to for health reasons and besides, I eat a LOT at dinner! I always try to research the very best food at each evening’s destination, and I want to be hungry for it! For breakfast, I usually just get a coffee (again, I try to research the best in town) and maybe a pastry. I do love a “full” breakfast, but I rarely get one, again for health/fullness reasons.

Okay! Now, let’s look at some things I have at the bottom of every itinerary, totals and averages, and total costs.

DayStart pointEnd pointDistanceDrive timeSpeedLeave start pointTime at stop 1Time at stop 2Time at stop 3 Arrive end pointExplore end pointComments/stopsLodgingMap
totaltotal 2031 kms41 hrs
averageaverage 156 kms3.15 hrs50 kph10:30 AM4:38 PM3.61 hrs

Most of this is pretty self-explanatory. The total Distance and Drive time give you an idea what kind of magnitude this trip is. The average Distance and Drive time are simply the total divided by the number of driving days (not necessarily the same as the total number of days; I don’t include days you’re not driving), and give you an idea of the intensity of the trip. The average Leave start point, Arrive end point, and Explore end point aren’t meaningful for any particular day, but give you an idea what kind of time you’ll be leaving and arriving each day, so again, the intensity.

Let’s look at the total costs I estimated for this trip plan:

Total accommodations cost: $1680
Total food cost: $420
Total rental car cost: $420
Total gas/petrol cost: $504
Total cost minus plane tickets & entry fees: $3024

Now is when a lot of assumptions come into play, because there just isn’t a way to know specifics until you actually book a hotel, reserve a rental car, buy food, gas, etc. I estimate, as a rule of thumb:

  • $120/night in a normal hotel/B&B/Airbnb. If there’s a really nice hotel that I want to splurge on, I’ll research that cost specifically.
  • $30/night in a campsite. It’s actually often even less than this.
  • $30/day for food/drinks. I may spend more than this, but I also have a regular monthly budget for food, so I think of this as $30/day “extra,” beyond what I would normally spend.
  • $30/day for a rental car. This is based on my experience in the US pre-COVID. I understand it’s more expensive now, at least for the moment, and I have no idea about overseas. If anyone wants to set me straight, feel free to comment.
  • For gas/petrol costs, if I’m driving my own car, I know that gas currently costs me about 10.73 cents/mile (which equates to 6.65 cents/kilometer), so I multiply the total distance in miles by 0.1073, or the total distance in kilometers by 0.0665 (roughly 1/15). Obviously, it varies from state to state, but that’s a good starting point. For other countries, since petrol is much (about four times) more expensive there, I simply divide the total distance in kilometers by 4.

Sorry that got a little exhaustive! I know that’s a lot of information, but I wanted to help you understand the thought and assumptions I put into constructing a travel itinerary and maybe help you do the same. Best wishes!

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