Planning for a trip is one of my favorite parts of the trip. Some people consider it to be a hassle, but I feel that as you are researching your destination, what you want to visit, and how you are going to organize all this, a part of you is already there!
However, when there are so many things to see, when countries are so big or when trips go over several countries, and when time is counted, how do we plan an effective itinerary that will give you the best chance to have a great trip?
Let’s face it, there is an infinity of possibilities to create an itinerary. I will list here 3 main kinds of itineraries that I have used for my own my trips, then reflect on what would make me choose a certain type of itinerary rather than another. Hopefully, it can give you some insight and help decide what to do if you are planning your next trip 🙂
Types of Itineraries
As its name suggests, a loop itinerary starts in a certain place and then hops from place to place in a loop shape, until you get back to where you started. It is the type of itinerary that works for most trips and that most of us try to achieve in our trip planning.
And it’s easy to see why. With a loop you never go backward, you hop from discovery to discovery, and each road you take is a new one. It is convenient for transport as well since you arrive and leave from the same city, you only need a simple return ticket to this city.
However, there are some other aspects to take into consideration. Depending on the length and pace of the trip, a loop itinerary can be more tiring. If you don’t stay for very long at each place and you can easily start feeling you are constantly on the road. That’s why it is important to plan an itinerary that is not too packed and that can even include an extra buffer day.
When the region or the country to explore is big enough, it makes sense to try to craft a loop itinerary.
The second kind of itinerary that you can choose is what I call the “star itinerary”. This itinerary is more suitable for smaller countries/regions with fast and efficient transportation.
The idea is that you book a hotel for the whole length of your trip in one place (usually a major city), and you organize days trips around this point and come back to sleep at this same hotel every night. On the map, the itinerary has the shape of a star, more or less.
The big positive point about this kind of itinerary is the feeling of comfort that you get from having the same hotel all along. No new hotel to find every two or three days as you arrive in a new city, and no luggage to move around. Your hotel becomes your new temporary home and you are free to explore the region or the country all around.
The less positive point is that you will probably need to take the same road to go for your day trip and to come back to the hotel. For some people, it can feel like a waste of time or be boring. But again, if you do it in a place with efficient transportation, good roads, etc. it shouldn’t be such a big hassle.
Of course, I am taking here the example of day trips, but you can obviously choose to stay for a night or two at some of the places you visit! Again, the possibilities are endless to create a nice itinerary!
A variation of the star-shaped itinerary that could be called the “double star itinerary”, would follow the same principle but split your holiday in two different hotels in two different regions. For example, we can imagine that you are traveling to a country that is a little too big for a simple star-shaped itinerary, and where a loop does not necessarily make sense.
What you can do is spend the first half of the trip being based in the capital city (for example) and travel around, then move to another major city for the second half of the trip, and travel around that second city. At the end of the trip, you just need to come back to the first city to catch your flight back home.
Open Jaw Itinerary
The open jaw itinerary is when your trip starts and ends at two different places. It is a very good solution when making a loop and going back to the first stop would be a hassle and/or would waste too much time. To do this, you need to use the “multidestination” tab of your favorite flight booking website, and book an open jaw flight.
Such flights are sometimes a bit more expensive than simple return flights, but many times the difference is really not that big. And when you consider how much time, local transportation, and hassle it saves you, it’s totally worth it.
Usually, this type of itinerary is great when your trip is spread over several countries, or when you visit a very big country. You can cross a whole country or several countries without having to go all the way back to catch your flight. I am personally a big fan of open-jaw itineraries that I find very time-effective.
Thoughts About What Type of Itinerary To Choose
When I am planning to visit a quite big country with at least two cities of higher importance (with international airports), my first reflex is to check what options I have with plane tickets to see if I can find an affordable open jaw ticket. It is often the case!
I like the idea of crossing a country and open-jaw itineraries are often more time-effective than other types. The traveling/visiting time ratio is the best. If my trip spans several countries, I will most likely do all I can to do it open jaw as well.
If the country only has one main international airport and is big enough, I will probably plan a loop itinerary, as the time-effectiveness is also very good with no direct going-back.
However, if I am visiting a specific region or even a whole country that is not as big and has good transportation possibilities, I like the comfort of keeping the same hotel with a star-shaped itinerary. If some places would be a little too far to reach, a double star-shaped itinerary is just right. These itineraries often induce a slower pace of travel and a more “take it easy, we’re on holidays!” atmosphere.
Loops and open jaws often feel more like epic trips with a lot of discovery, and one can feel the freedom while being on the road.
In any case, there are a million itineraries to be planned and there is no right or wrong itinerary. It should above all suit your wishes and your interests and respect the pace you want to give to your trip. I hope this page has given you some inspiration to get started on planning your next itinerary!