My Travel Planning Tips

travel planning tips woman doing an Outlander pose by cairns in Scotland

Recommended Books & Websites for Planning–my process

When my husband talks about our trips with his friends and they tell him they have an upcoming trip to one of those destinations, he always offers them a copy of our itinerary. That’s a great compliment to me for coming up with activities and locations that we both love. I have included our Scotland itinerary below, and will share more of these itineraries in the future, but for this post, I wanted to share my process and my favorite travel planning tips, books and websites.

woman hiking Old Man of Storr in Scotland travel planning tips
Hiking Old Man Of Storr on Isle of Skye, Scotland

Where I start

I usually start planning at least 18 months before we travel. We decide on a destination, then I narrow it down within that destination, based on things we love. I like to book hotels and airfare a year out. I hate the thought of having my heart set on a certain hotel, and when I try to book it, it is not available. So I like to do all of that early. I always book refundable reservations, in case I have to change our itinerary.

Everything is digital these days, but for me, I love the Fodors Travel Guide Books. I order them on Amazon and can then read through them at my leisure and highlight and dog-ear to my heart’s content. The books always have great travel planning tips. Old School, I know, but it works really well for me. What I love about Fodors is they give all sorts of information about the country, such as driving and cultural information, legal issues, shopping suggestions, weather, itineraries, and recommended hotels, restaurants and sites.

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When I initially plan, I usually get my Fodors out and highlight everything I am interested in, then take notes. Then I hit the web and double check on, another of my favorite sources. Consistently, Fodors matches with TripAdvisor ratings. Usually, too, you can link directly to the site/business’ website from TripAdvisor. You can search in forums for travel planning tips. For hotels, I love to look at traveler-provided photos and room tips before I book. I don’t book anything that isn’t 4 or 5 star reviewed with a large number of reviews listed. There are exceptions, such as for new places, small boutique hotels/b&bs, and less traveled locations. But this has been my modus operandi and it has only steered me wrong once.

For restaurants, I also use Fodors and Tripadvisor. I am a very picky eater (no seafood), so when I plan where we will eat, I always check out the menu on their website first, just to make sure there is at least one item I will eat. That helped me a lot in Scotland with all the fish on many menus.

Making an Itinerary

So my process after all that research is to then start an itinerary, based on our arrival and departure city. I look at all of the tourist sites we want to visit and figure out how many days we need to spend in each place. If we are traveling by train, car or air, I need to allow time in our schedule for that. If we travel by train, I usually like to book something close to the train station, so it is easier to lug our baggage a shorter distance.

Once I have my cities/locations down, I then look at schedules for each day. I decide which site to visit first (sometimes based on crowds), and continue like that for the rest of the day, usually based on location. I write down an approximate time for each location as well as the address and walking directions if necessary. 

travel planning tips for allowing time to tour castles like gloms castle
We allowed plenty of time for visiting castles. This one is Glamis Castle. Incredible!

For hotels, I include the website link, address, room category and reservation number. For restaurants, I include a website link along with reservation time. I usually only reserve restaurants for dinner, to allow for stopping for lunch or breakfast wherever the inclination takes us. That gives us more flexibility. Our philosophy is, we are spending this time and money to visit this amazing country, we need to make the most of it and have a plan.

For an example, below is our itinerary for Scotland:

Scotland Itinerary June 21-July 7, 2019

Friday, June 21

  1. Fly from Washington IAD, ABWL0 UA 146 1025 PM
  2. Use United lounge pass for their lounge

Saturday, June 22

  1. Arrive SCOTLAND 1040 AM
  2. Bus or tram or taxi to Main Train Station Edinburgh, walk to Hotel, drop bags or check in Classic Room  Confirm #
  3. Visit Colton Hill
  4. 3pm Tickets to visit The Real Mary King’s Close, @ Warriston’s Close, High St.
  5. Back to Hotel, change for dinner
  6. Dinner: 530pm Michael Neaves Kitchen, 21 Old Fishmarket Close (Royal
  7. Mile) 9 min walk, .4 miles. Eat, then SLEEP

Sunday, June 23

  1. Arrive at Castle by 930am, get Scottish Heritage Pass from Info Desk, tour castle (about 2.5 hours)
  2. Walk to Palace of Holyrood, tour.
    1. Climb Arthur’s Seat
  3. Back to hotel, change for dinner
  4. Dinner: 730 PM at Contini George St, 103 George St. (14 min walk, .6 miles)

Monday, June 24

  1. Walk to breakfast, find a place on the way. Check out Greyfriars.
  2. Tour National Museum of Scotland, Royal Mile. Go to hotel, change.
  3. Dinner: 7 pm at Howie’s Victoria Street, 10-14 Victoria St (10 min walk)

Tuesday, June 25

  1. 830 am—CHECK out from hotel, go to 24 East London St to pick up Car at AVIS, Conf. #
  2. Drive 1.45 hour to Glamis Castle, 1 hour to tour
  3. Drive 1 hour to Dunnottar Castle, Tour, then drive 1 hour to Douneside
  4. Check in to: ABERDEENSHIRE Douneside House by 630 pm booking #   
  5. Dinner 730pm at Douneside, 730PM (Anniversary Dinner)

Wednesday, June 26

  1. If didn’t get to Dunnottar, go there first.
  2. Castle Fraser, tour; Drive about 50 min to Fyvie Castle, tour
  3. Check out city of Aberdeen, or visit other castles in area if time
  4. Dinner 730pm at Banchory Lodge Hotel, Dee St, Banchory

Thursday, June 27

  1. Check out of DOUNESIDE HOUSE
  2. leave early am to DRIVE 45 min to Braemar or Ballater area, go early and do hike 
  3. Drive 1.5 hours to Aviemore/Cairngorms, Do a hike—viewpoint and buzzard trail (2.5 hours).  By 430 or 5 pm Drive 1 hour (from Aviemore) to check in to NAIRNE Invernairne booking # Change for dinner
  4. Dinner 730 pm Nairn
couple in Nairn Scotland in front of a sunset travel planning tips stay at Invernairne
This is the incredible guest house we stayed in during our visit to the Inverness area. I highly recommend it! Invernairne in Nairn. Amazing views, service and room!

Friday, June 28

  1. Tour Castle Cawdor, Culloden, maybe Brodie Castle if time or explore Inverness
  2. Dinner 730pm at Cafe1 in Inverness, 75 Castle St.

Saturday, June 29

  1. Check out of Invernairne
  2. Drive to Loch Ness Cruise, (about 45 min—A96 & A82) park at Clansman Hotel, Brackla Harbour, Inverness, arrive NLT 930 am for 10 am cruise cruise the Loch and visit the castle on two hour tour. One hour cruise, one hour visit to explore Urquhart Castle
  3. NOON: leave, drive about 1.5 hours to Eilean Donan, tour about 2 hours (cafe there)
  4. Drive to PORTREE/ISLE OF SKYE Hotel, booking # Premier Room B&B,
  5. Dinner 7pm at Hotel

Sunday, June 30

  1. Drive to Old Man of Storr, Quiraing and Kilt Rock and hike
  2. Dinner: 7 pm Flodingarry Skye Restaurant

Monday, July 1

  1. Dunvegan Castle, Fairy Pools, Fairy Glen; go to hotel, change.
  2. Dinner 8pm Marmalade Hotel in Chargrill Restaurant, Home Farm Rd. Portree

Tuesday, July 2

  1. Check out of Hotel
  2. drive to Armadal, take Ferry to Mallaig
  3. Drive towards Ft. William, do Nevis Range Gondola on way (eat at top!)
  4. Check in to FT. WILLIAM Factor’s Inn conf # Standard Rm, B&B change for dinner
  5. Dinner 9pm Inverlochy Castle (still celebrating Anniversary!)

Wednesday, July 3

  1. Check out of Factor’s Inn. Breakfast included at castle
  2. Drive to Glencoe then to Stirling Castle (take the A82 about 2.5 hours—allow time for stopping/pix)
  3. Tour Stirling Castle (we have tix), can eat lunch behind castle at River House Restaurant? Or at castle cafe.
  4. Tour Battle site, Wallace Monument if time
  5. Arrive b/w 330 and 5 to tour Doune Castle (have tix) (about 14 min drive to Doune) closes at 530, allow 2 hours, though!
  6. Check in to hotel conf. # Small Double. Change for dinner
  7. Dinner 830 pm at hotel

Thursday, July 4

  1. Drive to Balmaha, Loch Lomond, take ferry to Inchcailloch, tour
  2. Go to Battlefield or Wallace if no time yesterday. Hotel, change
  3. Dinner: 830pm Kailyard by Nick Nairn, Hilton Doubletree Hydro in Dunblane

Friday, July 5

  1. Check out of hotel early, drive 1.5 hours to Blair Castle, tour. Try to go through Falkirk for the Kelpies
  2. Drive to airport, return rental car (about 1.5 hour drive) to
  3. FLY from EDIN to DUB: 415 pm flight EI3257, arrive Dublin 530pm
  4. get taxi to Hotel, Dublin, booking #. Change for dinner
  5. Dinner 830 pm The Unicorn Restaurant

Saturday, July 6

  1. Tour Dublin, whatever hubby wants to do. Ideas for food: Darkey Kellys (live music), 1 Lord Edward St; Arthur’s Pub (near Guiness), music all day, 28 Thomas St, Ushers; Temple Bar: Old Storehouse Bar & Restaurant, live music from 3pm on (3 Crown Alley, Temple Bar)
  2. Dinner 630 pm Brookwood, 141 Baggot St, Lower

Sunday, July 7

  1. Check out of Hotel
  2. taxi to airport
  3. Fly home—1235pm, EI119 (Aer Lingus), arrive IAD 335 pm
  4. Drive home from DC

Right now I am working on the details and itinerary for my husband’s milestone birthday coming up in 2020. I have my Fodors, I’ve booked our hotel, and am just waiting for flights to open. I am checking out travel planning tips on TripAdvisor and other blogs. Next up will be our schedule for each day. Because this is a basic “chill” trip, I don’t have to come up with too much. We plan to do lots of lounging by a pool and the sea!

If you have any questions or suggestions, please feel free to comment. Other sites I love to consult include for tips on what to wear and other great insights, travel sites related to the country we are visiting, and also Of course, if I have any questions on planning that I need answered that I can’t find there, I just google the question, and the answer or tip usually comes right up. We live in amazing times!

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