For me, one of the best things about taking a trip somewhere is the planning – I can happily spend hours trawling through different tourism sites, looking at intricate maps of cities, trying to work out transport connections and fantasising about five-star accommodation.
Pre-internet, planning or research meant a trip to a travel agent to stock up on glossy brochures or shelling out for a Lonely Planet guide - there was plenty of hard copy material that could keep me in escapist mode for the months leading up to departure.
However, despite my love of travel articles and tourism information, I’ve always found it difficult to commit to an itinerary.
Our northern winter holiday to Japan was looming and with only one part of it actually locked in, I realised it was time to start finalising details. The teenager, who finds spontaneity and any lack of certainty deeply uncomfortable, had started hitting me with questions about the gaps in the itinerary. With several weeks of the trip still unplanned and flights not booked, I was confronted with my own trigger for discomfort – making a decision.
So much to book, so many options. I knew I had to commit, to take decisive action – the alternative would be a disaster. This I knew from experience.
Our first trip as a married couple had involved six weeks of driving around Europe with a map and a just vague idea of a route. I thought it would be free-range bliss - romantic scenery, stopping when and where we wanted. I was wrong. So wrong. It became clear that the husband was someone who preferred structure, a tidy plan with all details attended to. It made for an interesting road trip.
A couple of years ago, with the trials of that European vacation just a distant and funny memory, our family of four set out on a loosely scheduled driving holiday along the west coast of America. Hoping for a free-flowing travel experience, I deliberately left a number of days 'at leisure' on the itinerary. Surely, locking in every single detail of a three-week trip would make it seem too much like a school excursion.
Again, I was wrong. The lack of a clear, daily schedule was not something the male family members enjoyed. At all.
This time had to be different. Determined to execute a successful family trip, I knew had to stop flitting from one website to the next and make some hard decisions.
I’d been putting off booking accommodation (too many choices) when I received a message from my friend with whom the tween and I were going to be spending four days in snowy Sapporo. Not only had she booked a hotel in a great location, she’d found a local tour guide and confirmed several day trips for us. We would have the perfect balance of scheduled activities and free time - a bit of culture and a day of snowboarding, together with shopping and a trip to the city’s famous beer garden included in the plan. It was a revelation. More than that, it was a relief.
Inspired by her decisiveness (and comforted by the free cancellation policy on booking.com – you know, just in case I changed my mind), I committed to an itinerary, locked in accommodation and even signed us up for a couple of organised day trips.
With everything confirmed and loaded onto a very tidy travefy.com itinerary, I’m now feeling unusually calm. I think I’ve finally managed to satisfy everyone’s travel preferences this time.
We’ll soon find out.
I’m also predicting they’ll be grateful that I managed to sneak in a few free, unscheduled days just in case.