Phuket, Thailand. Avoid getting stranded on your three-week vacation with these helpful hints.

What are you going to do with your infamous study abroad spring break? Or your internship’s precious holiday vacation? RSJ has several tips to make the most of your time off, and avoid becoming fodder for the next episode of The Amazing Race.

Two to three weeks of vacation can be incredibly long or frightfully short, depending on how you budget your time.  Assuming that you wish to strike a delicate balance between sightseeing and leisure–as opposed to blowing through Angkor Wat in Lara Croft: Tomb Raider fashion–we have several suggestions for planning an itinerary worthy of Marco Polo.


1. Musical Chairs vs. Viennese Waltz: The Quality over Quantity Rule

Three weeks breaks into twenty-one days.  Do you plan to visit eighteen European capitals? Twenty Pacific islands? It is easy to look at a long vacation as an opportunity to taste every flavor of gelato in the hemisphere. Think again.

Just as you would not leave Paris without seeing the Eiffel Tower, consider cherry-picking your destinations so as to unearth them fully.  Assign extra days to the cities you’ve been longing to explore, and consider a weekend skim of the places whose allure boils down to one or two major attractions.  Rely on your own instincts here, and do not be afraid to assign four or five days to one place. Plan to do justice to Gaudi, Bernini, and Monsieur Eiffel.  It took longer than twenty-four hours to build their masterpieces, and it will take you longer than twenty-four hours to fall in love with them.

Barcelona, Spain. Spend less time and money at Prat Airport, and more of both eating chorizo.

2.  Look at a map…no, we’re not kidding.

It may sound facetious, but many travelers do not consider geography when building an itinerary.  Open up a map and pinpoint the places you want to see.  This simple act could inform the order in which you visit them (although see caveat #3), and may alter your desired modes of transportation. Whereas you might have flown between the Greek isles and Turkey, you may see their mutual border on the Aegean and cruise instead.

3.  Jumble your itinerary for the best prices & travel times.

While it may seem geographically sound to travel from East to West, you never know when a budget airline will post a jaw-dropping deal.  Write out your itinerary in a number of different orders (ex: Barcelona Rome Athens versus Rome Athens Barcelona), and calculate the prices for each leg.  You may be surprised to see how a difference in date changes the overall cost of your itinerary. Flight aggregators such as STATravel (amazing student deals!) and Kayak can make this easy, but check the budget airline websites themselves too.

You may also want to consider alternating your modes of transportation. We are big advocates for spending less time traveling and more time simply enjoying the destination.  Motorvehicle rides are scenic, but when you’re on a ten hour bus ride through the chunnel (and only have two days in Paris), you might wish you had splurged on a train to have spent more time in the city itself. Consider flying instead of train rides or vice versa to determine what price point and travel time combo works for you.

Melacca, Malaysia. The Hotel Majestic. If you desire princess-worthy accommodations, don't expect hostel prices.

4.  Is that hostel/tour bus/homestay actually “sleepable?”

With three days in Athens and quite a hike to the top of the Acropolis, you want to be on your tourist A-game.  How can you stomach another museum when you spent all night avoiding the cockroaches falling from the ceiling, or the advances of a disgusting hostel bunkmate?

When you are abroad, particularly as a student, budgets can be tight.  However, you will want to be diligent about your homework and reasonable in your expectations when choosing accomodations.  You’re paying one dollar per night and the hostel has no reviews — those photos of en-suite marble bathtubs are NOT what you’ll be getting.  Be sensible.

If an extra 10 USD per night means that you will not spend your entire trip fending off unwanted attention, tossing and turning due to noise or bedbugs, or worrying for the safety of your personal belongings, then do what it takes to make it happen.  Don’t ruin your own trip with poor decisions.  When choosing a hostel or hotel, we strongly advise checking out websites such as World Best Hostels and TripAdvisor for reviews.  Be sure that there are a plethora of ratings, the reviews themselves are up-to-date, and always request personal recommendations from friends first.  You can even ask us!

Bali, Indonesia. Get the goods (and the best prices) when you book then you can splurge on champagne.

5.  Plan early, because every other student in Brazil/England/Japan has the same break as you do…and they’ll want that great hostel in Croatia, too.

The early bird gets the aisle seat, if you know what I mean.  It is often the case that students’ spring breaks overlap, just as winter holidays from work or summer recesses do, too.  Many other travelers will have similar plans to your own, particularly if you wish to coincide with some festival or other major event in your destination.  You’re not the only person who wants to hit Oktoberfest, frauline.  Therefore, expect the most convenient flights & best value accommodations to be snapped up before you could even say, “is there a visa requirement there?”

On that note, many countries require entry visas for short-term visitors.  Planning to spend a weekend in Ho Chi Minh? Not until you visit the Vietnamese Embassy.  Do your homework to prevent a mad dash or turn-down at the gate.

If you are traveling in a group, be particularly mindful of planning ahead.  Booking multiple hotel rooms or flight seats could turn tricky when you get down to the wire.

All in all, a successful itinerary requires nothing more than a little homework and early planning.  Might we also suggest creating a google doc with flight information, hotel addresses, sightseeing bookings, and more to share with your entire party?  That way, no one will feel left out or uninformed when you’re galavanting across the globe.

What are your tips for planning a successful itinerary? We want to hear them in the comments below!