Creating an itinerary “on the fly”

I woke up at midnight last night (or this morning)  because I still haven’t gotten adjusted to the time difference between Texas and Sri Lanka. I have plans of  riding my rental motorcycle to the fish market at 6 am today, so I’ve had roughly 4 or 5 hours to contemplate the meaning of life…. Oh, and figure out where the hell I’m going.  If you’re like me, you might have bought a travel book on your last vacation and barely cracked it open. It’s nice to have a travel book as a reference guide but when you’re looking at a bunch of city names that you can’t pronounce and you really don’t know where any of these places are, it can be a little overwhelming. I have a few friends who read their travel books cover to cover, but I try not to hang out too much with people like that.

In the last 2 hours, I’ve figured out exactly where I want to go in Sri Lanka without the help of my travel book. I am going to the best places in the entire country and I have a plan. I didn’t have a plan last night, but now I do, thanks to Google and hotel WiFi. I’m going to share this process with you. It’s easy, it’s foolproof, and you’ll amaze and astound any tourists you meet  along the way because you will appear to be an expert.

The first thing you need to realize is that tour companies have been making money off the country you’re in or getting ready to visit  for a while. They’ve done most of the work for you. They’ve made a list of the destinations everyone loves and then they put this list with pictures on a website to show you how wonderful it is. That saves us a LOT of time! Now, don’t get me wrong…. there’s some advantage to ACTUALLY taking the tour you found online. You don’t have to think, drive, read anything, know anything, or even pay attention. They’ll pick you up, drop you off and stuff some food in you in the middle of the day. I say BALDERDASH! I don’t really say balderdash, but it does seem like a good word to protest being treated like luggage. So, if you like where this is going so far, read on….

First thing you do is open your web browser and pull up a few sites. I like UNESCO world heritage sites for example and Sri Lanka has 12. Wikipedia and Wikitravel are great resources to get lists and find out details about places. I also want to see some elephants, monkeys and leopards while I’m running around. I created a Google search, “best places to see elephants in Sri Lanka”, another browser is some sample tours from a company who specializes in Sri Lanka travel. Trip Advisor never disappoints me, so I pull it up as well. Finally, I do a search of “things not to miss in Sri Lanka”. Someone made a list of 20 things that they thought were awesome.

Next pull up Google maps. Skim through the itineraries. If you see a tour that says words like “leisurely” or “spend the rest of the day relaxing” , that translates to BORING.  Take those places off your list. Next, look at Trip Advisor what everyone likes. 1,233 Excellents can’t be wrong. Start entering these cities into Google maps. It will actually help you with it’s autosuggest. Once you’ve plugged in all these places, you should have a jumbled up mess that looks like a spiderweb. That’s because Google maps will give you the destinations you plugged in exactly in that order. Unless you love backtracking, it’s time to straighten them out. You can easily drag the destinations in whichever order you choose. I’m starting in Negombo and I want to end up somewhere around Colombo (where the airport is) so that’s my first and last destinations. Everything else gets moved around until I have a map that doesn’t look like an old woman’s varicose veins.  In the case with Sri Lanka, I get a really nice circle that takes in just about everything on my list. If I rented a car, all I’d have to do is follow the directions and Google is nice enough to tell you how long it’s going to take.

That’s it!  You can go back and Google sites around each city you’re going to visit.I often use Google images because you can see what places look cool and hover your mouse over the top to get more info. In my case, I pulled up TripAdvisor for the town of Dambulla and found 12 things to do. Only 3 looked interesting to me. If I have time, I’ll do all 3 Buddhist caves. If I get tired of Buddha caves, I’ll go to the next town, where I’ve made my sleeping arrangements; Sirigirya.

With this method, I only book one night’s hotel at a time. There’s many things to do in the area I’m going today and if I want to stay an extra day, it won’t be an issue. I’m not forced to stay in another place because I’ve already paid for it. I can always find WiFi at a cafe somewhere and book a hotel  online. I’ve done this literally 5 minutes before I showed up at the hotel. They hadn’t even gotten the fax yet. I always take a screenshot of the hotel reservation and show it to them on my phone if they can’t find it when I arrive.

Since I don’t have a car this trip, I’ll be using a combination of trains, taxis, tuk tuks, motorcycles, buses and maybe even a boat or two. That’s a whole different blog for a whole different day. I’ve got a fish market waiting to be filmed.

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