Monday, September 24, 2018

Preparing for a Trip

My husband and I are going to Europe, Germany, France and Austria, for ten days in October for our anniversary and his college study abroad reunion. Besides the need to pack lightly and efficiently, I’ve been wondering how to get the most out of this vacation.

In the course of talking to friends I realize that we don’t all have the same approach to travel. It seems most of my friends, and one in particular, do extensive research, making restaurant reservations and booking tours months and weeks before they leave home. One friend plans each day down to the minute.  I’m awed by her thoroughness and impressed, but I’m not sure it would be the right approach for me.  

Yes, I know there will be something I miss that I’ll only discover when I get back home. It has happened. There will be the restaurant we’ll miss because I should have made a reservation a month before. I’ll also admit, when I do get the recommendations from friends about places they have gone to, I feel a strong compulsion to follow it and fret when I don’t.  But I don’t think it’s really how I want to travel.

The trip, Germany, France and Austria, unlike many business trips to Europe that I’ve gone as the accompanying person, is different.  It’s for our anniversary and where we’ve chosen to go. My husband speaks German, so that will be a plus.  I studied French in high school and need to brush up, but we will get by.  The cities and towns are small and not on the usual bestseller route so they shouldn’t be filled with tourists and we have a general idea of what we want to do.  

We’ll be in the Alsace region of France and the German wine country so I’m thinking we’ll spend one day going from vineyard to vineyard. Another day will be in Strasbourg, a small city in Alsace, that the guidebook says is ancient and charming.  I’m thinking we can follow out noses in the city and the rest of the trip will take care of itself since besides the Rhine valley and Alsace we’ll be driving through the Black Forest, Grimm’s Fairy tale country. Then it’s only four days until we meet up with my husband’s classmates for their 50threunion.  

Do I want a guided tour of the castles we pass? I don’t think so.  I’m more curious about the people we see and the encounters we have. Do I need to eat in the best restaurants?  I’m thinking not.  I live in New York City where fancy food and dining is always available Though I did just read that Jean-Georges Vongerichten is from Alsace and worked at a Michelin starred restaurant there so I may have to rethink.

I’d love to hear how others plan their trips.  As a writer, I’m a pantser.  I don’t make outlines, but follow my nose until the plot is obvious.  My friend who plans down to the minute, if a writer (she a photographer) would be a plotter.  I’d be interested to hear how other people figure out their vacations and if my friend’s method is more common.


  1. Interesting, Debbie. I'm somewhere between the two. I need some kind of a plan before I can get myself started (both for traveling and writing), but deviations from the plan are the best part. BTW, we're planning a trip too - much less exciting than yours, but promises to be fun. We're going to Chicago for my husband high school reunion this weekend. Safe and happy travels to you.

  2. I think you will love the smaller wineries in Alsace, which are family owned for generations sometimes dating back hundreds of years. Outside Strasbourg, I went to a few where the owners speak English and will pour you the wine in their kitchen or patio and show you how they make it. I've been to and loved Schaeffer-Woerly (in Dambach), Robert Blanck (in Obernai), Noelle Bachert (in Barr). Since it's in their homes, a certain amount of preparation is necessary (calling ahead to RSVP in the morning or ideally a few days before, rather than stopping by that day). Also they may only be open on certain days -- they generally have websites, though.

    In general I like to read a lot about an area and take suggestions from friends, but ultimately be picky in what I decide to follow through on doing, and not schedule to the minute. It's not as fun when you are running from place to place without the option to wander around or change plans in the moment, based on how you feel and what you are seeing.

    In Strasbourg, you might enjoy the wine caves under the old hospital. It's been a hospital for hundreds of years so they have big barrels of regional wine aging under there, including one from the 1470s. You can go into a part of the ancient city tunnels there, and also buy regional wine.

    What a fun trip you will have! Enjoy!

  3. It sounds like a wonderful trip. I like to plan for the big things in advance but leave time for just nosing around. I'll usually pick out one or two things in each place that I know I want to do and get tickets or reservations for those in advance, but I don't want to be too tightly scheduled. So many of the most interesting things we've found on our travels have been things we just happened upon as we've wandered around or poked into little shops, restaurants, etc.

  4. Like Karen, I plan for the big things but leave the small places and events to chance. We lived in Germany for two years when my husband and I first married. We lived in the Eiffel and didn't make it into the prettier parts in the southern region. We did love Berncastle (sp?). Enjoy your trip. It sounds wonderful.

  5. Hi Deborah--
    I'm like you, I prefer to go to a place and find out what to do when I get there. The only times I differed from this was to see major sites: the Vatican and the Louvre (where admission tickets were necessary). Other than that, I'm a pantser, too.