10 Steps to Plan the Perfect Cultural Travel!

Updated May 2020

Did you miss an important national holiday? Did you book tickets to the Picasso exhibition in advance? Travel planning is essential. No matter if you’re going to a European city or on a Mexican roadtrip, this list will help you in your travel planning and make sure you don’t miss out! 

Right now, due to the Corona virus, there is more than plenty time for planning a trip. Every time, I’m planning, I go through all these steps in order to minimize what could go wrong. When writing this, I realized just how much work us self-planning travellers do. This is why travel agencies charge you as they do. But if you want to save money, then you have to put in the time. You don’t have to do all the steps that I do, just research on the areas that matter to you.

Before going through this cultural checklist, make sure you got the basics covered: 10 things to check before travelling! When you have decided on a destination and are sure you have a visa, first do an overall search and then start going into details with the…

10 STEPS TO THE PERFECT TRAVEL PLAN

1 WORD OF MOUTH

Me being interviewed about NYC
Ask friends who have been at your destination. They will know what you like and even if you don’t agree with their preferences, you get a good idea of what it’s all about. And you know it’s been tested. If you don’t have any friend’s or don’t know anyone who’s been to places like Ulaanbataar, skip this one and go to step 2…

2 PLAN BY SoMe

Watch YouTube videos of the destination, if you don’t know it that well, to get an idea of the mood and the highlights. Lonely Planet has short videos of most destinations, but otherwise you’ll find plenty by googling it (too many).

 

You can also head to Instagram for an overall idea. Try #visitistanbul or #angkor. Looking up hashtags will not only give you an idea on what to see, but also gives you a local insight into for example #paris.

The unavoidable TripAdvisor can be avoided, but I find it useful for top sights like most popular museums. TripAdvisor is one of the best to get more honest opinions, but take it with a pinch of salt. Some people complain about weird things and some attractions rate themselves.

3 WEBSITES

If you don’t know anything about a destination, the countries’ official tourist sites can be helpful.

For instance, Norway has guides on where to see the best Northern Lights. The official sites often use analytics and will guide you towards the most popular sights. They know the often asked question and difficulties and therefore cn give a great overview on temperatures, prices and so on. I have worked with both VisitCopenhagen and VisitDenmark, and they are only interested in you having a good time! 

Visit the UNESCO website for World Heritage sites in the area! Sometimes it’s a single building like Roskilde Cathedral in Denmark, other times it’s an area like in Amsterdam.

The travel magazines are generally too concerned about how it looks and less with cultures, but Wanderlust Travel Magazine does have some interesting features. My favourite is CultureTrip (no surprise). 

4 TRAVEL BLOGS

Of course, I have to recommend this!
Read different travel blogs on sights in the area, when you’re planning a trip. Travel websites are especially great if you want to go more local. And also, if you don’t have any travelling friends. Usually, bloggers will only recommend destinations and services, they’ve actually visited and actually liked. But make sure, they have same travel goal as yours (I don’t take advice from travellers, who guides you to the best adrenaline rushes or sailing trips). One of my favourite travel blogs is the Danish Ontrip.dk for European holidays or the Norwegian Reiselykke. I also recommend The Blonde Abroad for solo female travellers. But blogs will turn op when you google a destination.

5 EVENTS

Early in your travel planning, check for any fantastic celebrations, festivals or temporary exhibitions in the area. I usually see TimeOut or the largest museum’s websites.  This might give you the opportunity to see the erotic works by Picasso, that will never be exhibited back home (I saw it). We also planned our arrival in Mexico City according to the Day of the Dead celebrations.
Order concert or theatre tickets well in advance. We bought tickets to the Puccini Opera Festival in Tuscany first and then the trip later on. For the Salzburg Festspiele you have to be in really good time, for the New Year concert in Vienna you will put your name on a list in the beginning of the year and they draw lots, and for the Bayreuther Festspiele until recently you had to write a letter! At least 3 years in advance! The waiting list is still a couple of years I think. I think I will register now…
Chinese New Year in Battambang, Cambodia
Even if you are not seeing a play, you need to consider buying entrance tickets in advance as well. This is very important, since you don’t want to stand in front of the Uffizi Gallery in Florence or the Alhambra in Granada and not get in. (Yes, I know at least 2 travel parties, who missed “The Last Supper” in Milan.) Even the Catacombs in Paris have a 5 hours waiting line usually! Check, if it’s cheaper to buy a city card. They often give free access to the major attractions and transport.

6 TRAVEL PLAN WITH KIDS

If you’re bringing a kid, which I sometimes am, it will destroy everything if you don’t plan accordingly. Make sure to have enough time to take a detour or a break.

When visiting a big city, check to see if the museums have a children’s education pack like a treasure hunt or find the 10 details. Sometimes you can also find kids activities on the museum’s webpage. If you already know the place well, try letting them decide what to see. You’ll experience the art quite differently. This will make your life easier!

If that doesn’t work just let them sit with music, like we did with this one, when seeing Casper David Friedrich in Alte Nationalgalerie in Berlin. You can’t expect them to enjoy everything you do.

Ancient city of Petra in Jordan
If on the other hand, you are outside of a city somewhere you can climb is great. Or try to be an explorer – like the time my son and I staged a gladiator fight in an arena in Turkey.

7 PLAN DISTANCES

Distance is of course very important, when travelling in a group. Whether it’s you entire family-in-laws or a professional museum group, you have to think this through. But also with kids and in general, make sure your now selected sights are actually reachable.
Cultural sights in mexico

The activities in one day have to be in the same area. Especially, when travelling with children. Don’t worry you’ll still get plenty of miles. For instance Versailles, the new Arc de Triomphe and the Louvre are not next to each other. You can print a map and draw in the sights, but that’s only necessary if you are a group and everyone needs to know precisely where to meet. An compulsive organizer like me use apps like the offline Maps.me, where I – in advance-  highlight sights and restaurants, so I can easily find a place for lunch nearby a sight. Planning for a group is something completely different.

Taking the train between the cities in Tuscany, Italy

Carefully planning distances is an even bigger issue, when you’re not planning a city trip, but visiting something like Valley of the Kings in Egypt or Petra in Jordan. Remember, that driving 100 km can be quite different, when going on a clear freeway in Germany than taking a narrow, one-car-only serpentine road in the Chinese mountains. You always underestimate how much time it takes! Like I did in Mexico, and we had to take a plane…

8 TIMING

TThe Great Wall in China

When I’m Rome and want to visit the Vatican Museum or MoMA, I don’t go early in the morning as the guidebooks say. Because I’m asleep… It’s way better to arrive 1.5 hours before closing time. Plan the trip so you take the least visited attractions on Sundays for instance, and not do what me and my sister are going to and visiting Versailles midday Sunday.

From a beach holiday in Vietnam
Always remember to double-check opening hours. There might be some weird holidays or a royal visit. As mentioned before, we went to Mexico City for Day of the Dead, but forgot that it means most of the attractions are closed for the holiday. But it can also be good thing: when in Athens on Independence Day March 25 – the Acropolis Museum gave us free entrance.

9 FOOD

As we say in Denmark: without food or drink, the hero is no good (it rhymes in Danish).
Eleven Madison Park

Food is of course not just food. Food is edible cultural heritage! Hence, it does matter where you eat. When planning, you can look for the oldest restaurants, or new ones in old, historical buildings, like a breakfast diner in an old factory or Parisian cafes, where the French philosophers use to sit and think. I always include places serving local dishes like lambs head in Morocco or spiders in Cambodia. In the restaurant above we had sparkling wine from the New York are. And it was superb!

Cambodia

Especially when planning a tight schedule or a group tour, you need to make sure that the last museum of the day is in a cool neighbourhood. Then you can chill with a drink, before you have a great dinner. Like in Riga, when you wanna visit the Holocaust Museum or see the view from the Science Academy around lunch time, so you can eat in the interesting Central Market. 

Because there is no time to waste with so much to see and so little time to do it…

10 BE REALISTIC

Lisbon, Portugal
You really wanna see the cultural palace, the castle, the Polin Museum, the Uprising Museum, the Neon museum and also go to a Milk Bar, join a communist firetruck tour and then eat local food and learn about vodka – when in Warsaw. But unless you’re planning to move there, – you can’t! I’ve learned to prioritize the hard way from travelling with an unstoppable mother. I also keep reminding myself that sometimes just sitting in a park gives the best feel of the city. This happened to me, when I was in New York and my back started hurting. I had to sit down on a bench in Washington Square reading the Beat poets all day and ended up in a art performance with a stranger. This cultural experience I couldn’t have planned!
If you need inspiration on where to go for cultural experiences, go to Where To Go in 2020 for the Cultural Traveller or Top 10 UNESCO World Heritage sites in Europe! Do you have a list?