So many places to go, so little time.
Whenever I plan a road trip, the first thing I do is pull out all my travel guides and look for all the destinations along the way. However, most travel guides merely report on what’s there, but don’t tell you if it’s worth seeing. There can be thousands of sights along the way, but only a handful are worth pulling over and spending time and money on. Road trips are a study in efficiency. You only have a certain amount of time and a certain sum of money, and you want to get the most out of it.
I keep several travel guides on my bookshelf dealing with travel destinations at various levels of granularity. There are world travel guides, USA travel guides, and state travel guides. Then there is the entire ecosystem of online travel and review sites like TripAdvisor and Yelp. Going through all this information can be overwhelming at times, and it can be hard to narrow down all the different tourist attractions to the few you will have a chance to visit.
Here’s a tip I’ve learned from planning a countless number of family trips: plan to visit only one place per day. For each day of your trip, write down just one place as the centerpiece of the day. When that day comes, that one place you wrote down will be the mission for the day. The day is a success if you just visit that one place.
Of course, you should also list a few other lesser places under your one centerpiece place. Those lesser places are the backups in case things don’t go as planned. They are also the places you would consider when you’re done visiting the centerpiece place and still have lots of energy for another activity.
The hard part of planning is often choosing the places to visit. For this, I’ve developed my own rating system to guide me. It is a scale from 1-10, with 10 being a world-class must-see-before-you-exit-this-Earth type of place, while a 1 represents that neighborhood pizza shop with mediocre food that the locals love to frequent.
10 – Major World-class: These are the wonders of the world that every world traveler must visit. Most world travel guides would list these destinations (examples: Machu Picchu, Angkor Wat, Taj Mahal)
9 – Minor World-class: These are world-class attractions that are listed in some world travel guides, but not the majority. They are attractions worth basing an entire vacation around but tend to be not as popular or traditional as other world-class destinations (examples: Siena Cathedral, Tate Modern, Golden Gate Park)
8 – Major Country-class: When visiting a country for the first time, these are the places you have to see (examples: Statue of Liberty, Plitvice Lakes National Park, Zanzibar)
7 – Minor Country-class: These are the country’s hidden gems. They are national treasures, but not advertised so much to foreign tourists (examples: Hocking Hills State Park, Lake Paijanne, Umhlanga)
6 – Major State/Region-class: These are popular weekend destinations for the locals, and worth visiting if you plan to spend several days in one region of a country (examples: Luray Caverns, Parque Nacional da Serra Geral, Kalbarri National Park)
5 – Minor State/Region-class: These are local destinations that you might not find in a typical state or regional travel guide, but are also popular weekend destinations for locals (examples: Natural Bridge, Buckroe Beach, McAfee Knob)
4 – Major City-class: These are the major attractions and architectural landmarks in a city (examples: Ben’s Chili Bowl, Exploratorium, Empire State Building)
3 – Minor City-class: These are lesser known attractions that might make it into a top destinations list for a large city, or the top attraction in a small town (examples: Alamo Cinema Drafthouse, The George Washington Masonic National Memorial, Torpedo Factory Art Center)
2 – Major Local-class: These are local attractions that are not worthwhile for tourists to visit, but may be of interest for people staying in the area for an extended period (examples: National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial, Ashburn Ice House, U.S. Patent and Trademark Office Museum)
1 – Minor Local-class: These are the local attractions that are well known locally, but are not worthwhile for travelers to visit (examples: McDonald’s, Franconia Park, Pipeline Plaza)
Beyond strict classification from travel guide analysis, these ratings are largely subjective and might even change over time. A destination might get newly renovated and move up a few notches. Or a destination might cease to exist for any number of reasons. Or perhaps I might visit a destination personally and find that it’s way over or under-rated.
In the future, I plan to write more travel articles to review and summarize the places I visit. I will use this travel rating system to make it easier for you to decide how worthwhile a destination is for your own trips.