How to Save Time and Energy While Traveling

Generate Your Itineraries and Spend More Time Exploring

Me and my wife Andrea have been living on the road for over a year now. In November 2020, we got rid of almost every physical possession we had, and with a few exceptions, can now fit everything we own into two cabin-sized suitcases and two smaller backpacks. Lightening our physical baggage is not what this piece is about, though.

Living permanently on the road means that we’re spending most of our time in an unknown environment. We rely heavily on maps and navigation services to find grocery stores, transit stops, and places of interest. We try to spend at least a few weeks in a single location to get accustomed to how the locals go about their everyday lives. It means that after a few days, we can find our way to a local mercado or train station by heart. Things are a lot different with points of interest, however.

Hiking in Madeira Exploring the jaw-dropping landscape of Madeira

One of the main reasons we set out on the road was to experience the mesmerizing viewpoints, beaches, hiking trails, and much more the various destinations have to offer. We quickly realized that we are not that likely to stumble onto the gems. That led to Andrea spending lots of time researching the local points of interest and filtering out the ones that wouldn’t likely amaze us that much. It meant going through the usual “Best places in …” blog posts, suggestions by locals, and numerous Instagram feeds.

However, getting to a shortlist of places to visit was just a small piece of the puzzle. Because we were also working on most days, our free time consisted of evenings and weekends. Simply going through the list, one place per trip, would have been inefficient and not led to many new experiences. Thus we (she) started to bundle the places to “evening -” and “day trips”.

The bundling process looked something like this:

0) research about remarkable places nearby which we’d enjoy visiting;

1) put the places on the map;

2) group places in the same area or places en-route to other places;

3) check the navigation duration (whether we were on foot, using transit, or had a rental car at the time);

4) simulate a trip (“if we start at x pm, we’ll be at the n’th place at y pm where we’ll likely spend z amount of time”) and ensure the places were open throughout our visit;

5) ensure we got back in time (to catch the last bus, make it to our favorite local restaurant before the kitchen closed or have enough time for something else);

It sounds like a hassle to get out of the house, right? Well, it was. Doing research on places of interest and bundling them to a route easily took an hour or more. What was even more demoralizing was when we had everything set, and then, just as we closed the laptops after work, it started raining, and therefore, we had to look for other, likely indoor, activities. Or when the reality of southern Europe transit timetables (casual 15min variations in departures) hit us hard, and we missed a bus, which led to us missing the next one, which messed up the entire plan…

Croatian sunset It’s good to have a plan, but also be open for spontaneous sunset moments

Yeah yeah, “Who needs to be so organized when nomading, right? Why go through the trouble? Just get out there! You’re in a new environment — everything is new and exciting!” Well, not exactly. After spending a week walking through the same suburban streets to the same local highlight (be that a historic church, a seaside promenade, or simply a grocery store), it just gets mundane. There’s beauty in this as well, but we’d like to experience the extraordinary too.

As we didn’t always have the time or the energy to formulate thorough plans for the day, we tried to wing it. We got out, drove to the nearest viewpoint, and after gazing for 15 minutes, we were on our phones.

“(A) There’s this hiking trail that’s nearby..”

“(R) I didn’t bring my hiking shoes. What about this — there’s another viewpoint pretty close, it’s… Never mind it says it’s permanently closed.”

“(A) Oh, what about the place that I showed you the other day?”

“(R) It’s 2 hours in the other direction.”

And this, sitting in the parking lot, looking for our next stop, was a “luxury” which we didn’t have when we were moving around with public transport as the timetables aren’t often that flexible.

All this hassle led us to take a step back and see how much time we’re spending finding our way to the sights we set out to explore. Each new environment requires a whole new shortlist of our points of interest and tons of bundling to plan efficient routes. We looked for a tool to which we could say:

“we’re mainly interested in these kinds of places, currently using this transport, have this much time — what can we do?”

There wasn’t one, at least not something that could get us out of the door in under 5 minutes without having to go to some promoted and expensive wine tour.

SO, long story short…

Today we’re saving at least 10 hours a week by automating exploration-related planning using a tool we created ourselves — Plaan (Estonian for “plan”), which is a personalized travel itinerary generator.

We just recently spent two days in Barcelona. We visited marvelous viewpoints in the city side park, various cathedrals (including Catedral de Barcelona and La Sagrada Familia), the magic fountain, Arc de Triomf, the seaside promenade, and numerous artsy streets and cute parks along the way, all with exactly 5 minutes of “planning” (or rather, Plaaning). We did no research before getting there. After breakfast, we told Plaan when we wanted to be back and the fact that we preferred walking. Plaan, already knowing our interests and places we’ve been to, offered us a logistically sound route, which we then reviewed and adjusted to our liking.

View of Barcelona Enjoying ourselves in Barcelona with the time we would’ve spent on planning our day

There were times when the algorithm behind Plaan was still under development when it would have made our day. Like this once, when we moved between our accommodations in Sicily by train. We had a 2-hour layover in Messina. It was too brief of a visit to do extensive planning, therefore we just sat there in front of the train station until we eventually just walked to the nearest highlight on Google Maps and then back to the train station. It would have been great to let Plaan fill our two hours with some meaningful sightseeing before directing us back in time for our train.

Or when we were in Oviedo, Spain with a group of friends, unprepared for spending our afternoon exploring the surroundings. Having to come up with an itinerary on the spot which would satisfy everyone’s interests was a challenge. After sitting on the couch for at least an hour, Googling for stuff to do within our range, and trying to get confirmation from the group, we opted to visit a nearby town. It turned out to be an industrial area with literally nothing to do except have lunch there. Yay us! If only we had Plaan to carry the heavy load of taking in everyone’s preferences, scouting the vicinity, and handling the logistics. We would’ve been on the road within minutes and had likely enjoyed our time even more.

Plaan is ready for testing

Now is the time when we are ready to present it to a bigger audience, so you could also free up more time for exploring. Automating the mundane tasks in life grants us more time to spend on things we really enjoy.

If you can also relate to this problem of wanting to spend your time exploring, not planning, and wouldn’t mind sharing your thoughts with us, we would like to use it to develop the application further. Have a look at the demo for the future of Plaan here!


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