Itineraries: The Meticulous or the Messy?

The answer to many questions which I raise on this blog often lie in between the two extremes presented. I feel that Marianne and I can talk to this subject because we have transitioned between the two modes of holiday planning with a gradual drift toward the meticulous side. This is largely due to the presence of Charlotte but also in part due to creating β€˜backup’ plans photographically. There are notable advantages and restrictions to both approaches which I thought I might highlight through some past experiences. The short stories are examples of planning gone right or wrong.

Back in 2002, our first trip to Vietnam originated from a plane ticket in , a plane ticket out and the first night’s accommodation. Everything else in between, was completely up for grabs! Fast forward to this year and I’m coming up with spreadsheets of various aspects of the trip. I never thought of myself as OCD but perhaps there are elements….

Accommdation planning!

Accommodation planning!

In 2009, our icelandic trip was hampered photographically with the early loss of the 5dmk2 to waterfall spray. Sharing one camera between two photographers was very trying for our patience. We used ‘open voucher’ tickets with Iceland’s excellent hostel network. This allowed us to spend more time at certain locations and to wander ‘off course’ to places such as Breidavik in the West Fjords where a fortuitous snap has since become one of our most popular images.

Breidavik in shifting light

Again in 2009, we didn’t account for a May public holiday which meant all accommodation in Seydisfjordur was occupied. As a result, we had to drive an hour further to the remote property ‘Husey’ where we enjoyed some great conditions for photography. This was not without stress as we rang around for quite some time before securing any accommodation whatsoever. This shot would never have occurred if we had adhered to a predetermined itinerary!

Early morning at Husey

In 2010, we prebooked every single night in Iceland over a 5 week trip. Had we known just how incredible the West Fjords would be, we would have altered our schedule somewhat! As it was 2 nights at Korpudalur was enough for us to chance upon this scene.

Onundarfjordur in the West Fjords

In 2011 , we visited Tasmania while Marianne was 20+ weeks pregnant. By this stage , most of our trips had accommodation prebooked before leaving. We wanted to travel in relative comfort compared to our previous trips given that this would be our last hurrah without a baby in tow. Hence the actual accommodation took preference over its exact location. We do wish we could have stayed longer and closer to the West Coast than Burnie though! Burnie was our base for the series of shots from Couta Rocks.

Couta Rocks – while based in Burnie

In 2012, Charlotte was well and truly part of our lives. Free wheeling accommodation was no longer a realistic possibility and so the level of planning rose further. We found that ‘overnighters’ at any given location was just too much of a hassle. By the time everything was unpacked for ourselves and Charlotte then repacked the following morning, our arms had received a great workout but that’s where the positives ended. It was a struggle to find the motivation to get out and about on these evenings and dawns. We would have loved a couple of nights at Moeraki for instance.

More Moeraki would have been great!

This year, the level of planning went up further! In order to maximise time with photography and family, I tried to plan the direction of our travel so that tides and moon phases would match certain parts of our trip. Instead of heading north to Kaikoura first, we chose to head through Arthur’s Pass to coincide with a new moon and the chance for some milky way shots. Similarly , instead of heading straight to the glaciers, we decided to stop at Greymouth for a couple of days to take advantage of low tide at dawn and dusk. Despite these plans, we would have loved to have spent more time around the west coast due to the bad weather which had us indoors for much of our time at Punakaiki. Conversely we could have spent one less day in Glacier country except for Charlotte’s run in with a nasty chest infection.

A planned millky way shoot

More time for Starfish with this light next trip?

So what’s my conclusion then? I feel that an open itinerary gives you so many more opportunities to take advantage of conditions photographically. This may not be the best option for you if you feel the need for security of a guaranteed roof over your head for the next evening. With a trip involving an infant though, this would result in a potentially unsettled child whose behavior could then spoil the trip. We try to overcome both problems by simply staying longer at any given location and hoping that the conditions suit at some stage during our stay. I’d be interested to hear your thoughts both as solo travelers and family travelers with children at different ages.


Scenes like this are on the cards for a brief week in the Pacific North West later this year!


Posted on June 6, 2013, in Australia, How we..., Iceland, New Zealand, Random Musings and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 11 Comments.

  1. All these are good questions, and probably (even against yourselves) you’ll have to organize more and more.. because of Charlotte, because of you photography stuff (stuff ? is ok ?), because nights availabilities etc… but it depends destinations : I crossed Australia when my son was 11, with only an organized flying ticket around Australia, after rent cars and found hotels easily (5 weeks). Now, he is 31 (I’d be a grandmother for Charlotte !!). Today for us, we prefer “messy” or “messy-mix”, it depends the country.. in Asia, flying ticket and no more.. in US, flying ticket & RV is very ok.. in Venise Italy, because we’re with parents, and so because of museums timing, booking, long walkings & so on, I planned everything everything everything…
    We try to travel with max 13kg (28 lb) on the way to go, with a Nikon D5000 & 18/270, fisheye, ipad, small computer, only – until today not even a tripod, i use rock or car or table… my companion uses to write and I take pictures, but at this time it’s just for fun and facebook, because of pictures quality I find low (I opened a wordpress blog, but it’s always empty…)
    normally 2 trips a year, one month in spring, two in fall, and between working !!
    I realize I really replied to nothing about your thoughts… abstracting all pressures of timing, money, weight and so on, we sh’d be like you and prefer definitely freedom !!!!!! I’m quite sure that Charlotte & you2 prefer same…
    nice day to you
    Marie-Odile David (small planet & cyclers from facebook)

    • Thanks Marie Odille David πŸ™‚
      As time passes and kids grow, I’m sure we’ll adapt to our needs and theirs as they declare their personalities. I think that both Marianne and my natures are suited to having some degree of planning ! Watch this space πŸ™‚

  2. I’m so impressed with how many days you get off to travel – wish the US businesses allowed these kinds of travels – sadly, the average American only gets a couple weeks a year. I’m quite lucky to get 5 weeks a year wish could allow a trip like this – yet Linda only gets 3 weeks, so I’d be solo for much of it!

    Some really amazing images you got while out there (and I hold your standards to the utmost high) this year. But man. that 2009 church in Breidavik is simply amazing. Love that one so much – no wonder it’s one of your most popular.

    • Thanks Ray! I’m still surprised about that 2009 image lol. As for leave allocation, it’s pretty generous in the public sector – I took 4 of the allocated 5 weeks in 2012 so that means this year I have 6 – it’s factored into salary so they actually want you to take your leave instead of pay you for being at work!

  3. Hey Dylan, very interesting to read your progressions in planning trips. I guess we’ll make the same way with our little girl being 7 months old by now. Our first two big trips to the Canadian Rockies and the Colorado Plateau profited from a mixture of planning and open schedules. I carefully laid out an itinary for both of the trips including thoughts about sunrise and sunset viewing directions, moon phase and so on. But at the same time we did both of the trips with a Motorhome and did not pre-book any of the campgrounds. So we had a detailed plan what to shoot when but also had the freedom to alter the plan if necessary. We did this altering in Canada more than in the U.S. though. In the Rockies we were more often dependent on the weather and waited for several days in Banff in cloudy and rainy conditions with small hikes for great conditions at Moraine Lake and Lake Louise. That worked out pretty well. On the Colorado Plateau I only remember one day where we skipped a planned overnight and headed out for another location. The resulting afternoon at Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park proved us right!
    We’re not doing any big tours this year, just a two week stay in Lisbon where everything is booked already. But next year we we’ll see whether we can stick to our mix of planning and freedom when we likely hit the road in the Rockies once again in September…
    Best wishes from Berlin, Jan

    • Thanks Jan! Looks like your original travel plans worked well and we’d love to try the motorhome option one day, but perhaps when Charlotte is a little more grown up – I hope your trip to Lisbon works out well πŸ™‚

  4. I’m impressed that you manage you travel as much as you are doing! Before my son was born (he’s 13 months now), we would book flights, a car and the first night and see what happened next. In Iceland, we had a car and a tent, which was brilliant for spontaneity. I’ve done six weeks in the US with maps and a national parks pass and nothing else planned!

    As I became more and more interested in photography as part of the trip, and for me it was generally the biggest part, I spent more and more time with TPE and tide tables, picking locations to match conditions. Now, after having my son, I pick the vacation weeks to match the tides, since we are largely confined to Cornwall and Skye, although we are heading to Dingle and Connemara in Ireland for the first time this year. Travelling with the little one has led us to stay in one place much longer, and to holiday for longer as well – long weekends and weeks away that involve hundreds of car miles to get to the destination seem hard work if you don’t stay a while… We stick to a base (agree completely that unpacking and packing takes so much time it is better to minimise) and try to radiate out in relatively short drives, but stay in a location where we can enjoy the sunrises and sunsets without having to travel far at all… Despite best efforts, our kids backpack has barely been used, but we remain hopeful! But for now, I try and gain as much enjoyment from the planning and researching of the sites before we travel and have a handful of locations in mind instead of expecting to get five decent locations a day! And instead of trying to hit somewhere in one or two visits, I now get real enjoyment from visiting the same spot many times during a trip to really see the variations in light and tide from day to day. To be honest, I probably enjoy the process much more now although I feel like I do a lot less – I was maybe in danger of always taking photos and not stopping to look without the camera, if you know what I mean…

    For the future, I expect to plan locations precisely – Iceland (again), hopefully visiting friends in California, and New Zealand (for the first time), but I think we will travel abroad but closer before embarking on a big trip. I can’t imagine much spontaneity yet with our boy – I am planning for bribery with activities for him in exchange for sitting with me taking photos. And to be honest, I can’t wait – I have lovely images of flasks of coffee, and sitting behind tripods as I help him discover his own camera – I just hope he loves the outdoors, and the views, and the light as much as I do!

  5. Yes, when in places you don’t know (or even if you do), you need to be secure that the children will have a happy base and not too much moving around too often. And then they grow and become more flexible and you can relax your guard, even freelance again, and then they have kids of their own, and you revert once more to rigidity.
    I am now planning a trip to Iceland with our daughter, who also loves photography, and am wondering how much to freelance and how much to book. I am also wondering what is the point of booking a room for the night when one plans to be out half the night shooting. Did you not feel you were wasting money in Iceland not using the rooms you’d booked ? Did you often sleep during the day to make up for the night? I am wondering if we need a tent. Any thoughts appreciated. We don’t like cities. Is there much accommodation near the places that we’ll want to see? In early June can we risk winging it, or should we definitely secure some spots? I want to explore the south coast to the east of Reykjavik mostly and only do more if we have time (2 weeks total). Thanks Dylan, cheers, Louise

    • Hi Louise – I’m really sorry I haven’t replied – I haven’t checked our blog in ages 😦
      We hostelled it in Iceland for days at a time (that has always been our style) so we didn’t feel like we were wasting money because the room was hours day and night!
      We did sleep during the day and I still do after a morning hike! The girls are great at occupying themselves for a 1 hour catnap in the afternoon lol. You’ll find plenty of scattered farm accommodation and hostels in all sorts of remote areas though I fear that my knowledge is very outdated as our last trip was back in 2010. For what it’s worth we went through hostelling iceland and for most of our stays. The south coast over to the east is very frequented and you will have no problems with accomodation. The location nearest to the ice lagoon is a place called Hali which gets booked out very quickly. Hostels at Vik and Skogarfoss are directly near lots of possibilities.

      • louisefairfax

        Thanks so much for your fulsome reply Dylan. As it transpires, I decided to book Youth Hostels before I heard back from you. We have one farm, and all the rest hostels. I also decided, but was pleased to have it confirmed, to spend three or four days in each spot so there will be less driving – and a great deal more enjoyment than if we were always underway. We’ll have opportunity to get to know a place before we have to move on. And hopefully I’ll thus have time to run up a mountain or two each day when the sun is at a more boring position in the sky. Nice to hear from you, and thanks for replying, cheers, Louise.

      • Ahhh! you know what they say about minds that think alike πŸ˜‰ I hope you have a great and fulfilling trip and the runs are awesome if not a bit boggy lol!

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