Trip Planning: Random Walk or Road Map?

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We have many friends who plan their trips on the fly. They book their first night’s accommodation and then get the advice of locals on the best side trips and places to stay and eat. They return with stories of many pleasant surprises from their random walk.

Spice tends to be a bit more (okay, a lot more!) structured in her planning. I follow her lead and as Magellan, try to plot the possibilities. On her bucket list was hiking in the Picos de Europa in northwestern Spain, an area I’d never heard of. Let me share our process in how we started with that kernel and built a road map for our trip to Portugal and Spain last fall.

It all starts with “the file cabinet” in the garage. For 40 years, Spice has clipped travel articles and filed them by continent and country. In her Spain folder, she had several articles on the Picos de Europa. After referencing the book “Walking in Picos de Europa” we knew that we wanted to be in the region for at least a week, moving through the eastern, central and western portions of the park. We then used MyScenicDrives (MSD), a free web-based trip-planning tool, adding the villages where we might stay, along with hiking and other activities in the area.

The next questions to resolve were how to get to the Picos and which airports to use. MSD is fully integrated with Google Maps, gives driving times and distances but is biased to routes that are more scenic rather than the fastest or shortest. We quickly looked at many possible routes if we were to fly into and/or out of Madrid, Bilbao or Lisbon. Never having been to Portugal, we chose Lisbon.

Wanting to do more hiking, we started to add portions of the Camino do Santiago as activities to MSD. We also found on “The Google” an expensive but well-curated 10-day hiking tour of northern Portugal and added their hikes to our list of activities. In the end we deleted most of these hikes but kept, as a nugget, the area around the schist villages of Portugal.

To this base we added stops and activities for Porto, the Douro Valley, Roman ruins, pre-historic petroglyphs, cathedrals and restaurants. At any time you can update the MSD route, perhaps deleting outliers that are a bit too far from a logical circuit.

Using this framework, we started to book accommodation and record the details in MSD. Lack of accommodation near the schist villages raised a flag—it soon became apparent that there would be a major bicycle race on the winding mountain roads while we were there. Congestion! No Problem. We re-ordered our visit to the schist villages to be at the end of the trip.

Trip plan for one day

After that adjustment, we had a few days that needed to be filled. The solution was a short diversion from the MSD route to the Costa da Morte, a lightly visited area with spectacular landscapes on the western tip of Spain.

The estimate for our final itinerary was a trip lasting 36 days covering 1,844 miles with 40 hours of driving time, staying in 15 cities or villages. Click on our Northern Spain and Portugal Demo file to see how easy it is to build a comprehensive roadmap. In planning some trips we add a “gap day” every fourth day, letting us too be diverted and surprised by local knowledge.

But Spice sleeps a lot better if she has a road map to follow.


MyScenicDrives is not an app; it’s a free website. It could easily be used by a small group planning a common trip, with each person or couple populating a common database.

“Customize your worldwide adventures from start to finish with unlimited stops, share on social networks, and print or export directions to GPS devices. We offer handy features—from automatically dividing your excursion into comfortable daily itineraries, to locating EV charging stations, finding hotels and campgrounds, managing budgets and so much more.”

7 Responses

    1. We have tried to do the same using Google Maps to build an itinerary but it does little more than connect the dots. MSD lets us cut and paste all sorts of activities around a destination.

  1. Thank you Kerry. The pre planning for me too has always been an exciting part of each and every trip. And with google it is so easy. Like our trip to New Mexico. We saw ever so much because we planned it that way.

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