After years of going on tours, breezing through free-and-easy trips, and letting someone else basically do all the planning for me I finally realized something: I actually enjoy planning out trips and itineraries from start to finish 😅 So much so that when I visited South Korea, Japan, and Taiwan in 2018 (in 3 separate trips!) I found myself eager to start planning rather than dreading it, and with each subsequent trip I got more and more streamlined in my planning process.
While my tips may not be for everyone, I hope this guide will come in handy for those of you who feel completely lost when asked to plan a trip, or who are looking forward to their next trip but unsure where to start! If you have any other tips or tricks for itinerary planning, let me know below what works for you. 😁
Disclaimer: Itineraries only work well if they work for you. If you’re the kind of person who likes a more detailed minute by minute layout, go for it! Don’t worry about not figuring it out on the first try – the more you travel and the more you see, the better you’ll get at learning what your travel priorities are 😊
Step 1: Pick out a good time and place to visit
Finding a destination that has halal eateries and prayer spaces is one of the biggest priorities for Muslim travellers. With more countries increasing their Muslim-friendly tourism, travelling is definitely easier now than ever before! Of course, other countries should still be on your bucket list, but you should always be aware of how adaptable or flexible you’ll have to be there. If you’re heading somewhere that has few halal eateries, be on the lookout for vegetarian or vegan options and read up on how to describe halal when you’re overseas and how you can determine the halal status of food. You can use our HHWT Facebook community or app (available om iOS and Android) to source for community suggestions too 😄
Credit: @randalleta on Instagram
It may surprise you to know that deciding on a good and suitable destination and time to visit is also half of the battle won. Japan is a dream destination for many of us — but you wouldn’t want to visit during Golden Week when it seems like everyone else in Japan is on a trip too! Likewise, check and see what are the peak/off-peak timings for your intended destination as well as what the weather will be like when you get there. Thailand during the monsoon season may not be as crowded, but you may not be able to leave your hotel if the weather gets really bad!
Step 2: Confirm the major details of your trip
Once you’ve decided on a place figure out how you’ll be getting there and back. This will be especially important if you’re visiting multiple cities in one country (e.g. Busan and Seoul in South Korea) as you have the option to do multi-city flights, or book domestic train/bus transport. Sometimes multi-city flights can be cheaper than taking a train or bus but may not be worth the hassle, so make sure to weigh cost against convenience! Flight timings are also really important — some people like overnight flights so that they have a full day ahead, but if you can’t sleep on planes or need your rest then make sure to find timings that are suitable for you.
P.S. If you have to take a long bus or train ride, you can make it an overnight sleeper to save on one night of accommodations! This will work especially well in Europe or Japan, where the trains and buses are comfortable enough to sleep in and you can even book private rooms in some carriages 😁
Accommodations can be trickier to decide. I have some friends who really like to risk things with their trips — they’ll book their flights to and from city A and B, and then figure out everything in-between once they land. More experienced or gung-ho travellers may prefer this flexibility but for me, knowing where I’ll be and when I’ll get there is super important to planning out my days ☺️ How close an accommodation is to prayer spaces, halal food, and even convenience stores are also super important as I know that I’ll be relying on these spots throughout my trip!
#HHWT Tip: Try to look for accommodation nearby a mosque. Not only will it be a convenient stop to do your prayers, but in most countries with a Muslim minority that’s usually where the halal eateries are too! Itaewon (Seoul) and Asakusa (Tokyo) are some such areas. The accommodations might be a bit more expensive as they’re near other major attractions, but the convenience and closeness to attractions will be worth it.
Step 3: Know who your travel buddies are
This probably deserves a whole article on its own, but yes — it’s important to know who you’re travelling with! Not only because it could affect costs, but because travelling with different priorities can lead to unpleasant clashes and it’s best to work these out before your plane leaves the tarmac. Health or age issues can also affect how you get around — long train rides can be painful for some, and hilly or cobblestone streets are tiring even for fitter travellers 😅 This may mean less day trips, or having to forgo more extreme activities.
The buses in Kyoto saved us so much hassle in getting from place to place – but it took us so much time to decipher the different routes and find the right stop 😅
Thankfully, public transport or taxis can make even the most inhospitable locations accessible for everyone — but this may come with a small dent in your budget, shortening how long you’ll spend at an attraction, or even affecting how long your entire trip might be. If there are huge differences between what you and your travel buddies want out of the trip, you might even want to plan separate itineraries for a couple of days to avoid any angry clashes or resentment.
Step 4: Pick a budget and try to stick to it
It goes without saying that your budget will shape the entirety of your trip, but we all have different priorities when it comes to spending during our travels. Some people keep a tighter budget but still set aside a nice amount to treat themselves to a fantastic meal or a good theatre performance; others will pay top-dollar for a comfortable hotel room and spend their days doing free of charge or more affordable activities to balance the budget out. If this is your first time travelling and you’re not sure what your total budget will be like yet don’t worry! Your priorities will likely change after the next few steps, so just have a rough idea of what’s the maximum you can spend on this trip and how much you intend to spend daily 😉
#HHWT Tip: Meals and transport definitely need to factor into your spending, especially if you’re in a place where halal eateries are far and few between. There will always be free things to do no matter which city you’re in, but finding halal eateries and getting there can take up a surprising chunk of your budget!
Step 5: Check what the seasons will bring
Winter festivals, spring blooms, summer beaches, and autumn scenery – each season brings something new with it, and whether you’re travelling there for a seasonal event or not it’s always good to know what lies ahead. If you’re flying somewhere for something specific, such as the springtime cherry blossom season in East Asia, then your itinerary might even be easier to plan as you can rely on forecasts to know what the prime locations and photo spots will be! The seasons can also affect how packed theme parks or major attractions are. If you’re travelling in summer but don’t like the crowds, then DisneySea may not be the best way to spend your day even if it’s an iconic Tokyo attraction.
I made it to the Taipei biennial which I hadn’t even known about – thankfully it fit into my budget and schedule!
This will also apply to limited-time or ticketed events such as a play in London’s West End, annual conventions in major cities, or travelling museum exhibits – tickets can get sold much faster during the peak period so make sure to book in advance to beat the crowd! Once these can’t-miss activities have been decided it’s much easier to plan the rest of your trip around them 😊
P.S.Being aware of seasonal activities can also help you set aside some portion of your budget for them. If tickets aren’t on sale yet, set yourself an alarm to check back soon and book them! For on the ground changes, some major attractions such as Tokyo Disneyland even have crowd predictors so that you won’t get caught off guard.
Step 6: Know your options
It took me a while to get used to it, but now Google’s MyMap is the linchpin that holds all of my planning together 😅 It might look intimidating but it really isn’t! It does take time to plan out your options, but it makes crafting daily itineraries much easier because you can see what the ‘worth it’ neighbourhoods are in one glance. You won’t necessarily go to every spot on the list, but hey, at least you can save those for later trips, right? 😉
One of the useful functions of MyMap is that you can categorize each type of location by colour – in the map above, I have nature spots (dark green), museums (yellow), markets (purple), libraries (light blue) and prayer spaces (light green) so far. If the location is already in Google Maps it’ll show up, or you can input the address or postal code and name the marker that pops up on your own 😊 You can even make a note of operating hours, days when the place will be closed, entrance or associated fees, and other information so that it’ll be handily available in one spot!
Step 7: Figure out how you’re going to get around
Transport cards from (L-R) Hong Kong, Japan, South Korea, and Taipei that I’ve collected from recent trips 😅
Most major cities have subways, metros, buses, or light rails to get you around, but don’t assume it’ll be as easy as just buying a card and tapping in! Some transport passes won’t cover all the lines in the city (think Tokyo and all of its lines, or multi-prefecture travel in Japan) and some subway maps are so difficult to even understand that you’ll spend a few minutes staring a map just trying to figure it out. Thankfully, most major subway systems have their own apps to help you out, so make sure to download those before your trip!
Step 8: Time to look at the bigger picture
Major transport days during the Japan trip – our JR pass would expire midway through the trip so we had to make the best of it and know which lines it covered!
Marking out flight or major commuting days should be the first thing on your list — they’ll definitely take up the most time, and can be subject to delays or sudden changes so you don’t want to plan anything too closely before or after them. Make sure to include some buffer time for transfers or just the uncertainty of settling into a new place.
P.S. Set aside time on these days to explore your neighbourhood once you’ve checked in and gotten some rest – look out especially for the nearest convenience store, subway station or bus stop. Knowing what’s nearby and what you’ll have to travel for will help you avoid any last-minute panic later.
Credit: @savieragita on Instagram
Work prayer times into your schedule too! You may not get used to them the moment you land, but being able to know when you need to take a break to have some quiet prayer time to yourself will bring some rhythm into your day. The prayer spots you’ve marked out in the previous steps will also come in handy here as you’ll know where to be before the next prayer, compared to walking around trying to find somewhere suitable 😊 If there are no prayer spots nearby and you’re nervous about having to pray in public, we have some reassuring tips over here to help you out.
Step 9: Go day-by-day
I personally like to cover places neighbourhood by neighbourhood because it saves me on travel costs and time if I can walk from destination to destination. Factor in time for walking, shopping, transport, and maybe even short coffee breaks to refuel your energy 😄
Google Maps may sometimes look misleading as having multiple buildings along a street doesn’t necessarily translate to a far distance. For example in Japan, the buildings are pretty narrow, so you can cover an entire block in a few minutes if you want to. If you’re not sure how convenient walking around or commuting is in a city, you can check in with our Facebook community to see if anyone who’s been there before can give you a rough guide!
This is also where you’ll have to prioritize what you want to go to, and what you might have to skip. Take the map of Kyoto attractions above for example: if you had a whole week you could cover all of them, but my family was there for just about 5 days (one of which we wanted to spend in Osaka). We had to, unfortunately, cut out Kiyomizu-dera from our list and didn’t walk the full Philosopher’s Path – but we saw everything else and it was still an unforgettable trip. 😌 Public transport can take a surprising amount of time – and don’t forget you’re still figuring out the etiquette and in-and-outs of this new system!
#HHWT Tip: Remember to check out HHWT’s app (available on iOS and Android) for easy access to major attractions even when you’re on the go! If you’re ambitious enough you can definitely try to conquer everything on your list within one trip, but remember to give yourself some time to rest too.
Step 10: Reconsider your plans and keep refining!
My parents and I revisited Asakusa after already covering it – and we got to try some curry tsukemen (dipping noodles) which made the journey worth it!
If you have travel buddies along with you on this trip, make sure to communicate where all of you want to go and what you think your ‘travel stamina’ will be like so that you minimize friction when you’re actually there. Don’t be afraid to argue a little and debate what’s worth it to visit, but keep an open mind – you may actually a love a place you have doubts about. 😊 If you have spare time, you can even revisit a neighbourhood to see what else you missed!
BONUS: Set aside time at the end of each day to review your plans
A mid-day reshuffle of activities while I enjoyed a warm coffee at a Tokyo Starbucks (after realizing everything I wanted to do was closer than Google Maps had made them seem 😅)
This is the only step that takes place when you’re actually on the trip itself! Once you’re there, you’ll realize lots of gaps between your ideal plan and the reality on the ground. This can be either good (maybe the distance between the halal restaurant and the train station is shorter than it appeared 😍) or bad (transport delays, missed connections, or bad weather 😱) but either way, remember to keep your itinerary updated as you go along. Ultimately the itinerary won’t be set in stone and you shouldn’t pressure yourself to stick to it as your trip changes. Take some risks and find new things to do, or scale it back and give yourself more time to recuperate!
Hopefully, these tips will be useful in getting you started on your itinerary. It can be quite a struggle even for experienced travellers, but you can always check out HHWT’s Muslim-friendly itineraries to help you out. Do you have any tips or recommendations for other travellers – let us know! 😊