I might have a sickness - do you?

I just finished the first pass at my travel planning for February.

This consists of spreadsheets with:
[ul]sunrise/sunset times
arrival and departure times of flights
confirmation numbers
check in times
distance from the campground to hikes/sites
4 days of planned routes through Death Valley
2 days of planned routes through Valley of Fire
Shopping lists
packing lists
Expected weather conditions
Feeding schedules and other details for the boarding kennel

Based on history I will revise and update this 2-3 times a week for the next 4 weeks.

Once I’m on vacation it becomes a source of information rather than the meticulously planned schedule I worked on. I don’t care if I see it all and I won’t care then if I only see two of the 4 items I had scheduled for Monday so why do I care now? It’s not that it causes me stress, I actually enjoy the planning almost as much as the vacation it’s just after spending the last 4 hours working on the first draft it occurs to me that this is probably a little unusual - and so a poll! How much planning do you do before your vacations?

I do some price shopping and the like, but very little planning otherwise.

I let it stew around in my head a lot about where I want to go and the types of things that I want to do while there but the actual booking and planning part takes 1 - 3 hours for everything. I read a lot about where I am going in an unorganized sort of way beforehand but I figure the most important thing is just showing up. I just plan day by day from there as it comes.

I don’t like most organized tours and I love to just wander around so there isn’t much to plan. Packing takes half an hour tops. They sell stuff you need there too wherever there is. It seems to work out fine. The first time I went to Europe, I just had a plane ticket and a rough time to meet people hours after I arrived far away. That worked fine to. I won’t travel with people like yourself that plan too meticulously. It is just a different style to be aware of and it isn’t right or wrong unless you are one to think that every place away from home is hopelessly dangerous, confusing, and uninhabitable without the planning required of a moon mission. You always have time to rethink things once you get there and get local opinions.

I do very extensive planning, over a period of months.

We make lists like that when we have some wilderness adventure component to our trip requiring gear and provisions. We’ll likely revise it a couple of times, but not 2-3 times a week for a month. We usually prepare it about two weeks out. We do not prepare detailed lists for regular tourism. I we were to go to Paris, we’d decide ahead of time what we’d like to see, but not really plan an itinerary.

I’m a fanatical, almost obsessive, un-planner.

I can’t think of a single trip I’ve booked more than a month in advance, and I’m known to up and decide to leave the country with a week or two’s notice. I’ve booked quite a few major (3 weeks plus) trips on the day I flew out. I prefer one-way flights when practical, because I like some flexibility to leave the region early or stay longer. Hostels.com is my godsend, because I never book more than my first night in a place. I used to make it a rule not to crack open the Lonely Planet until the flight, but lately I’ve been travelling sans guidebook or any prep and it’s been going great. I may miss out on some of the sights, but I gain a lot by wandering into random places and going by what the locals say I shouldn’t miss. I love adventure, and poor planning is a great way to find it.

I’ve walked into countries with literally no idea what was there- I landed in Guatemala not knowing what currency they used and hoping like hell there was an ATM in the airport (there is.) I love the opportunity to be flexible, light on my feet, and ready to just soak in whatever a place offers me. To me, travel is existence at its purist, a time with no responsibilities other than to simply be there. The less I plan, the more in the moment I feel and the more “crazy adventure” stories I rack up.

Obviously this isn’t for everyone- it works best if you have plenty of time, and are in a place where your budget lasts a while (you won’t see me travelling to Europe any time soon.) You miss some major things, and you will often find yourself in uncomfortable and occasionally dangerous situations. I understand I take it a little too far, but it works for me!

If I’m doing a bit of bumming around, I’ll buy the Lonely Planet guide to wherever I’m going, and read it - a LOT. I really enjoy reading travel books and thinking about where I want to go and what places I have time to fit into my trip, etc. Then I come up with a plan, but I keep it flexible. The most detailed plan I ever came up with while traveling was when I was in Turkey a couple years ago, and when I actually got there, I ended up throwing the whole thing out (I still saw everything I had intended to, I just ended up traveling in a different manner).

But the whole detailed schedule? No way. I definitely have ideas of different museums and sights I’d like to see based on what my guidebook says, but sometimes you get to a place and someone tells you that you HAVE to see X place that isn’t mentioned in your guidebook, or that Y place is too dangerous to visit right now and that Z place isn’t worth the time or money.

I’m a big fan of just wandering around and exploring while traveling, and it’s hard to plan for the cool things you sometimes randomly discover.

Exactly how much time I spend, though, is hard to say. It depends on how many people I’m traveling with, too. I went to Colombia with three friends and the planning took so much time I was really annoyed by the time we were done, just because we all had to discuss every stage of the journey and debate every possible stop and consider blah blah blah. If I had gone by myself, it would have taken a tenth of the time.

I put 5+ hrs but really it depends. I’ve done trips that were very unplanned when I was young and free, but that goes best if you have a lot of time, as even sven says. Now I have a young family, and I have restricted time because I work too much. If I don’t plan, then I find that with young kids you can easily end up spending half (or more) of your precious vacation time entirely on tiresome domestic details. Also, with children and their short attention spans, short endurance and who habitually drag the chain, you have to have momentum. If you don’t know what you are doing, they get bored and fractious waiting for you to figure it out. Even if the plan is “go to a park/beach etc and do nothing” you have to know that is what you are going to do.

The other aspect is that when one doesn’t have much actual vacation time, as the OP says, one can eke out more enjoyment by enjoying the planning. I love maps.

I travel with little planning - in the one particular of packing, too little planning, so I pack a bit too much.

The only things I take care of before setting off are

two or three weeks before

  • workplace arrangements for my absence
  • stopping the daily newspaper subscription
  • arranging for my mail to be held
  • checking some specific gear (e.g. for sailing: make sure my personal flotation device inspection is current)
  • checking for presence of/buying some basic guides
  • checking for mobile internet rates at destination
  • train/plane bookings (accomodation I usually book at destination - but then I only traveled in Western Europe these last few years)

Day before setting off

  • make sure every electronic device is charged
  • visit ATM for travel cash

On the day

  • hastily throw everything in suitcase+backpack, head to train station at a run

While traveling to destination

  • read guides, begin thinking on what to see

At destination

  • check on the Web for opening hours etc.

I will look up everything that may be of interest which is a lot of hours. I pick a main destination or two. I then go wherever the whim and conditions seem will be fun in the next week. Knowing about places is a must, but planing every hour for there ruins it.