My Mom’s Simple Trick for Planning the Perfect Trip Costs 75 Cents

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When some people prepare for travel, they prefer to do no planning at all. But for others, planning ahead can help them get excited about where they’re going, reduce travel stress, and prioritize how they spend their time while they’re away. My mom and I are — and always have been — planners with a capital “P.” For every vacation we’ve ever been on, we’ve researched our destination and communicated about the things we wanted to do ahead of time. My mom’s ultimate travel planning hack involves a 75-cent back-to-school staple: index cards

My mom came up with this idea when we were planning a family vacation to San Francisco, a city that’s only seven-by-seven miles large but is packed with culturally distinct neighborhoods, famous landmarks, and incredible restaurants. Together, we used index cards to plot our travels through the Mission, North Beach, the Embarcadero, and beyond. Here’s how it works.

How to Use Index Cards to Plan Your Next Vacation

You can tailor your approach according to your vacation destination and trip planning style. But generally speaking, my mom follows these steps. 

  1. Write the different parts of the city or region you’re going to on the backs of as many index cards as you think you’ll need.
  2. As you research various landmarks and activities, figure out where they’re located and add them to the appropriate index card based on their location. If any of the items on your list are time-sensitive, reservation-based, or only accessible on certain days, make a note of that on your index card and circle or highlight the item. 
  3. Optional: Use highlighters to color-code different types of places and activities, such as restaurants, shopping areas, and museums. 
  4. If you don’t want to carry the index cards with you during your trip, take pictures of them and save them to a photo album on your phone.
  5. When you arrive at your destination, pull an index card for each day of your trip based on the limitations set by the items you circled in step two, the weather, your mood, and any other relevant factors. Visit as many items on the card as you’d like and return to the same area the next day if time allows. 

Using this hack to plan trips helps make travel research more fun and helps me get the most out of my vacation. 

Credit: karen roach/

The Benefits of Planning Your Trips Using Index Cards 

I’ve found that there are many benefits to using my mom’s index card travel hack, including the following:

  • By doing the research ahead of time, you won’t miss out on any key sights or activities. 
  • Organizing places to see and things to do by neighborhood or region allows you to cut down on travel time from one area to another. 
  • You won’t have to spend your vacation looking up things to do or places to go on your phone or computer. 
  • You can pick and choose which part of the trip you’d like to tackle each day instead of having to follow a strict itinerary.

If trip planning isn’t for you and you prefer full-blown spontaneity, you can always throw the cards to the wind. But if you’re sick of missing out on amazing experiences, spending your vacations browsing through travel blogs, or creating overly detailed and inflexible itineraries, grab some index cards and get to work.