Everyone is different when it comes to how fluid they like having their vacation planned. For me, I'm a planner . . . it's what I do in life so it is all I know when getting ready for a vacation. Others are "take it as it comes" in how they approach vacationing. Often people will ask for advice on various travel forums "Should I book my hotel in advance?" or "Do I need to make reservations for this tour before I get there?" My general advice is that yes you should schedule and book in advance if it really matters to you as to whether or not you get to stay at that particular hotel or take that tour on a certain day. If it doesn't really matter, take it as it comes.
With the intricacies of planning for 15 days abroad, I started planning this one nearly 18 months in advance. The first thing necessary was setting the dates, which included making arrangements for a timeshare exchange. Not always an easy thing domestically, most certainly a challenge when look at somewhere with as limited availability as Ireland. Our first timeshare exchange was confirmed in December 2010.
I say first, because I really wanted to book an adjacent week, either before or after that one in another area of Ireland . . . preferably in the east/southeast region. After nothing became available for 10 months, I started looking at options.
I was so happy to find ImagineIreland.com for our other self-catering booking. The dates worked well for what we wanted and the price was very reasonable. With a deposit made, we had the framework set for what would be 14-16 days. Now what was left was filling in the middle between these two bookings.
I won't bore you will all that went into that other than to say, with a general idea of the areas we wished to visit, it was easy to establish "transition days" as I called them to get from one area to another. Each of these included a two night stay in order to minimize the whole packing/unpacking routine. How people do 15 nights across the country in 15 different B&B's is beyond me, but I know there are a lot who do.
For each of the primary areas of Ireland, we had a list of the various activities and attractions we wanted to explore. This worked out in providing us with some structure, and yet we were flexible enough to stop when we wanted to see an unexpected site . . . or drop something along the way when time started to run against us.
Unfortunately Blarney Castle and St. Cananice's Cathedral were two such casualties of time. We did get to see some really wonderful unexpected things along the way too. I think for me, driving into the medieval walled village of Fethead, which appeared with no warning, was the most exciting place we stumbled upon in our travels.
After a week of traveling together and gauging our energy levels and daily routine, it became clear to me that our Musical Pub Crawl in Dublin our second to last night in Ireland would also have to be cancelled. That was probably the most difficult decision to make in that I know how much we all wanted to do it. It was going to be impossible, however, to have a long transition day from County Galway, get checked into our B&B, have dinner and then catch a bus for Dublin City for a 7:30pm walking tour that would end at approximately 10:00pm.
When that day came and we were getting ready for bed that night, everyone was thankful that we were flexible enough to realize that was just too much for one day for any of us. I know we had a better next day having not overdone it the day before. Nothing like a good night's sleep when you know you're going to have a long day and then traveling home the following morning.
For those who do not like to plan or plan very loosely, to maximize your time in any given area knowing what is around that may be of interest to you is beneficial. If you find yourself with some free time, you can add something that makes sense given your location and the amount of time you have. We carried a Foder's Ireland guide book in the car for such occasions.
When I'm traveling on an extensive trip with a lot of activities, I prepare a three ring binder with all of my important travel documents (reservations, email confirmations, contact info, etc) which is with us throughout the trip and in the car, even on our day trips. I do not check this in my luggage on the flight as we would be lost (and in trouble) if this binder got lost. Professionally I've worked with some of the best meeting planners on the planet and this is one skill I've learned in watching how they plan association meetings for thousands. I knew one lady who did the same for her own wedding, calling it her personal meeting of a lifetime.
Is it possible to over plan? I think so but like anything, in moderation it can be helpful.