The Benefits of Mapping Out Your Interests

Today I want to dive a little bit into my process in planning my trip to France. There are a ton of factors that go into choosing a location, a route, where to stay, etc, but I think plotting out my options beforehand had to be one of the most helpful things I’ve ever done when it comes to travel. Though mine mostly centered around castles and UNESCO World Heritage Sites, it’s easy to include any sort of interests this way.

The nice thing about this excursion was that I had decided I was going over a year before my flight, so I had nothing but time on my hands to do my research. I personally feel that the work leading up to a trek can be almost as fun as the trip itself. You start to hype yourself up for what’s to come as your route takes shape and that anticipation only heightens the experience. I may have gone a little bit overboard and gotten a little overzealous when I planned this trip but if anything, it only helps to have that information at hand for future forays or for helping other people to plan theirs.

The way I intended to travel France, I needed a good packet of information on cities, regions, and sites of interest to help me decide where to go each day. I broke up my interests into categories and decided to plot each on their own maps. By far the most complicated and time-consuming project was scouting out the castles all over the country.  In this instance, Wikipedia was surprisingly helpful. There are lists of castles in each country (non-exhaustive but still a great start) that I used to gather my information.

A map with carefully plotted exes marking the location of castles all over France

The first step was to go through the list and read the description and history of each castle. This was by far the most involved part of planning this particular trip. There is a boatload of castles in France. One site I saw had over 1,000 listed. A lot of castles simply didn’t exist anymore or were only a pile of scattered stones. It was easy to brush a lot of them off right away. I made sure to bookmark the ones I found interesting so I could go back and put the details together later. After bookmarking the page I drew an X on the map to mark where each castle stood, color coding each according to the century it was built (I’m particularly interested in castles that were built or heavily used in the Middle Ages.) Eventually, I decided to start bookmarking each into folders based on ratings I gave them on a scale of one to three, with one being the most important and three being castles I would like to see if I was nearby but wouldn’t go out of my way for. These rankings helped a lot when I eventually compiled my final map with items of interest in other categories as well.

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After I had gone through and eliminated the castles I had no interest in, I went back through the ones I had bookmarked and categorized and wrote down pertinent information such as region, hours, history, interesting facts, and ticket price in my binder. Honestly, I barely finished this project. By the time I was done, I was skimming through articles for highlighted words of interest, though I don’t regret a single minute of research.

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Once I had done this with a few different categories of places of interest, I plotted my top choices in each on one final map. I realize this seems like overkill because I had already pinned them on their own maps, why did I go back through and do it again? Well, this way gave me a complete image of where the things I wanted to do most were. I think this may have been the single most helpful project I undertook while planning my trip. In my hotel room every day I consulted my handy map, looking for what city to hop a train to next. I looked for clusters of places of interest or ones that I had marked as the most important. Choosing where to go is a lot easier when you can see where everything laid out in front of you.

I definitely realized I wasn’t going to see everything while I was there. That’s a monumental realization that I think everyone who plans trips for themselves has to come to eventually. I had planned out so many locations that I started to feel like I was drowning when trying to decide what came next. I was a bit overzealous, I know that now, but it never hurts to have options.

If you’re interested in using my information gathering skills, head to my Contact/Work With Me page to send me a message or shoot me an email! I would love to put together some resources to help you get more out of your trip!

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