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The best travelers aren’t those with the fattest wallets, but those who take planning seriously. Jack might jet off to Europe as a free spirit, with no real itinerary — and return home full of complaints about how expensive and stressful it all was. Jill, who travels with good information and a detailed day-to-day plan, returns home with rich stories of spontaneous European adventures. It’s the classic paradox of good travel: “Winging it” can become a ball-and-chain of too many decisions, too little information, and scant time to relax. Structure rewards a traveler with freedom.

I like to plot my travel details in a chart organized by date. I collect all my reservations, train times and other notes and reminders in one document. As I travel, I can see at a glance where I’ll be sleeping a week from now, or what time the train leaves on Saturday. Here’s how to create your own vacation plan.

1. Decide where you want to go and create a budget. Do your research to create a wish list, using the most up-to-date guidebooks, travel apps and websites. (Be aware than many publications and websites are ad-supported, so their information may be biased. Also, crowd-sourced sites can give information distorted by bad or corrupt consumer comments.) Outline anticipated expenses, allowing for airfare, transportation within your destination, room and board, sightseeing and entertainment, and miscellaneous costs.

2. Establish a route and timeline. Figure out a logical geographical order and trip length. Consider how weather, crowds, geography, time of day and your personal travel style will affect your plan. Balance big, intense cities with cozy small-town stops. For example,…