Planning a trip can be fun, but it can also be challenging. With so many activities to plan for, having a high-level view of a month-long or two-week-long trip makes it easy to see the bigger picture, but a certain amount of detail is necessary to ensure your planned itinerary is reasonable and makes sense, e.g. if it takes 2 hours to get to the airport and you have to be at the airport 3 hours before departure, then you better take that into account so you don’t miss your flight. One simple way to plan a trip is by using a spreadsheet like Google Sheets. I’ve created a hypothetical San Francisco, USA to Seoul, Korea vacation plan showing day-by-day and hour-by-hour activities in two different views.
Plane ticket prices can vary significantly from one day to another and by airline, number of stops, total trip duration, etc. If your dates are flexible, you can easily find cheaper flights using Kayak.com and Google Flights’ price grids. Here’s an example. Say I want to fly from San Francisco to Korea some time in early May.
I want no more than 1 stop / layover
I don’t want a layover longer than 4 hours
On Kayak.com, you need to select +- 3 days for each departure and return date.
Choose some filters.
After the search results appear, expand the Flexible Dates section to show the price grid.
What’s nice about Kayak is, when you hover over a price, you see
the total price
the number of stops
the total flight plus layover time, if any, for both departure and return
the total trip duration
In the example above, the $1339 price offers nonstop service for a 9-day trip. If we compare that to the cheapest price ($1095), we’d have to stop somewhere and the total trip duration would be 11 days.
On Google Flights, you can do a similar search. For round trip flights, there will always be a price grid so you just enter your preferred departure and return dates. For the filters, I chose “1 stop or fewer” and “Under 24 hr”.
What’s interesting, and very useful, about Google Flights is, once you choose a departure date, prices start to show up in the date picker so you can choose a return date that is cheaper than others.
Google Flights is really fast. The prices and search results show up almost instantly.
On Google Flights, the cheapest prices are highlighted in green cells. In this example, it’s $1050. Compared to Kayak, it looks like Google Flights has more flight options as all of the cells have a price. However, unlike Kayak, in order to see more information like the airline, trip duration, and number of stops, you have to choose a price and click OK. The price grid will disappear and you will see the flight details.
Which is cheaper?
If we put both grids next to each other, we find that
Google Flights offers more flights (all cells have a price)
Google Flights offers either the same price or cheaper prices, even if the price difference is just $1.
Kayak can book flights for you whereas Google Flights will always send you to an external booking website. Price differences are often due to different travel websites offering different prices. It’s always preferable to book directly with the airline as that cuts out any intermediaries and, if there are any issues, you can contact the airline (or Kayak) directly and usually get better customer service. Just because Google Flights may offer cheaper flights, you might still find an overall better deal on Kayak.
As of December 30, 2021, all travelers, including fully vaccinated travelers, must submit a negative PCR test taken within 48 hours of departure in order to board flights to the US. Learn more.
As of March 2, 2022, foreigners must submit a negative PCR test taken within 48 hours of departure in order to board flights to Korea. Read consular notice.
Starting from April 1, 2022, vaccinated travelers who have completed vaccination overseas AND register their vaccination history through the Quarantine COVID19 Defence (Q-Code) systemBEFORE traveling to Korea will be eligible for quarantine exemption. Vaccination is considered to be complete 14 days after the 2nd shot for a two-dose vaccine (valid up to 180 days) or with booster shots. Read consular notice.
Incheon Airport Tourist Information Center: 1F, Passenger Terminal 1 in front of Gates 5 & 10 / 7 AM-10 PM
Myeong-dong Tourist Information Center: In front of Euljiro 1(il)-ga Station (Seoul Subway Line 2), Exit 5 / 09:00-20:00, Closed on the day of Seollal (Lunar New Year’s Day) & Chuseok (Korean Thanksgiving Day)
Seoul Station Tmoney Town : 1F, Seoul City Tower near Seoul Station (Seoul Subway Line 1, 4, AREX), Exit 10 / Weekdays 09:00-18:00
There is a $4.11 deposit. Get deposit refund (minus $0.41 for the cost of the card) at the Tourist Information Center at the airport before leaving Korea.
MPass can be used on subway lines, airport railroad all-stop train, Seoul city buses (mainline buses, branch buses, circulation buses, village buses, night buses)
The pass offers 20 rides a day for the duration of the pass.
When choosing a hotel, if you want to be close to
easy subway transportation with direct connection to the airport
tons of food options
tons of shopping options
you probably want to stay around the Myeong-dong area.
The Seoul Sky Observatory is located at the top of the Lotte World Tower, the world’s fifth tallest building standing 123 stories and 555 meters high. As the tallest building in South Korea, it is the only place where you can take in a gorgeous 360-degree view of Seoul, the capital city of South Korea roaring with brilliant history and dynamic modern culture.
Seoul Grand Park is a park complex to the south of Seoul, South Korea, in the city of Gwacheon. Facilities at Seoul Grand Park include hills and hiking trails, Seoul Grand Park Zoo, Children’s Zoo, a rose garden, Seoul Land amusement park, and the Seoul Museum of Modern Art.
A traditional street market in Jongno-gu, Seoul, South Korea. The market is one of the oldest and largest traditional markets in South Korea, with more than 5000 shops and 20,000 employees in an area of 42,000 square meters.
Hottoek is a Korean-styled pancake. One of the most popular Korean street snacks, it is made from a simple flour batter and filled with sweet syrup made from cinnamon, brown sugar, and peanuts. It’s a great snack when you’re between meals.
Red beans are mixed with eggs and wheat dough by hand, then this artisan bread is shaped and baked without any artificial sweeteners or preservatives, keeping only the sweetness of its original natural ingredients.
Hodu means walnut in Korean and they are cookies filled with red bean paste and walnuts.
허니 브래드 (Honey Bread)
Thick bread is divided into nine parts filled with whipped cream and then topped with honey, caramel syrup, and cinnamon powder. Its original name was Honey Butter Bread.
계란빵 (Gyeran-ppang: Egg Bread)
has a shape of rounded rectangle and contains whole egg inside of a bread. They are often sold by street vendors.
꽈배기 (Kkwabaegi: Twisted Korean Doughnuts)
It is made with glutinous rice flour and melted butter. The dough is deep-fried in oil and tossed in sugar and cinnamon powder. Like most fried breads, it tastes better when it’s hot. You can enjoy the original taste of twisted bread by eating when it just comes out of the oil, or by heating them up.
뚱카롱 (Ddungcaron: Fat Macaron)
Rice Punch 식혜 (Korean Sweet Rice Drink)
Songpyeon half-moon rice cake (송편)
The fillings for these rice cakes vary, but the most common are sweetened sesame seeds and mung beans.
Pat-sirutteok 팥시루떡 (Layered rice cake with red beans)
율란 Yul-lan – Chestnut cookies
무지개떡 Mujigae-tteok (Rainbow rice cake)
불고기 Beef Bulgogi
Thinly sliced or shredded beef marinated in soy sauce, sesame oil, garlic, sugar, scallions, and black pepper, cooked on a grill (sometimes at the table). Bulgogi literally means “fire meat.” Variations include pork (dwaeji bulgogi, 돼지불고기), chicken (dak bulgogi 닭불고기), or squid (ojingeo bulgogi, 오징어불고기).
Galbi (갈비) – pork or beef ribs
Cooked on a metal plate over charcoal in the centre of the table. The meat is sliced thicker than bulgogi. It is often called “Korean barbecue” along with bulgogi, and can be seasoned or unseasoned.
Dak galbi (닭갈비)
Stir-fry marinated diced chicken in a gochujang-based sauce, and sliced cabbage, sweet potato, scallions, onions and tteok.
Steamed tofu mixed with ground beef and vegetables.
Bungeoppang (붕어빵; “carp-bread”)
is the Korean name for the Japanese fish-shaped pastry Taiyaki that is usually filled with sweet red bean paste and then baked in a fish-shaped mold. It is very chewy on the inside and crispy on the outside.
is almost the same as bungeoppang, but it is shaped like a flower.
Places Not in Seoul
As a bonus, here are a few places in Korea outside of Seoul.
I just came back from Istanbul and wanted to make a video using my new Insta360 ONE X2 360 degree camera. To make viewers feel like they’re joining me on the trip, I wanted to include video clips showing movement from one place to another. This was easy to do using Google Earth Pro on desktop. Here’s are some examples.
In the video below, there are 4 “places”
San Francisco (zoomed in)
San Francisco (zoomed out to space)
Istanbul (zoomed out to space)
Istanbul (zoomed in)
Here’s how to make the video.
To add a place, you can search for the place using the Search field. Then, zoom in or out to your desired elevation. When you like the view of the place, click the “Add Placemark” button to add a yellow pin to the place. If you want the place label to appear in the map, check the checkbox beside the place name.
If you right click on a place under “My Places” and click on “Properties”, you can rename the place, change the camera elevation (range), etc.
Record a Tour
When you’re doing adding places, click the Record a Tour button in the toolbar.
This will open a record.
Click on the first place (San Francisco) and then click the red Record button. Then, click on each place in the order you want them to appear in the video. Google Earth 3D will animate from one place to another as you are recording in real time. When you are done, click the Record button again to stop recording. You’ll then see a video player control bar.
Click the Play button to play the video. If you are happy with it, click the floppy disk (seriously, Google?) button to save the video. It will add a video item to the list of places.
Export the Video
To export the video, click Tools > Movie Maker. If it is grayed out, close the video player control bar.
Specify a file path and name, choose video parameters (e.g. 1080p), and an output file type (e.g. H.264), and then click the “Create Movie” button.
The video will be exported but you may not be able to open it in certain applications like Corel VideoStudio even though it opens in VLC. To fix this, install Handbrake and convert the video to MP4 format.
You can make videos from other angles and elevations as well. For example, if you hold the Shift key and drag, you can rotate your view. Then, add a place marker at the view you want to save. Google Earth Pro will animation smoothly from each place marker. For example, here’s a video going from the Sulemaniye mosque to the Grand Bazaar.
Since you’ll be new in Istanbul, it’s helpful to go on a quick tour to get an idea of where everything is and what the city is like. The BIG BUS will also cross the bridge connecting Europe to Asia. If you’re staying at the Mercure hotel, then catch the bus at 11:00 AM at Eminonu which is just 10 minutes away by foot.
Note: in the screenshot below, Google Maps says you need to walk across the bridge and back and that the walk would take 27 minutes. That’s incorrect. You don’t need to cross the bridge and the walking time is more like 10 minutes.
Note: The first stop is at Sultanahmet Square and the 2nd stop is at Eminonu (near the hotel). Most people will get on at Sultanahmet Square and sit on the upper deck. By the time the bus gets to stop #2 (Eminonu), most likely the upper deck will be full. You can wait until someone goes down (usually at Dolmabahce Palace) and then move to the upper deck. Or, get on the bus at the starting point (Sultanahmet Square).
Sultanahmet Square is between the Blue Mosque and the Aya Sophia. The Aya Sophia is next to the Topkapi Palace. Get off the bus here so you can visit all 3 places at once.
1:15 PM – Grilled Corn on the Cob
The Blue Mosque is closed to visitors during prayer times. Whether that’s the case or not, pick up some grilled corn and have a snack at Sultanahmet Square.
1:30 PM – The Blue Mosque
Walk over to the Blue Mosque and check out this building which was built in 1616.
Note: there is often construction going on so some or all parts may be inaccessible.
2:30 PM – Aya Sophia
Check out this building which was built in 537 as a church. It later became at mosque and then a museum and then a mosque again in 2020.
3:30 PM – Topkapi Palace
This is a palace. Personally, I didn’t care for it much but for the sake of completeness, we checked it out anyway. Some of the rooms were interestingly decorated as were some of the ancient items on display.
5:30 PM – Dinner
When you leave Topkapi Palace, there is a nearby restaurant you can have dinner at. I haven’t eaten there yet but the food looks good and the place looks exotic.
The Han Restaurant Cankurtaran, Alemdar Cd. No:20, 34122 Fatih/İstanbul, Turkey Google Map
Try the Testi Kebap which is made in a clay pot or the Meter-long Kebap
8:00 PM – Shisha and Sahlep
Right in front of the Mercure hotel is a cafe. Stop by for shisha and sahlep before calling it a day.
9:00 AM – Breakfast
If you can, try to find a place that has Katmer, a pistachio pastry. It’s really good but hard to find.
11:00 AM – Egyptian Spice Bazaar (Mısır Çarşısı)
Walk 10 minutes to the Egyptian Spice Bazaar. It’s a very photogenic place.
Mısır Çarşısı Rüstem Paşa, Erzak Ambarı Sok. No:92, 34116 Fatih/İstanbul, Turkey https://www.misircarsisi.org.tr/
If you are still hungry, try Tantuni (chicken or beef sandwich or roll) located just outside the bazaar.
or, try Pide with eggs nearby.
Mavi Halic Pidecisi Sarıdemir, Kutucular Cd. No:28, 34134 Fatih/İstanbul, Turkey Open everyday: 8 AM to 6:30 PM Google Map Order kıymalı yumurtalı pide
12:30 PM – Go to Sulemaniye Mosque
You can take a taxi but traffic may be so bad that you end up walking part of the way. If you walk from the Egyptian market to the Sulemaniye Mosque, you’ll be walking through an ancient market for part of the way but you’ll also be walking uphill which can be tiring.
1:30 PM – Visit Sulemaniye Mosque
Check out this building which was built in 1558.
2:30 PM – Walk to the Grand Bazaar
From the Sulemaniye Mosque, you can just walk to the Grand Bazaar as the walk is either on level ground or downhill. For half the way, you’ll be again walking through a VERY busy, ancient-looking market.
3:00 PM – The Grand Bazaar
Check out this labyrinth of colorful covered markets built in 1481.
Grand Bazaar Kapalı Çarşı Beyazıt, Kalpakçılar Cd. No:22, 34126 Fatih/İstanbul, Turkey https://www.kapalicarsi.com.tr/
Since you’ll have walked a bit, take a break in the bazaar for some Turkish coffee.
7:00 PM – Whirling Dervishes Show
The Hodjapasha Cultural Center is located near the Mercure hotel (5 minute walk). If you’re curious, you can watch a whirling dervishes show where Sufi Muslims spin around without getting dizzy.
Note: I watched this because I was curious but I was also bored and fell asleep. Watch at your own risk.
Since the recommended restaurants below are next door to the Hodjapasha Cultural Center, you can have dinner before or after the shows. One place that gets many good reviews and that I personally liked is
Şehzade Cağ Kebap Open every day 11AM–10PM except Sundays Hoca Paşa, Hoca Paşa Sk. No:6 D:4, 34110 Fatih/İstanbul, Turkey Google Map
Though tasty, it’s not very filling. At $3.50, consider it an appetizer and then go next door to fill you up with something like Iskendar Kebap or mixed grill, e.g.
Kasap Osman Hoca Paşa, Hoca Paşa Sk. No:22, 34110, 34110 Fatih/İstanbul, Turkey Google Map
9:00 AM – Breakfast
For a change, walk 4 minutes from the Mercure hotel to this restaurant.
Near Taksim Square, on Istiklal Cadessi, have lunch at Sütiş Kebap Dünyası (Kabab World).
Note: Don’t eat too much because there’s another place you have to try nearby.
Sütiş Kebap Dünyası Katip Mustafa Çelebi, İstiklal Cd. No:13, 34433 Beyoğlu/İstanbul, Turkey Google Map
I had the Iskendar Kebap and Domatesli (Tomato) Kebap and both were very good.
2:00 PM – Walk Along Istiklal Cadessi
This street is closed to vehicles except for trams that run along its length.
2:15 PM – Lunch (Part 2)
I know you just had lunch but this second lunch is light if you eat it without the bread. The place is right off of Istiklal Cadessi.
Lades Menemen Katip Mustafa Çelebi, Mahallesi, Sadri Alışık Sk. 11/12 11/12 11 D:12, 34435 Beyoğlu/İstanbul, Turkey http://lades.com.tr/ Open everyday 7AM–11PM Google Map Order Menemen with Turkish Sausage or mixed Menemen
2:45 PM – (Turkish) Coffee Break
Continue walking along Istiklal Cadessi and stop by this cafe for some Turkish coffee.
When traveling, it’s super handy to be able to see a map of just the places you want to visit. This can easily be done with Google Maps. In addition, with Google Maps you can zoom in and out and get directions to each place of interest. Here’s how to create a custom Google Map with your choice of places.
1. Go to maps.google.com and log in 2. Click the hamburger menu icon and then “Your Places” 3. Click the “Maps” tab 3. At the bottom, click “Create Map” 4. In the search bar, enter the name or address of a place then click the search button. 5. Google Maps will place a balloon on the map where the place it along with a description box. 6. In the description box, click “Add to map”
7. Repeat steps 4-6 adding as many locations as you’d like 8. To make it easier to see the location, change the color and details of the base map.
9. To share or embed a map, click the hamburger menu icon and then “Share or embed map”
If you want to make your location markers stand out more, you can change their color and icon, e.g. from default blue to red.
To show routes, click the “Add directions button and then add an address for each location.
Or, click on the Draw a Line button and choose “Add driving route”.
You can then drag the blue route line to follow the paths or roads you want.
To add a picture to each location, click the camera icon. You can upload or add one or more pictures by URL from Google Images.
There are many tools that can help you plan a trip. Sometimes I’d even use Google Calendar. But when I want something that includes additional information such as a table of expenses, links to websites, and pictures, then I use Google Docs with an embedded Google Sheet.
The workflow goes like this:
Create a new Google Doc (or clone the example below) In the Google Doc, I use tables to create a 2-column layout with times on the left and details on the right. This makes it easy to read and looks more like an itinerary or agenda view.
Uncheck Print Layout If you’re like me, you probably don’t print on paper much anymore. And why would you, when you can just save a copy or view the original version of a doc on your various devices (phone, laptop, etc). Print layout is intended for print so you’ll see gaps between each sheet. This is annoying when you want to just see all of your content as you scroll without any large gaps. To eliminate these gaps, in the View menu, uncheck the “Print Layout” menu item.
Add content When it comes to content, I find it helpful to add the following bits of information
Screenshots of Google Maps showing travel time and path
Links to directions in Google Maps
Photos of destinations, activities, and food Google Docs lets you paste images from the clipboard so you can simply take screenshots of pictures on your computer and paste them right into Google Docs
Special notes about each activity
Create a Google Sheet (or clone the example below) I use the Google Sheet to list all expenses and easily calculate the total using the sum function.
Embed Google Sheet into Google Doc The nice thing about Google Docs and Sheets is you can embed a Google Sheet into your Google Doc and have it updated when you update the Google Sheet. In Google Sheets, you’ll have to hover over the embed and click the “Update” button. Nevertheless, it’s still super useful and may even auto-update if you want long enough, e.g. 5 minutes? To embed a table of costs from Google Sheets, select the table in Google Sheets and then paste it where you want it embedded in your Google Doc.
Publish If you want to share your trip plan with others, you can share the Google Doc itself. Or, better yet, since who you share it with won’t need to edit anything, you can publish your Google Doc as a web page so your recipients can just see a clean, simple view of the trip plan.