Trip planning/ advance tickets

Yesterday morning I spent some time hashing out (or trying to…) some details for the “Rome” portion of our upcoming trip. We’ll only be in Rome for a few days, which makes it a bit more important, in my opinion, to do at least some advance planning.

only bought a pocket guide this time- shorter trip! I love the maps in these books, though.

Rome is actually fairly straightforward. Luckily, the old emperors or whoever did a nice job of designing their ancient city in a pretty compact area. Most of the main sights are quite close together- a nice perk that makes it all very “walkable”. (Except Vatican City, but that’s still only ~1 1/2 mile or so from the Colosseum.)

Advance tickets

However, there are a few places that they say advance tickets are “highly recommended”. Advance tickets are always the thorn in my side when trying to plan travel. Here’s why:

1- On the one hand, it’s great to secure your tickets for those important/must do places. It would be very uncool to say, not be able to see the Colosseum because we couldn’t get tickets on the day of. (I do not think this is a likely scenario in this particular case, anyway, but you know what I mean. In some destinations, hot spots truly DO sell out.)

2- In Rome, it seems like the biggest issue is that if you don’t have tickets in advance, you could potentially end up waiting in very long lines to GET your tickets (plus then another, second security line, in the case of Vatican Museums). Time spent standing in line is time you are not doing other, much more interesting things!

3- This is the part that always gets tricky.

  • Do you go ahead and buy the advance tickets, securing your spot/ skipping the ticket line? The concern with this option is that now you are “locked in” to doing X activity at X time on X day. What if something else comes up you want to do instead? What if whatever you do prior to the timed entry activity takes longer than expected, and now you’re running late? What if it rains, and it turns out you booked the only “indoor” museum for the sunny day??
  • Or, do you decide to “wing it”/ not buy tickets in advance….and risk either a) (worst case)- not getting in to a key attraction! or b) wasting a bunch of precious time standing in a line. *I feel it’s less of a concern if you have a longer trip/ have more time available to “waste” standing in line. Or if it were, say, just me and Ivan traveling alone- I’d be more inclined to take chances, because 2 people can roll with the punches more easily than 6 people (including kids…).

4- Of course, there’s no way to actually know what the real situation is on the ground, either, until you get there. Maybe you show up without a ticket, expecting this “huge line” you read about on TripAdvisor….and it’s only a 5 minute wait. Or maybe it’s a 2+ hour wait! No way to know.

apparently a few other people want to visit the same sites I do. Hmph. (pic from Vatican Museum in 2017…we’ll see what crowds are like now coming out of the pandemic…)

Generally, I’d rather err on the side of caution, so, I try to read some stuff online/ gauge the situation the best I can and then make a decision. For this trip, I decided on getting advance tickets to the Colosseum and the Vatican Museums, only. Those seem like the “biggest ticket” activities that have the highest demand/ greatest potential issues with running out and/or long lines.

Then, we just hope for the best… (i.e.- that I picked reasonable times that actually work out!).

also currently trying to decide if we want to attempt to see the Pope at his public Papal Audience on Wednesday at 9:15!! Would be very cool, but…potentially time consuming…not sure.

I usually go around and around in my head trying to envision different potential ways the days might look, and then attempt to pick a time that seems relatively practical and logical. When we travel I RARELY (probably never) schedule an actual detailed minute-by-minute itinerary- that never seems to work for us. We’ll have a tentative/ loose plan of things to see/ do, but will mostly play it by ear. I like the flexibility. Trying to follow some schedule in a militant fashion on vacation sounds horrible to me.

However, sometimes having at least a couple of anchor events scheduled actually does help to give the trip just a little bit of structure. If you know you have tickets scheduled at a certain time, you can fill in other activities around that. So, it’s not all bad. Ideally, I’d never have advance tickets though, if I didn’t feel it were necessary!

Are you pro-booking tickets in advance when you travel? Or are you a total free spirit/ “take a chance” type person? (I think it depends some, too, on how much you care about said activity. If it’s something you feel kind of “meh” about or could “take it or leave it”, I think NOT getting tickets is totally reasonable. If you can’t get in, so be it. But if it’s a MUST DO for you- then it gets trickier to make that call.)

Daily Gratitude:

I am grateful for getting most of my clothes packed already yesterday!! (well, all laid out.) The hard part for me is deciding what to take, so I’m glad to have that mostly done now! yay.

4 thoughts on “Trip planning/ advance tickets”

  1. I’m a mix of both, but tend to wing things. The biggest “hack” we do is figure out the best time to visit places for crowds. For example, we went to Paris a few years ago and learned that Friday evening is the quietest time to visit + found a quasi-hidden entrance that makes it MUCH faster/easier to get inside than the main entrance everyone knows about.
    We wanted to go to the top of the Arc de Triomphe, but scheduled our day around getting there when it opened, and didn’t buy advance tickets but were the 3rd people up.
    Going first thing (or at the end of the day) tends to be the best way to avoid crowds. Getting the “big” items out of the way early in the day also feels like a big boost! But we are also “get-up-early-and-hit-the-ground-running” sort of family where other people we know really prefer to relax and start the day at a leisurely pace!


  2. pre-pandemic, I’d book for those that usually sold out fast and let the rest just buy on the spot. with the pandemic and how quickly things change, I wouldn’t pre-book anything but i’m less risk averse or less concerned if we don’t get to see one site, and also lower expectation of what you want to accomplish during the trip and enjoy more. I haven’t planned anything yet for the summer, when we do, I’d probably just book the ticket and make reservation of first few days of stay wherever that would be and the rest decide on the spot. It’d be a bit stressful but as could be fun too.


  3. Same here, I do a mix, maybe pre-book one major attraction, and you have flexibility before and after that. It’s difficult to foresee how crowds are now though. When we went to Paris last fall, we decided spontaneously to get up the Eiffel tower but that was only possible because of Covid. Apparently before Covid you needed to to book tickets weeks in advance.


  4. It really depends on how important the activity/sight is to me, how long the trip is, and what forums on say Trip Advisor are saying. For example, when I went to Spain in 2016, I knew it would likely be the only time I’d visit, and all our research showed that you absolutely needed to schedule tickets to go to Alhambra and that it was something that was not to be missed. I could tell when I booked tickets that they were sold out for near-term dates. But that was the only thing we booked ahead of time for our 7-day trip (to 3 different places!!). When I went to Paris, I appreciated that they had something called the Paris Museum Pass. It was good for 2 out of 3 consecutive days and you could access the sites/museums via a shorter line. So it was the best case scenario – no firm commitment, aside from what day you started to use your pass, and shorter lines! I did make a pretty firm plan for how i spent my time in Paris on my first trip. I had 5 days, I think, and while things are pretty close together/easy to get to in Paris, I wanted to make sure I saw things in a way that made sense. Like I made sure to do a bike tour on my first day to help me get orientated to the city. And then I grouped things together that made sense. But that was the extent of my planning. For Spain, I barely planned at all, but wifi was more easily accessible then compared to my first trip to Paris in 2008. And I was traveling with a friend so it seemed fine to just take things as they came, and we spent the first 3 days in Sevilla where my husband studied abroad so he told us what we needed to see and nothing required reservations!


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