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How do I plan my trips?

With the pandemic limiting travel, and then having broken my elbow, my planned trips have had to be rescheduled. I thought I’d write up how I plan an itinerary, and note if there are changes I can make when a trip has to be rescheduled. (AKA adapting!) And I’ll expand with examples from future planned trips.

This past summer I had two domestic road trips planned, as I didn’t think I’d be able to go out-of-country until autumn. Since visiting and photographing #cathedrals is my obsession, I started by looking at a map of which cathedrals I am aware of that I haven’t yet visited. I’ve built Excel spreadsheets to globally track these cathedral lists, pulling from Wikipedia and Gcatholic primarily, but I also will spend research time hunting both generally for a sect and specifically for a location. Plus every now and then, some random reading will cite a location or building I’m unaware of, and that gets added to my worksheet.

From these worksheets, I can push the data through EasyMapMaker, a website that allows me to plot physical locations onto maps. Now, I will point out that placement isn’t always perfectly accurate, and sometimes I’ll get a marker in a completely different unexpected location. If I limit my focus, I can usually then check each locator, and save for later reference. Using these plots, I can see how I might organize a trip. For some places, I use Google Maps to plots travel routes to check feasibility. Here are three screen images using Dutch cathedral data.

For an example of identifying a region to visit, earlier this yearI looked at my map of “missed” in the eastern USA. I identified the Gulf Coast states as an area I had missed – I’d taken a slightly more northern route across the country when I relocated from California to Florida, so these “Katrina” (or do we now call them Ida?) states needed some of my attention. (A corner of that map, which excludes Louisiana data, follows.)

Based on highways and roads between the cities, I established a zigzag route, and then figured out how much driving I’d have to do, trying to keep my daily drives to about 300 miles. From a friend, I got a recommendation to take the coastal route from Mobile to Pensacola, and that changed my plans to overnight in Alabama. And I had a ticket for a baseball game in Montgomery. One thing I’ve found is that many cathedrals are closed on Saturday to the “casual” visitor, unless one gets in while a wedding will take place or has happened. So when I lay the plan into a calendar, I try to limit my venues on Saturday, and plan on attending services on Sunday.

The statistic I quote is that there are about 5000 cathedrals worldwide. Part of my goal for this trip is to visit all the cathedrals in each coastal state, as well as visit Alabama, one of 5 states I have yet to visit. My “holy grail” is to visit as many as I can around the world. Being able to look at the map of cathedrals missed and seeing none is an objective. Of course, I can never rest – I thought I’d seen all 6 cathedrals in Tennessee, but Knoxville opened a new Catholic cathedral (it was being built in 2016 when I visited) and I found an Orthodox cathedral in Nashville I’d not known about. They’re just opportunities to return to a beautiful state.

Once I begin plotting and slotting cities into the itinerary, I might use Google Maps to see if there are any cathedrals not yet in my plan. I found the Indian Orthodox cathedral in Houston which wasn’t on my list this way, which caused me to do more research for the #Malakara cathedrals worldwide, to update my stored data. In this case, I wrote the bishop in northeastern US to determine if he had a cathedral, which he didn’t.

For the Gulf Coast trip (which I was packing for when I slipped and damaged my elbow), I had booked my hotel rooms online – for stays of 3 or more days, I might try to find a B&B – and organized both my flight to Houston from Punta Gorda on Allegiant, and a Hertz car rental to drop in Venice when I returned. Because I used the same site for the hotel bookings, I was able to easily cancel them all from the hospital emergency room. Having prepaid most of the expenses, I recovered all my funds with the exception of airfare.

The other road trip I had planned this summer was one I called “the flat lands”. After my November 2019 trip to St. Louis to visit cathedrals in Missouri and Illinois (which resulted in my doing research on the American Anglican sects after finding two St. John’s Anglican Cathedrals in Peoria), I wanted to “finish” Missouri. So starting (and ending) in Kansas City, I would drive west through Kansas, return east through Nebraska, head north through Iowa to eastern South Dakota (another state off the list) and then eastward through southern Minnesota. Heading to the Mississippi River, I’d visit western Wisconsin, cross westerly through Iowa and end after a stop in St Joseph back in Kansas City to return home. At least 2300 miles on the road, and 40 cathedrals to visit. Similar numbers to the Gulf Coast trip.

My final 2021 trip was triggered by a cancelled trip to Acapulco in early 2020, axed due to COVID. With a fare credit from AeroMexico, I’d fly from Orlando to the central highlands, visit 9 cities and see 8 cathedrals, plus my last 2 (if I’d taken the Gulf Coast trip) in Florida. (My tally of missed in Mexico just caps 100.) My main means of intercity transportation would be by bus, and I’d spend a few days in most of the locations. This had to be rescheduled, possibly with a fee penalty, as I’m having surgery at the end of September, and recovery time will overlap; plus, Mexico is slowly getting its population inoculated with the vaccines. I've included a screen capture of my planned itinerary for this trip.

Planning for the Future

With these 3 trips to reschedule around my other 2022 travel and whatever medical follow ups my doctors will require, I continue to dream. Making lists, drawing maps, researching routes, I’m keeping busy. With the photographs from my two trips in 2019 slotted into a potential Volume II of Cathedrals to the Glory of God, I’m aiming to triple the count which will take a number of trips.

I’ve only recently begun enjoying cruising on bigger ships (rather than “boats”), so a 6-port 7-day jaunt out of San Juan in late January on NCL, a cruise line which markets to solo travelers, looked interesting. I had only one of the 8 Puerto Rican cathedrals, so I plan on a short stay in the territory before the cruise goes to the several Caribbean islands.

Another 8 cathedrals on the 6 islands adds 15 to the overall count, as well as increase my countries-visited tally. I used simple internet searches to query for cathedrals in each of the island ports.

Before the seeming lockdown of 2021, I had contemplated a long cruise in early spring 2022 around South America on Holland America out of Buenos Aires which ends in Ft Lauderdale. I dreamed about leaving Puerto Rico for Bogota, Columbia for a week, followed by a week based in Montevideo, Uruguay. Another week outside BA in Argentina, I could then sail, visiting the Falklands and several countries on the west coast of South America. Two downsides in my book: HAL was fairly inflexible on their single supplement, and half the trip were at-sea days. And I wouldn’t really greatly increase the number of cathedrals I’d see, although I’d pass completely through the Panama Canal and probably have seen the inside of their metropolitan cathedral in their capital city, closed in late 2018 prior to the Papal visit.

I want to visit Europe in 2022. I thought about making a late summer trip, and returning to the States via a transatlantic cruise, since I hadn’t been able to cross as planned last year. Thinking to reverse my 2020 Italian itinerary (south-to-north, from Malta and Sicily), I looked at ship itineraries from the Mediterranean. A crossing out of Rome stopped in Toulon, France the next day. I approached the cruise line to see if I could board there, as I’d be ending my Italian trip near Milan or Genoa. Their answer was no. It would have been a good trip, hitting the Canary Islands and ending in Florida, but I didn’t want to have to backtrack to Rome. Then a crossing surfaced out of Southampton, England, hitting my radar, Royal Caribbean's Anthem of the Sea.

When I’d begun planning the 2019 trip to Britain, I’d thought to visit both the United Kingdom’s 4 countries and the Republic of Ireland. Because I was used to 8-9 week trips, and because my friend Mandra would be joining me in Scotland, I decided to cut my plans short and end in Glasgow, returning after 2 months with Mandi. So Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland were mostly mapped out for a future itinerary.

While the RC ship I’ve selected is unfortunately large, it does offer a relaxing and interesting option for a return trip. (Decompression time?) When I am done in Ireland, I will finish by visiting a few western England cathedrals I’d missed in 2019 before sailing from Southampton. I plan, in fact, to stop at the Isle of Man as I crossed the Irish Sea, adding a new country? I returned to my itinerary, and decided to pull new lists for cathedrals in both countries. (Yes, I know that the Irish consider the entire island to be theirs, but until unification, it’s still two countries. And I have ancestors from both.) Matching the Wikipedia list to the Gcatholic table, plus whatever additional research I’ve done to locate existing and ruined/former cathedrals, I’m having a time looking at road and train maps, querying Google Maps for ways to get from one point to another, and trying to maximize my obsession.

Just the top of the spreadsheet itinerary, showing Iceland, Scotland, Northern Ireland until the tour package kicks in.

But to prove (to myself, if not others) that I can do something other than cathedrals, I’ve booked a week-long jaunt out of Belfast, ending in Galway called “The Wild Irish Coast” where I’ll probably not see a cathedral. But I should experience some of the traditional Irish tourist sites, and this outfit does focus on the single traveler.

My itinerary is rat! (Links below) Thank you.ow) Thank you.ow Thank you.o Thank you. Thank you.Thank you.hank you.ank you.nk you.k you. this time, as I try to fit most of the Republic sites into a fixed time slot, between Galway and the cruise departure. And then, to complicate this, I decided to start the trip by visiting Iceland (4 cathedrals and one significant national church) and then return to western Scotland to see a few I’d missed in the Scottish southwest. And on the cruise, we stop in the Azores (Sao Miguel, for 10 hours, insufficient time to get to Terceira to see the cathedral there), Halifax (3) and Boston (5-7) before arriving the day after my birthday at Port Liberty.

New Jersey has 15 cathedrals within a 90-mile circuit in the north, so that screamed to me to make the time to visit them. For the 2019 crossing’s stop in Manhattan, I’d identified 7 cathedrals within the New York City borders that I’d missed in October 2016, and since added an eighth, plus there are 5 in Nassau County near JFK Airport. So now I’m trying to figure out how to add these opportunities, as well as hope to spend a bit of time in early November in my native city. And I’ll have a lot of work ahead of me to review and select photographs for publication and posting, organize them, and also get some blogs/trip reports written.

If this all happens, I could very likely have enough new material to start the publishing effort for Volume II. However, I’ve already started making travel plans for 2023 – I booked a springtime 12-day Viking River Cruise from Paris to Zurich, which can be the starting anchor to picking up my itinerary from 2019, and give me the opportunity to see Italy. I’ve done extensive research already, with an itinerary ending in Malta, what with those blog entries I wrote last summer on my virtual trip. I’ll have to revisit the plans, as I will want to add some more locations, and perhaps skip a few sites, based on those tales. Plus, since I’m starting that trip in Paris, I figure to spend some extra time in France beforehand and add to the 30 cathedrals I’ve already visited. Maybe another 2-3 weeks and 40 more of the 200 past and current cathedrals could be seen? More research, mapping, planning and dreaming ahead, especially since this will be France, a country I’ve always loved visiting.

A bit longwinded, I hope this gives you, the reader, a window of insight into the planning and scheming that I go through while making my itineraries for solo travel to feed my cathedral obsession. As each trip gets closer, I’ll post specifics to see if you all have any suggestions to enhance my visit to the cities and towns around the USA and Europe.And if there are any suggestions, I’m all ears. Thanks for reading.

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