Many moons ago, travel agents were the only way to go. You see, back then the internet didn’t exist, nor did a lot of huge bookstores with dozens of books on the specific area you wanted to visit. But something was lost with purchasing a template vacation. It was like purchasing a picture of someone having fun in the place you wanted to go. Fast forward to the internet and bookstore age. The art of customizing your own vacation was born with all of these amazing resources at our fingertips. So why aren’t more people planning their own trips? Information overload, and getting the steps down are two reasons. Here are some tips to keep you focused, streamline and simplify the process for you, and allow you to organize and enjoy your idea of a perfect vacation, not someone else’s.
- Decide what type of trip you want to take. Do you want a beach, mountain, or city destination? What is your ultimate goal? Relaxation, adventure, culture, a little of each? Is this a family vacation with children, for a couple, for friends, extended family members where you will need some time apart from the group? (And trust me, no matter how much you love your family or friends, you will all need a little breather every now and then). If you keep your ultimate goal in mind with each planned day, and circle back around to that goal at the end of your plan, you’ll obtain it.
- Decide how long you would like to be away. Be sure to keep travel time to your destination, and back home, in mind, as well as any time changes. For example, we love to go to Europe, and always have to add two days to the trip for travel, at least. Plus, we typically plan to return home a day or two before we have to return to work, to allow an adjustment back to our time zone.
- Decide how to cover your destination(s). Once you’ve targeted that destination, talk with your travel partner(s) about centralizing in one place, and taking day trips and tours, or if packing it up and staying periods of time in a few places is for you. We often find that a balance of both works. Hitting a few highlights in a solid overview, and paced out, is great for us. We get a flavor for the area we are in, and it often leaves us wanting more. One thing you don’t want to do is feel rushed when you are enjoying a specific attraction, because you’ve committed to doing seventeen other things that day.
- Read up on your area(s) of choice. A few great places to do this would be to hit the book store or library, and grab a few books. Not all travel books are written the same, so choose a couple that speak to you in terms of their flow. Perhaps begin with at least two books. One with pictures and ‘to the point’ information, and then another that speaks more in detail, to answer those small questions for me. For example, the latter book might tell you how far your top excursion is from the area you are staying in, how to get there specifically, what time they open, how long your excursion will take you approximately, and what you can expect for crowds, etc. Of course, another great resource is the internet.
- Read up on the ‘top things to do’ from multiple resources to see what speaks to you, and make a list of those items. Have your travel partner do the same, and compare your lists to make sure you are appealing to both, or everyone’s, interests. And remember – just because tourists rate it high, doesn’t mean it isn’t cheesy or you will enjoy it. Read at least some of the details.
- Plan on what you are going to bring with you. Make sure you check the weather, climate, temperature fluctuations, etc. Check this right before you leave, too. Don’t over pack either. I will never forget the thought of having to haul my suitcase up 5 flights of narrow, turning stairs in Amsterdam for our apartment rental. I seriously contemplated throwing my suitcase out the window to get it down when we left! It took me at least a dozen trips before I got packing right. I was either over or under packing. A great tip that will help you stay on target is to stay in an apartment rental, for at least part of the trip that includes a washer and dryer. It will literally allow you to double your wardrobe, or more. So you need only pack for the number of days you don’t have a washer and dryer. For example, 15 day trip, first 5 days in one city, then onto the next city with a washer and dryer, ending in the third city, you need only pack for 5 days plus one additional outfit.
- Put your projected itinerary in writing. There are templates you can use for this. It honestly helps if you have a visual in front of you. This doesn’t necessarily mean you have to follow it to a tee, but helps keep you focused from day to day. We typically include things on it like reservations numbers, addresses and contact information of the places we’re staying, and even a list of local foods to try. Also keep ‘rainy day’ options on it, in a separate area.
- Leave time for leisure in your itinerary. Don’t leave yourself in a position where you have two minutes to snap that one amazing picture, but you never took time to really drink in where you were and enjoy the sounds, smells, and happy feeling that you actually made it there. Sitting in a café, watching the world go by, strolling through a park or museum, sitting on a bench, whatever tickles your fancy and enables you to relax. We like to schedule in a spa treatment, as well as other relaxing time. Also, take pictures with a camera, not just your phone. Leave time to just enjoy and not take pictures, too. Not everything has to go on social media, you know.
- Don’t forget that some attractions may need advance reservations. For example, some very popular museums or attractions may require you to book your reservation days or even weeks in advance. We were in Rome once, and witnessed a couple being turned down entry into a museum because they were full that day, and booking out two weeks ahead. What a shame to travel all that way and not gain entry due to lack of planning.
- Don’t forget about food – read up on not only the highly rated restaurants to dine at, but the cuisine of the area you are visiting. Many times, less crowded restaurants are just as good, if not better, and you can get the same exact local flavor than if you went to the number one place on that internet list you found. And without the touristy crowd. Follow the locals – that’s always a good tip. And read up on what those ‘strangely named’ dishes actually are. Some could be simply fried cheese, while others could be brains.
- Look for money and time saving opportunities. See if your targeted area has a local attraction card that includes several items in it for a specific time period. This can save you both time and money in that the passes often include the ability to ‘walk right in’ without having to wait in line, as well as the admission cost. Just make sure you do the math to make certain you are truly saving money.
- Take a travel journal along. This is extremely helpful for extended trips, when the days can blur into one another. One can easily forget what they did and when, and certain details. Each night, take a few moments to jot some things down, and it will make photo album creation, or blog creation, much easier.
- Take some time before your trip to learn a few words of the local language spoken. This goes a very long way when traveling abroad with the locals. What do they typically do in their culture, what are typical hours of operation for stores or service businesses, how about greetings and pleasantries? A smile is pretty universal, but topping that off with a few words really does go a long way.
In short, creating your own custom vacation plan, does not need to be time consuming or complicated. You do have to put some time and thought into it, but the reward at the end of the trip is that you will not have taken a trip that thousands of others have taken, and you will have enjoyed everything you did, or did not do. Happy travels everyone!