Our family’s motto is the family that plays together, stays together. We love to spend that “play time” traveling. It’s the only time when we all disconnect from our jobs and other responsibilities and focus on each other 100 percent. One thing all vacations have in common is that they require planning. I have friends who say they enjoy planning their vacations almost as much as they enjoy taking them. Planning a vacation includes everything from choosing a destination to taking the trip. How much planning you do is entirely up to you. Some people like to “wing it” on vacation, while others enjoy scheduling as much of their time as possible. Neither is right or wrong; how you plan is entirely up to you. I have selected what I think are the six essential steps to planning a successful vacation.
1. Choose Your Destination. On the surface, this may sound simple and sometimes it is. Sometimes a destination is chosen for you when you’re attending a family reunion or joining a larger group on a trip. If you have a purpose for your vacation, then choosing the destination is much easier. If you are starting your planning from scratch, I would recommend making a list of at least five places you want to travel. If you are traveling with extended family or friends, go ahead and ask if they have any ideas. Talk about the options such as whether you are looking for something close to home, thinking about a cruise, or playing at the newest attractions at a theme park. Make your choice. If you are part of a larger group sometimes agreeing to take turns deciding, compromising on a destination, or flipping a coin are necessary to help make the choice. You may need to consider Step 2 before deciding on a destination if money may be a factor.
2. Setting Your Budget. Sometimes this step is helpful to be done before or in conjunction with choosing your destination. If you think you know where you want to go, sit down at your computer and do some research…or call your travel agent. Be sure you are checking prices during the time when you will be there. Prices can be significantly lower if traveling during that destination’s off season. Don’t price during the off season if you know you’re going to be traveling during peak season. Be sure to check on taxes, resort fees, and parking fees at a hotel. Check prices of the restaurants in the area and cost of tickets to attractions you want to visit while you’re there. Be realistic and scale back where you need to stay on budget.
3. Making Travel Arrangements. If you plan on flying to your destination, it’s time to book those airfares. You can sit down and compare prices easily on sites such as Orbitz or Expedia. You may also to check and see if there is a discount by booking your hotel with your flights. Research if you need to rent a vehicle. You can check with your hotel to see if they offer free transportation to and from the airport. Find out how close they are to public transportation to the sites you wish to see while you are there. You may choose to drive to your destination. If you are going to drive to your destination, you should make sure that all maintenance is up to date and the car has been checked before you leave on your journey.
4. Finding Accommodations. The most important thing when finding a hotel is to know what amenities are important to you choosing your hotel. Is a free breakfast or large outdoor pool? Will you be spending long periods of time at the hotel or is it just a place to sleep? Prioritize those amenities and do a search on websites such as Hotels.com to see what is available in your price range. You may wish to consider other options such as Airbnb should you want something more like a home away from home.
5. Planning Your Vacation Activities. This is the step where you get to begin planning your activities. You can check with your local library system to see what type of travel guide books are available for free for your destination. There are lots of websites and blogs loaded with information about destinations. Choose the activities that are appropriate for your group. If time or money doesn’t allow you to do everything you want, you can prioritize and rank the activities to help choose take off your list and save for another trip. Book any special activities that you want to do in advance so that you aren’t disappointed when you get there. Leave some unplanned or down time in your schedule so you don’t come home from your vacation feeling like you need a vacation from your vacation.
6. Packing and Preparing for Departure. Make a packing list for your trip. If you don’t know where to start, there are lots of great packing lists that can be found online with a search. Keep your packing list so that when you pack up to come home you can make sure you’ve got everything you left with. Bring enough money to be sure you have enough for any emergencies and incidentals that may pop up. You should make preparations for being gone from home. This may include things such as setting your pet up with a pet sitter, making sure the home is ready or have someone house sit, and putting your mail on hold with the Post Office.
Whew! Now that you’re ready to leave on your trip, the last thing to do is to go and have fun. Remember, family and friends that play together, stay together. Happy planning!