With Spring underway and Summer around the corner, thoughts of vacations and travel adventures quickly come to mind. If you’re like many with a standard two-week vacation, 14 out of 365 days in a year to rest and relax sounds rather depressing. But there’s a way to make it “stretch” if you look at it from a different perspective.
Stage One: Planning
Often the longest of the four is the Planning Stage. Planning a vacation varies from one person to another but for me, this is probably the second most enjoyable part of the overall experience. Whether you work with a travel agent or decide to do it on your own, narrowing down travel destinations, lodging and of course, your mode of transportation to get you there, are all part of the planning process. I love to do the research and find out information about where I’m going, where I’ll be staying and things to do. And yes, I’ll confess that with each trip, I create a spreadsheet with all this information, create travel notes for myself and build up a library of things to read about my destination. I probably go a little overboard, ok, maybe a lot overboard, but I enjoy the process.
With all the information available on the web, there’s no reason for you to arrive at your destination armed without a shred of information. Even if you’re fortunate enough to have someone plan every step of your vacation for you and you just have to show up, having some knowledge of where you’re going and the customs and norms is a basic must-do.
Yes, there’s a lot of information out there and a lot of people sharing their tips and advice, but don’t let it overwhelm you. I turn to TripAdvisor for great hotel reviews, I’ll check out YouTube for videos on my travel destination and I’ll jump to various sites to create itineraries, find great places to eat and get simple travel tips. Use this time as you gather information to build up the excitement and remember, whatever you see on the web won’t compare to you actually standing and experiencing the destination first hand. Doing your homework prior will only enhance the experience!
Tip: One critical step during this process is to also determine documentation requirements such as passports and/or Visas. This can take a while, so the sooner you research these items, the better.
I’ve been known to start planning vacations a year out and the main reason is when I know it will be a big undertaking with multiple people or it’s a more challenging destination, otherwise, six months out is my normal timeframe. The former was the case for a big vacation that included three countries (Philippines, Cambodia and Vietnam) and multiple cities in Asia. How far out do you start planning?
Stage Two: Pack & Prep
This stage is often the shortest of the four and is a two-part process. Usually a week before I head out, I’ll start to pull all the items that I’ll need for packing. Last minute packing is never a good thing since you’ll most often forget to pack something essential. Create a list before you start, but better yet, during stage one as you’re planing, start a list and just add and modify it along the way. I’ll also check the weather forecast and adjust my clothing as needed and pack only the necessities.
Another important step given today’s ever-changing travel restrictions and requirements on airlines, is to find out what’s allowed through security, on the plane and even at your destination. The latter often applies to a cruise vacation – they don’t allow certain items on board the ship so check with your cruise line.
During this time, you’ll also want to prep your home. For additional tips on this area and more, check out this pre-travel checklist on page 70 of our Spring Issue. Travel Contributor Charmaine Kong of Where’s the Charm? shares some essential tips you don’t want to miss.
Tip: Before you head out the door, bring printouts of reservations, flight information, airline, hotel and credit card phone numbers and even any correspondence made in setting up your travel just in case you need documentation as proof.
Stage Three: The Vacation
It’s finally time and you’re ready to head on out the door. But probably the most important thing as you take off is to change your mindset, aside from forgetting about work. Part of the joy (and pain) of travel is that you’re bound to experience the unexpected. No matter how much research and planning you do before hand, be prepared that something could change. Be flexible and take a deep breath! With airline delays and cancellations, getting lost en-route, or some other event, remember that this is part of the adventure and the end goal is to safely get to your travel destination.
Once you’ve finally made it to your destination, then the rest of this stage is self explanatory. Be flexible and open minded. Savor every experience, every minute and soak it all in.
Stage Four: A Look Back/Ahead
Once home, we’re immediately thrust back to the realities of life — the vacation is over. But, it doesn’t have to end there. This is the time, while everything is still fresh in your mind, to start organizing your digital photos. Don’t just download all your photos into one folder, separate them out and add captions/notes. Whether you’re sharing your vacation memories on social media (always best to do after you’re back and not during), a digital album website or simply storing on your computer’s photo album, organize them now! It’s amazing how quickly the little details slip away once you’re caught up in everyday life.
Tip: Delete bad photos and all your duplicates! With digital photos, we have the luxury of taking multiple photos of any moment. The problem is that we now have so many photos of the same scene and you’re quickly filling up your storage. While organizing, delete duplicates and of course, any blurry photo! No one needs to see 20 photos of the same thing and no one wants to see a blurry photo!
In addition to organizing (and editing) your digital memories, take a moment and document the highlights, lowlights and any learnings you may have had from your travels. Was there an adventure/excursion/experience you loved or disliked? Did you discover a new activity that your kids really enjoyed? Were there restaurants that stood out and you’d return to in a heartbeat? Whether you plan to return to your vacation spot or in the event someone asks about tips for a future trip, having this captured while it’s all still fresh in your mind is a good thing to do.
Finally in this last stage, I also start the process of looking ahead to the next adventure. Even though the next vacation may not be for a while, there’s nothing wrong in starting to plan to determine what type it will be and where. So if you’re ready, let’s start over with Stage One and build up some excitement!