5 steps to a perfect vacation

Trips and vacations are so much more. These experiences show you what’s possible and challenge you to examine the paths you’ll take in the future.

Blake Mycoskie, Founder of TOMS Shoes

Vacation, noun: a period spent away from home or business in travel or recreation. Synonym: break, holiday, leave, trip, and to me the time to experience the wonder of this world. Vacation planning is probably my favorite thing to do. It gives my mind the freedom to daydream and transform that into reality. After years of vacation planning for my family and friends, I have devised a process that I follow each time to ensure a successful and stress-free vacation.

Step 1: Picking the destination. This is the most fun and yet challenging step, especially if you have a big travel group to plan for. Often, where you are going depends on who you are traveling with, a couple getaway might be different than a family or friends’ trip. Here are some ideas that I have used to choose our destination.

  1. Working from a bucket or to-do list such as our Banff National Park road trip, China trip and climbing Mount Kinabalu.
  2. Family members take turns to pick a place such as our Europe vacation (a graduation choice by my daughter).
  3. Just go to where you can get cheap air tickets. Our most recent Australia trip happened because of both cheap air fare and on our to-do list.
  4. Careful consideration should be given to the time of year the vacation is planned. Do you care if it’s the rainy season, snowing, sweltering heat, or crowded because of school holidays?

Step 2: Research and planning. This is the most time consuming and yet crucial step. A well-researched and well-planned trip will go a long way to avoid disappointment and stress later in the trip.

  1. The first thing I do is to research the prices of airfares or cruise fares and lodging to come up with a budget for the trip. Having a budget motivates me to find the best deals, and keeps me on task to decide on the splurge items. For airfares, I generally start with Google Flights or Expedia and then go to the individual airline website to compare fares. I also look at all the different airports in the vicinity and find one that offers the best options as far as pricing, frequency of flights and ease of getting ground transportation. Lodging is the other big-ticket item but there are plenty of options out there now to suit everyone’s travel style. As a family, we always prefer Airbnb type lodging over hotel rooms. Some of the websites I use are Airbnb, VRBO, HomeAway, Expedia, and TripAdvisor. I pay special attention to the locations, reviews and ratings, service fees and other charges; and cancellation policy.
  2. What is the purpose of the trip? Are you visiting for a specific reason? Find out everyone’s interest and the must-do and see in the area. Having a budget early on will help you to decide on what to splurge. For example, for our most recent trip to Australia, we rented apartments and able to save money by preparing our breakfasts and/or lunches and splurge on dinner. We also did most of the self-guided tour of the area and splurge on guided activities such as Harbor Bridge Climb. For our Europe cruise, we saved money by arranging our tours instead of using cruise excursions and able to visit places of our choice. It’s also helpful to note the cost of entrance fees and line up activities that are popular or hard to book. 
  3. Rent a car or public transportation? This is dependent on the travel party and destination. For example, for our Taiwan trip, we hired a driver and a car because it is cheaper and relieve the headache of maneuvering the confusing streets and hard to come by parking spots. We opted for public transportation in New York City since the subway system is amazingly convenient. We typically walk whenever and wherever we can, a good way to exercise during a vacation to offset the food we consumed. If we do decide to drive, I would find out the parking situation ahead of time to ease the stress of looking for one.
  4. Of course, if you decide to use an organized group or private tour agency, you can skip a lot of the above research. But then, you will be missing all the fun!
  5. This is also the step to ask yourself these questions. Is your passport up to date? Do you need a visitor visa? What is the driver’s license requirement if driving and renting a car? Is there a vaccination requirement? Set up a timeline to get these done on your plan.

Step 3: Finalize itinerary. After all the planning, it is time to put everything down on the spreadsheet, share with family or friends, make changes and finalize the plan. I usually list down all the possible activities for a destination and pick from it during our trip, depending on our mood for the day. Just make sure to leave some open or rest days on your itinerary to accommodate for change of plans.

Step 4: Preparation for the upcoming trip. At least two to three weeks before the trip;

  1. Finalize all the bookings and print out if needed, place in a folder along with other travel documents.
  2. Set up vacation mail holds with the post office.
  3. Prepare the packing list.
  4. Download apps for travel. I use TripIt to keep all the travel documents, SmartReceipts to keep track of all the spending, Currency for quickly looking up currency exchange rate, Lyft or Uber or similar ride share app, Mobile Passport where you can fill out immigration information for faster entry, WhatsApp or similar app for communication, local maps, and any game apps as necessary.
  5. Will you have cell service for your phone? Will you be using your phone for direction or rent a GPS?
  6. Decide on whether to use credit cards or cash.
  7. Find a house sitter or someone to check on your house.
  8. Leave your itinerary with a friend.
  9. Have emergency contact handy.
  10. Find out the closest embassy/consulate at your destination.
  11. Find out how to call for emergency help at your destination.

Step 5: Bon Voyage. You have done all the hard work. It is now time to breathe, relax, and start the long-awaited adventure!

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