Planning a Successful Vacation

Have you ever gone on a trip forgetting something that you missed and needed to replace? Have you been on vacation to a beautiful place only to find out when you come back that you haven’t visited something prominent in that area simply because you didn’t know about it?

Ah, those regrets… We will do it the next time, definitely! … But what are the chances of visiting the same place again? People have limited amount of vacation and they tend not to revisit the same places. Humans love to explore the unknown after all.

We have done both of these mistakes before we learned the right way to travel. We forgot our jackets once going to a colder place and had to waste precious time finding a store and buying the ugliest coats on the planet. Another time we didn’t bring the bed sheets for the beach so we had to drive an hour to find the closest Bed Bath & Beyond.

We used to go to places not even knowing what is there to visit. We would have some vague idea that so and so place is interesting so we would just book a hotel there and go. We had a lot of spontaneity on our vacations but were coming back with a fuzzy picture of the places we visited.

This all changed once we started traveling with a child. Children have the ability to not want to wander around pointlessly. They want to do things and do them NOW! Basically, we did not have a choice but to become extensive trip planners.

The Master Travel List

Master Travel List

We used to make a “To take and To do” list before every trip because on different trips we would need slightly different things. We didn’t need to bring the beach chairs on the winter vacation just as we didn’t need to turn off the Christmas lights in the summer. We definitely need different lists, we thought. This was our mistake. By making a new list each time we had to think hard in the few days before the next trip what we might need. We had a high chance of forgetting to put something on the list and of course we kept doing just that.

Then one bright day we realized that all we need is one master travel list. The super travel list will have everything we might need for every trip. Before each trip we would print that list, cross out the things that we won’t need this time, and proceed to do the rest. It was really a great revelation and when we implemented it our packing time was reduced significantly. Our trip anxiety was also reduced because we no longer worried about forgetting stuff. As we traveled more we refined the list and added more items to cover all the bases. Our travel list now has 60 things “to take” and 15 things “to do”.

When going to the beach we also prepare a shopping list before the vacation. After unpacking at the rented house we check if there is enough toilet paper, detergent, and other essentials, and add those to the shopping list. Then we go to the local grocery store and buy all the stuff we would need for the week ahead. This is planning to the extreme but it really saves us time. We can tell this for sure because in the past we used to run to the store multiple times.

The Travel Plan

It is important to have clear idea about what your destination is, what it has to offer, and what are the main things you want to visit. Some destinations offer more than others. We want to maximize our experiences and have longer vacations at places that have a lot to offer from our point of view. Planing ahead in detail also gives us a feeling that we visited everything we wanted to visit and when we leave we don’t feel like we missed on something. We want to be satisfied with our explorations and consider revisiting only if we liked it very much, not because we had unfinished business.

In order to explore a destination in full we personally need at least 7 full days. So we plan our vacations accordingly. Before each trip we research extensively on the web about places of interest and make a list. The list includes many details about each place, such as the working hours, what days it might be closed, what special events might be there, etc. We then plan what we would be doing each day. For example, most museums are closed on Mondays, so we have to be careful not to plan a museum visit then. Some days are flexible and can be interchanged if they are weather dependent. A day in the city park is much better on a sunny day of course. Sometimes we need to book certain things ahead of time and those plans become fixed.

We fill our vacations with kid-centered activities but not doing so is a recipe for disaster. We have to yet meet a young child who enjoys sightseeing and walking through a city for hours. We also happen to have a picky eater so we have to find places to eat ahead of time as well. This is actually a good idea for anyone with small kids because kids tend to get hungry fast and want to eat NOW! There are destinations, such as amusement parks, where the food is within easy reach, but plenty of times there are no nearby eateries and you have to drive to one. Scrambling to find such a place with a starving child is not what we want to do.

The Emergency Plan

Well, we are not talking about emergency that sends you to the doctor, but emergency such as arriving at the destination without your checked luggage, or staying a day longer, or having your kid develop a fever halfway through the vacation.

Our travel list has such items as thermometer, children’s Motrin, apples, cheerios, and other long lasting foods. It is easy to buy those at our destinations but just imagine going to CVS or Walgreens in the middle of the night. It is much better to pack them ahead of time and hope that you won’t need them. On a few occasions we actually had to give our son Motrin. We were really glad we had it with us. The long lasting foods come in handy when the kids decide they want to eat before bed. Even if the hotel offers room service we all know that such pleasure is not cheap.

And after we came home from a flight once without the luggage (it was delivered the next day), we decided that it is safer to always have a change of clothes for everyone in the carry-on. We have those spare clothes only on the way to our destination, of course. On the way back home it really doesn’t matter because we obviously have more clothes at the house. Remember that old 90‘s movie with Julia Roberts where she arrives without luggage at some fashion convention and has no clothes to wear? Well, maybe not, that movie was a flop, but you get the idea. Not a pretty situation. Keep in mind that it is more likely to have lost luggage if you change carriers during a trip. At least all the stories of lost luggage we have heard from friends and family occurred on trips with two airlines. It is much less likely on non-stop flights but we don’t take a chance there either.

In summary, here is what to do to make every trip a success:

  1. Master Travel List – have one travel list with everything you may need for various trips; refine the list as you remember more items. Print it before each trip, cross out the non-relevant items, and do the rest.
  2. Travel Plan – make a list with what you are going to visit by day and time; include places to eat nearby; book shows and restaurants ahead of time if necessary.
  3. Emergency Plan – always think ahead what might go wrong on a trip and bring a few additional items that will quickly resolve the issues.

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