How to Plan a Vacation

By the time you read this, I will be on vacation. I read once that the glow from taking a vacation lasts only a few days, but the happiness from having planned a vacation lasts eight weeks! I can attest to that. There is something about knowing you have a reservation sometime in the future at an exciting place that makes you feel…secure, relaxed, and pleasantly anticipatory.

I am by nature an explorer. I have often admired those people who can go to the same place year after year and just relax. I have too many places I want to see in my lifetime. Whatever hormone spikes when you do new things (dopamine?), it’s my drug of choice.

Farmland that stretches for miles on my last trip to Iowa.

But honestly, I have special challenges when planning a vacation. My husband hates fancy things (he often loses out on that one) and loves cold, dark lakes, while I am happiest in the turquoise sea of the Caribbean, preferably in a very fancy hotel. The ages of my kids—as many of you know—range from 4 to 28 (and yes, the 28-year-old still wants to go on vacation with us—I mean who wouldn’t, with the joy I take in planning?).

Boats at rest in Camden Harbor in Maine.

So here are my five tips for planning a vacation that everyone will enjoy:

Plan in advance—at least eight weeks ahead of time. That way you don’t cancel out the eight weeks of pleasure from having planned by ending up with a vacation that may not work out as planned (one word: airplanes).

Do your research, but make it fun. I happen to love travel magazines, and get lots of ideas from seeing an amazing photo of a place I just have to go to. Or from hearing about some magical place from a friend. My favorite magazines for travel ideas are Garden and Gun, Saveur, and Travel and Leisure.

Focus on something active. Now that the little one is growing up a bit, we can do more adventurous things together. On this vacation, which happens to fall on her birthday, we are going fishing! It’s something she seems to really want to do, so we are doing it. The older ladies love horseback riding—I always try to find a place that has trail riding nearby, which is a great way to get out and see things. My husband and I also love to kayak. There is nothing quite like really getting out in nature in a new place and smelling the soil, the plants, the air, and the water.

Book a few special things, but not too many. I do struggle with this one since I am naturally a planner and scheduler. This year we are going to Nashville to the Grand Ole Opry. Unfortunately, due to the flooding in Nashville a few months ago, the usual venue is still shut down. Fortunately for us, performances are going to be in the Ryman Theatre, its original home. We are all looking forward to that!

Take guidebooks and maps along. It’s amazing how much you learn, and how much richer a trip can be, when you can not only explore a place, but also explore stories about a place. I love guidebooks and maps because they often point out things that you may not have thought of or heard about before. For some reason, I find the Frommer’s Guides easiest to understand and use. And the iPad, with its mapping capabilities, actually turns out to be really useful for car trips (just don’t use it while driving). It’s the best use I’ve found for the iPad so far.

The goal of planning a vacation is to eliminate the stress of not knowing where and what things are going to happen, while leaving lots of room for not knowing where and what things are going to happen…

I’ll let you know how this vacation goes. In the meantime, take this quiz and tell me about your planning tips

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5 Responses to How to Plan a Vacation

  1. Jean Nick a.k.a. Rodale's Nickel Pincher July 28, 2010 at 10:53 am #

    I love a vacation that involves leaving my car behind and riding a ferry or a train to get somewhere, often taking my bike along: it needen’t be a long trip, but it puts a beautiful space between everyday life and the vacation.

  2. Valerie July 29, 2010 at 2:26 am #

    I actually loke to be spontaneous. My adult son and daughter still like to go on vacation with me especially on road trips which are my all time favorite. Their first major trip was 2 months backpacking in Europe when they were 2 and 5. We may be headed to Michigan in August still not sure. My poor parents get a lot of surprise visits from us.

  3. MIchael August 1, 2010 at 7:03 pm #

    Great post! I just confirmed air tickets to visit family in Europe – eight weeks away! Now I’ll ride the high of expectation and planning right up to departure!

  4. Donna in Delaware August 1, 2010 at 7:11 pm #

    I never plan vacations. My husband does all of the planning, then asks me to look at what he has planned and give feedback. He plans 1 year to 6 months in advance so that if anything goes wrong, he have enough time to change things or cancel (usually up to 2 to 3 weeks) before we leave. This has been going on for the last 18 years, and I am usually satisfied with his plans. I sometimes say where I would like to go and he plans around that bit of info. We have been around the world together twice, but have many more countries to see, but not that much time to do so. We need to do a lot more planning to see America.
    This we shall do starting next year. I would like to start in Maine and work my way around the US until I visit every state. This will take several years, but this is what I want to do. There is no time like the present and barring any complications, we should be able to accomplish this this feat. Happy traveling!

  5. Neşe Kızıl December 29, 2010 at 9:30 pm #

    Why don’t you prefer visiting wonderful seasides of Turkey ?
    Let me give you the names of some special places with the blue blue sea and wonderful nature:
    -Bodrum
    -Marmaris
    -Çeşme
    -Didim
    -Datça
    -Belek
    -Kemer
    -Kaş
    etc.

    You have to see İstanbul also and Capadocia (where so many Japans visit) and Pamukkale of white white travertens…

    Take care…by the way I live in İstanbul and I have only been to some European Countries. Andalucia (Sevilla) in Spain is really beautiful.

    Have a beautiful vacation and a happy naw year !!!

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