Whether you’re sneaking away for a quick weekend getaway or you’re planning the trip of a lifetime, all of us are looking for the perfect vacation. Time away from our daily schedules and routines, whether that’s at the office or chasing littles around, is good for people, emotionally, mentally, and even physically. A lot can go right – and wrong – when you travel, and unfortunately much of it is out of your control. But there are some things you do to increase the chances of having a great time. To help you plan your own vacation, we’ve put together a guide with 10 steps to take to have the perfect vacation.
1. Remember It’s Your Trip
You might be tempted to get caught up with ideas of trips you saw an influencer take on Instagram or somewhere your family friend went that they wouldn’t shut up about, but remember, this is your vacation, not theirs. Ultimately the perfect vacation spot is one that you want to visit.
First, consider who is going with you. While it may seem like great fun to pack up the family for a trip around the world in 80 days, any parent will tell you that a trip to the grocery store is often enough to cue the chorus of “Are we there yet?”, so you’ll want to pick a family trip that will preserve your sanity (while creating wonderful memories, of course). That said, if you are planning a romantic getaway with your significant other, a girls weekend, a retirement trip or perhaps traveling solo, make sure your destination (and your hotel or resort in particular) makes sense. Who does the advertising seem to be geared to? What sort of packages do they offer? These are all things to look into before you commit to booking.
Next, remember that real-life travel (and real life happiness) depends on compatibility (and we’re not talking about relationships). There is certain romanticism in spinning the globe and seeing where your finger lands to determine your next vacation spot, or going to the airport with plans to board the next departing plane no matter where it’s headed. But this likely won’t result in the perfect vacation. At the risk of sounding obvious, what do you want to do – and what do you like to do? Do museums make your eyes glaze over? Do you love the beach? Is your holiday about food? Are you an adrenaline seeker who won’t be happy without some extreme tales to tell post-trip? When you start short-listing your destinations, take into account what sort of environment you are most comfortable in regards to climate, distance from home, amenities, and active holiday vs. total relaxation. This is equally as important to consider for anyone who you’ll be traveling with.
2. Travel Detective
Don’t underestimate the value of knowing (in detail) where you are going. What’s the currency? What kind of transportation is available? Where is your hotel in relation to the airport and/or other attractions? Is your destination safe, or are there areas that are recommended to avoid? Are there religious or cultural events that might cause closures of some things during your visit? What kind of excursions, tours or leisure opportunities are there? It helps to nail down as much info as you can before you go so that you minimize any unpleasant surprises.
3. Practice Time Management
While time management may seem like an office-related activity, good time management actually factors heavily into your perfect vacation. This starts with picking an appropriate length for your trip. It takes a couple of days to unwind, and then a few more to really reap the benefits of R&R. During your trip itself, resist the urge to jam-pack every minute with planned activities. While planning ahead is a good thing, allow yourself unscheduled time in which to do whatever grabs your interest (maybe even a nap – a vacation’s guilty pleasure). You may feel pressure to get in everything possible during your trip to really maximize the experience (especially if this is a once-in-a-lifetime type trip), but if your list is too long, you’ll feel stressed and disappointed.
4. Planning Is Fun
You’ve heard the expression, life is about the journey, not the destination. While your travel plans are ultimately about enjoying the destination, the journey to get there is meant to be enjoyed as well. This means that you should embrace the planning phase (even if you’re not a planner), using time to dream and research. While the planning required for a resort stay is certainly less than a fast-paced European vacation, creating a detailed plan and itinerary (allowing for some flexibility, of course) before your trip allows you to be more present while you’re actually on your perfect vacation. Plus the anticipation of your awesome trip is a big part of the fun, and can sometimes last longer than the vacation itself, so don’t deny yourself that opportunity.
5. Pack Smart
Take the time to look at the weather forecast and make a list before you head to your destination. Scurrying around to purchase forgotten items will not only waste time and money, but many things may not be available, depending on where you are going. Remember to pack things like toiletries, batteries, extra socks, sunscreen, and a smaller bag to use for day trips and something to wear in case of rainy weather.
6. Seize The Day
The thing with vacations is that they end – often much sooner than you’d like, which is why you’ve got to enjoy every moment while it lasts. Give yourself permission while you are traveling to roll with the punches, even if that is not your usual mode of operation. The sooner you realize that you have no control over weather, flight schedules, traffic or other people, the more you will enjoy yourself. Even vacations that seemingly go off the rails can be salvaged (if not fully enjoyed) if your attitude supports it. It’s your vacation. Make it fun.
7. Be Vigilant
Nothing is going to shatter the dreamy vibe on your perfect vacation like getting robbed or being victimized. Some spots are safer than others, but as a rule, you should always remain aware and use common sense. Be aware of your surroundings. This means having a map, knowing where you are, and avoiding looking overly confused or lost, even if you are. Keep your wallet in your front pocket, so that you’re not an easy target for pickpockets. Be cautious when using credit cards or an ATM, and never withdraw cash after dark or in the early morning. Screen your hands when entering your PIN – there are many different ways to get robbed. Leave your jewelry at home, including expensive wedding rings. Look people in the eye when speaking to them. Play the tourist – but don’t look like the tourist, meaning try to blend in, and look confident in your surroundings.
Commit to unplugging as much as possible while traveling. While it may seem near impossible to untether yourself from your handheld device, resist the urge to connect constantly. Your vacation is about taking in your destination, experiencing new things, and perhaps even changing your point of view (literally). Don’t diminish the impact of the experience by missing the scenery because your eyes are glued to a screen. You’ll have plenty of time to share pictures of your vacation on social media when you get home. Stay present.
9. Ease Back Into It
To get the full effect of your perfect vacation, give yourself time to unwind properly when you get home. If possible, try to take an extra day or two before you jump right back into routine and head back to work. Not only will this give you a jumpstart on that post-holiday laundry, it will give you extra hours to bask in that post-vacation glow. Think about it. When you’ve only got a few days or weeks out of the entire year to holiday, you should keep that vibe going as long as possible.