“I haven’t been everywhere, but it’s on my list.” – Susan Sontag
On each vacation we take, I like to build out a plan ahead of time that serves as a guideline for our adventures. Creating an agenda can seem like a buzz kill if you like to live spontaneously, but I see it as something that gives us freedom to see and do without getting a last-minute disappointment. Like when something is closed on the day we drove an hour each way to experience or see it. This doesn’t happen if you plan a little ahead of time.
I am a planner. I obsessively plan before we go on vacation. Sometimes I drive myself crazy planning. I buy guidebooks of the area we are visiting. I visit TripAdvisor.com and:
- I read the top 10 things to do in “insert destination name here”
- I read the forum pages for the place or places we are visiting
- I find the top restaurants in the area
I also Google the places I am going and find blogs that give advice about what to see and what to do. I look at Google images. And I like to get input from my family members as to what they would most like to do or see.
After gleaning information from all these sources, and taking notes, and highlighting, and noting the things that are most appealing to me (or what my family would like), I start paring it all down into a workable schedule.
First, I write out all the days we are traveling, from the day we leave the house until the day we return. I include the details for getting there, including flight information, if we are flying, and rental car info, including reservation numbers and expected times of pick-up, etc. If we are driving, I include drive times and expected arrival times.
Second, I include all lodging information, including reservation numbers, addresses of any places we are staying, and phone numbers. And, if we are going to be purchasing food to prepare during the week, I make sure to schedule in time to hit a grocery story on the way to our accommodations.
Third, I look at all of my travel research and begin writing down activities we want to experience, including the costs, grouping them together geographically for each day and noting the drive times between each thing. This is when it is good to look back at your travel research, or do a quick Google search to double-check the hours and days that an activity or destination is open.
Fourth, after deciding what area we are going to be in on a particular day, I then move on to figuring out our meals. If we are staying in a place that has a kitchen handy, or in a hotel that offers breakfast, the first meal of the day will usually be there. Vacations can be expensive if you eat out all the time, so I am definitely a fan of saving money where we can.
Also, can we pack a lunch for several of the days we are out and about? Even when we stay in hotels, I will usually bring a soft cooler in my luggage and pick up grocery items so that we can make sandwiches and have fruit, snacks, and drinks in our hotel room. Just about every hotel has free ice! A picnic lunch can be a nice, restful part of a trip, especially if a cool, shady park to enjoy it in can be found. Dinner is usually out, although if we are staying in a house with a kitchen, we will try to prepare and eat dinner there a couple of times.
So, where will we eat when we do eat out? This is where TripAdvisor.com comes in handy once again. And Yelp. And for me, this is one of the best parts of any vacation! I love trying new places and great regional specialties. Mexican food in the southwest is a little different from Mexican food in the southeast, and I want to experience it! And I would much rather have a meal at a hole-in-the-wall diner that is highly recommended by other travelers than a $50-a-plate ritzy restaurant that has good, but pricey food. But that’s just me. You may like spending all that money – to each his own! That’s the beauty of planning and doing your own thing.
After I’ve got it all down on paper – travel arrangements, lodging info, daily activity schedule, meals info, etc, then I usually go back with a critical eye and start slashing some things. Because I generally want to do way more things than we actually have time for. And if we did every single thing that was written down on my very first draft, we would be exhausted and vacation would not be fun, and we would probably want to kill each other at the end of each day because we would all be very grumpy.
When I am finally happy with the final draft that is typed on my computer, I send out copies to my family members for their approval and ask for input. Is it too much? Are we doing stuff you will like? Once everything is approved by everyone else, I take a picture of each page of the agenda with my phone, so I can easily refer to all the details while we are adventuring.
The Final Word
The most important thing about making all of these plans for a vacation that includes other people is flexibility! You have to be flexible! Things are never going to go exactly as you have planned them. That is just a fact of life. And you can’t treat an agenda like it must be followed. The goal of an agenda is to have a guideline, something that will help you see amazing sights and do a lot of fun things. People get tired. So go with the flow. And please, enjoy the experience!
I hope this has been somewhat helpful and informative for you. I have more to share, so please stop by again soon!
Until next time – happy traveling!