If you’re anything like me, the first few times I went to plan for a vacation, I almost gave up due to the sheer amount of information and choices available! My criteria were pretty simple- I had a week to go on vacation, I wanted a mid-level vacation in terms of thrifty/luxury pricing and accommodations, and I wanted to see a new piece of the world while having at least one new experience. It seemed pretty straight-forward until I started researching my options and quickly became overwhelmed. I’m going to share with you some tips on how to start planning for your next vacation in order to alleviate some stress!
1- Determine the deal-breakers
We all have them. They’re the things that we cannot change, the boundaries we must work within. For most of us, that’s our budget of time and money, but there are also some other things to consider as well.
Price- it’s best to start out with an idea of how much you’re willing to spend for the total cost of the vacation. It’s the price of everything from the plane tickets and trip or adventure packages to tips and how many souvenirs you want to bring home. Also, think about any income that may not come to fruition during this time that you’re taking to explore the world. Putting together a budget will help to determine what makes sense for this vacation and what may have to wait until next time.
Length- determining how many days you can be away may help narrow down the selection process. For those vacations that are a long weekend, for example, booking a ride on a 12-hour plane trip isn’t the best use of our time! Even for vacations a week or two long, the total transportation time to get to your next adventure can take eat into your time to explore a new destination.
Timeframe- hopefully you have a little flexibility in your schedule, but we don’t always get that luxury! Sometimes we have to take vacation when we can get it. If this is your situation, knowing the timeframe will help to narrow down the places that are in-season, out-of-season, and those that are just not doable (like Antartica in July!). It may also direct you to look for some last-minute specials or help you get the savings of booking at an opportune time.
Culture- each place around the world has it’s own culture, and it’s our job as explorers to make sure we understand and respect the culture of where we’re visiting. Some cultures, for example, require women to wear conservative attire in public places or have limited sanitization systems. Some are extremely upscale. Some are very safe, some not so much. Learning about different places is an exciting part of adventure vacationing, but you may have some places that you just don’t want to go and it’s important to acknowledge these.
2- The nice-to-haves
There may be some items on this list that you think of has deal-breakers, and that’s totally fine. I have them here as nice-to-haves because sometimes you’ll find just the adventure you never knew you were looking for! It’s happened to me and I’ve had some amazing experiences by being open to one or more of these things.
Bucket List- I have my bucket list of places that I want to see, of course. It doesn’t really help me narrow anything down because almost the entire world is on my list, but I do like to start there. Machu Picchu, a safari in Africa, Antartica, hiking the Appalachian trail- these are all things on the list, but obviously take very different amounts of time and money.
Climate- taking advantage of an off-season or border season makes a lot of sense, if that off-season doesn’t mean miserable days of cold rain or heat so scorching you cannot go outside. Those kinds of deal-breakers you’ve already considered. But think about what kinds of climates you’d like to enjoy so that you aren’t shivering in Alaska when you’d much rather be sipping a Long Island Iced Tea on the beaches of Tahiti. Keep an open mind, though- you may find a great deal where you least expect it!
Experiences- maybe there are certain experiences that you really want to have. I’d love to see the pyramids in Egypt or hang-glide over a cliff. Maybe your dream is to snorkel off the Great Reef, climb Kilimanjaro, or shop until you drop in Paris. Do you want to go on a cruise or an overland adventure? Maybe you’re down for a train ride across a country or a balloon festival in Arizona.
Transportation- you don’t have to go far to go somewhere you’ve never been, but if you do want to go half-way around the world, it’s best to understand how long that’s going to take you- not just in terms of travel time, but also in layovers. It’s wonderful to have places that are direct flight or one-stop flights from your favorite home airport, especially when your vacation time is limited. Keep in mind that every plane change means a chance of lost luggage (except if you only have carry-on!) and missed connections.
I’ve craved and, to be honest, could afford different vacation styles at different times in my life. Backpacking across Thailand while staying in hostels is one vacation, but so is being pampered onboard a yacht while sailing around gorgeous islands. Many people I know LOVE to be in charge of researching every detail and planning every day’s agenda, while people like me… well, it’s nice to have someone else plan all those little details for us occasionally. Knowing the style of the vacation can help you
Thrifty- some of the best vacations have the most unique experiences with little cost. Maybe you want the challenge of trekking across Nepal with little money, you enjoy finding company and new friends in hostels, or you’re looking to just hang out in a new location for a minute.
Luxury- staying in the penthouse and having champagne and caviar delivered may be more your style. There are definitely some great things to be said about three gourmet meals a day while being pampered with facials and massages.
Mid-level- there are tons of wonderful packages that are somewhere in the middle of thrifty and luxury. You may stay one night in a tent beside a glacier, and the next evening stay in a 4 star hotel. Or maybe this is the kind of package you want to put together for yourself. There’s nothing wrong with mixing it up a bit!
Adventure level- are you ready to be active from dawn to dusk, fitting in as much go-time as possible? Or does that sound good as long as there are resting days mixed in, too? Let’s face it- sometimes we need to just go sit on a beach or in a mountain cabin for a while to disconnect from everything in order to reconnect with ourselves.
Planning- do you want to plan every detail or do you want to give the deal-breakers and other details to an agent to put together some options for you? There are many ways to do either.
4- Some other considerations
There’s no way to include all the different variables that may pop up as you start to plan your dream vacation, but
Overview- try to take a holistic overview of your deal-breakers and nice to haves and see if there are some details that pop out. For instance, if your vacation timeframe coincides with a country’s school vacation, it may not be the best time to visit some more heavily toured areas (and even flying into the same airport as, say, Disney World may become a consideration).
Be open- think about how you’d like to vacation and you’ll probably find that it doesn’t fit into one specific category. For example, as an introvert, I prefer to have some time to myself, but I also like to book expeditions that include groups of people setting out on adventures together. It requires some flexibility, but I’ve found that as long as I’m clear on my expectations, I have a blast.
Before and after- it may be great to jump straight from your daily grind or job onto a plane to your next adventure, but coming home after may require an adjustment period. Try to schedule in at least a day to come back to reality and do the mundane chores like laundry. You’ll thank me for this tip later!
A little up-front thought before you even begin actually planning your vacation can alleviate hours of time spent researching and getting lost in all the options. It can be hard to narrow down what you’re looking for when you really want to do all the things and see all the places, so setting a few boundaries will help you find your most enjoyable vacation without hours lost in wishful thinking.