Traveling is an experience. For some, travel is an enriching occasion, filled with positive memories of eating delicious meals, meeting interesting people, seeing new places and bonding with loved ones. For others, travel can be a very daunting task, muddied with chaos and disappointment. Although we cannot control every aspect of travel, it is possible to avoid much of the common pitfalls that make for a negative vacation experience. All it takes is a little travel preparation. In our house, travel preparation for a vacation starts months, sometimes years, ahead of time. This may sound intense, but it is really quite simple and really pays off in the long run. Time to READY. SET. GO!
I’ll admit it, I am exhausting. My mind is constantly racing and I’m always hitting my husband with plans for new adventures, the poor guy. I’m that pushy friend Unbrave Girl talks about in her blog, but hey, at least I make us go places! There are just so many places to see, so many things to do and so many things I want my kids to experience. Unfortunately, I don’t have the money or the time to do everything I come up with in my over-active imagination. In order to do maximize my opportunities and to enjoy each trip to the fullest I have three simple steps to success.
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HotMama Tips for Ready. Set. Go: Travel Preparation
1. Research. Research. Research.
Probably the single most important thing to do before embarking on a grand adventure or family travel is research. This doesn’t have to be hard. Make it exciting. Once you have a desired destination in mind, immediately start trolling the internet for travel guides. Travel blogs are a great place to start, because they often give first-hand experiences. Nomadic Matt offers great tips to help plan your next trip.
I always check the weather conditions first. This gives you a chance to adjust the destination or the season you choose to travel. Rates usually drop in off-season, so research what off-season means. It could mean the difference of major concerns like hurricanes or just minor fluctuations in temperature. Check the dates for off-season, because sometimes you can get awesome deals if you book in the start or finish of off-season while still enjoying perfectly decent weather. We always go to Florida the first weekend of off-season around mid-May and we like to go to Mexico toward the end of hurricane season in mid-October.
Once a “time of year is determined” it is much easier to research cost. What do hotels cost? What does airfare cost? Airfare tends to fluctuate so I like to use an airfare tracker like Yapta, that alerts me when my tickets have reached their lowest price. For more on money saving tips on airfare, check out my detailed post, HERE.
Try to figure out a rough cost for excursions, activities and dining. As you find things you want to do, start hunting for coupons and deals ahead of time. You might be able to squeeze more in if you are saving money from the start. I like to give myself a concrete number to work towards then I divide that by the number of months until our trip so I can budget each month to make my monetary goal without stressing out. There are always unexpected costs so over-estimating your trip will give you some wiggle room for surprises.
Look up points of interest and restaurants in the area. If you research attractions, read reviews and check out maps. You can better prioritize what you want to do and then consolidate those activities to specific locations. That way you are not spending your vacation running all over the place. I’m not advocating a rigidly planned out itinerary, but having a rough outline saves a lot of precious vacation time. I don’t like to plan too much in one day; otherwise you’ll just feel tired and frustrated. Read my post on Easy Family Vacations.
Plan the most important activities early in trip so if there is an unexpected problem, there is room in the schedule to adjust and make to leave room for relaxing whatever days. Sometimes, the biggest decision of the day should be where will I eat first?
Every good performance has many rehearsals before show time. Travel is no different. The more organized you are, the smoother the trip, period. You should feel like you’ve been there a thousand times before you actually ever get there.
2. Pick your travel buddies wisely.
Going on a trip with an incompatible group is a recipe for disaster. Before booking a trip with someone know how they like to travel.
What is the ideal vacation to them?
Are they adventurous thrill seekers? Or are they laid back?
Are they jet-setters? Or is this their first trip in awhile?
Without getting too personal try to gauge their budget. Is this trip going to be a stretch for them?
These are important things to know before going away with someone, because the answers will effect how you travel together. Just because you like someone at home, does not mean that translates to travel. It could be your sister, but if you have different expectations or styles of traveling it could be a big flop. I got so frustrated on a trip once that I ran away from the group. Yep. I Ran away! I hid out in a movie theater. No bueno! Don’t let this happen to you!
I travel with a diverse group often and part of my research is to understand the expectations of everyone ahead of time. I don’t mean have a formal stuffy sit down panel discussion, because you might become the person no one wants to travel with.
Travel is fun so use talking about the trip as a tool to build excitement. If you’ve done your research, discuss points of interest with the group. See what others are interested in doing while inserting your own desires. This is a great opportunity to make compromises before the trip. For example, “I’ll relax on the beach with you this day, if you go zip lining with me that day,” or “You and Shannon have fun at the beach while me and Steve zip line and we’ll met up for dinner.” These discussions ahead of time will save a lot of time and conflict on the trip. The last thing I want to do is spend the day arguing in the lobby about what everyone wants to do verses actually doing it.
3. Build the excitement. Months before a planned getaway, I start the buildup of excitement. I want everyone to be thinking about the trip and eager to get the vacation started. I like to watch movies or travel shows that take place in the destination. For instance, before going to Las Vegas we like to watch the movie 21 and before our trip to Williams, Arizona I had my kids watch The Polar Express a million times.
We like to listen to music and make meals that invoke the feeling of whatever our vacation destination may be to get our travel juices flowing. Food and music create such an amazing sensory experience that it is possible to forget that you haven’t left your home yet. Dishes? What dishes? I’m in Ireland!
Another great travel preparation and way to get excited about a trip is to pick out your wardrobe. I love clothes and what I wear on any given trip is as just as important as any other element to my travel experience. I have kids and nothing excites me like when I go through their closet and start laying out clothes to set aside for the vacation. Knowing what my family and I are going to wear on the trip helps me visualize the trip and, in turn, get excited. Check out my Thread-Up section for all our travel fashions.
Finally, hang out with your travel buddies. If you are planning to go away with friends or family, it is so important to hangout a lot before the said trip. If you book a trip with someone, then don’t hang out or talk about it, you’ll be wasting a lot of vacation time getting reacquainted. Plan dinners together where you can talk about the trip, watch movies or listen to music, that way once you’re gone you can jump right into the fun. So much of having a great travel experience is having a great attitude. So, start get in the vacation state of mind and get to planning!
How do you get ready for a trip?
Have you ever traveled with an incompatible people?
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