Although vacations are meant to be a break from the daily grind, it can feel completely overwhelming trying to plan the perfect trip. Vacation days are few and precious to come by. Combined with the added stress of trying to make the most of a budget and keep everyone happy – just the thought of travel can make you cringe.
But not to worry! After visiting 48 of the 50 U.S. states, and 31 countries as a travel writer, I’ve learned several simple tips that can completely transform a vacation into the trip of a lifetime.
Know Before You Go – Creating a Loose Itinerary
Maximize time by identifying any top-sights to see or experience. I personally highlight two “must-see” sights for each day of travel – making the inevitable question of “What to do today?” easy to answer.
For U.S.-domestic travel, a combination of TripAdvisor’s top sights and guides in the Lonely Planet series create a good starting point.
If your vacation includes overseas travel, international travel writer Rick Steves quickly pinpoints “must-sees” and walking tours in some of the world’s most popular destinations, particularly European locations.
Book Tickets Ahead for Major Attractions
Once you have a loose itinerary of “must-see” attractions, do a quick search to see if any entry tickets can be pre-booked, or reserved.
The benefits are two-fold. Often, pre-booked tickets save time and allow you to ‘skip’ the line. But for some attractions, a reservation is either necessary – or the attraction is so popular, tickets sell out quickly. (The famous “Cinderella Castle”, the Neuschwanstein Castle in Germany is a perfect example.)
Waiting in line for hours, or worse – discovering there are no tickets available, can easily sour an entire trip.
Trust, but Verify Reviews
From restaurants to lodging—always check reviews from two independent sources. For example, use TripAdvisor to filter top-rated restaurants by cuisine or price range, then also look at Google reviews for that same restaurant. The same goes for lodging options. (Booking.com is a good option for ‘cross-reviewing’ lodging).
- Bonus tip: When researching lodging options, specifically search reviews for the keywords “parking” and “noise”. The two top complaints about any lodging tend to be: 1.) Parking was either non-existent, woefully expensive, or difficult at best; and 2.) Noise was a serious problem, and led to poor sleep.
Make Dinner Reservations
As a travel writer, one of the best “aha” moments was making dinner reservations before we traveled. Breakfast and lunch tend to be easy to figure out, but it’s dinner that can be complicated. Over and over, we ran into completely booked restaurants and mediocre or overpriced food.
Our travel experience drastically improved when we took the time to research and plan out our dinners. Most reservations can be made online, and also come with the advantage of knowing what’s on the menu – versus hunting for a place to eat when you’re hangry.
How to Get to Your Lodging – Before you Travel
If you aren’t driving to your destination, you’ll need some type of transportation to get to your lodging accommodations. Do a quick Google Maps search to identify how far away your lodging is from your arrival point, whether it be the airport, or train, subway, or bus station.
In some cities, a pre-booked taxi is necessary to get downtown, the airport may be nearly an hour outside of the city proper, or if there are shuttles – offer limited hours and departures.
It is also worth considering the area of a city you are arriving into – a private car (like Lyft), might be a more expedient and safer option, especially when traveling with luggage (and/or small children).
The “30-second” Test
For many, one of the hardest things about preparing to travel is figuring out what to pack. One of my worst trips was lugging an overweight suitcase through New York City – and getting it completely stuck in a subway turnstile. I couldn’t lift it on and off the train, and by the trip’s end, had knocked a wheel off it by dragging it around Manhattan.
Enter the creation of the “30-second” test. My husband suggested I try lifting my suitcase to chest level and then overhead – and be able to hold it, for at least 30 seconds. If I couldn’t, the bag was simply too heavy.
Often, as a female solo traveler – this “test” has been invaluable. I know—before I leave home—that I can independently maneuver my luggage, anywhere I need to.
Five Things I Never Leave Home Without
Along with the usual tips of having copies of my travel documents and hand-carrying medicine, there are five things I never leave home without.
- Spare contact lenses. Granted, not applicable to everyone – but a nightmare if you tear a lens and can’t replace it. A spare pair of glasses would also be advisable, or a repair kit.
- A small two-ounce container of liquid laundry detergent. Especially for a lengthy trip, I can pack much lighter by hand-washing a few items in the hotel sink. Or save an outfit when I inevitably spill something on it.
- Band-aids. Blisters are not going to slow down your travel.
- Hand sanitizer and a pack of tissues. A lifesaver when the unkempt public bathroom is encountered.
With a little pre-planning, these simple tips can help mitigate problems before they arise – and turn an “ok” vacation, into a fantastic one!
Written by: Kristi Adams