Traveling has always been a favorite activity. I love exploring new locations, learning new cultures (even those local cultures in the U.S.!), trying new activities, meeting new people, making memories and simply escaping for a bit from everyday life. I love traveling so much that I have a dedicated budget line in my annual financial planning so I can take off on new adventures.
There are many factors that help make a trip memorable, fun and smooth. I truly believe that the people you travel with are the greatest factors in a successful trip. Finding someone/some people who are flexible, easy going and can ‘go with the flow’ if snafus happen can make or break a trip. Traveling solo can be fun too. You can set your own plans and pace, and either do as much or as little as you want without worrying about keeping everyone happy.
Regardless of how and who you travel with, advance planning of a trip can help set the tone for a smooth, enjoyable time once you arrive at your destination. Here are a few tips to get you started:
1. Be prepared to spend some time doing research. Whether it was Maui, Ireland, Alaska or somewhere in Michigan, I took the time to check out local websites and read reviews. This up front research helped me know some local spots, things to be cautious about, and feel a bit more comfortable with a new area. This was especially important when I went to Ireland, as despite it being an English-speaking country, it was still a foreign country with different cultures, currency and customs.
2. Read reviews. I like to find potential lodging on TripAdvisor to get some feedback. Vacation Rental by Owner (VRBO) also has guest reviews of properties. Keep in mind that these reviews are subjective (what one person finds lacking may not be a big deal to another). However, if consistent problems or concerns are listed, it might be time to look at another property. Check dates of the reviews to ensure the concerns aren’t from years ago. If you want to pay it forward, write a review after your trip of the lodging, entertainment venue or restaurants you experienced during your trip.
3. Check out the homes, cottages and condos available on rental sites, such as Vacation Rental By Owner (VRBO.com), AirBnB, HomeAway.com and others. I’ve stayed in some great properties in Maui, San Francisco, throughout Michigan and elsewhere. These options can sometimes be more affordable, spacious and cozier than a standard hotel. Some questions to consider: When were the pictures taken? If there’s a kitchen, what’s included (dishes, coffee, detergent, etc.)? Are towels and linens provide? What about laundry facilities available? Is there a local person to contact if something happens? Is there a cleaning fee and other fees not included in the listed nightly fee? What time is check in/out?
4. Be flexible. If you can adjust dates and also be flexible in the type of lodging or car you reserve, you may find a better deal. Also, once you arrive at your destination, be flexible in your activities if possible. I like to have some ideas for activities but try not to set too much in stone so I can be ready to try something new if the opportunity arises. I’ve gone on many ‘walkabouts,’ simply wandering until something piques my interest to check out.
5. Cash in credit card or airline miles. Many people don’t know that these earned miles aren’t just for airline tickets. Most of the time you can redeem for car rentals, restaurant gift cards, cameras, hotel rooms and more. Make sure you know the redemption rules to check on blackout dates and fees.
6. Ask for input from friends and family. The perk of social media is that we can share our business with a large group of people with the click of a button. Take advantage of this by asking for input, suggestions and reviews on Facebook, Twitter and other sites. You can also search blogs (like this one!) for your travel destination.
If you put a little time into the planning portion of your trip, you can have fun on the actual trip. And the golden rule of travel for me is to take life in stride – you’re on vacation, enjoy it! And don’t forget to take pictures!