How do you plan and time out the perfect day on vacation?
My goal when planning a vacation for my family is to have each and every day be memorable, fun, and something we smile about by the time we go to bed that night. What they don’t fully realize is that I spend a ridiculous amount of time planning, plotting, and thinking to make it so. Do I mind? Absolutely not I love really jumping into the trip for months ahead and envisioning how things might go, what will pair well, where we should eat well, and more. In this article I will share my tips for you as well as the planning process and suggestions for your own magical vacation days.
Step 1: Have a paper (or spreadsheet) with the whole vacation listed by days. Arrival times, departure, all the logistical details you are 100% set on.
Step 2: Create drafts of each individual day including meals, must see sights, what can get dropped, and what you can add in
Step 3: Look at the pieces all together and evaluate if it has a good flow to it
Simple as 1-2-3, right? Well it’s a bit more complicated so let me dig into the details and things to consider when taking these steps here.
Everyone will need time to get ready each day, time to shower, eat, and some down time to unwind and breathe for a minute. Cell phones can use some charging, feet can use a break, and hydration is always key no matter your destination. Regardless of age – in my experience everyone is a more pleasant travel companion when well rested, hydrated, and able to enjoy vs being rushed the entire time. Keep this in mind as you set your schedules each day.
Never set the whole day in stone
On our last vacation alone I can think of a few times when the plans had to be slashed down, and I was grateful that while I do schedule and plan I do so with flexibility (more on that in another article). If we have pre-paid for a dinner or evening event (for example), I don’t also book morning paid events as well.
One example was at Disney World our feet were all dead – my daughter’s legs tremendously painful. So, we slashed it all. Laid in bed all morning, had lunch at the hotel, and didn’t leave until around 2pm when we rode our 3 fast pass rides, did our amazing dinner party with Villains, and were done and back in the room by about 730pm. That dinner party was the single best event of the whole trip – and nobody talks about “remember how we had to not walk Epcot’s world showcase in the morning that day?” No way! We were able to move things around and do that walk a different day – when our feet were well rested and happy.
Plan for the middle, prepare for the extremes
“Our flight lands at 4pm, so I’m booking us a prepaid 5:30pm character dinner!”
Please don’t be THAT guy. While it is tempting to plan for the best case scenarios, it’s simply setting you up for failure. All you need is one problem and the whole thing comes tumbling down. This includes transportation, weather, personal health, and more. Instead, plan for the middle ground. Assume things will take longer than you think, plan for that middle ground. Why? Aside from the fact that your plan will more likely work, you can always have backup plans and ideas. For example:
On arrival day at Disney World I assumed it would take us 3 hours to get to the hotel and settle into our room at the Polynesian which would be ready (5pm arrival). My plan was we could head into Magic Kingdom (using our Fast passes set for 8,9,and 10pm), grab something to eat at one of 3 places I thought the family would enjoy, have a dessert on the way out, and be back, unpacked, showered, and in bed by about midnight.
This was a good plan because nothing was prepaid or set, the hours were fairly short, and if allowed for a great best and worst case scenario backup/adjustment plan.
Worst Case: Delays or don’t feel good and order room service. Don’t move at all
Best Case: Takes way less time and we have more time (yay!) to enjoy Magic Kingdom
As it turned out our flight was 30 minutes early, our driver super fast, our Garden Grocer order ready, and we were in the Magic Kingdom at 7pm having already unpacked the room! We were able to enjoy and embrace the more ambitious end of my plan, but without any pressure to do so.
This is just one example – but for full day plans or departure day the same principles apply. Plan for the middle, have backups in case you need more or less.
Be realistic about times
Whether you’re planning a day in NYC or evening in a Disney Park – remember to be realistic about how much time things might take. There are a few tools I like to use to help me including:
- Touring Plans offers the ability to create custom plans within Disneyland or Disney World and you can get a wonderful view on what is realistic within a day
- Google Maps is your best friend outside the parks. See how long things take to walk vs drive, what traffic is like, and more
- Look at professional tour sites and see what their setups are for the day. Note times given for eating, etc and how they set up their days.
In addition to these tools I have personal rules:
- Always better to add 15-30min “buffer zone” time vs planning to be late to something
- Always have “time filler” ideas so if running ahead we aren’t just sitting and staring at each other. This has happened in the past and even now– but I try to not make a habit of it happening a lot on any given trip!
- Don’t ever start early and end late. Or if you do, have a HUGE mid-day break!
There’s a difference between a plan and a schedule.
I set up plans, I do research. This is so that my plans survive the real world and do more than look beautiful on paper. Who wants to spend a ton of time planning then throw it all out the window because they didn’t do a great job? NOT ME!!
So the biggest tip I can give you is this: be well informed about your options, your plans, and your goals for the trip and know enough that you can sketch out new plans or modify on the fly without throwing everything into upheaval. By knowing what is available to you and what options you have the wonderful thing is that you’ll be able to redirect or make suggestions and avoid the dreaded meltdown.
These tips and ideas really just scratch the surface of my love of planning, and I will continue to share ideas and detail more ways that I take our vacations from ok to WOW simply by detailed planning. Already in the works are articles on avoiding meltdowns, scheduling meals, and more!