Let me begin by saying this: I travel with the most awesome three people I could imagine. Way back (1998!) when I was dating Jason and we went on our first trip together to Disneyland – a little road trip – I knew I’d found not only a great boyfriend but an amazing travel companion too. In the twenty years since that first trip we’ve gone on countless adventures all over the country, in the last 13 years with our children too. Our next stop? Europe!
One of the problems that I see plague travelers is vacation expectations. From finding places too crowded to lines too long or thinking they can walk 10 miles a day every day despite no prior training – well it is easy to get excited, envision things one way, and find yourself disappointed in reality. As the family trip planner and fixer – today I want to share my tips, suggestions, and ways that I manage my traveling party as well as making sure we optimize our vacations.
Know your limits.
- Excellent food is vital – we are food-centric and mildly adventurous travelers!
- If it goes over 80 degrees, the pace needs to slow and the iced beverages need to increase.
- We can hike a good solid day – but the next day should be slower paced and/or more relaxed to allow for recovery.
- We do best with a solid plan that has a lot of options to add in (or remove!) components on the fly.
Basically, I need to keep everyone fed, cool, rested, and that will make things a lot happier and a lot less prone to drama. This might sound simple – but it truly is the small things and the simple details that can easily derail or get a day or a whole trip back on track.
Walk through the plan verbally with someone else
Whenever possible I like to run my travel scenarios by someone else (a travel planning obsessed friend, fellow crafters at a scrapbook meetup – whomever will listen!) If all else fails I run it past the dog. I ask myself questions and think about details. For example:
- Time zone difference (if any)?
- What will the day before, and day after look like?
- How much time am I allowing, and is it really realistic?
- And how much of that time is active walking?
- What do I think odds of “burn out” are?
- What is the bathroom situation like? How about food options? Hydration Plans?
I also mentally mark any problem areas or high risk (aka highly likely things will change/cancel) activities and I make sure to limit how much “MUST do” stuff I put on any given day. Thinking the plan through mentally in detail “Ok so after walking the Louvre for 3 hours we are going to walk 20 minutes to lunch? uh, NO.” helps me pinpoint weaknesses and also the logistics of the trip that need help.
But really, what are you expecting?
I expect crowds at Disneyland, Airplane travel to be uncomfortable and delayed, and hotels to be just ok. Having realistic expectations helps me to be thrilled by the vacations, magic, and experiences we have. I have a list of about 500 places I’d like to see/things to do/food to eat in Paris, Barcelona, and Rome for this upcoming trip… I expect to get to about 50. It’ll probably be a lot more – but I’ll be ok if it isn’t. We can always go back, right? I always plan and research with it in mind that it’ll rain or be hot or there will be some problem that will cause us to have to really narrow our lists and plans down. It happens!
I think of the time in Hawaii I had a gall bladder attack and couldn’t eat anything but rice for several days. Or the time in Disney World when Elizabeth was having extreme growing pains and just needed to stay in bed a whole day. These things happen! Being realistic about everything from crowds to what experiences will be like to personal endurance really helps me not suffer from vacation let down.
What do I do if it is in fact awful?
That’s a topic for another post – been there done that. Basically fix what you can in the moment, let it go and handle it later, or just let it go depending on the circumstances and location. Bad service but I get my food and it’s good at a restaurant? You’re getting bad online reviews and I’m letting it go. Dirty hotel room? I’m calling the manager this minute we’re getting this fixed. These are RARE – I’m looking back at 20+ years of travel here – but you get my point. Assess the situation, pick an option, carry on and don’t let it spiral the whole trip.
Always have a plan B… and probably plan C.
Some days my plans so well that I am pulling out all the additional things, adding more for us to do, and getting way more done than ever imagined. This is always awesome, but it is also pretty rare. Most days we end up doing most of the things on the schedule, just moving or shifting a few details to suit our mood or the weather or whatever. One big huge thing I live (and plan) by:
Always remember there is a difference between strong research and an iron clad plan. One will help you maximize your trip and fun… one will chafe with use.
When I plan and research I never put more than 3 items as a “must” on any given day. Here’s an example: on arrival at Disneyland Paris we’d like to eat at Chez Remy, ride the Ratatouille ride, and ride Big Thunder Mountain. Oh I have a laundry list of possible shows, rides, characters, food to eat, and more… but I’d be delighted with just doing those three “must do” items. Limiting how many “must” items, and being clear with your group what the priorities are will go a long way to minimize overwhelmed, hurry up, and otherwise over scheduled days.
Having backup plans and being able to adjust on the fly is absolutely key for many reasons:
- unexpected closures
- unexpected “no lines” speeding through things
- ended up getting up way earlier (or later)
- not tired, want more!
It is for this reason that while some think I am “over planning”, in fact what I’m doing is researching so that if we need more/something different I have a mental map and ideas (and actual notebook) to help guide us along and minimize “I don’t know, what do you want to do?” is something I avoid. I much prefer being able to say “Ok well we can — , —, or —-. What do you guys think?”
Remember the point!
This is vacation, you better have fun! All jokes aside – it can be really easy to try to maximize your time or constantly run and go… or be so content in one spot you don’t venture out to explore just a bit more. For our group, having a general plan and direction helps a LOT so that we all know what to expect, when we will get to do certain things (“when do we get to eat at —?”), and it helps us make sure we make time for the priority to-do items on our vacation list.
Keeping things well researched but flexible and relaxed has served us well over the years. I am always learning from my mistakes, and always adjusting my methods. One thing I know is to remember that just because a place or experience is listed as a “Must Do” does not mean that you must do it. Climbing high towers or eating dinner after 9pm are just never going to rank as winning experiences for my family. We are early eaters who don’t do terribly well with heights (except roller coasters!) and we know what we do and don’t like!
One more thing…
Every single vacation we have things go wrong, someone gets injured… heck one trip we came home with swine flu and were all sick for 2 weeks. Bad things can and do happen when traveling – but we do our best to maximize the fun and the good. At worst, it’s going to be a memorable story for the scrapbook, right? Well some travel stories may have more serious problems but generally speaking (and hopefully for future!) some good customized planning and research goes a long way to helping our trips be memorable in (mostly) fabulous ways!
I’m off to print my walking plans for us (long story – more on that after the trip when I see if they work!) and double check my city specific notebooks and plans. On Facebook and Instagram (@adventurelandgirls) we will be documenting our travels real time, and after the trip here and on YouTube I will have loads to share!
Working with “non-planners”? Check out the article I wrote on that here.