I’ve learned the hard way how to pull off a flawless vacation. Whether going out for a weekend or a week, my haphazard go-with-the-flow planning definitely made memorable trips, but not always for the better. My parents made trips seem incredibly simple growing up. Later, as I bumbled my way through botched vacations I learned a few ways to prevent the worst trip disasters. I finally asked my parents how they made each trip so smooth and enjoyable. Together we came up with a checklist of must-dos to ensure your vacation doesn’t fall apart.
The type of trip you take lies on a spectrum: relaxation on one end and adventure on the other. The former is the lay-on-the-beach, take-a-cruise type. You don’t have many plans because your goal is to chill out. The latter takes the most planning because you’re trying to do and see as much as possible (think trekking or sightseeing). Regardless, it’s a good idea to at least check out the following tips. The more adventure you pack in the more you need to plan. So, without further ado:
How to have a great vacation:
1. Check the weather
Rule number one for good reason! Nothing ends a vacation more swiftly than terrible weather, be it rain, snow, wind, or just blah cloudy days. For example, Southern California experiences “June Gloom” in early summer. Unsurprisingly, this means foggy, overcast weather and chillier temperatures. If you’re looking for sunny SoCal you may want to postpone your trip. Know average highs and lows, precipitation and cloud cover, and usual weather patterns (especially extreme weather occurrences). It’s also important to check the weather to make sure you have the right gear…
2. Pack accordingly
Now that you know the forecast (or general weather conditions for the time of year you’ll be visiting), pack accordingly! If there could be rain bring a rain jacket – no exceptions! If days are hot but nights are cold, pack shorts anda sweater. Maybe you plan to wear sandals most of the way, but hikes into alpine environments could mean snow; bring sneakers or boots. Be sure to have the right clothing for the weather and conditions.
3. Make a list for all your gear
How many times have you shown up to your campsite or room and realized you forgot something essential? A list is a surefire way to avoid this disaster. You can write your own or use a list you find online. Distribute to your friends or family too so that everyone is accountable for their own gear. Lastly, put down everything you want to bring (even things like toothbrushes, medicine, firewood, car keys, etc).
4. Bring meal prep items
This step is crucial if you’re camping, and important even if you aren’t. Use your packing list to ensure that you have everything you need to prepare every meal and snack. This includes items like plastic baggies for snacks, charcoal for the grill, a pocket knife for cutting apples on the trail, and towels for dish-drying or cleanup. You definitely don’t want to be cooking dinner and realize you need a something like a can-opener.
5. Plan your meals
This goes for every trip! Even if the only meal you need is lunch at the airport. Campers should plan as many meals as they are able to bring with them (this is limited by your storage space and refrigeration). Plan to eat more than normal too. You’re going to be more active and will need more fuel. Write down what you’ll eat for breakfast, lunch, snacks, dinner, and dessert each day. Go shopping and cover all your bases. No one wants to run out of food or forget to pack dinner!
6. Have a travel itinerary
“Winging it” sounds fun and adventurous, but take it from me, it quickly becomes a nightmare. You spend all morning arguing about what to do, you have trouble finding places to park or camp, and you’ll waste so much precious time. Instead:
- Figure out where you will be staying in advance and reserve it if possible (or find out how busy it will be and when you’ll need to arrive to find a site/room).
- Have a pow-wow with your groupbefore you leave to decide what to do and see. Map out activities by day, and be precise with time and travel plans.
This schedule isn’t set in stone but will help get everyone moving day-of or provide inspiration while you travel.
7. Start small
We all want to travel to that exotic far away destination and stay for a month. But let’s be real: you can’t get good at something without practice. This goes for traveling too! You need to build your preparation, decision making, and patience skills before you spend a month somewhere cool. The best way to do this is by taking small trips close to home. Spend a weekend at a campground a few hours away. Work your way up to a four day trip in a nearby state. Once you’ve mastered the little trips you can graduate to those amazing adventures with the packing, planning, and doing skills that you’ve already tried, tested, and honed.
8. Accept the challenges
As much as all of the above tips will help, nothing is going to make your vacation run smoothly. You can’t anticipate freak storms, food poisoning, closures, or disagreements. You can only control for so much. So make sure to have those crucial but easy to overlook things are taken care of (like where you’re going to stay, what you’ll eat, what you packed, and where you want to go) so that you have the bandwidth to focus on the other challenges when they arise. This is the secret of becoming a masterful vacationer and being able to come home fulfilled instead of frustrated.
Most of all, have fun on your trip! Don’t stress too much about getting everything right, and do make room for a little “winging it”. Besides, that’s part of the adventure!