Do you go on vacation planning to be spontaneous … and risk finding out about all the great things you could have done when you’re packing your bags to leave? Or, do you plan your experiences down to the minute, barely giving yourself time to relax? Wherever you go, you may be wondering how to figure out how to make the most of your vacation.
Make a One Word Plan
Whether you are vacationing by yourself, with a partner, or with your kids, you should think about what type of experience you want to have before you reach your destination. Ask, “What is the one, most important thing that you want to do/experience on this vacation?”
A three-year-old may want a picture with Cinderella at Disney World, your husband may want to visit an antique car museum, while you may want to relax and get a massage, and your preteen wants to take a surfing lesson. Narrow all this down to single words: “Cinderella,” “cars,” “massage,” and “surfing.” None of these things take an entire day, but you get a quick list of must-do activities to tuck into your week.
For example, on a trip to Salem, MA, your one-word may be, “witches” and it will direct you to the local attractions you are most interested in. If your one-word plan is “shopping,” you’ll head to very different destinations.
Use Free Resources
If you are a member of AAA, you can order a free travel guide to the state you are visiting. AAA also offers many online travel guides to major cities and destinations. If you have a membership, take advantage of it with these free guides.
State tourism departments devote a lot of time and money convincing you to visit their state. A search for (insert state) tourism, will send you to their site. You can either download a brochure (or several) or order them at no charge and they will be mailed to you.
Check your smart phone for applications created by those state tourism departments that highlight attractions, restaurants, and hotels. These applications usually help narrow your searches to activities you are interested in: museums, beaches, state forests, farms, etc.
You can search online for specific attractions, but this can be time-consuming if you don’t know the names of places. This is where tourism brochures, AAA travel guides, and smartphone applications can get you started. Look up specific locations when you want to verify hours or exhibits.
If you know what city or town you’ll be staying in, you can search online for “towns within 50 miles of (place).” This will help you narrow down some of your searches to attractions within 50 (or 100) miles of your hotel. This handy step will save you from wrestling with a map or realizing that you’ve been driving for an hour and you are nowhere near the museum you wanted to visit.
Start a Vacation Folder
As a kid, my family never went on vacation. When, as an adult, I planned a trip to Gettysburg, PA, I spent some time online and found out a few places to visit. Since Gettysburg was a tourist destination, I didn’t have to plan too much.
When my husband and I received a week at friends’ timeshare condo as a wedding gift, I needed to plan a bit more. We were going to a ski resort before ski season but after a lot of local attractions had closed for the summer season. AAA tour guides, maps, brochures picked up at highway visitor centers, were all added to a folder. I also made a list of places that I’d looked up online and discovered were closed for the season so I didn’t waste time looking up the same information after we got to Vermont.
I don’t plan every moment of the day, but I do note what places are near one another so we can fully enjoy our time in an area.
Of course, you can bookmark different websites to your computer or smartphone and refer back to these sites as opposed to printing out the information. However, if you are sitting at the breakfast table with another person, it helps to have papers you can pass back and forth.
Although you may relish the idea of being spontaneous, you also want to feel as if you got the most from your vacation. Deciding what the most important part of your vacation is before you get to your destination, will help you maximize your enjoyment. A little planning can guide your days and leave plenty of time for spontaneity.