Planning a vacation

My college experience has been amazing so far. I’ve made incredible friends, I’ve had amazing experiences, and I’ve even done pretty well in class! It’s going to be ending pretty soon, though, so I want to do something special. Either over this summer or during one of the breaks during my senior year, I want to take a big trip with some of my friends--the kind of vacation we can all look back on and remember fondly someday.

I’ve never planned my own vacation, though, so I was hoping the experts could help me out with some tips. I’ve heard that vacation planning can be stressful and even tough on friendships and relationships, and I certainly don’t want that! Experts, what can you tell me about smart vacation planning?

Your idea to take a trip with your friends is a wonderful one. Vacations create memories that can be cherished for a lifetime--in fact, studies show that experiences can be more valuable than possessions and physical mementos.

But, as you astutely point out, you still need to plan your trip--and that can indeed be stressful. You probably know that vacations generally recharge us and help us avoid burnout, but did you know that a poorly planned vacation can actually make you more stressed out than you were before you took a break? That is not ideal, to say the least!

Clearly, planning is important. So let’s talk about how you might go about planning out your trip, as well as what sorts of techniques and strategies you might want to make use of as you plan.

Let’s start with the obvious: you need to decide what sort of trip you want to go on. There are almost as many different types of vacations as there are different types of vacationers! For some people, vacations are synonymous with relaxation and beaches. These sorts of folks might want to check out the many places to see on Florida’s Gulf Coast. You could rent a space at a resort or even just hop on a cruise ship for an all-inclusive vacation.

But these sorts of beach-bum vacations aren’t for everyone. For others, vacations mean sightseeing in towns large and small. Some vacationers might head to Europe for museums and history, while other history buffs might prefer small towns and sightseeing and elect instead to explore Henry County, Georgia or an American Revolution site.

A smart way to start your vacation planning is to take an informal poll and find out which of your friends is interested in a vacation together, as well as what sorts of trips they enjoy. It’s a good idea to also get a sense of when they’re available, as well as how much they’re looking to spend on a trip. You’ll soon be planning more specific parts of the trip, and you don’t want to end up having to do that twice after finding out that your friends want to go at a different time or to an entirely different place.

Once you have the general details laid out, it’s time to get specific. Start looking at things like lodging and travel--these are going the be the core pieces of your vacation budget. Look for ways to save by using travel sites and opting for cheaper lodging--as we’ll soon see, vacation costs can mount fast, and having some breathing room will help a lot. Sketch out a rough itinerary, too--this will help you estimate overall costs and give your friends a sense of what sort of trip this will be. If you’re heading down South, for instance, draw out which experiences in Vicksburg, Mississippi the group wants to prioritize. Take your “rough draft” plans back to your group before you book anything, and make sure that your friends are committed to the plans before you plunk down the cash.

Once you have your basics laid out, it’s time to plan the specifics of your trip. This is where you will want to use some more advanced vacation planning strategies. Experts recommend that you give your vacation some structure--but not too much! In general, experts agree that the two most stressful types of vacations are over-planned and under-planned ones.

What does this mean? Under-planned vacations are, of course, ones in which you haven’t scheduled anything. The reason these don’t work too well is that, in practice, you’re going to end up stressed while you’re actually on the vacation. You’ll have to figure out everything last-minute, and you may find that you miss certain attractions because you failed to reach them in time, or failed to remember them at all.

But over-planned vacations can be rough, too. As you plan your moves on vacation, you’ll want to leave plenty of time free on the schedule. Add extra time for travel, even if you don’t think you’ll need it. Leave spots in the schedule blocked off for relaxation or for spur-of-the-moment decisions. You don’t want to feel like you’re rushing while you’re on vacation, or like you don’t have the freedom to do something you just thought of!

In other words, the key to vacation planning is structure with plenty of flexibility.

There’s another element of vacation planning that bears mentioning here, too: you need to protect yourself and your trip. The planning stage is the time to manage all of the potential issues you have control over: you should get cash from your friends as soon as (or before) you book things, to avoid financial problems and disagreements. You should make sure there’s a checklist and that everyone shows up with whatever they need, from flip-flops to passports. And you should consider insurance, too. Travel insurance can help you recover lost funds if your trip goes off the rails. And make sure that you have medical care wherever you’re going, too! You don’t know what could happen at your vacation destination--you could fall sick and be injured through no fault of your own. Expert personal injury lawyers in Vancouver tell us that legal issues can be different abroad, too, and getting in legal battles far from home is no fun. Minimize the impact of potential problems up-front by investing in insurance coverage, particularly for trips overseas.

Throughout all of this, try to keep your friends in the loop! Be open to their suggestions, and make sure everyone knows where their money is going. Hopefully, you’ll find that planning a vacation can be fun and collaborative. We think you and your friends will gain a vacation experience that you’ll treasure for all of your lives.

“The gladdest moment in human life, me thinks, is a departure into unknown lands.” Sir Richard Burton

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