I’ve become the resident family trip planner (totally don’t mind FYI) but that does mean that every trip we take it is largely on me to craft a well-balance vacation that meets multiple needs, has multi-level days with plenty of naps for my dad, and keeps costs reasonable. Not an easy task, but one I thoroughly enjoy tackling. As a disclaimer, not all our trips have been well balance and I have certainly walked away from a few knowing what could have been different but OVERALL they’ve gone swimmingly.
In this blog post I am going to lay out tips you can use to plan better (the best) trips, whether it’s solo, partner, group of friends, or the whole damn family.
Mix up Indoor & Outdoor Activities
Getting fresh air, regardless of the time of year or temperature, is important for your mental and physical well-being (however, if it’s raining I am going to avoid going outside at all costs!). Every trip we plan has a mix of outdoorsy things with more city/cultural sites. Going hiking or bike riding or even just taking a long walk can be a perfect way to spend flex travel time (see below) or it can be a great way to spend any holidays in which lots of things are closed (i.e Christmas Day). For example on our last trip to Assisi, I know many things will be reduced/limited hours on Sunday so our plan is to go to church (you can guarantee churches are open on Sunday!) and then go for a 5K hike around the surrounding countryside. Perfect mix of cultural experiences with nature and fresh air.
Read more: Travel Tips: Keeping Active while Traveling
Keep the Weather in Mind
This may seem odd in a blog post about balanced travel but hear me out: if you do not plan properly for the weather you will be miserable. Creating a balanced trip is all about knowing your limits (and when to push them). Nothing is more stressful than trying to fit in more than the daylight allows, so paying attention to sunset times (especially in winter months) is super important on how much you can get done each day.
For example, the sun is going to be setting around 4:30 pm each day while we are in Italy this winter, so I know I won’t be able to plan a schedule that has us out and about for 12 hours. Now, that being said, we will also use some of that evening time strolling the towns in the twilight hours (flex time win!).
Read more: Travel Tips: Dressing for the Cold
Do Research Beforehand
It bothers me so much when people literally know nothing about the country they are visiting. Now I am not expecting anyone to suddenly become fluent in Mandarin and study 2,000 years of Chinese imperial history before going to China but I find it insulting when people just show up with no prior knowledge. Granted I am a history teacher so it kind of goes with the territory but I think it is totally reasonable to expect that you know something of that country’s culture before arriving.
Research can also help you plan your trips so that you can shape it around your interests. This is why blog posts that just list the “top 10” anywhere without explaining WHY those sites are important are just useless. Sure the Taj Mahal is gorgeous in its own right but knowing the Muslim heritage in India and the fact that it is a mausoleum just makes it that much better! This can also help you plan a trip that will have good balance each day because you will know how long sites may take, when the busiest time are and what are the “must dos” so you do not miss anything and stress about it.
Read more: Travel Tips: Don’t Be an American Idiot
Get Research from a Variety of Sources
I love me some Lonely Planet and Rick Steves‘ travel books but they are never my only planning guides. The key to not getting burned out by the “same old thing” while on vacation is to look at your trip through different lenses. For each trip I plan on using friend recommendations, travel books, a bajillion different travel blogs, Pinterest & Instagram to build our perfect vacation. The reason why I use different sources is so that I do not get bogged down by either too many museums, or too many brunch spots, or too many of whatever that particular blogger happens to love and write about all the time.
I love art and history but even I will burn out if I spent all my vacation in museums. I need to mix it up so I make sure to diversify my research so I get the *best* of everything. I try to use all these sources to pull a mix of activities for each trip. The ratio of art/culture/nature/foodie/etc. really changes up depending on the location but I try to squeeze in at least one of the following for every trip:
- Museum/historical sites
- Nature walks
- Café people watching
- Unexpected cultural experiences
- Famous landmarks
- Major religious sites
Read more: How to Plan a 2-week Trip: Part 1
Planning for some Flex Time
It seems counterintuitive to many people to plan free time but if you don’t strategically put it in there you might: a) forget to have flex time or b) have too much unstructured “wasted” time. Flex time allows you to recharge in the day, especially if your trip is more than a week long. It is mentally and physically exhausting to “go go go” for a week (personally that is why I hate tour group trips). Flex time gives you an hour or a whole afternoon to pursue something you want to do with leisure; whether that is a nap, a stroll through town, or a long dinner – it’s up to you.
Now the reason I like organized flex time is because I like having an agenda, a lot. But also having an agenda means I get to see the things that I researched ahead of time and maximizes my time on the trip. The time needed for flex time depends on the group and the people going but I would say an afternoon every three days usually works for our trips.
Read more: Travel Tips: Traveling as a Couple
So many people complain about needing a vacation from their vacation and I hope this blog post can prevent some of that vacation burn out while still fitting in “everything” you want to see.