Let me start off with this; to me, the best trip is the one that you actually take. What do I mean by this?
Well, the problem I’ve found is if I plan my trip out like a time-logged schedule, I never have time to actually enjoy the trip. The best vacations is the one that doesn’t require an hourly itinerary or an unreachable budget of tours. While tightly scheduled getaways have their place, this post is focused on those trips that let you be in that placed you’ve flown across the world to visit.
Take for example, when I went to Greece this past summer for my college graduation trip. We had ten days and 4 places that we wanted to see. We wanted to explore all of the ancient grounds in Athens, ferry to Milos, then to Santorini, and finally a hopper plane to Skiathos. With all of what we wanted to see, a sailing tour on the open waters, the sunset in Oia, the Acropolis, there were too many activities, to not plan accordingly (especially with a group of six).
But, when you a trip that you want to explore and enjoy; like that dreamy travel scene that shows up in the movie musicals, here’s some guidelines.
Number 1: Pick your destination.
Okay, so the first thing that you need to do is pick where you want to go. If you’ve got some free time off, don’t wait for that Friday of the weekend to start planning it. Use your time ahead wisely, and then enjoy actually being present in your travels. Is it a weekend trip? Spring break? Study Abroad? How long are you going for? What are you wanting?
Use that power at your fingertips to research all of the different places that you could go. Be smart and wander because life is short and the world is wide, there are endless places to see. Double points from me if you go somewhere you’ve never been before.
Number 2: Schedule only the basics.
Here’s where the planning comes in. This step is very important. Step one is for dreaming it up, step two is for the research and making it happen! Here’s my number one tip for trips that are comfortably planned, but experience individual day spontaneity; stay with or talk to a local. When you’re planning your trip look at Airbnb, bed and breakfasts, a family-owned inn, or something of the sort. Talk to these people and see what it looks like to get around. Staying with someone who knows the lay of the land will give you insider bonus into some of the most amazing cafes, chic neighborhoods, backcountry trails, and hidden gem spots that will not be filled with tourists at every corner.
So now, we put the plan into action.
The only thing that you need to plan is your accommodation and transportation. Where are you staying for which nights and how are you getting there and getting around. This is important to research. You need to know if you should rent a car or will public transit work. Do you have to take a train, ferry, or hopper plane in between locations? Are you in walking distance of the things on your adventure list?
When my boyfriend and I decided to go to Belize for Spring Break, all we planned was this:
- Our flight to and from Belize
- Purchased the one way ferry ticket to the islands, which run like a bus schedule, so specific times weren’t purchased (and we only bought this ahead of time because they run out during spring break – our host said)
- Our two Airbnbs
This is really all you need. At this point, you’ll have the skeleton of vacation, which ensures you a place to stay and a way to get there for the duration of you trip. The rest of the adventure should be on your wish lists.
Number 3: Do your research and make a wish list.
Like I said, all we planned was where we are staying and how we are getting there…and thats it. But you bet your ass we had fun reading travel blogs and scrolling through Instagram sites and creating a list of interesting places and activities in our shared Google Doc. While I definitely recommend following a locals reference to a specific lunch spot or location, its definitely a great idea to come with a wish list! This way, you’ll never run out of options and you’ll use the full exploration and adventure of your trip! Don’t schedule the items into specific days; this is what I mean when I say plan without planning. I can confidently say that most of the time spontaneous activities hold to most value.
You never know, if you meet a local, they might take you to a cool unknown spot that you wouldn’t have found if you looked at travel books and travel grams and planned your detailed day. Maybe you’ll end your trip at a popular local family-owned restaurant that has hand-written menus that doesn’t come up google searches (true story). Or maybe you’ll meet other foreigners that you have take your pictures and create new global friendships (also, true story and I’m extremely grateful for this one).
These are the adventures that happen when your adventuring, not the ones that happen when you’re planning.
Number 4: Dream each day the night before.
One of my favorite ways to travel is by going one day at a time. This way there is no ‘I have to see this’ or stressing over rushed meals, or missing out on this or that. I take an hour before I go to bed (or before getting ready to go out the night before) and plan what tomorrow will look like. I look at my destination wish list of landmarks, activities, cafes, and then look at where they are located, and loosely plan your schedule day. I highly recommend doing this, that way you can see what locations fit together, how early you should try to be up, and put in new places that have been recommended.
Number 5: Wander, Wander, Wander
Finally, go out there and enjoy. Wander around to your hearts content. Take those pictures and also learn to live in the moment. Remember that less is more; fewer items on your rigid to do list, means more time to soak in the beauty and adventure that come to you at that time. I’ve truly gotten the most out of my travels when I can learn to appreciate where I am and adapt to the change of a new recommended restaurant, and extra hour off the beaten path of a hike, or another moment to just be.
In doing this, I’ve found that I am able to appreciate the beauty and culture of where I am – isn’t that why we travel anyways?