Some of my favorite memories are of my family (all over 6 feet tall) piling into our Suburban (and once a tiny Lincoln town car…never again) and traveling across the country to learn about the history that shaped our nation.
This was before the day of cell phones and social media. The only thing we had was an Atlas, a bag phone and my dad’s keen sense of direction. Leading up to the trip, my mom would pore over visitor guides and ask friends what to do with three restless teenagers in Washington D.C., Chicago, San Diego, and beyond.
Lucky for me, I inherited my dad’s sense of direction and my mother’s planning skills. Now, I’ve got the science of planning a vacation for my husband and me down to an art! Here are my tips (and a few resources) on how to plan an unforgettable vacation!
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1. Build a map of all the things you want to see
After I book our flights and accommodations, the first thing I do is create a Google Map of all the attractions, restaurants, and neighborhoods I’ve heard about in the city we’re visiting. This helps with seeing where all the restaurants, bars, and attractions are within the city. I can share the map with my husband and he can add points to the map, as well as notes.
Check out this map I’ve created of Franklin, Tennessee.
2. Plan Each Day Around One Big Attraction
Don’t try to pack too much into one day – this is a vacation, after all! It should be relaxing! After you plot all your points on a map, pick out one key attraction you want to see for each day, and then plan your dining and shopping experiences around the geography of that attraction. This will cut down on transportation time and give you ample time to explore different parts of the city.
Traveling with kids? Give each child the opportunity to plan one of the days. Let them pick the main attraction so they take ownership in the trip and get excited about the day ahead! They’ll also have something to look forward to if they don’t like their siblings’ choice of attraction.
3. Be Realistic
Don’t pack your days full from 7 a.m. – 10 p.m. If you do, chances are, you’ll need another vacation after your trip! Don’t push yourself too hard and be realistic that you may not see everything you were told to see. You may have to prioritize and make sacrifices. If you don’t see everything, all the more reason to return!
4. Make room for relaxation and downtime
I don’t know about you, but I love the chance to sleep in – especially on vacation. Your trip should be full of adventure, but don’t forget that this is also a time to unwind and relax. If you need to, carve out an hour or two before dinner each day to unwind at the hotel and maybe catch a few Zs.
5. Stick to your plan, but be willing to change
One of the hardest lessons I’ve learned in life is that things aren’t always going to go as planned. When you’re traveling – especially flying across the country or even around the globe – you’ve got to roll with the punches. Connecting flight delayed in Toronto by 5 hours? What a drag! Take your extra time to explore the city or just grab dinner at a local dive. Get a great recommendation for a new restaurant during your stay? Be willing to go out on a limb to try something new!
6. Unplug from social media
One rule I made when my husband and I started traveling together is that we sign out of social media accounts while we travel. The world doesn’t need to know about your trip right this second, so unplug and soak in all the fun you’re having! Feel free to snap photos on your phone, but don’t post them until you get home. This will keep you in the moment and will give you something to look back on when you post your weekly #ThrowbackThursday of your trip.
What are your tips for creating an unforgettable trip? Anything we missed? Let us know in the comments below!