Collaboration with Amelia of Smooth Decorator

Depending on the kind of person you are, planning a vacation can be anything from the most stressful to the most exciting part of the whole experience. Still, no one can deny that it’s a vital part if you want to minimize the risks of having your holiday ruined. Many things can go wrong while you’re away from home, but if you deal with some realistic threats beforehand, you’ll definitely have better chances of having a fantastic time.

That’s why it’s important we plan our holiday well in advance and make sure that nothing that is under our control gets unnoticed. This is easier said than done, particularly if you’re planning a trip with the whole family or a group of friends. Are you taking your pet with you? Whatever your situation is, there are some general pointers you need to consider if you really want to have a stress-free vacation.


1. Define the aim

Travel vacation trip holiday route planning - laptop computer, succulent plant, map, camera, coffee

This may seem like a given, but hear us out.  You might be choosing your destination and time to travel based on a few criteria. It could be you just want to get away from it all and do nothing. You could be going for a specific event, or simply spend a lot of time roaming the area and sightseeing.

Knowing why you’re going on holiday and how you want it to spend it may seem trivial, but further defining this for yourself beforehand actually helps you make important decisions, such as means of transport, accommodations and your itinerary. For example, you could prioritize the hotel’s amenities over its location, or vice versa, depending on the type of vacation you’re planning to have. And more importantly, it helps you effectively communicate your intent with anybody else wanting to go on the trip, so you guys can (hopefully) get on the same page, or at least be aware of the differing interests so there’s no hard feelings if you split up from time to time.

Many trips have ended in disappointment because they weren’t thought through, or planned well. And by the time you get there, it’s sometimes too late to do anything but damage control and make the best of it. So if you plan early, you can shape your experience to what you and your group really want/need, and take advantage of all that these places have to offer.


2. Inspect the reviews – Don’t just look at the score

Trip Advisor fake reviews

It’s been rumbling for years in chat rooms and the random news article here and there, but really we all probably assumed it was a very small one or two swindlers here and there that were cheating the system. But according to a Harvard study, 16% of Yelp reviews are fake. And for what it’s worth, Yelp appears more stringent on their enforcement of review integrity than other major review sites.

Signs to spot a fake:

  • Euphoria – All good, over-the-top, and no realistic things to say because almost never is an experience without its holes, or at least reasonable or normal situations, where one can simply describe without sounding like an infomercial.
  • It’s the author’s only review or it’s their 10,000th review. If it’s their only review, chances are they are from the hotel/resort. If they have a ridiculously high amount of reviews, chances are they are a paid reviewer. And the paid reviewers are harder to spot by their writing alone.
  • The review lacks actual detail.
  • They talk about themselves rather than the hotel. They might say why the traveled there, how great of an experience they had, but they won’t talk about their room, what worked well, what didn’t, the furnishings, the space, the activities, etc.
  • They use a lot of commandments and exclamations!!!!! to convince you of something. Ok, somebody might be excited up front to share their experience with you. But if they keep it going throughout the review, and don’t actually get to any meat and potatoes…you’re probably reading a fake.

If you look further into what accommodations and amenities are offered by the hotels you’re considering, and then look at a swath of reviews high/low/middle of the road (and scrutinizing their legitimacy), you’re more likely to actually book what you believe you’re booking. And there’s nothing worse than having great expectations only to arrive to a negative experience. So more and more today, this step is a must.


3. Invite who you’d want to be stuck with on a desert island

Group friends travel vacation trip at lake mountains

While eating breakfast on the al fresco deck of a luxury resort’s restaurant, Amy’s family was lazily lounging in the sun enjoying their coffee. Suddenly (and very jarringly), their dining experience was disrupted by the next table of a large group of friends, who started screaming at each other. Water glasses were thrown down, shattering on the floor, voices howled and screeched in anger. To this day, we have no idea what they were actually arguing about, but we are confident that was the worst/greatest show ever seen in our vacation history.  That fast moving train wreck of a friendship was forced to leave the restaurant by security (perhaps even the resort as well?), and one can only guess if they’re still speaking with each other today.

Traveling can be stressful. And if everyone on the trip is not on the same page regarding step 1 (defining the aim of the trip), then chances are there’s going to be underlying tension. Julie thought we were all going to spend the majority of each day sipping mai tais on the beach, but Eve planned excursions and activities the entire time. Oh, and let’s not forget the baggage of a few unresolved issues that they brought with them from back home that can suddenly fester up when you’re suddenly living together in close quarters and spending quite a bit more time together than before. You can see how this can go downhill fast.

So trust us. Invite only who you know you want to travel with. Who you wouldn’t mind being trapped on a desert island with. And for most people, that list is probably small depending on how you structure your holiday. Even in the middle of a relaxed tropical paradise, it can happen.


4. Stick to your kid’s routine

Have kids? Although one of the best parts of any vacation is the opportunity to change the environment and experience something new, your kids still need to follow some of their regular routines. Plan their meals and nap time, if necessary, and then focus on the activities you can only do with rested kids. Un-rested kids are typically unhappy kids. 

It’s even more challenging with small kids, who need to be pushed around in strollers and can’t go as long or as fast as the older ones. Take into account the time you’d need to get to a restaurant and don’t expect to be able to move around at the normal walking speed. Managing expectations and building in these routines, breaks, and structure with kids in tow will really make a difference with how much you as a parent enjoys the experience as well. 


5. Check opening hours & locations, and book hard-to-get tickets 

Sky lift tickets

Those of you planning to visit a museum, gallery, restaurant, or similar venue should check the working hours as well as the exact location, and plan how to get there. Save the locations in Google Maps, Waze, or any similar app you’re using.

Some spots are going to be more competitive than others to get a ticket or a reservation. If you do a little research, or even call the venue and ask how early you should book in advance, this can help make sure you won’t end up disappointed by missing out on that experience during your trip.

It’s also helpful to check if there will be construction planned during your stay, so that you don’t get disappointed when you reach a museum, theatre or gallery only to find it closed. (This is a great idea for your hotel stay too!)


6. Find a pet-sitter (Ditch the kennel!)

Beach dog with sunglasses on lounge chair

If you are leaving your pet behind, make sure you book a pet-sitting service well in advance. Today, there are so many great pet-sitting services who will come to your home, or who will take your dog in their home, it really makes no sense to leave your dog or pet locked up in a kennel all day. Between RoverSittercity, Pet Sitters Interational, and others, there are plenty of great local, vetted and reviewed options to leave your little fluffly friend in trusted hands who will keep them in a comfortable space with plenty of room to play and relax. 

Ideally, your sitter should be either someone reliable who has already looked after your dog, someone vetted and reviewed, or a professional. Make sure that any new person gets introduced to the dog before the day of your departure, so that it doesn’t feel as if you’ve left them with a complete stranger. Also, ensure you clearly communicate all feeding, medication, walking, bathing, and care needs to the sitter. Writing it down afterwards will help them reference just in case they forget. If you need photos and text updates from day to day to make sure your pet is doing fine, make sure the sitter knows that up front as well. Finally, order your regular dog supplies online and have them delivered at least a day or two before the departure.


7. Pack early

Travel packing list

A lot of people leave packing as the very last activity, but that can be a major problem. First, you may pack more than you can put in your car or your suitcases may be too heavy, which will leave you paying a fee for heavy/excess baggage at the airport. Second, if you put packing off until the last minute, you’re almost guaranteeing you’re going to forget something. And Murphy’s Law, it’s going to be something you absolutely need. 

The goal is to travel as light as possible, but still take everything you need. If you start a day or two in advance, creating a list, slowly gathering the things you know you’re going to need and thinking through each part of the trip, you’re more likely going to remember all of the things you’ll need, and will have the time to minimize all those extra clothes and shoes (you know who you are!) afterwards. 


8. Empty your fridge

Everyone forgets this one! Make sure that you give away or get rid of any food that would spoil before you come back. Donate it to someone who’ll be able to use it while you’re on holiday and you’ll save yourself the trouble of dealing with a terrible stench welcoming you back from vacation. 


Enjoy your trip!

Smart phone camera in front of ancient city archway

Naturally, these aren’t the only tips for having a stress-free vacation, but they are good at illustrating the various aspects you need to consider when planning a holiday. Since each individual lives in different circumstances, your situation will require you to take additional measures not mentioned here. Although it may seem like investing too much effort, it’s clear that we can’t have a truly stress-free vacation unless we plan it carefully.


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