Planning the Perfect Vacation: A (Don’t-Ask-Me) How-To

Vacation plane

Some people are awesome at planning vacations.

These are the people who research their destinations exhaustively to discover the hottest sites to visit.  The people who book things months in advance to ensure they don’t miss out on those activities that always fill up and sell out.

These are the people who know ahead of time exactly the type of vacation experience they want, and make a near part-time job of scouring tour guides and soliciting knowledgeable friends and colleagues to transform the trip of their dreams into reality.

I’m not one of those people.  Not even close.

I have a big trip coming up in exactly one month; I’m going to Australia to visit my very good friend and former roommate who is from there.

In some ways, this is a trip of a lifetime, or if nothing else, the trip of my lifetime thus far.  It’s taken a long time for me to be ready for this, both financially and emotionally; my friend has been wanting me to visit her homeland since the time she and I were still roommates in Vancouver, back in 2008.

I’ve never travelled as far away as Australia before.  I’ll be journeying to the other side of the world!  And even though my airfare was just a little bit more than it costs me to fly home at Christmas time, this flight will be one of some 15 hours duration, not including layovers.

All this to say, as far as my normal travel goes, this trip is kind of a big deal.

Which makes it all the more shocking that I essentially have nothing planned for it.

A woman without a plan

So far the sum-total of my trip preparation has comprised the following:

  • Bought a ticket
  • Told my friend I’m coming
  • Ensured the overseas coverage of my travel insurance
  • Ensured the validity of my passport
  • Obtained a travel visa (after discovering in passing that I actually need a visa the visit Australia and that our being part of the same Commonwealth isn’t an open invitation for me to just come on over)
  • Made arrangements to borrow a power adapter
  • Checked out two travel guides from the library and eventually flipped through one (after having renewed it 4 times)
  • Requested a vegetarian meal on the plane
  • Decided upon which suitcases I will use

Additional things I plan to do before departing include:

  • Notify my credit card companies of my impending travel
  • Obtain some Australian cash
  • Determine what books I’ll read during the 15-hour flight
  • Put a vacation responder on my email at work
  • Give over my external hard drive to a friend for safekeeping

As for what I’m actually going to do in Australia, I’ve come up with almost nothing.

That doesn’t sound like me at all.

In my normal life, I am a research and planner.  When faced with a problem or question, I research the hell out of it so I can either do what worked for others or stand on their shoulders and add my own interpretation.

I also schedule everything; days in advance as well.  I schedule my work life and I schedule my home life.  I schedule the fun I have on the weekends.  I schedule my errands so I can hit two or three of them in a single outing.  My first thought upon waking every morning is “What will I do today, and when?”

A big part of why I’m so scheduled is my writing.  In order to carve out two hours of writing time every weekday (while maintaining eight hours of sleep), there are a lot of day-to-day things that get put off to more conveniently inconvenient times, which requires some forethought.

I also do this because it’s just the type of person I am: a structured, kind of rigid keener, plotter, researcher, and extreme Myers-Briggs J.

Except when it comes to vacations.

Becoming someone new

I know of many people who, upon returning from a trip, feel like they need a vacation from their vacation, they’re so burned out from trying to cram so much into a finite amount of time.

Were such ever to happen to me, it would be purely by accident.  When travelling, I’m a drifter, happy just being there walking new streets and seeing new sights, taking things as they come and as they occur to me.

From my 2011 trip to England: an impromptu journey to Salisbury to see the famous cathedral (pictured in the background).

From my 2011 trip to England: an impromptu journey to Salisbury to see the famous cathedral (pictured in the background).

I almost never plot my movements in advance, preferring to see firsthand how things look and how my mood strikes before committing to a specific activities.

I’m a vacation pantser.

Occasionally, this careless attitude gets me in trouble, like the 2011 trip I took to England to research my WIP.  I forgot to visit a key region where much of the story takes place.

But most of the time, being this way is relaxing, spontaneous, and such a departure from my usual hyper-planned, knowledge-focused lifestyle, it’s like taking a vacation, as it were, from my own self.

And since I do so little research about places when travelling, I don’t even know what I might be missing.

Do you pre-plan your trips?  If yes, how did you plan your last trip?  If no, how do you decide what to do when you get there? Let me know in the comments.

(Image sources: #1 and #2 – J.G. Noelle)

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12 thoughts on “Planning the Perfect Vacation: A (Don’t-Ask-Me) How-To

  1. I actually get to travel so rarely that it’s never really been something to think about. In theory, I’d plan for the few things I know I would be really upset of I missed out on while I was visiting, but otherwise I like to float, explore, and enjoy whatever local life is like. Stumble upon interesting things by chance, and actually try to relax, since I never do much of that at home!

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  2. so glad you’re a vacation pantser…how come i didn’t know?! probably much better this way for enjoying who you are visiting ;). wish i could come join the reunion.

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    • Hi Mara. I’m not sure why you didn’t know that – maybe it’s my deep, dark secret. 😉

      I wish you could come too, but I’m not giving up hope of a proper reunion one day with all the proper people. I’ll do all the location-scouting while I’m there this time.

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  3. I’m surprised by this revelation. I would expect you to have everything mapped out to the minute (making sure the things you want to see are open on the day you are there, etc). Of course, it depends on where you go. If I take a road trip in the US, I carefully plan so I maximize my time. Travelling overseas, especially when you are at the mercy of friends or relatives, is different.

    Having flown from New York to east Asia a number of times, I don’t envy 15 hours on a jet.

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  4. There’s a lot to see in Australia so I guess it depends which parts you’re visiting as to what you’ll do here. Best to be a pantser because you may just get swept up in the beauty of the place! 😀

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  5. I just had an odd experience. Up until now (DH has now retired), I did ALL the vacation planning for the whole family. DH was too busy, and it needed to be done.

    This time, I asked HIM to do the work. He decided yesterday that a vacation ‘we’ were planning, to the Caribbean, would run into bad weather – and we should cancel for now. I said fine – we can go later/next year/in a month. And I didn’t feel a thing! Because there was very little of my work in it. So it wasn’t wasted. The idea of canceling something I had worked on a lot would bother me – am I selfish? Or just getting some of my own back after decades?

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    • I think anyone relying on me to plan a vacation for them would be sorely disappointed. I would get us on the plane and have us well-provisioned for the flight, but that’s about as far as my involvement goes!

      I don’t mind travelling with hyper-planners, though, for I can just ride their coattails to a good time (or else go my own way if our ideas of fun differ too drastically). I spend much of my day-to-day life making decisions; it’s nice to leave that to someone else sometimes (as you seemed to experience for yourself).

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  6. That’s really interesting Janna, changing your usual methodology. I’m pretty much ‘off the cuff’ in everything, though my day job in finance needs a bit more attention to detail 🙂
    As you’ve identified, we miss things on our travels by not doing our homework. But drifting, making late decisions, is not the worst thing either. Salisbury is great isn’t it – did you read Rutherford’s ‘Sarum’, a historical novel about the cathedral site through the ages?
    Looking forward to reading about your adventures in Oz.

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