Time can literally control your vacation – if you don’t control it. On top of that, vacations have so many expectations around them, and fulfilling these expectations can be hard since you are constrained to a limited amount of time!
So how do you get the most out of your precious vacation time? At a high level, don’t plan too much or too little of your vacation. If you set an expectation that you will do WXYZ on your vacation, but only get to WXY, you risk feeling disappointed that you missed out on the Z. On the other hand, if you don’t plan your vacation enough, you will be spending your precious vacation time sorting out the logistics instead of just being able to show up and be on vacation.
Even if you do plan in advance, you want to make sure that your plans are a match for the amount of time that you have available. Here are my top 5 tips for planning a vacation that will maximize the limited amount of vacation time that you have.
#1: Plan Your Vacation With a Map
Geography is king, y’all! Everyone that makes the journey to Europe wants to hop around to as many cities as possible, but don’t make the mistake of planning your city route without looking at how far each city is from one another! If you are traveling by car from place to place, it’s important to understand the terrain that you must travel through. If you are a flatlander like me, you might glance at a map and think “that’s only 1 hour away”, but not take into account the curvy, mountain roads, or that perhaps there aren’t roads.
Have you actually looked on a map to see how far away that bucket list item is from where you’ll be? Often times a company will advertise that they are located in the city, but in reality be upwards of 2 hours away. This happened to me on a trip to the Harry Potter Studios in “London”, which is actually located a short 2-hour train ride away in Leavesden. Surprises like this can throw a wrench in your plans and either prevent you from being able to do something else, or make it very difficult to get to your activity.
#2: Be Strategic With Your Hotel Location
The location of your accommodations is a huge factor in your time management because it will dictate how much additional time is spent getting to those fun things that you want to see and do. Unless you have little to no intention of leaving your hotel room on your vacation, you’ll want the location of your hotel room to play a big role in your selection of one.
Let’s say you are traveling to London and find a decently-priced hotel that you book. Did you research if any sightseeing and activities on your list are within walking distance? If not walking distance, are you close to a tube station? Did you get a good deal on a hotel because it’s actually on the outskirts of Central London? If so, you may be “commuting” in to London each day to do the things on your list, wasting your precious vacation time.
#3: Sort out Transportation Before Your Book
Figuring out how you will get around when you arrive in a destination is a huge factor that can waste a lot of time and cause a lot of stress if not planned in advance. You first have to sort out which method is best suited to your travel style, budget, and the best bang for your buck in your destination.
If you are taking public transportation, where do you purchase tickets and which route will you take? If you are driving yourself, do you have the maps or knowledge you need to navigate yourself, and have you familiarized yourself with the driving laws? If you decide to hire a private escort or driver, do you know where to meet? I promise you that you don’t want to find yourself lost or stranded in a foreign country, with no internet service, and feeling clueless as to how to get to where you want to go.
#4: Prioritize Your Excursions
Excursions are organized activities that are provided by some type of tour operator. New Zealand is well-known for having #alloftheexcursions. You have to go bungee jumping, jet boating, hiking, wine tasting, zorbing, rappelling, right? Well, I’m here to tell you that no you don’t. And it’s highly unlikely that your limited vacation time will allow you to do all of those things. So make a personal “must-do” list based on your vacation time and budget and get excited for those activities and forget about the rest.
Excursions may be half day, full day or multi-day, so it’s important to understand the time commitment before you book one. If you have a “2-hour Excursion” planned, you need to think of that as actually being a 3 or 4-hour excursion because it will actually take you that long from the time you prep, travel to and from, arrive early (as is usually requested) and enjoy the excursion. That’s already half of your day, so can you really squeeze in 3 “2 – hour excursions” in 1 day?
#5 Have a Game Plan for Meals
Don’t forget about your biological need and right to eat somethin’. If you don’t have a plan for where you are going to eat, you might as well add an hour for how long it could take you to find something to eat. Especially if there are multiple opinions floating around or you choose a location where reservations are required.
Nothing is worse than wandering around a city with grumpy, hangry travel companions who need food ASAP. Researching restaurants and grocery stores ahead of time will at least give you a backup plan if you are struggling to find a place.
How Much Can You Do In One Vacation Day?
So just how much is possible to do in one vacation day? What do the standard activities look like broken down over one, precious 24-hour vacation day?
If you plan in advance and use these 5 tips…
If you don’t plan in advance or use these 5 tips…
The bottom line is that if you manage your vacation time upfront by planning the logistics in advance, you will have more time to play! If you don’t, you’ll be using your vacation time trying to sort out the logistics of your vacation. I’ve learned through experience that you can’t do it all, hiccups will happen that eat into your vacation time, and downtime on vacation is a good thing.
My #1 secret for making the most of your vacation time is scheduling in downtime. Downtime allows you to slow down a bit, or it can serve as a buffer in case there are hiccups with the logistics. Planning an itinerary that has little room for breathing – much less stopping to smell the roses – can be risky. Planning too many activities in a day can not only be exhausting, but it may just flat out not be realistic and leave you disappointed that you had to miss out.