Travel

How to Plan Your Best Vacation

How to Plan Your Best Vacation

“One’s destination is never a place but rather a new way of looking at things,” wrote Henry Miller. So, how can you make your vacation feel truly rejuvenating? For the final post of our travel series, six travelers reveal their surprising tips — including the #1 thing to pack — for having the best time on vacation…


Eat a Progressive Dinner

“When I was in my twenties, I took a trip to New Orleans with my sister. One night, instead of committing to a single restaurant, we hopped to three different places, one after another. We asked what their big specials were, ordered one plate at each place and split it. Now whenever I travel, I plan out a progressive dinner. I pinpoint an area with enough spots that are ‘must-try’s, and I find out which dishes they do well. There’s so much good food! And if you think a place is overrated, no worries — you’re trying another place in an hour. I usually eat at the bar, which means I’m more likely to chat with the bartender or local people. Also, explaining what you’re doing is a great conversation starter — everyone wants to offer ideas. It always feels like an adventure, which to me is the goal of any trip.” — Beth Shapouri

Ask for Two Beds

“When my husband and I stay in a hotel, we always request two double beds, instead of one king. It started shortly after our daughter was born — we were in the midst of that sleep-deprived, new-parent haze. We actually booked a king bed at a hotel, but when we showed up to check in, they only had rooms with two doubles remaining (and apologized profusely for the error). That first night in separate beds was an ‘aha’ moment for both of us, and we’ve been requesting them ever since. You can “snuggle” together in one bed, and then you say goodnight and goodbye. I love to stretch out in an X shape, with my arms and legs in no danger of encroaching on someone else’s space. That’s a true vacation and one of the secrets to a happy marriage.” — Nicki Sebastian

Try Something You’ve Never Done

“This year, for my 30th birthday, I took myself on a four-day silent retreat. It was a chance to be by myself in a way that I never had been before, and to quiet my restless mind.

On the first day, everyone went to a big meditation hall to honor ‘noble silence.’ We gave up talking, reading, writing and using our phones. Even eye contact wasn’t allowed. That left eating delicious food, walking, sitting, meditating and sleeping in our own rooms. There was a woman there who was eight months pregnant with her second child and had done the retreat at the same point in her first pregnancy. (I found this out only later, when I could finally talk to her.) She told me it had helped bring her to a really calm place before the intensity of childbirth and new parenthood.

I knew being quiet for four days was going to be difficult, and in some ways it was even harder than I expected. (For example, the time I couldn’t get my room key to work and cursed out loud — my own voice caught me by surprise. You don’t realize how much you talk to yourself!). But while the world has so many amazing places to explore, there is so much that’s interesting going on inside ourselves. I was surprised by the depth of my internal world — so many thoughts about work, family, life and relationships.

When I got home, I felt ready to face things on a very even keel. I was even looking forward to the moments in life when my emotions would run high, so I could see whether I was better able to deal. And for at least two months afterward I was, for sure.” — Hayley Nichols

Pack a Uniform

“Back in the old days, BC (before child), I was a totally haphazard, stuff-a-million-things-into-a-bag-at-the-last-minute kind of packer, but now I like to take away variables and leave head space for enjoying the adventure. So, for trips, everything is navy blue. I have two pairs of pants, a simple stretchy skirt, a long-sleeved cotton shirt and a cardigan — ALL navy blue. I always pack a pair of dark jeans, a bathing suit no matter the season and in the summertime I throw in a pair of denim shorts. When I was a kid, we used to dress up for travel, and I’ve held on to that philosophy. Monochromatic dressing is an easy way to be both comfortable and pulled together, and I gravitate to navy because it’s as sophisticated as black but it’s still a color.” — Brooke Williams

Bring a Soccer Ball

“On a trip to London with our two boys, my husband had the brilliant idea of buying a soccer ball and carrying it around with us as we toured the city mostly by foot. Between the British Museum and the London Tower, we would detour through Hyde or Regent’s Park and kick the ball around with each other, and sometimes with other local kids. I would bring a soccer ball to just about any city that has parks and playgrounds. It’s such an international game, and a perfect way to break up a trip that involves lots of sight seeing and walking for kids.” — Pilar Guzman

Focus on a Few Blocks

“When we travel, my husband and I like to stay in local neighborhoods and inhabit a tiny radius, like just three to five blocks. We go to the same coffee shops and restaurants every day and establish daily rhythms. When we do this, travel becomes less of a vacation, and more like living part our lives somewhere else. It might sound limiting, but it actually feels really exciting, like you temporarily become a different person.

Last spring we stayed in Karakoy, an old Istanbul neighborhood, and everywhere we looked we saw straw baskets dangling from the sides of buildings. We had no idea what they were for. My first instinct was to feel compelled to put something in one of them. I thought, ‘I should put in a banana.’ (I didn’t.)

We talked about the baskets the entire time we were in Turkey. We obsessed over them. What were they for? Why were there so many of them? Often when I’m fascinated by something, I’ll try not to Google it right away, because it’s fun to live with mystery. But we eventually figured out they were simply an old-school way to get items from the street into upper-floor apartments. And because we were there during Ramadan, I could sit on the corner and see a dozen of them descend at dusk all at once and get filled with bread used to break the daily fast. Over time, we saw lots of other things being loaded and unloaded: fruit, sandwiches, bottles, money. We saw a group of kids playing a game by tossing their shoes into one.

Later, a friend from Istanbul told me he hadn’t seen baskets around the city for 15 years, so we’d managed to stumble upon a pocket of random tradition. If you were passing through the neighborhood you might have seen one, but it would have been a fleeting vision; you had to be there every day to really notice them. Experiencing the mystery of the baskets made me fall in love with Istanbul.” — Jennifer Brook


Thoughts? What little things do you do to make a trip feel epic? We’d love to hear…

P.S. 10 tips for traveling with a baby, and the weird thing we do on vacations.

(Illustration by Elizabeth Graeber for Cup of Jo. Soccer ball excerpt via Momfilter.)

  1. My favourite tip for traveling with kids is to take little matchbox cars. You can usually find a steep hill to roll them down. In London, the most awesome place to do this is at the Tate London Gallery where there is a huge slope in the turbine hall. You can have your art fix as well as lots of fun chasing the little cars down the hill

  2. Natalie says...

    My biggest tip is on the flight to and from, sleep as if you are already in the time zone you’ll be going to – best way to beat jet lag.

  3. Julianna says...

    My girlfriends and I did an airbnb in historic downtown Savannah. They wanted me to rent a car but I refused. That was one aspect of the trip that I was oddly excited about, having to hoof it everywhere. Living in LA I spend so much time in my car, in traffic, trying to get anywhere. We walked everywhere and I think our first day there we did 25 miles exploring every nook and cranny of that beautiful place. We even did a local haunted house walking tour that started at 11 pm one night. I relish my memories of that place, and never want to have to rent a car on vacation again.

  4. My tip would be to plan a vacation with no plans. Most of our vacations we plan several things to do which is fun, but can be exhausting. Recently we took a quick vacation and we literally hung out by the pool and ordered room service for most of our meals. Our daughter was a happy camper too. I thought I would dwell on the fact that we didn’t go site seeing, but I didn’t. We still took in a fun unplanned day out n about, but the highlight was truly enjoying our hotel time. Jammies, bathing suits, call for food—count me in!

    xo Lendy
    http://www.twoplusluna.com

  5. Kate says...

    Great tips! I always make a point of going into the local supermarket where ever I am visiting. In Vietnam you can buy delicious beer for $1, in Venice you can buy a bottle of Belini for a few Euro and in the US there are AISLES and AISLES of frozen pizza. Haha, in our country you can’t buy alcohol in the supermarket and there are maybe two kinds of frozen pizza so that was a novelty for us.

    • Julianna says...

      I love that youre excited about frozen pizza :)

  6. The idea of double beds is genius! We’ll have to try that one next time.

    I’m also one for staying in local neighborhoods and interacting with locals – to me, the whole point of traveling is immersing yourself in other cultures.

    I’m long overdue for a trip!

    Christina | http://www.cuddlepill.com

  7. Melissa W. says...

    I love all these ideas including many of the suggestions in the comments. I have never done a progressive dinner and I’m excited to try one on my next vacation.

    I love coffee and enjoy tasting different roasts in new cities. When we travel, my husband and I always make it a point to try several local coffee shops. There is usually a new drink or special syrup/flavor I’ve never heard of on the menu. A few times we’ve had our own “coffee crawl”, discovering new parts on the city in search of the town’s ‘best’ coffee.

    Last month I traveled with my husband on his business trip to Austin, TX. Since I had a lot of alone time I got to decide my schedule. One day I decided I wanted to go a local studio and try a dance class. And I did! The afternoon Cardio Funk hour long dance session was so much fun. The instructor was so positive and energetic and the class was absolutely fantastic. I love to eat and drink in a new city (who doesn’t!) but doing something new and a bit out of my comfort zone really made the trip memorable.

  8. Lauren says...

    In addition to trying to read a novel about a particular location we are traveling to, I google what is going on socially and politically, especially if we are going abroad. Vacations are a time that I splurge a little more than usual—having a daily cafe stop to enjoy a coffee, a baked good and people-watching (sadly no time for such a luxury in real life). I also keep an eye out for locally-made gifts (beyond souvenirs) for friends or family members—a beautiful pair of earrings, a leather covered journal, etc. I’ve also used the leftover currency at the end of the trip to buy a cookbook or CD.

    This was a great series—I’m bummed this was the last post. I guess like a vacation, all wonderful things must come to an end… ;).

    • Lauren says...

      P.S. Are the clouds in the illustration flying manatees? Loved all the illustrations!

  9. Awesome!
    I had never seen that side of LA.
    I’m going to LA with my girl friend later this year and for sure we will use your advises. Thanks for sharing!

  10. Erika says...

    My dad is a geography professor and I’ve been traveling with him for as long as I can remember. (Even now that I’m married with a son, my mom and dad still join us on trips!) I’ve learned SO many things from him along the way, but I think the best piece of advice he ever gave me was to just do it. Don’t be afraid, try not to overthink it, and just start the journey. Whether that means hopping a plane or hitting the open road; it doesn’t have to be a big, expensive production! It should just speak to your sense of adventure. Oh, and always having a toiletry bag packed, annnnnd on longer trips bring underwear you can throw away as you go, annnnnnd don’t bring a wheeled suitcase to Venice, annnnnd, for the love of all that’s holy, wear comfortable shoes!! (Trust me, and my bloody teenage feet.)

    • I second that Venice tip! I had a small rolling carry-on while on a two-week trip throughout Italy and France. We got into Venice at night and as we went over the first bridge my handle completely broke off. It sure was fun kicking it all the way to the hotel. ;)

  11. I’m not sure how I’d do at a place where I wasn’t allowed to read or write, as I tend to spend too much time in my head as is, but it would be an interesting challenge!

    I love the staying-in-one-neighborhood thing. The biggest mistake I’ve made when traveling is trying to do too much because “what if we never come back here?!” FOMO is a vacation-ruiner.

    • Heather H says...

      This resonates with me – thanks for the reminder! Planning 4 days in NYC and starting to get that panicky feeling about everything we want to do. We can’t do it all – will take a deep breath and chill!!

  12. I totally agree with the two double beds. My husband and I do that on vacation and it’s amazing not to be woken up my snoring!
    We also stayed in an airbnb for the first time and it definitely makes you feel like you are living a different life!

  13. Danielle says...

    Whether I’m traveling with friends or my family, we take turns having people be “in charge” for the day. This includes figuring out the logistics of how to get from one place to the other, what we do/see that day, where we eat, etc. My travel buddies and family are all adults with no kids (for now), but I think it can be modified for families with younger kids having them choose an activity/meal for the parts of the day.

    It’s nice because it prevents the planner personalities from being too frustrated or feeling like they are running the whole trip and lets the more relaxed personalities have an unstructured day if they aren’t into back-to-back sight seeing. (And for both personalities to see the benefits to both styles!) Everyone gets a chance to do at least one thing/meal/activity they want to do. It also gives whoever did the bulk of the pre-planning location/hotel/airfare (sorry Mom! :) ) a chance to have a few days to be a follower and relax. Ever since we’ve been doing this there’s way less fighting and general fussiness!

    • Judy says...

      That is a great idea!

    • Best idea!

    • Lora says...

      Love this idea!!

    • Jennyg says...

      Been traveling like this for years with our inlaws. Now with pre teens they get to pick an activity day as well. Heading to Oahu with zip lining, surfing and horseback riding in the mix. My day…beach hopping and food trucks!

  14. Cindy says...

    Love all these tips. We do lots of them. Progressive dinners I’m adding from now on. Coincidentally I’m on vacation now, using advice from Jo’s travel piece on Seattle. We stayed in an Airbnb in Ballard as suggested. What a great neighbourhood. I did a couple of yoga classes, my way of feeling like a local, and yes the same coffee shop every day. Lots of walking, talking to servers and bar staff. When we went into the city it just wasn’t as fun as being out here, but it is where most pre airbnb tourists would stay. I also take an insane amount of pictures and edit them at home. I plan something fun in the first weekends home so the comedown isn’t so depressing and also make lists so I can attempt to recreate a dish or two of our favourite meals.

    PS loved the Istanbul baskets story!

  15. When a friend and I went to Istanbul, we read up on the most iconic local foods and the best places to get them. We then planned out our morning, afternoon and evening destinations accordingly – exploring the surrounding neighborhoods and finds along the way. It felt like a food scavenger hunt (the best kind), and I feel like we saw so much more of the city than we would have as we wandered and navigated.

  16. This blog is such an inspiration for me! You totally inspired me to start my own and guess what I posted a travel tip yesterday! Yes ‘A’ travel tip, just one. But I tell ya what, it’s a good one!

    http://mamanushka.com/journey-not-destination/

    • Claudia says...

      ‘happiness is to be found along the way not at the end of the road…’ lovely!

  17. sarah says...

    We love staying at AirB&B places in cooler neighborhoods (or at least cooler than where the hotels are) and get to know them better. It’s also fun to go grocery shopping or to different markets for snacks or breakfasts, which we prefer to have at home. We’ve gotten awesome restaurant recommendations from local butchers and fruit stand owners, which we never would have gotten if we stayed at a hotel.

    Also, I second the idea of ending the trip at a nice hotel or resort. We honeymooned in Thailand and did lots of hiking and sleeping on floors, so splurging on a nice resort on a beautiful beach was amazing. I’m sure we appreciated it a lot more than we would have if we hadn’t roughed it prior!

  18. Stacy says...

    I learned from traveling with my two teenagers to have one day planned, and the next day unplanned. When we visited Kauai, we planned a snorkeling/raft trip to the NaPali Coast but had no plans for the following day. We asked the boat captain what we should do the next day, and he told us about one of the most amazing waterfall hikes we’ve ever been on–one that I didn’t find in my pre-trip research. Now I always ask the locals what we should do or see (or eat).

    • Eryn says...

      I love this–where was the amazing hike? We’ll be traveling there!

  19. When we travel, we love to get lost in the city we are in. We head out without a map or map app and just start wandering. We have found the best restaurants and boutiques this way. It’s also a great way to really see how the locals live away from the tourist sites.

    XOXO, Amy @ Jeans and a Tea
    http://www.jeansandatea.com

  20. These are amazing. I always do progressive dinners when I travel to a new place. And also lunches and breakfasts. No surprise that I decided to call my blog Second Breakfast! I’ve a few more to add to this list:

    1. Try a solo trip to a place you’ve never been before.
    2. Try to save some of your budget to spend the last two days of vacation in a swanky hotel.
    3. If travelling with a friend/partner, split up and do your own thing for a while.
    4. Watch a play or live event even if you don’t understand the language.
    5. Visit the neighborhood supermarket to see the different kinds of products on offer. Even the trivial things like strange breakfast cereals is exciting.
    6. Always find out how people consume tea/coffee at different times of the day. Tea/coffee etiquettes differ from country to country.
    7. Always check out the local public transport.
    8. Find a spot high above the ground, like a rooftop bar or a hill near the city to find great views of the city.
    9. Find a novel or any book about the country/city and read it on the way.
    10. Try a cooking class to learn how to make a local dish.

    http://www.secondbreakfast.in
    Instagram: @ruchikashankar

    • Lauren says...

      Ruchika–I love these extra tips! Great blog as well :)

    • I always buy a book about the place I’m in as a souvenir to take home.

    • Lauren & Emily: Thank you so much! :)

  21. Kate says...

    We like to ‘get lost’ when we arrive. Walk around without a map, or phones on and just see where we end up. It’s great because you end up chatting to locals to ask where you are and where you should go. We’ve stumbled across some amazing places/views/cafes in these lost moments.

    • I do that, too! I’m from France and I’ll never forget the day I got completely lost in NYC and ended up in the most random but beautiful streets… and ended up making friends with an old Italian immigrant on his front stoop. That’s what travel is all about!
      http://www.emiliewalker.com

    • I do that too! One night on the CA coast, I was driving through a town and saw a stream of people heading into this fairly innocuous looking place (two doors along a blank wall)…was it a theater? a cafe? no real sign outside…I parked (in some random neighborhood) and found the stream again. There was a big swirling staircase that seemed to evoke an old movie theatre (with velvet floor length curtains along the wall) and then I entered a room PACKED TO THE GILLS with people. It was a bar. low tables. no place to sit until I edged my way to the bar, elbowed in to order, and realized they had a menu. ordered scallops and had one of the most delicious dinners I had my entire trip…love love LOVE just wandering.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      that is so cool, nina!

  22. Alexandra says...

    My husband and I ate our way through New Orleans with “progressive dinners.” We’d order a cocktail and one or two small plates at the bar, ask the bartender for a recommendation and move along to the next place. When it was all said and done we saw 17 restaurants over 4 days and had a ton of stories about the food and people we met along the way.

  23. Dawn says...

    Packing cubes are a must! I also include some space saving plastic bags in our luggage to compress our clothes. It carves out some room for momentos in our bags on the return trip. Also, during our trip, our family has a new tradition of hand drawing a map and sketching all the places we visited that held special memories, we frame it and put it on the wall to remind us of our trip…kind of a visual journal. :)

    • I make maps for a living and for some reason still didn’t think to do this! What a great idea!

  24. Such fantastic tips – especially the progressive dinner, I can’t believe I hadn’t thought of that before! Also inhabiting and really living in the new neighbourhood you’re in makes travel a lot more fun and “authentic.”

  25. Stella says...

    I’m the researcher and the planner, my husband likes to stroll and well, not plan. So I do the research, scope out the place, find the “must-see’s.” I always try to answer the questions: what makes you feel like this was a vacation in XX, what have you always wanted to see/do in XX? He gets an answer and I get an answer and we try to do both so we accomplish our vacation goals. The rest of the time I make suggestions based on my research and what mood we feel like we are in.

    We are about to do our first kid vacation so that is a whole new adventure for us! There was a recent blog post on some website if whether or not, as a parent, you consider trips with your kids “vacation.” I can see her angle but you might term a trip with your kids an “adventure” rather than a “vacation” or just not care and enjoy life for what it hands you. :)

  26. Alice says...

    Love this post, Joanna!
    Every time I travel, I like to pick a theme to make the trip more fullest and rich. I’m super into coffee and bean roasting and stuff, so when I travel, I list out all the local must-try cafes and learn each of its story behind. But it also depends on which city I’m traveling to, and I’ll adjust the theme so to experience as much as I can.

  27. I love some of these ideas, especially the progressive dinner one! What a great way to sample as many restaurants as possible. My boyfriend and I just booked a trip to Barcelona in November and I definitely want to do this.

    • Melli says...

      I’d recommend Euskal Etxea, a small tapas bar – you can go to the bar and pick the tapas you want to try by yourself. So it’s totally your choice if you end up with 1, 2 or 7! And they are delicious :)

  28. I’m always trying to find ways to fight the back to reality/after vacation let down. On the flight home, we’ve started making food superlative lists-best all around restaurant, most surprising flavor, meal to recreate at home, etc-it helps me hold on to the memories of all the wonderful food!

  29. These are such cute ideas and stories! Makes me want to travel in a new way

    xx

    bombshell-to-be.blogspot.com

  30. Emily says...

    I pack my running gear and explore a city with an early morning run. I’ve even signed up for races in cities I’m visiting. An organized 15km around Portland last year was a great way to see parts of the city I wouldn’t have otherwise!

  31. Ashley says...

    We always bring a large picnic blanket everywhere we go. We have the same one we got our first married Christmas 12 years ago. Now the blanket brings back memories even when we use it in the yard with the kids. It has a zippered pocket and just this week we found a tiny pink mitten from our trip to Australia when my daughter was just 6 months old! We will definitely be bringing it when we take our three kiddos to Ireland and Spain this fall. (Wish us luck-our first international trip outnumbered!)

  32. L.R. says...

    I’m loving these ideas!

    We went to London with our three boys last summer (they were 8, 6, and 4), and when we weren’t hanging out with family and friends, we were going to museums. We gave them each some money, which, with their piggybank savings and gifts from grandparents, totaled about $50 each. They changed it into pounds and got to spend it as they wanted throughout the trip, which eliminated whining. Each kid got to choose a special one-on-one activity while we were there, which turned out to be the highlight of their trips. Our 6-year-old stood through an entire Shakespeare play at the Globe with his dad and is now a fan for life!

    • Kate says...

      Amazing that he enjoyed the Globe at six years old! It’s such a wonderful place x

  33. CindyLou says...

    So many commenters echo our own travel style. Get to know the neighborhood, find a favorite place for daily coffee, a small shop for picnic provisions, focus on one museum per day, walk, walk, and walk — or use public transportation. Also, lunch is our big meal of the day (less expensive than dinner out), then we take time to rest back at hotel, have a cuppa, then go back out in the evening for a glass of wine and appetizer plus evening event. It’s like getting two days in one when you take time to pause mid-day. This has worked for us for 25 years.

  34. Allison says...

    We like to travel in a style a friend termed “planned spontaneity”. You have a list of a few things you want to do/see but no set schedule. So each day, you just pick one that suits your mood or the weather and then have lots of time around the edges to see/do/eat things that catch your fancy around the main activity. It prevents us from being totally aimless but also leaves us feeling unscheduled. I find it works well with kids too as it gives the day some structure but we also spend a lot of time visiting cafes, parks, and playgrounds we happen to pass.

    With small kids, we now prefer to stay in apartments. I love having access to laundry and it makes eating some meals “at home” much easier and usually it isn’t any more expensive than a hotel.

  35. Sasha says...

    Two fun travel rituals for our family, 1. DONUTS. We only get them on vacation, and then we search out the very best ones and dive in. Such a treat. And 2., we pick one meal a day to eat out at a restaurant and the other two we grocery shop and eat on the cheap. Saves a lot of moolah and makes that one meal a little more special. And we take turns picking the place and meal.

  36. I loved your tips ! They are really helpful. Thanks for sharing x

    themisslubna.com

  37. Jessica says...

    Maybe a follow up post on traveling well with your partner/spouse. My husband and I always fight on vacation and I’ve met so many couples who have the same problem. Something to do with different styles/pressure/expectations but I’d love to hear what people say.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      that’s a great idea, jessica. thank you!

    • Julie says...

      My husband and I always have at least one “vacation fight.” More like an argument, but we definitely get on each other’s nerves. Would love to see a post about this!

    • diana says...

      yes, or just your own expectations! a trip comes to mind to the beloved Ace hotel in Palm Springs where we got there, unpacked, and I burst into tears for no reason. I had been pinning SO MUCH on this vacation being perfect I just couldn’t deal.

    • Casey says...

      Not entirely the same but my girlfriend and I always fight on the holidays. We travel well together, vacations are always amazing, but we’re never on the same page for holidays.

    • Lily says...

      Maybe doing something like Joanna has mentioned before: going off on your own to explore something the other is not interested in for an hour or two might help. My husband of 10yrs and I went on a 6 week road trip together 1 month after being married. I feel like we got all of our traveling differences out on that trip. We were both 25 and maybe found (grew into) our traveling style together. Our friends always wonder how we can spend so much time together without getting annoyed. Haha

    • Stella says...

      My husband loves to sleep. It drives me nuts on vacation. i did not spend all this money on coming to a different place for you to nap!! I have to remind myself that stillness is a part of the vacation too and that it is okay to have downtime in a different place.

    • Mara says...

      We recently discovered that traveling with another family really decreased our bickering. Not only did our kids have someone else to entertain them, but we are far less likely to argue with other people present. It also made watching the kids easier – my husband and I could take turns and still have someone to talk to (the moms would watch the kids for a while, then the dads). We will definitely do it again :)

    • My boyfriend and I have been travelling together for 14 months straight and I’m so pleased we have only had two fights over that time. I think we just try to be respectful of each other even when we are jet lagged or tired and we don’t do everything together. He’s been on many nights out when I’ve stayed in bed! These past 4 days he did a diving course and I explored various beaches on Crete. If you force yourself to do something you’re really not into it will ruin it for both of you.

  38. Caz says...

    For me it’s important to have a balance between planned and unplanned time. It’s great to be organized in advance, but I also love finding out recommendations from other travellers or hotel staff along the way and then having the flexibility in my schedule to do something that I hadn’t known about earlier.

    My other go-to, especially if travelling on a budget in more expensive places such as Europe, is to buy breakfast and lunch from the supermarket and eat it on a park bench somewhere (pack a plastic cutlery set). Checking out different supermarkets is interesting, and that way you can then have a nice restaurant dinner without any budget guilt.

  39. Take a walk around your hotels neighborhood when you first arrive! It helps you get acquainted with your part of the city and get your bearings in case you get lost later in the evening after a few drinks :)

  40. When I was in Paris recently I would pick a point several miles away and either wander there and metro back or metro there and wander back. It gave me the opportunity to see lots of interesting things without getting too exhausted.

    I also love having an international data plan, because sometimes I’ll just look at the map on my phone and see what places pop up that seem interesting to try out that I wouldn’t have found otherwise.

    • We do the same thing when we travel, Emily! Your comment made me laugh because the first time I visited Paris I was planning on taking the metro down to the Champs-Elysees but I kept seeing sights along the way that looked interesting. Three miles later I ended up at the Champs-Elysees and never stepped on the metro!

  41. Be open-minded and doing things that I don’t normally do! Often going out of my comfort zone is quite uncomfortable but once I completed the ‘task’ I would feel a sense of pride for sure!

  42. I totally agree with Pilar about the soccer ball but we substituted that for a cricket set (Aussie here!). Over our Christmas holidays, we did an awesome road trip around our beautiful Tasmania and picked up a cricket set as soon as we got there (an impulse husband buy!). Our kids, and us, made so many new friends by setting it up in the late afternoon – people were coming from all directions to share in our game. One of the fondest memories was of our 2 girls introducing the game to 2 French girls, the only common language was the language of sport! They played for hours! Mel x

  43. Sasha says...

    My friend just did a progressive dinner in our town for their anniversary and it looked like so much fun. Sometimes dinner gets over too quickly, and then what? Hopping all around takes all night :)

    I love two beds. So much so we have two beds in one room at home. Closeness and no losing covers. Win win. Plus there’s room for the dogs. Only took us 24 years to figure it out.

    Thanks for all of these fun tips, I want to plan a vacation now!

  44. Melinda says...

    My favourite ritual is to splurge on an amazing hotel for the last two nights of the trip. By the end of a vacation I can be a little travel-weary, so it feels amazing to stay in, lounge around in your bathrobe, order room service and get a massage before heading back to the airport. Most recently I stayed at a luxury Rajasthani fort in India and a classy Tokyo design hotel. No regrets!

    • I did that accidentally in Paris last month! My Airbnb just wasn’t working for me so I booked a hotel last minute on Hotel Tonight and it was so nice to be somewhere that took care of transportation to the airport for me!

    • Jessica says...

      YES!! We like to travel rough and take local transportation, aribnb, supermarkets for breakfast and dinner, lots of time on foot, etc. BUT we started spending the last night or two at a fancy hotel and….game changer!

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      what a great way to do it! alex and i went on a trip to tulum when we were dating, and stayed in a sweet budget hotel in the town, and the last two night we stayed in a fancier place on the beach. it was really fun to have a taste of both!

  45. Lauren E. says...

    These are fantastic ideas! I used to think I was boring by visiting the same coffee shop every day on vacation but now I’m glad to hear someone agrees with me. The best trips I’ve ever had were when I stayed in an off-the-beaten-path neighborhood.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      on our honeymoon, we went to the same restaurant in greece four nights in a row and by the end we had inside jokes with the waiters. we loved it and felt like locals!

  46. I am all about packing a uniform. I try to only bring 1 pair of shoes, 2 at the most for all vacations under 1 week. My first trip with my fiancé was on a long weekend to New York – he picked me up and I was carrying my small carry on Tumi and a handbag. He was so impressed that I packed only a carryon he looked at me and said “Oh, this is going to work out forever” lol, we’re the perfect travelers together! We try to make a point of finding the best and most unique flavors of ice cream wherever we go! It’s such a fun little adventure which has stretched from San Francisco to Spain!

    xoxo http://www.touchofcurl.com

  47. Judy says...

    I try and do a silent retreat at the beginning of each new year. You can find them in lots of places, but I go to a Catholic monastery (I’m not Catholic) and you can participate in some of the services if you want to or meet with a spiritual director. It’s a great way to come off the hectic holidays, rest and regroup for a new year.

    I also pack my dirty clothes in my suitcase in a plastic bag (usually the dry cleaning bag hotels offer) so I can just dump it in the washer when I get home. And internationally, I only pack black and white clothes with colorful scarves or sassy jewelry–saves the hassle of planning outfits. I also always keep all my chargers in my carry on! And for some reason, gummy bears are my go to snack on long flights. I love all these ideas :-) Great post, Jo.

  48. Jenna says...

    1) Packing Cubes. 1 for ALL YOUR CLOTHES, 1 for DIRTY CLOTHES, 1 for TOILETRIES. All that is left is shoes. It makes packing/unpacking a breeze when on trips where you are constantly on the move, and it feels so NICE to be away from clutter and an excess of stuff.

    2) My boyfriend and I journal independently at the end of each day about our day, our favorite thing, and our least favorite thing. When we get home and are having the post-travel blues, we sit down together and read through our entries. It’s always fun to see how differently or similarly we experienced the same vacation.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      what a cool idea, jenna!

  49. Heather says...

    I love the idea of progressive dinners and might suggest it next time my husband and I can’t agree on a place in town!

    When I travel I always try to pop into a grocery store. It’s so fun to see different foods for sale and I love the exotic labels on things. I usually pick up a few items for food obsessed friends or myself.

  50. Paige says...

    The uniform idea seems like it would save angst over what to wear in a foreign country and different culture. I have found that no matter what I pack and wear I still look like a tourist, even if only vaguely. Instead of overthinking the issue I can see where it would give freedom to just be and take in the experience but still feel presentable.

  51. Oh – and I do progressive meals all the time! It’s a great date night with my husband. Cocktails and an app and one place, then dinner at another.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      that sounds really fun! i never think to do that. did you see that curb your enthusiasm about how larry couldn’t understand why cheryl wanted to get dessert elsewhere, when they had dessert available right there? :)

    • Lily says...

      Joanna, yes! My husband and I quote that episode all the time (even though we also love progressive dinners) “I don’t understand, why would we go somewhere else?, we’re already here!” Hahaha

  52. Instead of a soccer ball, you could bring a hackey sack. I know it’s so random, but when I went to Europe for the first time as a teen with a bunch of classmates someone brought a hackey sack and people would kick it and toss it around as we waited for our large group to assemble.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      i love that! and much easier to fit into a bag :)

    • Casey says...

      Frisbee is my go-to!!

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      Love that idea!!

  53. I try to take a break from my phone as much as possible. When I was living in Madrid and didn’t have a smart phone, I would write down notes and directions into my Moleskine notebook. I would draw maps and use them to get around the city. I started doing that when I traveled too. Instead of staring at a map and looking like a tourist, I walk around with my Moleskine.

    When I was in Istanbul, I was trying to find the ferry, so I drew a picture of a boat and approached a newspaper vendor. I pointed to the boat and he pointed me in the right direction!

    • Julia says...

      I also used to Write everything concerning my trips into my Moleskin Books. I now enjoy leafing through them finding random thoughts, addresses of travel acquaintances, or even receipees that remind me of those intense trips.

  54. Cynthia says...

    I have traveled quite a bit domestically and abroad. These are some of the best tips I’ve ever come across! My son traveled once into Morocco while studying abroad in Spain. He carried a soccer ball and made friends everywhere he went despite the language barrier.

  55. Stephanie says...

    I know a few people who have done silent retreats! They all loved it and recommended it. I heard it’s awkward and difficult at first, but then you stop caring and embrace it. And if you’re meditating, you’re technically not even supposed to think, which is hard for me. I think the silent part wouldn’t be difficult, but shutting down my brain would. I’m resolved to try it, though.

    • Olivia says...

      The play is EXCELLENT. Hilarious and heartbreaking.

  56. Hannah says...

    My favorite way to “schedule” is to just plan one big sight-seeing item a day, or at least a few that are roughly in the same area. That way, there’s time to explore your surroundings and try the coffee shop that caught your eye or enjoy a local market. If it’s not an interesting area, you can move on to another day’s activity, no harm done. My best travel memories have come from taking the time to just “be” in a place, not try and fit in the next museum.

  57. Liz says...

    It just recently occurred to me that I can haunt thrift stores in every town visited, not necessarily to buy things but to see what bizarre and random things are on offer. Sometimes there are amazing beautiful things as well. Also, to visit food stores in foreign countries to see how differently folks live their day to day lives.

    • Paige says...

      I love this idea!

    • Hannah says...

      I always stop at the local grocery stores to get snacks or breakfast things, it’s so fun!

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      yes to the grocery stores! i loved all the different flavors of potato chips in cornwall — roast beef, prawn cocktail, oven roasted chicken with lemon and thyme! :)

    • Charli says...

      I love potato chips around the world. If I traveled more I’d start an instagram of that. I’ve had chips in England, France, India, and from Greece – it was all I asked my husband to bring back for me when he went on business. I love going into local grocery stores in other countries. I could browse forever!

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      Hahahaha yes!

    • Kim says...

      My husband and I went to an antique store in Salem Mass while we were passing through town and found some of the most incredible and unique things!

      We ended up buying a really old secretary desk for $160 — a complete steal compared to what that would cost in “new America” Ohio. It lives in our foyer and every time I see it in think of that treasure trove in Salem!

  58. Amy says...

    I love the story about the baskets and I’d love to see photos of Brooke’s all-navy-blue outfits!

  59. Our best vacations were the ones where we left large chunks of time with nothing planned. So we could just walk or sit or be there without rushing and looking and being exhausted.
    I see no point in having an extra bed in the room.
    I slept with my husband at home, why would I not want to when traveling ?

  60. Andrea says...

    Only stay one step ahead. We read books and blogs and articles and ask friends and family about a place we are traveling so we have good ideas, but we don’t plan more than we have to. That means we’ll have the flights to and from a place planned and a place to stay for at least the first night or two, but then no set plans. We decide what we want to do next and then do it. Most of the stuff (big and small) actually falls into place this way. We like serendipity as a travel plan since it allows us to do things like read about Bingo night on a local bulletin board and attend.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      oh fun, thank you!

    • Lily says...

      Sarah, that was great and when they mentioned the Olentangy River I was shocked. It’s a stone’s throw away from my house :)

    • I went to Ohio State and lived literally on the banks of the olentangy river. We called it the “old and dingy.” Haha! Thanks for sharing the podcast!

  61. Tyler says...

    My tactic is to plan really well – to read a lot about the place before I go, sketch out the first several days, and enjoy seeing all the things I read about and pictured in my mind (my husband likes this too, because he gets to be a passive tourist and ask me questions). I really like to know ahead of time how the trains run, whether or not to tip, which museum pass to buy, etc. I hate wasting time trying to figure that stuff out when I’m in the moment. However, the last day is always reserved for nothing – and it is always the most fun days of the trip! We spend the last of our foreign currency and get tipsy and just wander.

    • Samantha says...

      I can totally imagine my boyfriend and I while reading about you and your husband lol. I’m the control-freak/planner one, and he’s fine with just asking how much is it.

  62. What great trips! I’ve got serious wanderlust! I want to do a progressive dinner. I would hate to not share a bed with my husband though. We’re good co-sleepers.

  63. These are great! But, I must say, I don’t really get the request two beds thing. Why would you request two beds on vacation if you share a bed at home? Maybe I’m just confused because we have a queen sized bed, so the king sized hotel beds always seem huge to me.

    • Justine says...

      I am always really happy when we get “stuck” with a double bed on vacation because we cuddle much more than in our queen bed at home. In fact, my hubby and I are considering switching to a double bed at home too.