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“On the road again,
I just can’t wait to get on the road again!”
Trip planning always includes music about traveling. And while country music singer Willie Nelson might have won a Grammy Award for On the Road Again, when I think of the song, it’s always my dad who’s singing.
I was extremely blessed to have had a father with strong family values and a love for adventure and travel. (I’m pretty sure my mom did most of the trip planning.) In their retirement years, my mom and dad crisscrossed the country in a class-A motorhome. I can still close my eyes and see my dad at the wheel of his big rig singing ‘On the road again’ at the top of his lungs. To be honest, I’m not sure if it’s a real memory or one I’ve made up, but anyone who knew my dad will tell you they can see it too!
There’s no question, I am my father’s daughter, and I’ve been known to belt out Willie Nelson’s famous travel tune as our family headed out on vacation. But I am also an organizer, planner, and bargain finder extraordinaire!
As a writer, I always have a notebook handy, and I am a list maker. Over the years, I’ve made numerous trip-planning and vacation packing lists. In this post, I’m going to share just a few tips to help you get started planning your next trip.
1. Plan in Advance
Because we’re Rehearsing RetirementTM, Greg still has to get our trips on his calendar at work. We’re lucky that the paid time off policy at his company is very flexible. That said, we have family and friends who have to schedule their time off for the entire year in December and January. If you’re in a similar situation, trip planning as far in advance as possible is imperative.
- Putting tentative dates on the calendar ahead of time allows you to recognize and reschedule conflicts before they become a problem.
- The further out you plan your trip, the better your chances of finding a good deal. (But I always keep my eye out for great last minute bargains as well!)
- Setting up price tracking on Google Flights is easy and it allows you to purchase airline tickets when the prices are the lowest.
2. Shop Around
I mentioned that I’m a bargain finder extraordinaire, and this is one of the main reasons that Greg and I are able to travel as much as we do. While this tip is second on my list, looking for good deals is often my first task when trip planning. In fact, one of the main reasons we booked our upcoming Alaskan cruise was the very affordable price.
Looking for bargains takes time, but it is so worth it when your travel dollars go further – allowing you to go further too! Subscribing to email lists is one of the easiest ways to find good prices. I’ve signed up for several including hotels, airlines, cruise lines, reward programs and travel discount sites. These all go into a Travel file in my email inbox which I check regularly.
A couple more ways we’ve saved money on our trips are:
- Using the Groupon website to find discounts for activities and attractions, museums, and restaurants
- Combining vacation with work in order to write off a portion of the cost
- Staying with friends or relatives
- Reducing airline costs by just taking carry-on luggage
3. Decide What Makes the Most Sense
After we’ve decided when and where we’re going, the next trip planning question is often: will we fly, drive or take the train? Our answer usually depends on how many people are traveling, how far we’re going, and how much time we’ll have. If you have two or more people and lots of time, it might make more sense to drive than to fly.
Advantages of driving include:
- Ability to visit friends, relatives and tourist attractions along the way
- Freedom to adjust if you decide to change plans
- Easier to bring camping gear or sporting equipment
But, and this one is important, if you’re traveling to a city, you will probably have to pay for parking. Adding $25 a day (or more) to the cost of driving will quickly increase the price of your trip. Don’t assume that hotels provide free parking unless you’re staying in the suburbs or near the airport. Even then, check the hotel website.
Advantages of flying:
- The further you’re going, the quicker you’ll get there
- It’s often less expensive when only one or two are traveling
- Airline miles can add up to free trips
But flying isn’t always the best deal. While I’ve flown through both O’Hare and Midway on my way to or from somewhere else, I’ve never just flown to Chicago. From where we live in West Michigan, driving saves both time and money. I have also taken the train to Chicago. While it doesn’t save time – it generally takes longer than driving – I can work, read, or sleep on the train, and it can be significantly less expensive than driving. A round-trip ticket on Amtrak generally costs about the same as gas for short trips. Unfortunately, when Greg and I have looked at taking the train for longer trips, the cost has outweighed the benefits. We are, however, hoping to do a cross-country train trip in our retirement years when time isn’t an important issue.
4. Plan to Enjoy!
You probably think this is a given, but there are lots of people who travel for work and never take their spouse along or check out their destination. It doesn’t matter whether you’re trip planning a work trip, an adult child’s move, or a grand adventure, set aside time to enjoy yourself!
Even when our trips have to do with work, Greg and I always try to plan for fun. Sometimes it’s an interesting restaurant (or 2) in the midst of a busy week – Check out Oak City Meatball Shoppe and the Calavera Empanada & Tequila Bar if you’re ever in Raleigh, North Carolina. We were introduced to them last spring while moving our youngest daughter – unique and delicious!
Other times, we schedule fun while we’re working. For instance, last fall when moving our nephew to Missouri, we also took in a St. Louis Cardinals baseball game at Busch Stadium and visited a local winery. And in February, we spent a week babysitting Boy Wonder in Texas – check out my Destination Dallas post. As much fun as that was, we were exhausted when we got home, which leads me to my next point.
5. Insert Margins
Take time to enjoy some R&R! Rest, relax, and read a good book. Or, if reading doesn’t ring your bell, do something relaxing that will.
Finally, I think we’ve all come home from a vacation completely exhausted and dreading the first few days back. There’s no food in the house, work has piled up while we’ve been gone, the laundry needs to be done, and all you want to do is take a nap (or go on a quiet vacation!)
The simple solution to this all-too-common problem is to insert margins during the trip-planning process. While it’s not generally possible to take a full day off before leaving on vacation, you can block time in the evenings or on the weekend before you leave to run last-minute errands, do laundry and pack.
If possible, plan to take a full day off work after you’ve returned home especially if you’re expecting to have jetlag. In reality, your employer only needs to know when you’re returning to work not when you’re getting home. By giving yourself a day to catch up when you get home, you’ll return to work well rested rather than exhausted, and you’ll be much more productive which your employer will appreciate.
Now, it’s your turn!
What is your favorite R&R destination?
And what are your best trip-planning tips? I’m planning to write more on this topic – maybe I’ll include your tips!
Leave a comment below, and let’s get this conversation started!