In my other blog I talked about some helpful tips when preparing for a trip and knowing what to expect.  I believe planning can create a terrific experience – it can also create the biggest nightmare and lead to disappointment.  Hopefully, the following thoughts and tips will help you think through your plan – and I use that word loosely as most unplanned things can become the best things ever!

Think Before You Book

What do you like to do?

It is not about what you “should” do or what you friends did when they were there, or what’s “important” – all that matters is what YOU like and want to do.

Confession:  I’ve been to Florence more times than I can remember.  I have never see The David.  I’ve never even put a foot in the Ufizi. There is a replica in the Piazza della Signoria.  I had lunch with a little too much wine and chatted with a bunch of futbol players who were on holiday.  Worked for me!  And when I travel – it’s about ME!

I appreciate museums and have visited The Egyptian Museum in Cairo, The V&A and National Portrait Gallery in London, Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam – you get the point.  But, I don’t feel compelled to see every museum.  It’s not always my thing.

What’s your thing?

Cooking?  Take a local cooking class.  Book cool restaurants all day.  Horseback riding?  Ask the concierge?  History?  Book a local guide.  Wine?  Well, drink!!!!!

My Strategy

When I am traveling, I always follow the Golden Rule that “less is more”.  I’ve picked a particular place to go see for some reason or another – biking/hiking, it’s beautiful, wine tasting, good club scene or just to experience it.  Focus on the main point of why you are going.

Research.  Don’t show up knowing nothing.  Spend some time getting a little background on what you are interested in.  Don’t travel thousands of miles to find out that a site you have been dying to see is closed for renovations.  There are so many sources there is no excuse not to have current information.

Make a list of what you would like to do – include everything from sleeping in to hiking for two hours everyday, dancing ’til dawn and sleeping in, seeing the sunset over the Coliseum, the Top 10 sites of the city, eat at a Michelin Start restaurant, sit in a cafe and get drunk with your best friend and flirt with local boys/girls.  Put it on a list and prioritize it.  If you get through 60 – 70% of the list that’s a huge success!  Unless you have unlimited time there’s probably something that won’t work out.  Get over it before you have to deal with it.  If you manage everything on your list consider it a bonus.

Break things down by sections of the city or area.  Research times that the things you want to do are open/available.  You don’t run from one end of town to the other to do your personal errands – don’t do it on vacation either!

I usually start my day a little early (usually by 9am) and get my number one thing for the day done first when I am fresh and before the crowds on buses arrive.  Ugh!  My biggest nightmare.  I’d rather get someplace early and be the first person in than get bumped around by hordes of people.

Tours can be great and I urge people to seek them out – just do your research!  If there is something I really want to see or learn about I spend a little money and arrange a  private or semi-private tour.   As I am spending so much money to travel I don’t always want to be on someone else’s schedule.  I also tend to ask a lot of questions so the guide is always busy with me!!!

If you are trying to save money search for a guide on the internet and use your “friends network” to get recommendations.  I saved a ton of money by reaching out to friends who turned me onto friends who turned me on to their friends, who then  turned me on to three different guides.  I don’t even know the people whose recommendation I finally went with for the tour but I got a great price and a terrific guide!

As I said, I usually run around all morning and then find a cute place for lunch (around 1pm or 1:30pm) and I hang out for two hours and enjoy the meal (and some wine).  Relax!!!  You are on vacation.  Sitting still is part of the fun.

Then in the afternoon (3pm – 5pm) I wander a neighborhood looking at the shops, visit a beautiful fountain, have a cappuccino or gelato, stroll through a garden or a museum  – in general I soak up the culture.

Around 5pm, I head back to the hotel and take a nap.  Yes, a nap.  Everyday.  It’s the key to a successful trip and should not be dissed.  As I said before, in other countries most people do not go out for dinner until at least 8pm!  Enjoy a nice snooze, soak your feet, take a fresh shower and then stroll out for the evening rested and content.

Patience is the second key.  That’s why I say “less is more”.  Invariably something will not go right or you will just be too tired to do another thing.  Don’t push it.

On night while in a small village in Tuscany, I was just to tired and worn out to go out.  I stayed in and read a book in the sitting room sipping a lovely Brunello de Montelcino.  That night I received an impromptu concert by a world famous violinist who was also staying at this 15th century Palazzo and was friends of the owners.  Unique travel experiences often come from the unexpected.

Bottom Line

You can design your vacation around anything you like to do – match up scuba diving with cooking classes, go bike riding from vineyard to vineyard, volunteer to work on an archeolgical dig, see historical sights and learn about the history and cultre, check out the local music scene, stroll the beaches – whatever floats your boat!

One last note:  If you are traveling outside the country keep in mind you are traveling there because you want to experience the culture.  Don’t expect or require that things will be the same as you know them at home.  Be sure to respect and appreciate what is different in the country you are visiting.  I mean, why else would you spend all the time and money to go someplace different and not enjoy the experience.

Be patient, take time to soak it all in and be an ambassador for your own country.  Most of all enjoy!

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