Vacations are supposed to be fun, relaxing and free of stress but that’s not alway easy to achieve. Our travel tips will help you plan and prepare like a pro, setting you up for an amazing, successful stress-free vacation.
Vacations can be a lot of fun and really refreshing, but they can also be a lot of work can’t they? We don’t necessarily go on vacation any more often than anyone else, but we do end up traveling quite a bit all over the place for Kennedy’s soccer, and those trips often seem to turn in to mini vacations anyway. We have a system in our house for dealing with all of the tasks that come along with traveling where Chris does all of the planning, booking, and scheduling beforehand and I do all of the packing and making sure we have all the “stuff” that we’ll need for where we’re going and what we’re doing. Chris and I just got back from a little vacation to Jamaica (a real vacation this time! 🙂 ) so I thought now might be a good time to share some of our travel tips and ideas for making travel as enjoyable and easy peasy as possible, while everything’s really fresh in my mind!
I haven’t always been the best traveler. Not that I get nervous on planes or in strange places, but my love of a good routine and of keeping things organized and well-planned in general used to really make me feel uneasy when things started to get unpredictable and a little off-schedule. A lot of people call this “fun and interesting” but to me it just seemed chaotic and out of control. Luckily, my love of organization is just the thing that helped me learn to set myself up for success and give myself a sense of stability and calm during our trips. So now I’ve been able to turn what used to feel like chaos into just another chance for a new adventure! 🙂
So let’s get to some of those tips!
I asked Chris to give me some of his trip-planning tips while we were sitting down to one of our super fancy dinners at the resort in Jamaica (with a glass of wine, of course) and he had lots to say! Here were some of his top tips:
Of course, set a budget for yourself to work within whether you’re planning a short little trip for a soccer tournament, or a big week-long vacation. Look at all of your options for accommodations for the area you want to be in from the top price range all the way down to the bottom and then figure out where you fit in. Chris says that the travel websites are good for getting a general idea, but you’re actually better off using google maps to see exactly where everything is and then going directly to the hotels’ websites from there to get more of a realistic idea of pricing. Chris has the apps for all of the hotels that we stay at regularly (Hyatt, Hilton, Mariott, etc.) on his phone and he says that makes it a lot quicker and easier to check prices for different days. Also, be aware of dynamic pricing and the fact that hotel pricing almost always changes a lot from day to day for the same room. So keep an eye on things. While we’re talking about budget, make sure you leave room in yours for tips. We ended up spending a few hundred dollars in tips for our trip between bartenders, waiters, and concierges, so we were glad we’d factored that in and planned for it before we left. It’s great to be able to reward people for their hard work and hospitality without having to worry too much about it! We had plenty of opportunities for tipping on our trip, that’s for sure. 🙂
As far as the timing of our trips go, Chris usually puts more thought into the way things will come together at the end of our trips, rather than worrying about how they’re going to start. Of course you want to start your trip on a good note, but that’s usually a little easier because you’ve had time to prepare yourself, you’ve got everything you need packed away nicely and you know just where it all is. And then of course there’s the excitement of a new adventure that makes it a little easier to carry yourself through a super early morning or a bit of a wait for a flight. You definitely don’t want to have a difficult, uncomfortable or inconvenient end to your trip though, when you’re tired and you just want to get home and get things back in order. So that’s why we put a little more time into the planning of the end of our trips. It’s a good idea to plan to stay an extra night so you can avoid a long trip home at the end of long day, or to take an extra day off of work to make sure that the transition back in to “real life” is as smooth as possible and you maintain all of the benefits from the fun and relaxation from your trip! 🙂
Other super important things to plan for are things that you need to make sure you can go through your days comfortably to avoid becoming a cranky-pants on your trip. Things like wifi access for keeping up with news or working, knowing where you can grab food easily, where you can get coffee and tea throughout the day if you know you’ll be needing that, and where you can find plenty of water to keep yourself hydrated. I was nervous about the water situation a little bit when we went to Jamaica because I wasn’t sure if it would be easy to grab bottled water around the resort, but luckily there was so much bottled water everywhere and they restocked the mini bar in our room with a lot too. That made a big difference to me and really helped me feel at home!
My feeling about packing is that you can never be too organized. I guess it’s because I’m a mom, but I like to have everything that anyone in our family could possibly need, but I don’t want it all just stuffed in anywhere that I can find space. I need to actually be able to find the stuff. 🙂 I definitely appreciate packing light, but I appreciate it when I have exactly what I need even more! Especially those moments where no one else thought to bring that particular item and I get to save the day. Small victories! I have to say though, that my way of packing probably does look like “light packing” to a lot of people. For a typical week long trip, Chris and I usually share one big suitcase and then have one backpack each. The kids each have a small suitcase of their own and usually a back pack or a little bag that can hold snacks and devices.
As far as what particular items to bring on a trip, I’ve figured out a pretty fool-proof system that has proven itself to work perfectly over and over again. First, I made myself a basic list of everything that I would or could need on a usual trip. Things like shirts, pants, shorts, pajamas, passport, extra cash, hairbrush. All the basics and all that stuff that I want to make sure to remember. I use this exact same list every single time I pack (I have one for each family member on a little index card), and then if I think of something that would be useful that’s not on the list yet, I add it! And it’s there forever. So I’m not re-remembering every time I pack us up. So I basically can never miss an item again because I have the wisdom of the last 2 years worth of packing right there on that card! The other thing I do is go online and google packing lists for wherever we’ll be going to see if there are any specific unusual items that aren’t on my regular packing list. I just look up “What to pack for Washington DC” or wherever we’re going that time and I usually find at least one thing that I wasn’t thinking of that ends up being helpful.
I’ve picked up a few new packing items over the last year or so that have made such a difference in how organized I’m able to be with my packing. In the end, that just makes me so much happier and less stressed on our trips. These travel organizers were a huge game changer for me. They come in packs of three to five and I definitely recommend getting a set with a few different sizes. So you basically end up with all these little compartments that you can organize all of your stuff into. I can fit all my clothing for a week long trip including extra jackets in just three organizers and they make everything so much easier to find. They help keep everything really compact so you can fit more in your suitcase without any struggle too! I’m planning on picking up another set before summertime so Kennedy can have them for all of her stuff for soccer tournament packing.
I’ve read so many rave reviews about this toiletry organizer over the years so I had to pick one up and try it out for myself last year. I’ve often just used clear plastic totes for all of our bathroom stuff in the past, but they aren’t the most convenient for packing or for carrying around. I have the largest size toiletry kit and it fits absolutely everything for our whole family. I love that it just unzips and I can hang it up on the back of the bathroom door wherever we are and feel right at home. It has so many little compartments that it makes it easy to find anything I might need and it keeps it from turning into a huge jumbled mess. I always pack things like extra medicines, different hand lotions, air freshener, q-tips, bandaids, hair products, and all of that stuff that isn’t really “essential” but that makes life a little easier and it all fits in there really easily. I have to admit that I’ve liked it so much that I’m thinking about getting the smaller personal size version because I think it would be great for things like watches, sunglasses, belts, and other small items like that. I also think it would be much better for airplane travel. I have this big makeup bag that I used for this trip that I managed to cram everything into, but I still think having more than one organizer would probably have helped me stay more, well… organized! 🙂
Our most recent travel item purchase was a new suitcase and I’m just completely in love with the one we found. Our old suitcase was about 10 years old and was getting pretty ratty-looking so it was time. We bought this Samsonite hardside suitcase (almost exactly like this set here) and if you’re in the market for some new luggage, I would definitely recommend this style. I love that the large suitcase is super lightweight and so easy to push around. There really have been some pretty great improvements in luggage technology in the last 10 years! This suitcase also opens up so it has two equal halves rather than one big compartment and then a lid. Since Chris and I usually share one big suitcase, this is an awesome feature for us because now we each just use one side! I pack a lot more than him of course, but I have my organizers, so everything still fits really easily. 🙂
The concierge girls on our level discovered that we were there to celebrate our 10th anniversary so they snuck into our room and did that whole set up you see in the background there one day while we were at the pool. We told them that our anniversary was actually way back in August, but they went ahead and did it anyway! 🙂
Other Helpful Things to Bring
I lost two pairs of sunglasses on our trip! The first pair was my nice “fancy” pair of sunglasses that I left on the table in our first hotel room at the airport because I thought I might like to have them out in the morning and I didn’t want them to get crushed. Oops! The second pair sank to the bottom of the ocean when I was kayaking and got tipped over by a big wave! After losing the first pair, I was really happy to have packed the backup pair, but in retrospect, 2 extra pairs would have been better! I ended up having to buy a pair at the resort and they were a bit blingy-er than I would normally go for! They did the trick though! 🙂
I love to use my kindle app on my phone for reading whether I’m at home or out and about. I always have my phone on me and I love that with the kindle app, I always have a whole library of books right in my hand too. The only problem with reading books this way on vacation, is that sometimes you want to be able to set your book down and take a swim, or play some beach volleyball or something but you don’t necessarily want to just leave your precious phone sitting there where anyone could swipe it. Our resort also had wifi everywhere, inside and out, so it’s easy to read your favorite blogs or browse social media while you’re sitting on the beach. Chris and I had a pretty smart idea for how to deal with this and unfortunately it was while we were already there, but we’ll definitely be implementing it the next time we travel anywhere. Instead of bringing your phone down to the beach or the pool, bring an old device with you, like your old phone or an old ipod that you don’t use anymore and just use it as a mini tablet. Although these devices are obviously still useful and valuable, it’s not quite as big of a deal if you lose one compared to your everyday phone that has your whole life on it. We sometimes like to go to those big indoor water parks with the kids, so we think this would be a perfect solution for that too. So don’t throw away those old phones!
This is one that we forgot about when we bought our new luggage and we realized it as soon as we got to the airport. Luggage manufacturers are getting so good at making luggage in all kinds of beautiful (and easily identifiable) colors and patterns, but most people still end up with something simple in black or grey, like we did. When you’re trying to figure out which black suitcase out of the 100 black suitcases is yours, you’ll be happy for a bright pop of color that will help you pick yours out quickly!
So those are some of our favorite travel tips, off the top of my head, that have really helped me learn to be a lot of more at-ease when we travel and, in the end, to really enjoy our trips a lot more!
These photos in this post are all from the Hyatt Ziva Rose Hall where we stayed and Jamaica and we just can’t recommend it enough! This isn’t a sponsored post by the way, I just know people always like to hear about others’ experiences when they’re trying to book their vacations. I thought I’d share a glimpse at our trip just in case anyone might find it helpful! We stayed on the club level, which had its own private lounge area with probably the most genuinely nice concierges you’ll ever meet. They helped us with everything and made the lounge our favorite quiet spot to catch up on a little work or just stop in for a coffee and to say hi. 🙂
Definitely look into this resort if you’re planning on staying in Jamaica!
Do you have any favorite little travel tips that I didn’t cover here?
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Courtenay Hartford is the author of creeklinehouse.com, a blog based on her adventures renovating a 120-year-old farmhouse in rural Ontario, Canada. On her blog, Courtenay shares interior design tips based on her own farmhouse and her work as founder and stylist of the interior photography firm Art & Spaces. She also writes about her farmhouse garden, plant-based recipes, family travel, and homekeeping best practices. Courtenay is the author of the book The Cleaning Ninja and has been featured in numerous magazines including Country Sampler Farmhouse Style, Better Homes and Gardens, Parents Magazine, Real Simple, and Our Homes.