Travel Expert: Planning the Right Trip for You

Planning the Right Trip for You

By Nancy DePalma of

Remember when the airlines sent actual printed tickets prior to your departure? It’s likely that once or twice you even slightly panicked as you rummaged through your purse or carry-on. Were they still sitting on the kitchen counter or are they buried somewhere in that bag of tricks? Travel has changed significantly (Thank God for e-tickets), but there are still so many details that we need to keep track of while away from home. Anyone who has seen the movie “Up in the Air” knows that business travelers are experts at navigating the lines and working the system, but even if you travel once a year, rather than once a week, you can still travel like a pro and keep it all together.

It’s All in the Planning

Business travelers don’t have much wiggle room since they have to be where the conference or meeting is, but if you’re planning a vacation, you have carte blanche.
Think about what you really want to do before you decide on a location. Are you traveling alone and want some much-needed downtime or are you traveling en famille and looking for something to keep the kids busy? Are you a culture vulture or a foodie seeking the latest art shows or hottest restaurants? Know what you want to get out of the vacation and then pick a spot based on your travel personality. People can easily get caught up in the buzz surrounding a place. How many times have you heard, “you have to go to Hawaii, Las Vegas, Bora Bora?”

I’m not saying it’s always easy and I’m certainly not immune to the travel peer pressure either. Despite my gut feeling that I wouldn’t like it, I recently tagged along with my husband to Las Vegas. I’d never been, was slightly swayed by the pr touting that it was a hot spot, and felt pressure to check it off my list since everyone raved about it. Did I mention that I hate gambling? Is it just me, or does anyone else feel stressed out by all that dizzying math?! I am also far from a night owl – 11pm is a late night for me. I’m also not much of a razzle dazzle theater-goer, but I was lured by the promise of great restaurants and shopping.

The result? I should have listened to my gut in the first place. The casinos depressed me – all that money just being pumped into machines – think of the shoes you could buy with that! The restaurants are great, but expensive, and the shopping is wonderful if Harry Winston is the kind of place where you normally shop. Ugh. The moral of the story is, don’t let peer pressure affect your choices. If your idea of a perfect trip is visiting all of the Civil War Battlefields of the South, then go for it. Just make sure that your travel companions are fellow history buffs too.

Detail Daydreaming

First things first – buy an envelope-style folder for all of your travel documents. This is where my organization nerd comes shining through. Even if you think you’ve got it all on your Blackberry or iPhone, it is still important to have back-ups. You never know when you might need to find the reservation number for your car rental booking, and the folder is a great catch-all for everything from receipts to mementoes that you want to save in your scrapbook.

Obviously, you’ll need to make your basic reservations, such as airline, rail, or bus tickets, hotel reservations, etc., but think ahead beyond the basics. This is where you grab a cup of tea, sit back, and daydream a bit. Visualize yourself on the trip. How do you see yourself spending your time and what are the things you feel you can’t miss? If you do want seats at the hottest restaurant, then reserve a table in advance. Theater tickets, museum exhibitions, and other events are also good things to book ahead of time.

Think you might want to hit the spa while you’re there? Book that massage ahead of time. Always look at the cancellation policies (most are 24 hours), but chances are, if you wait until you get there, you’ll wind up with an inconvenient time or not be able to get in at all.

Pack Like A Pro

Here’s where visualizing helps. In addition to planning your trip in your head so you know what you might want to do, plan your trip so you know how to pack. Thinking that you might play a round of tennis means that you might book court time, but it also means that you’ll pack that cute tennis skirt and new sneakers. How many times have you arrived at a destination with three different sets of heels for going out at night, but nothing for really walking around the town? Beat the suitcase blues by plotting it all out ahead of time.

Of course, with all of the new restrictions and fees, it might make sense to ship some items prior to your arrival, or simply leave some things at home and purchase when you are there. If you’re going to a large city, there’s always a drugstore where you can buy toiletries and skin care items that may not be available in the hotel’s bathroom. It’s not worth slowing down your trip through the security line by having your bag pulled aside, risking the spillage, or even paying for a heavier bag because you’ve decided to bring the contents of your vanity.

Be Flexible

I’m the first one to say that some of my best travel experiences have been the ones that weren’t on my itinerary, so don’t equate organization with rigidity. Sometimes, you’ll stumble across something that will make the best memory for years to come. Once on a trip to Spain, a friend and I were so exhausted from our sightseeing that we canceled our previous plans and wandered into this quaint little bar. We just wanted a comfortable place to sit and a cool drink, but we ended up with an unforgettable memory.

It was Three Kings Day, where locals celebrate with a cake of the kings. The cake isn’t anything particularly luscious, but it’s what inside that counts – the cake is baked with a small good luck charm inside. Despite our very limited Spanish, the friendly patrons invited us to join them in their celebration. Lo and behold, my piece contained the charm. Everyone was cheering and clapping and it was an unscripted piece of joy that I’ll never forget. That little charm has been in my jewelry box for over a decade and every day it reminds me of the enlightening powers of travel.

NANCY DEPALMA has been telling people where to go, what to do, and where to eat or stay for almost a decade while writing extensively about travel and fine dining. She has authored or contributed to eight books and has been featured in a variety of magazines and websites. She writes about travel at her new website and blog, Email her at