Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The Trouble with Travel Plans

Photo by Adam Ward of The Daily Telegraph

I've dreamt about visiting Australia for as long as I can remember. In my mind, Australia is a jumble of The Wiggles, Steve Irwin, Muriel's Wedding, Kylie Minogue, The Thornbirds (both the book and the mini-series), and A Walk to the Hills of the Dreamtime. In a few weeks, that dream will become a reality. Pinch me. It can't be true. We'll be landing in Sydney on New Year's Eve and spending 15 glorious days exploring Down Under. But the weird thing is that it's been such a far-fetched idea for so long, I'm having trouble buckling down and getting nitty-gritty trip planning done. Does this happen to anyone else? I have the macro-level stuff like hotels and air travel planned, but I don't quite know how to actually accomplish my sightseeing. I'm beginning to understand why people go on packaged tours. They lure you in with the highlights and then plan everything for you.

This trip comes with strings attached. The trade-off is that we aren't flying home to Texas to visit family and friends for Christmas. It will be summer before the kids and I return there, and an entire year will have gone by since we last wrapped our arms around our loved ones in a hug. After a lifetime of living no more than a 3-hour drive apart, this is a big change. The #1 item on my teen's Christmas Wish List is "Go home to Texas for a holiday visit." That won't be happening. The Guinness Book of World Records and a trip to Burger King are the other things on his list, so 2 out of 3 ain't bad.

How much detailed planning do you do for trips?
Before we moved to Malaysia, we typically went on one big trip a year. I would spend 2-3 days planning out 1 vacation day. Now that we travel so much, a getaway every 1.5 months, I've found it harder and harder to dedicate that much time to planning. (Yes, I do realize that no one is crying a river for me and my problems.)

My old trip planning notes were something like "line up at Disneyland entrance Gate #13, arriving 45 minutes before opening." I have nothing on that level planned for Australia. I have loose outlines for each day, but that's it. At least, I have read Bill Bryson's excellent, humorous book, Down Under, and can regale my family with witty, historical trivia once we arrive.

You might even say that I used to be overly committed to my itinerary. When we went on our Boston-Maine-Acadia National Park trip, I spent days pouring over TripAdvisor and blog recommendations for food. Fast forward to the hours when we're driving from Acadia NP to Boston. I was convinced that one shack with a view of 2 lighthouses was the best place on Earth to dine on lobster rolls, and we absolutely had to stop and eat there. Did it matter that no one was hungry? No. Did it matter that it wasn't anywhere near a mealtime? No. Did it matter that we'd have to detour to get there? No. I wasn't going to let all that research go to waste and forced everyone to go. Do I even remember the name of the shack or what the roll tasted like? NO! At least I got more lighthouse photos.

Are you willing to just see where the day takes you?
For the last few trips, I've swung too far the other way. For both Borneo and Phuket, I've done the planning on the ride to the airport or after arrival, and I completely stressed out over it. A little advanced planning may have saved money and definitely would have eliminated last-minute phone tag sessions when we're pressed for time. Apparently, I do not have the backpacker mentality of just seeing where the day takes you.

A little Australian travel inspiration

Do you schedule in down time?
I am trying to schedule in relaxing, down time in our 15-day trip. When we were in Japan for a week last spring, the kids kept saying they wanted to hang out at the hotel. It was a regular, business hotel, not some spectacular, kid-friendly hotel like those at Disney. I think that what they were actually trying to tell me is that all the sightseeing was wearing them down. I kept thinking, "This is probably the only 3 days I'll ever visit Tokyo (or Sydney). I am NOT spending it at the hotel." So, I'm trying very hard not to make the days too jam packed, but there's an inner battle with my urge to see Everything.

How do you juggle different travel personalities?
I no longer have babies and toddlers who are happy enough to simply be with mom and dad. I now have a group with a variety of personalities that I'm trying to accommodate. One person's dream day may be hiking and dining on familiar foods. Another person prefers dawdling in a museum and trying out new cuisines. So, I'm trying to plan a mix of activities, knowing full well that some of us won't be thrilled with the itinerary on any given day.

My problem is that I'm a people pleaser. I want everyone to be 100% satisfied with the plan instead of having to find tricks and tips to make it endurable. Just like I wish my kids loved green beans instead of eating them solely because "You get what you get, and you don't throw a fit." (Although, hubby recently excused my son from eating green beans when he bit off a small piece and found a caterpillar.)

I'm letting the kids help with the planning which should help. My 9-year-old boy has requested the Sydney Opera House with the caveat that we should not attend any actual operas.

Does your family split up on vacation?
Sometimes, the solution is for us not to do everything as one big family. At Disney parks, we have the roller coaster, high thrill seeking group, and the sedate, kiddie ride group. Hubby was great about letting me go off alone on my ultimate spa experience in Pangkor Laut. He kept the kids when I did the caravan safari at San Diego's Wild Animal Park years ago since they were too young to participate. I am more hard pressed to think of times I've returned the favor.

The big question on this trip is whether to watch the New Year's Eve fireworks at the Sydney Harbour. Well, it's only a question for me because no one else wants to go. We'll be landing at 8 p.m. after 12 hours of travel from Malaysia, and dragging the kids out into a crush of humanity for an event that starts at midnight has been deemed "overly ambitious" by hubby. Methinks this is code for "you're crazy." And whenever he says that to me, I just retort, "Well, you married me. Now, who's the crazy one?" Perhaps this will be another time when we diverge for the night. Or maybe I'll watch it on TV while the the others snooze next to me.

So, tell me. What's your trip planning style? I really want to know.

Enough procrastinating. I'm off to figure out if I have a suitcase big enough to hold a didgeridoo.

I readily admit that I did not take the gorgeous photo at the top. Go to Travel Photo Thursday at Budget Travelers Sandbox for lovely pictures taken by the actual bloggers.


  1. I tend to plan as little as possible. Often, we've had only plane tickets and nothing else. Always works out.

    Also, love Australia. You'll have such fun.

  2. I used to be the Disney Family Mom with a binder. No joke. A BINDER for each minute detail of our trip. Since we moved abroad, I do very little planning for our trips and yes, we also end up with some faux pas and expensive lessons learned, but I think we ALL enjoy our trips more now! I'm not uptight and my family doesn't feel the need to conform to my craziness!

  3. I book all the air fares and most of the accommodation. If I don't actually book the accommodation because I have left room for flexibility, I still research it and know of at least two places I would like to stay. I know what things there are to do in the area, but I do not actually plan the visit, unless it is like the Alhambra and the venue requires it. I do see the advantages of a tour, but I don't want to tag along like a sheep, so I keep on planning my own. I empathize with the family having different holiday desires. We kept together and everyone had to do everything, unless they were teenagers and in a safe environment. in which case they did their own thing.

  4. Our best travel experiences happen when we adopt the 'we will go where the winds blow us approach' leaving all expectations and preconceived notions at home. We tell ourselves, 'we've got all the time in the world' and will see what there is to see and then move on. No structure, no plans (few guidebooks and maps). . .the most amazing people have been met and the most amazing places have been visited. We also try to book only the first night or two which allows much flexibility in destinations. Good for you to get to another one on your bucket list.

  5. It depends where I go but I'm usually a planner. Certainly the airfares are booked as is most of the accommodation . In big cities, restaurants that I don't want to miss are definitely booked and others listed just incase we need somewhere at the drop of a hat!
    Don't miss the New Year's Eve fireworks in Sydney. They are fabulous! The kids may enjoy going to Manly on the ferry and down to Bondi Beach. Taronga Park Zoo is amazing...the animals have the best views over the bridge and Opera House! Have a great'll love it!

  6. I use to plan carefully my trips :)

  7. I'm more of a researcher than a planner. I like to find out about all the things that I'd like to see or eat and identify the high priority items. If something needs reservations it'll be planned, otherwise we'll have a rough plan that always changes as we go.

  8. Sometimes, I plan but I make sure to leave time for exploring and finding hidden gems.
    Enjoy Australia. It'll be a blast, I'm sure.

  9. I am guilty of over planning. Since I find myself rushing around too much that I'm not able to be spontaneous I have decided to plan a little less. I do make a list of the thing(s) I would be upset if I didn't see and make sure to check off at the least the first two. I'm sure you'll enjoy Australia no matter how much planning goes into it!

  10. This did happen to me when I was planning two weeks in Australia... but I just started researching and looking at pictures of places in Australia and actually planned the whole trip based off incredible pictures I had seen online. Every time I found a photo and said, I want to go there, I put it on the list. Australia is amazing- have fun! If you need any tips, let me know!

  11. You bring up such good points here about travel planning. Honestly, I don't have a particular travel planning style -- seems to change for trip to trip. But my travel is often planned very quickly & last-minute. Love serendipitous travel!

  12. I usually have to try very hard to make myself plan anything. Yesterday, however, we booked tickets to Laos in January and fifteen minutes later I was hit with an unfamiliar wave of fear that we weren't going to have anything to do and would be bored to tears for nine days. This is how I find myself actually reading the Laos guidebook I bought on a whim a year ago. I know there are gorgeous things to see in that country. I don't want to miss them because I waited until we got there to ask the concierge to set something up for me.

  13. Like Katie, it's a struggle for me too, to plan anything. Usually I just go where my feet take me. But when I'm traveling with someone, some sort of itinerary is needed, so that's when I make travel plans :D

  14. For the time being it's just me and my hubby, and luckily we're in sync about the things we want to do and see. Although we don't plan every hour of the day, we do plan activities we want to do in a day. Sometimes we book tours if we feel time is limited and the tour offers enough for what we pay. Not that everything goes according to plan all the time but it gives us an idea as to which direction we're heading each day.

  15. I was such a planner but I have learned to tone it down since having kids. I'm still major researcher though. I still have a general idea of where we're going and daily activities but also have priorities listed. Good luck with your trip planning. I'd totally go to the NYE fireworks - it's just one of those "must-dos". Hope you got my email with the Sydney recommendations. Have a Merry Christmas and enjoy your Oz vacation. Can't wait to read all about it!

  16. Thanks everyone! Hearing that so many of you plan loosely or not at all is helping me to relax more. I've got the Bucket List items booked, but I'm going to just see what happens with the rest of the time.

  17. Hubby books ze flights while I book the accommodations. And... That's just about it. Haha. Then we start plotting our itinerary when we're already in the country. Anyhoo, we'll be in Oz for New Year's and haven't really thought of watching the fireworks cause of the huge crowd. Let us know about it :)

  18. Have a wonderful trip to Australia! Always dreamed of seeing the fireworks in Sydney. When we first started travelling with the kids I used to spend days and days and days researching every detail for each destination. But I realised I was spending more time researching where we were off to next than I was on actually enjoying what we were doing right then. I still research and plan, but just not down to the finite detail. In expensive countries I'll book accommodation ahead but that's about all. I've also found the kids need more downtime than I would have ever thought. I've had to accept that we might not see everything I want to see in a location but so long as we're all happy and together having fun than that's OK. We do tend to split up as well.


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