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6 Tricks to Help You Plan a Vacation Without Losing Your Mind

Most importantly? Prepared for when things to go wrong. Because they will.

Family vacations are great. They’re time to spend with loved ones, explore new areas, and escape from stupid work emails, scheduling playdates, or any other regular-life responsibilities. But, the truth of the matter is, crafting a vacation kinda sucks, and the stress of the whole thing can make you wonder if the trip is even worth it. There’s the planning, the raised expectations, the cost. We get it. That’s why we polled travel experts and came up with these six simple suggestions that will make planning any kind of trip, whether a weekend at the beach or a blow-out journey to see the squeaky-voiced rodent, much less painful.

1. Understand That Not Everything Will Go Right

An unhealthy chunk of the trepidation felt before a long vacation comes from a phenomena known as construal level theory.

This is basically the idea that the farther off an event, the more favorable people feel about it. You’re super pumped for the week at the beach in August when it’s January and every waking minute is spent shoveling snow. Once June rolls around, and the trip gets closer, your attention is focused on all of the work that needs to be done for the vacation. This suddenly heightened level of perfectionism brings on the panic of the trip becoming memorable for all the wrong reasons. Suddenly, we’re overwhelmed with the notion that everything about the trip needs to be perfect.

But it’s important to realize immediately that nothing in life ever goes according to plan so why would planned time away go off without a hitch? So simply remind yourself: “This vacation does not have to be perfect because nothing is ever perfect.” Maybe hum it to the tune of “It’s A Small World” so it really sticks with you.

2. Be Prepared For When Things Go Wrong

You can’t anticipate everything that could happen on your trip. Vacation is still life, and life throws curveballs. Curveball is a nicer way of saying “a week of rain.” Just go with the flow. No pun intended.

You don’t have to be entirely unprepared for the unexpected. In the event the rain or inclement weather turns into something much worse, it’s always smart to have an emergency plan.

“Always expect hiccups and protect yourself by purchasing a good travel insurance policy,” explains Norm Kondelis, a travel counselor for Vacations To Go and has over 12 years of experience in booking trips.

“Pay attention to the plan details as not all plans are created equal and know the insurance you think your credit card provides is essentially worthless,” he adds. “Good policies will fully reimburse any cancellation penalties (in cash, not future travel credits) and provide comprehensive coverage during travel for things like medical evacuation, emergency medical/dental expenses, travel delays, lost or damaged luggage, and every other possible emergency.”

If it’s possible, Kondelis also suggests planning an extra day before the trip.

“Arrive a day early when possible before package trips like cruises, river cruises, and tours. This eliminates the chance of missing the start of your package if there is an airline maintenance or staffing issue, weather-related issue, or even a volcanic eruption that causes your flight to be delayed or canceled.”

3. Don’t Overplan

Imagine your vacation is a feature film — either a comedy, tragedy, or horror — but imagine every second of the movie trying to be funny, sad, or nightmare-inducing. Even though 90 straight minutes of laughs seems like a decent time, the exposure would be far too much for the brain to comprehend.

Now picture your vacation as a film. It can’t be all go all the time, especially with kids involved. Planned time to unwind and just chill is an absolute must.

“Packing every minute sounds like the ideal vacation,” admits Heather J. Redmond, a travel expert and owner of Magical Travel By Heather, “but it can be very draining when all you are is expecting one experience to top the next.” Her suggestion? Plan for downtime to decompress and recharge. Bring along a journal and a pen and save some space at the end of the day to recall what were your favorite parts of the day. “The unexpected can sometimes be very serendipitous.”

4. Travel Light, Ship Heavy

The days of remembering everything and packing half of your home into as many suitcases as an airline will allow are long gone thanks to programs like Amazon Prime and grocery store delivery services.

“Many travelers don’t realize that at resorts such as Disney you can skip the meal plan and order groceries to be delivered to your resort before you arrive saving you time from having to run out to a grocery store,” explains Redmond, “It will help keep your luggage under the 50-pound limit when flying to your destination.”

Redmond suggests shipping unneeded items home as well, especially souvenirs, and spend a little extra to breeze through check-in.

Additionally:  “If you travel frequently, spend the $100 and get Global Entry attached to your reservation. This designation will speed up the waiting process and avoid long lines at the airport.”

5. Don’t Be a Follower

Many parents feel immense pressure to not only take the family to specific tourist destinations for the sake of their kids. Because the kids will need extra counseling if they don’t see the Magic Kingdom before the age of 21.

If you do feel the pressure to hit certain vacation spots to look like an amazing parent, that’s fine, but no one said you’ve got to go when everyone else goes.

“Traveling during non-peak times saves big money both on the cost of a packaged trip and on airfare,” Kondelis adds. “Also, tourist-heavy destinations are much easier and more fun to get around during non-peak times. There are fewer crowds and shorter lines, and that means more time to spend exploring and having fun.”

One great option: Best Time To Go, which offers travel suggestions broken down by month and this website is dedicated to finding the best vacation locales based on the weather.

6. Always Come Home a Day Early

I learned this little travel tip from my father, a man who loved coming home from vacation almost as much as he loved going on vacation. While the temptation to stay in paradise and away from real life as long as possible is strong, it’s essential to give yourself and your family a day to get back into the routine of life.

Coming home a day earlier will ease the stress of coming home (Yippee! More stress!) because work has piled up and the “to-do” list around the house is even longer. It all comes crashing down the second you step foot into the house, effectively killing any good vibes packed inside your mental suitcase. Plan a day of rest between returning from vacation and returning to the real world of work, school, or summer camp.