Have you ever been super excited about a trip to a specific place, planned it all out, and then once you got there simply thought, “Hum, ok, so this is (insert place). Nice.” “NICE?!” Your inner voice screams, “You spent months (or years) planning and preparing and looking forward to this trip and now that you’re here all you think is ‘nice’!?” I’ve been there my friend and it is a total let down! I don’t want your next trip to turn out the same way so I’ve prepared some tips to help ensure that “Nice” isn’t how you feel about your next destination.
By the way, in case you’re new around here, we have been traveling full-time as a family for quite a while now. We move to a new destination every other week, sometimes more frequently, and I’m in charge of planning out how we get to each place and what we do while we’re there. We have visited so many beautiful places and done so many fun and adventurous things along the way. Inevitably, some places have filled us with more awe than others, often because they are places that we had been dreaming about visiting, but sometimes it just happens by surprise.
As I found myself filled with more “awe” than expected at our most recent destination, Colorado National Monument, I started thinking about our approach to travel and why we “feel” inspired by some places more than others. When I looked back on my planning for various destinations and our collective level of “Awe” that we felt as a family, a began to realize that there is a connection between how I plan each trip and how we feel while we’re there. Here are my top 10 tips for ensuring that your next trip is AWEsome for you and everyone that you’re traveling with!
Tip #10 – Use your resources wisely: The internet has made researching travel destinations easier and at the same time more complicated. There is SO much information out there that it is easy to enter into information overload which leads to confusion and decision paralysis. I like to use Google Maps and glance at the area and see what venues pop up within the map area (restaurants, activities, etc.). Most of our travels center around State or National Parks. I always look at the park website and their map first, before seeking information about hikes or must-see sites elsewhere. My suggestion is to pick 3-5 sources of information for your trip and stick with them for the basic planning process. Travelocity, Facebook Events, Google Maps, the official website for the place and then one or two blogs that have posts about the destination are my typical go-to sources for trip planning/research. Information overload can kill the AWEsome feeling that you have about your travel destination, so I suggest not overdoing it and do your planning well enough in advance so that you have sometime to forget what you planned (see tips #7 & #8). *Do write out your plan so that you don’t completely forget about it though!
Tip #9 – Know thyself (and your travel companions): Do you like crowds or prefer solitude? Is visiting a swanky wine bar, checking out a casual brewery, or chilling in the privacy of your room more your vibe? Know what you tend to like most and make time for it on your trip. I’m not suggesting that you never go out of your comfort zone, I’m just suggesting that you stay in it or close to the edge of it for at least 70% of your trip so that you are able to relax and enjoy your time in a place that you’ve dreamed of visiting. For example, I love trying new foods and food venues, but I know that I’m traveling with a teen and two young children who could care less and don’t tend to like being in restaurants (sensitivity issues). Therefore, we avoid restaurants 90% of the time and either make food in our RV or order take-out. If there is a restaurant that we really want to try, my husband and I will visit it on our date night, when we go out to explore our destination alone. (Perks of having an older child that can babysit 😁)
Tip #8 – Don’t obsess over your destination: Our human mind is conditioned to focus on something we want until we obtain it and then move on to focus on the “next thing”. Unfortunately, if you allow yourself to approach a vacation destination with this mindset, you’ll miss feeling the awe and wonder of actually being in that place. Allow yourself to dream about and plan for your visit, but don’t research every possible corner of the place before you even get there.
Tip #7 – Don’t look at tons of pictures right before you go: The places that I was least impressed with in Yellowstone National Park were the ones that I had already seen tons of photographs of before. Don’t get me wrong, seeing Old Faithful spout up into the air was pretty cool, but it didn’t compare to driving into Yellowstone before sunrise and seeing the pastel pallette behind the mist rising from the ground as the sun touched the park and turned it all into a vibrant display of color all around us. If you are visiting a very photographed place, distance yourself from the pictures for a few weeks or even months right before your trip and it will allow you to feel more in awe of the places you had seen in pictures before.
Tip #6 – Remember why you originally wanted to visit the place: What are you drawn to most about the place that you will visit? This goes back to Tip #1 and knowing oneself. Don’t get “trapped” in the touristy shops, restaurants, and activities outside the park if the natural wonders inside a National Park are what enticed you to visit in the first place. (They are called tourist traps for a reason!). Definitely support the local economy while your are visiting, but don’t let yourself get sidetracked to the point that you miss the main attraction or are rushed through your visit of the main attraction. Similarly, don’t let sleeping in, or finding your next meal, steal away your time while you’re visiting magnificent places. When you write out your plan for your trip, make a prioritized list of the places you want to see and the experiences that you want to have in a certain place. Then make sure that you schedule time to see your top places and do the top things on your list.
Tip #5 – Talk to the locals: When you first arrive at your destination, ask the locals for their favorite hiking spot, sunrise/sunset spot, restaurant, bar, local shop, etc. Most people that we’ve met in new places are proud of their home and happy to share their favorite spots with us. We have had some of the best experiences, meals, and fun shopping excursions far outside the typical tourist route in various destinations that we’ve visited and it was usually thanks to a suggestion from the gas station attendant or hotel/property host/hostess.
Tip #4 – Plan for Freedom (The real key to an awe-inspiring trip!): Plan your trip in such a way that you intentionally leave large chunks of unscheduled time in your travel itinerary. This way, when a local suggests that you have to try the burgers at ‘Bubbas’ or you see that tomorrow the town’s annual balloon festival is happening, you are able to go enjoy it without feeling like you have to make a choice between the reservations or activities that you’ve already scheduled. *Another note: When you plan for freedom, you aren’t as rushed and are able to just enjoy “being” in the destination. This is especially helpful when you are traveling with others. Rushing your travel companions from one highlight to the next gets old after a while for everyone involved!
Tip #3 – Be Flexible: This goes along with the ‘Plan for freedom’ tip. If you see something cool and want to stop to take a picture, do it! If a little café looks enticing and you need a snack, stop in to check it out. If you randomly feel the urge to go for a drive down a forest road, do it! One of our most awe-inspiring experiences so far was when I felt stir crazy one day and told everyone to load up in the truck and we went to check out a possible dry camping spot down a forest road just outside of Grand Teton National Park. Read more about this experience and the Magic of Spontaneity here.
Tip #2 – Savor it: Just be still and allow yourself to fully feel where you are. What do you see, hear, smell, taste, touch in this place? Why did you want to come here? As a culture we have been conditioned to rush from one thing to the next, ever seeking, rarely savoring. Put your phone and camera down, look your travel companions in the eyes when you talk to one another, and breathe in this place where you are right now and just be present and savor the experience. Choose joy, choose gratitude, choose reflection and admiration. You’ll find that taking the time to savor each moment, will create within you the sense of “Awe” that leads to AWEsome memories attached to your travel destination.
Tip #1 – Capture it (if you can): Finally, after savoring wherever it is you are and reflecting on how you feel while there, do try to capture it, if you feel so inclined. You don’t have to post it on social media. But capture the moment for yourself, so that in the future, you can relive the memory either through a photo or journal entry or both. Would you like a list of journal prompts to help you reflect on your next or current travel experiences? Grab your free list here and start reflecting on how your travels have affected you as an individual.
Planning for an AWEsome vacation and truly feeling like it is an AWE-inspiring event once it’s over is a balancing act. Planning is essential in order to know how to get to the place and what there is to do once you’re there. On the other hand, over planning can leave you feeling like you already know everything there is to know about the place and your virtual visit ends up stealing the joy from your actual visit. Not scheduling anything ahead of time may result in you totally missing some of the most amazing aspects of a destination, yet over scheduling can leave you and your travel companions feeling rushed and frazzled. You get the picture. I hope that as you keep the tips above in mind, you’ll be able to prepare for and enjoy a truly AWEsome experience on your next trip!
Do you have any tips to add to the list above? If so, leave them in the comments to help out other travelers. I know that my list may not work for everyone, but I hope that it at least helps you to begin thinking intentionally about how you plan for travel. My hope is that between my tips above and the those in the comments below, each trip you have from now on will be AWEsome and will open your eyes to the beauty and wonder that is around us everyday, no matter where you may be in the world.
Have your travels opened your eyes to new perspectives? Ours have! Thanks for sticking around to share part of our journey! We’d love to hear about yours! We’re always looking for ways to live with New Eyes Open to all the possibilities that this life has for each of us! You can see pictures of some of our AWEsome travels by following us on Instagram (@new_eyes_open), Facebook (@neweyesopen), and YouTube (New Eyes Open) where we share more about our travels and how they’ve opened our eyes to the wonder that is all around us!