Plan Ahead and Save: Book Next Year’s Vacation Now

This photo shows a camper van in the woods

Two years ago, my family and I took our annual summer beach holiday in a (then new-to-us) vacation rental on Cape Cod. We loved its huge and airy kitchen, the pool table off the living room, and the short walk from our favorite beach. In fact, we liked the house so much that, when I went to drop off the keys at the end of the trip, I immediately asked to book the house again for the same week the following year. I had the paperwork and deposits completed by the end of the month, securing our spot 12 months in advance.

Yes, booking a year in advance may sound a little extreme. But for budgeting Grownups, advance planning can really pay off. Here are just a few reasons when it can be beneficial to make your travel reservations (really) early.

Read the full story over on the Society of Grownups blog.

Planning a Vacation with Friends? Read this First

This photo shows three women jumping together on the beach

A colleague recently returned from a much-anticipated vacation, and on her return, I asked if she enjoyed her time off. She paused a little too long before her reply, and weighed her words carefully.

“It was just ok,” she admitted. “The hotel was gorgeous and the setting was really beautiful. But … my friends and I really got on each other’s nerves. By the end of the trip, I was so ready to leave.”

 Her post-trip report got me thinking – it’s awful to have a vacation feel like wasted time (and, not to mention, wasted money). And in my many years writing about travel, I’ve heard about so many vacations going sour because the group of travelers hadn’t quite gelled as anticipated. In addition, with Americans getting such limited time off each year compared to our global counterparts, it’s imperative that we make the absolute most of our downtime for overall satisfaction, rejuvenation, and well-being.

Part of doing so is choosing the right group of people to accompany us on our vacations – and if we can’t choose all of our companions, then we can still make sure that we communicate trip plans and expectations with the whole group well in advance. In this case, honesty isn’t just the best policy – it’s also an excellent way to manage assumptions, curtail miscommunications, and minimize disappointments – thus preserving your vacation time and money spent (and maybe even your friendships in the process).

The next time you plan a vacation with friends and/or family, here are three check points to address well in advance…

Read the full story over at Ecosalon.

Photo courtesy Parapluie via Flickr Creative Commons

In Plain Sight

This photo shows a mountain along the Skogafoss river trail in southern Iceland

The soil is loose, and an unfamiliar metallic grey, as I proceed along the hiking trail. Although the sky is cloudless cerulean, the wind whips past, unfettered by trees or other vegetation. The glaciers loom in the distance, their snow-capped tops releasing a steady trail of vapor.

Like all of Iceland, the landscape we’re standing on is relatively young, featuring new mountains that volcanic explosions had formed pell mell. We’ve learned the country grows by two centimeters each year, as a result of the ever-shifting North American and European continental plates far below the country’s surface, and its active volcanoes above. The surrounding jagged skyline shows this tumultuous past, the mountains’ cliffs and peaks shaped by the uneven distribution of lava and ash, their crags further sculpted from the rushing water of glacier melt and glacier-fed rivers.

We continue along the trail. There is no tree line to surpass – no trees at all to speak of, actually. And while we can see for miles in any direction, the landscape, close up, changes as we walk, the terrain moving from gunmetal grey to brown to green to hay-yellow. The density changes, too – the grey soft and powdery, like talc; the brown muddy and suction-like in places, the green and yellow forgiving and firm. It does not occur to me, in the moment, that the grey “soil” is actually volcanic ash.

***

I was drawn to Iceland for its alien landscape, tales of fire and water and ancient explorations, and a sky that regularly put on shows of color and light. Its relative accessibility to my Boston hometown was an added bonus; I could be in Reykjavik faster than if I were to visit the West Coast. So, seeking the unfamiliar, my husband and I booked two tickets for a week in September, knowing that visiting late in the season would mean some compromises, weather-wise. Still, I am an optimist, and just the promise of visiting an entirely new-to-me place already gave me a thrill.

***

I’ve lost count of how many waterfalls we’ve passed along this trail, which follows the Skoga River in southwestern Iceland. Their roars are a constant companion as we proceed. We’re not sure how far we’ll go along the trail today – it’s the end of the hiking season, and while the day is picturesque, we’ve been warned the glaciers (and their effects) can change the atmosphere abruptly.

Planning for a day hike, my husband and I have only taken minor precautions – a few warm layers, a packed lunch with snacks, several liters of water for us to share throughout the afternoon. Our cell phones don’t work out here, or anywhere in Iceland at all, as we chose to forego an international plan in the spirit of a thorough unplugging and detaching while on vacation. As the terrain gets more remote, though, and we find ourselves alone for hour-plus stretches at a time, I wonder if that was the wisest decision.

The wind picks up, and I shiver in my fleece and thin hat. I still want to see more of what’s ahead, but it’s becoming increasingly obvious that I’ve prepped for a leisurely afternoon waterfall walk, not for a glacial trek. The fact that both trail options exist, though, as neighbors in the same place, still fosters a deep sense of awe. The contrast is as impressive as the glaciers are worrisome.

***

It is only later, after the hike, that I put two and two together – that I was walking in the direct shadow of Eyjafjallajökull, the notorious spewer of 2010, whose billowing ash cloud shut down Europe for weeks on end. Back in the rental car, I marvel at the view of the glaciers from the road, and ponder aloud over the notorious volcano’s exact location. My husband looks at me incredulously and points to where we had just been.

I’m genuinely stunned. “But that’s right there,” I sputter.

There were no signs at any point indicating this landmark; no danger or warning signs urging caution along the trail. Andy had told me we would be “in the vicinity” of Eyjafjallajökull; I took that to mean within a ten- to twenty-mile radius, and had not asked for clarification. Toward the end of our hike, we had been at most a mile away. Even without truly knowing what I was seeing, I had still been intimidated, even humbled.

I think of the old adage about the differing mindsets contrasting travelers and tourists: “A traveler doesn’t know where she’s going, and a tourist doesn’t know where she is.” I feel both mindsets coexisting in me, on this day, much like the waterfalls and glacial volcanoes, improbably sharing the same space.

What to Do When Your Travel Plans Fall Apart

This photo shows the backs of a man and a woman sitting on a curb together.

Jet lagged and weary, I arrived at my hotel in Gdansk, Poland, ready for a shower and a nap. I greeted the clerk and handed over my reservation number and follow-up email confirming my stay. She took my papers, looked at her room ledger, and frowned.

“No rooms,” she replied.

I peered over at her calendar, and saw my name written in for my travel dates, then crossed out with a pencil. Another name was written in over the smudge where my name had once been. The room had been double-booked, and I had arrived too late.

As an exhausted traveler, I wanted to sit down on the floor and cry. As a Grownup, I had to think fast. We grabbed our guidebooks and started making calls. We asked a local friend if she knew of any alternate arrangements. And within an hour, we had found a vacation rental apartment that was available in the same neighborhood, for less money. Crisis averted!

While the situation ultimately worked out, the whole experience was a jolting reminder that, despite best-laid plans, things will go wrong when traveling. Here’s how to plan for travel mishaps, and how to react when they (inevitably) happen.

Read the full story over on the Society of Grownups blog

Where Should You Go on Your Next Vacation?

This photo shows a man leaning out of a van window

I’m not a night owl. When I travel, I like to have early starts and active days, where I’m out exploring a destination’s cultural landmarks or outdoor trails, capped off with a low-key evening centered around a fantastic meal.

So a few years ago, I begrudgingly found myself in Las Vegas on a business trip, a destination I never would have sought on my own. My days were spent in business meetings, my nights in mixer events at nightclubs or casinos. I was ready to write it off as a one-and-done trip, when a few colleagues invited me to go hiking on our one day off.

And suddenly, I was enchanted with Nevada. Here, about a 35-minute ride from downtown Vegas, were landscapes utterly unfamiliar to my East Coast sensibilities: red rocks, ochre sands, sweeping cliffs, a few scrubby trees. After the buzz of the Strip, I relished the fresh air and quiet, as well as the chance to connect with my colleagues in a setting that appealed to me. It placed everything in a new light, and made me realize my first impression had been limited (and that I was too hasty to judge).

The next year, when I went back to Vegas for another conference, I was more prepared. I didn’t have time for a hike, but I prepped for what my schedule would accommodate: In my downtime, I sought out a cooking class, took long walks down the Strip to get “outdoor” time, and had several delicious meals. And I realized: Few destinations will disappoint if approached with the spirit of adventure and discovery.

Get the full story over on the Society of Grownups blog.

How to Travel with Just About Anyone

This photo shows a man in the driver seat talking to a woman leaning in through the passenger window

When I teach the “Beyond the Hostel” travel chat at Society of Grownups, I always ask my students about the best and worst trips they’ve ever taken. More often than not, their “worst trip” answers involve traveling with people who didn’t mesh well, ranging from clashing personalities to disagreements on food, activities, budget (you name it).

We’ve all been on trips where we didn’t necessarily get to choose whom we traveled with — and should you find potentially incompatible travelers will be joining you on your next trip, you’ve still got time to make the most of it.

Get the full story over at the Society of Grownups blog.