How to Plan the Best Vacation

From finding flight deals to pro-approved packing tips, here's how to have a better vacation.

Travel Plan. Personal Organizer, Airplane Model and Passport With Laptop on Yellow Desk.
Photo: Constantine Johnny/Getty Images

After a few years spent, initially, taking in the exotic vistas of your own backyard, and then taking whatever road trip you could muster, you may be gearing up for a long-overdue getaway—and you have company: According to the World Travel & Tourism Council, global travel and tourism are projected to exceed prepandemic levels this year, contributing nearly $2 trillion to the U.S. economy. Whether you're finally planning a couple's trip, rescheduling Disney, or organizing that beach vacation with your friends, here's how to plan it right so you can focus on the serious business of R&R.

Fly Frugally

The more flexible your dates and destination, the better the deals you can score. To stay updated on the latest bargains, sign up for alerts on the website Scott's Cheap Flights, which sources domestic and international routes from your nearest airport, claiming an average savings of 60 percent. (For access to even more deals, upgrade to the $49 annual premium membership.) When that nonstop flight to Paris lands in your inbox for just $300—run, don't walk. Flexible about where you go, as long as you can travel in December? Plug in specific dates or browse an entire month on Kayak's Explore page, which cost-compares destinations around the globe.

Consider Traveling By Train

In a time when flying can be unpredictable, train travel could put you on the right track. "Trains are often overlooked, but they can be one of the most beautiful ways to travel," says travel writer Stacey Leasca. "You get to see the world unfold and make the journey part of your travel experience." Amtrak reservations can be made up to 11 months in advance, and booking early almost always guarantees savings. Tickets purchased 7 to 21 days in advance qualify for Saver fares, up to 25 percent off the lowest available price.

Book Accommodations Wisely

Availability and pricing can fluctuate wildly for hotels, so book your reservation as far in advance as possible. For longer stays in vacation rentals, inquire about weekly rates; it may cost less to reserve that lakeside cabin on Airbnb for a full week than for the five nights you intend to stay.

Organize Your Intel

If you're traveling in a group, create a shareable Google Doc that lists restaurants and other hot spots so the rest of your party can add their ideas and see the latest updates in real time.

Make a Thoughtful Itinerary

Overcrowding your trip with back-to-back tours will likely leave you more irritated than invigorated—but at the same time, nobody wants to wander through a crowded city looking for a dinner spot while everyone grows increasingly hangry. To strike a happy medium, schedule one key experience each day (say, a museum or biking tour), then leave time to explore. It does pay to line up dinner plans—especially with a big group—but keep after-dinner drinks open so you'll have a chance to look around. "Try to give in to travel fate," Leasca says. "You never know where a place can take you."

Gather Your Gear

Pull out your suitcase a week before you depart, then lay it open on the bedroom floor. "The reminder sets an expectation of how much space you actually have," explains Hitha Palepu, author of How to Pack: Travel Smart for Any Trip.

Put small essentials in a toiletries bag, a tech organizer, and a medicine kit. "I like to have a lot of our travel gear prepacked," says Vanessa Jeswani, cofounder of the luggage brand Nomad Lane. "Everyone in our family has a toiletries bag with mini versions of everything they need.

"If you plan on working remotely, install a privacy screen on your laptop, and pack a portable charger (ideally with built-in cables for your most-used devices) "so you're not jockeying for a plug at the airport," Palepu says.

Plan Your Wardrobe

We've all been there: It's 11:30 thenight before you leave and you're wildly stuffing a pair of stilettos into your overflowing suitcase, thinking, "What if I want to dress up for dinner?" "When we pack for a vacation, we have this fantasy of being a different person," Palepu says. "I'm all for that, but the bulk of what I pack is items that make me look and feel my best."

Palepu recommends an 80/20 split between "power pieces" (the essentials) and "fantasy pieces" (that dress you'll wear once for a fancy event). Focus on simple separates and monochrome outfits, which are the easiest way to look stylish but also feel comfortable. Choose clothes you can wear a few times before laundering.

Don't Cut Corners With Kids

"If you're headed somewhere family-friendly, ask if the hotel offers babysitting or has a kids' club. "My wife and I try to schedule a caretaker after bedtime so we can sneak away for dinner as a couple," says Kish Vasnani, cofounder of Nomad Lane. "Those four or five hours, just the two of us, are gold."

Traveling with kids is enough of a challenge, so don't be a hero. Just surrender—to checking a bag, to bringing the tablet, to stocking snacks galore. "Now is not the time to try out a new sippy cup or forget the white-noise machine your kid needs," Palepu says. "Pack those essentials first. If all else fails, you can pick up diapers or have a grocery order delivered to your destination.

Back Up Important Docs

Upload flight confirmations, hotel reservations, and copies of your passport, health insurance card, and vaccine information to Google Drive, Dropbox, or an iCloud folder. "I feel more confident traveling when I've stored important documents in a secure location that can be accessed via mobile or desktop," Leasca says.

Do Some Final Prep

Make sure your devices are loaded with e-books or audiobooks, and download episodes of your favorite podcast onto your phone so you can still listen if Wi-Fi or cell service becomes unavailable. The night before, charge all electronics and double-check the location of essentials, like passports. Designate a "last-minute pouch" for personal items you intend to use right up until the morning of departure—your toothbrush, phone charger, etc.—and toss the pouch into your carry-on or handbag before you go.

Relax and Enjoy

You've planned a balanced itinerary and packed like Marie Kondo. Now make an effort to unplug—delete Slack from your phone and enable your out-of-office email message. Whenever job anxieties creep in, remind yourself that not only will the work still be there when you return, but "you'll come back a better employee or boss if you're actually refreshed from the trip you've worked so hard to earn," Leasca says. We couldn't agree more.

Was this page helpful?
Related Articles