Planning and Preparing for a Vacation 101


Photo courtesy of Henry Diep.

Personal vacation photo at a beach in Hue, Vietnam. Don’t be afraid to try something new!

Henry Diep, Staff Writer

Planning a vacation is not always an easy task to accomplish. There’s a lot of thought that has to go into planning and prepping for the ideal vacation, from picking out the perfect destination spot to creating an itinerary to even making sure that you have the legal papers to travel to said destination. For novice travelers or young adults who have recently been given the responsibility of organizing a trip for the first time and even for the most experienced vacationers, planning a vacation can seem overwhelming. So to make this daunting task a little easier for those of you stressing, I compiled a guide complete with tips on how to plan and prepare for the optimal vacation.

The first and most important step to planning a trip is figuring out where you want to vacation. What kind of surroundings do you want? What kind of activities do you plan on doing or attractions do you plan on visiting? Are you opting for something a little more familiar and close to home, or do you want something a little more adventurous? A lot has to be considered in choosing a vacation spot so if you can’t decide on or think of a good location, look online for some ideas or ask family and friends — and if you’re feeling indecisive, websites like Jauntaroo and Tripzard can pick your destination out for you based on your interests.

Secondly, make sure that you pick out a spot that meets your budget. Vacation expenses vary from location to location and include far more than simply travel costs; dining, rooming/lodging, activities, and luxuries are only a few potential expenses among many, so save some money up beforehand if necessary. And obviously, make sure that you have room in your schedule for wherever you’re planning to go and determine how long you’re staying ahead of time — for example, don’t plan for a two-week vacation half-way across the world knowing that you won’t get back in time for work.

Depending on where and when you plan on going on vacation, you may be able to save yourself a great deal of money by doing some research ahead of time. Travel and rooming costs tend to be highest during the holidays and busy seasons such as summer and flying expenses are cheaper the farther ahead you book your flight. Travel agencies often offer bundles and discounts, so always be on the lookout online for the biggest money-saving opportunities. Travelocity is a good travel agency and flight booking website where you can find travel discounts and vacation packages.

Do not skimp on doing research when it comes to planning your vacation. It may seem tedious at times, but the more research that you do, the more likely you are to save yourself from the disappointment of choosing a bad hotel or attraction that you did not find worth your while. An excellent vacation resource and travel forum that you can use to compare prices, read reviews, and look for deals is TripAdvisor.

Photo courtesy of Henry Diep.
Screenshot of TripAdvisor’s homepage and its navigation hub.

After deciding on your destination, if you are planning on traveling abroad, check to see if your passport is expired or close to expiration (or if necessary, apply for a passport). According to the U.S. Department of State Bureau of Consular Affairs, if you were 16 or younger when your passport was issued, your passport is valid for five years; otherwise, your passport is valid for ten years after issuance. However, some countries require your passport to be valid up to six months beyond your date of entry, so make sure that your passport is up to date. If your passport is expired or near expiration, don’t wait to get it renewed — passports can take weeks to be renewed, and you don’t want to miss out on your vacation just because you procrastinated.

Additionally, many foreign countries require you to have a travel visa to enter as a tourist. Like your passport, you want to apply for your travel visa as soon as possible as the process can take anywhere from two weeks to two months. Certain countries may have other specific requirements aside from travel visas (such as travel vaccines), so be sure to check and make sure that you meet them.

Photo courtesy of
Chinese travel visa located in a U.S. passport.

If you’re planning on flying, book your flight as soon as possible. As mentioned before, flight prices fluctuate depending on the time of year and booking a flight months ahead of time can potentially save you hundreds. According to ValuePenguin, you should book a flight at least seven weeks before the actual flight date if you plan on getting a cheaper price on your ticket and even earlier for holiday seasons. And if you plan on traveling frequently, investing in a travel or airline credit card can earn you frequent flyer miles as well as free stays at hotels.

Photo courtesy of Henry Diep.
Lowest price on Travelocity for flight booked on Christmas weekend (departure: 12/20, return: 12/27) less than two months ahead of time (top) versus lowest price on Travelocity for flight booked on non-holiday season (departure: 2/01, return: 2/08) booked four months in advance (bottom).

International vacationers should also look into exchanging currency before their flight as opportunities to exchange currency may become more limited as well as more expensive. Many people recommend switching over to credit cards when traveling to foreign countries, but cards may not always be a viable payment method, especially in countries with more rural areas. If you do make the switch to cards, however, be sure to call your card’s company and let them know that you’re going to be overseas so that your payments aren’t blocked for fraudulent activity.

As for planning the itinerary of your vacation, some opt for one and others look to “wing” it. Personally, I find that a combination of both improvisation and preparation works best. Write down a general plan or list of things that you want to do while on vacation, buy your tickets, and make your reservations ahead of time, but leave some leeway in your schedule for flexibility and for the unexpected. You don’t want to force yourself into following your itinerary just for the sake of following your itinerary — for example, you may end up wanting to stay at the beach for a few hours longer than expected but you won’t be able to if you overbook your schedule with different events. While this is what I would recommend, it’s really just a preference and a matter of what kind of vacation you’re looking for. Remember, the whole point of a vacation is to enjoy yourself, and my definition of that might be different from yours.

For packing, I suggest making a travel checklist (or use an online one; this checklist by EagleCreek is pretty comprehensive if you think you’re missing anything significant) of things you may need, from clothes to toiletries, and checking back on it at the end of the trip to make sure that you’re not leaving behind any non-consumables. For your clothing, be sure to dress appropriately for your destination; consider the weather and the activities you’ll be doing while on vacation. It’s also better to be safe than sorry, so pack some spare garments if possible. If you do find yourself overloaded, you should be able to buy some apparel over at your destination (be aware, though — clothes tend to be expensive and overpriced at tourist sites).

Photo courtesy of

Lastly, enjoy your vacation! I know it sounds cliche, but many people end up worrying so much about planning and prepping that they forget to reap the fruits of their labor. If you end up making a mistake while organizing your trip, don’t stress about it. This article is merely a guide to help you plan an ideal vacation — the goal in the end, ultimately, is to have a good time.