When it comes to planning vacations, there's a huge range of strategies, from ultra-spur-of-the-moment vacationers to the years-in-advance planners. My parents tends to err on the side of being spur of the moment kinda folks. Usually, my mom is the person with the ideas and my dad is the one who does the booking and research and logistics. When I was 5, it was almost Christmas and Mom happened to have a dream one night that our family went on vacation to Florida. She asked Dad in the morning if they could go to Florida for Christmas--he initially said no, but by afternoon had changed his mind, decided it could work, and if I'm not mistaken, we left on the road trip (from Michigan) the next morning. We spent Christmas in Florida that year.
I don't have experience with it in real life, but I've heard in passing other people mentioning being in the beginning stages of planning trips that will take place in 2017 or 2018. I feel like I hardly even know what country I'll be living in in a few years, let alone what vacations I'll be wanting to take by then, so that's hard for me to imagine doing. I tend to always be setting aside savings for some trip, because I know we'll be going somewhere someday, but I rarely know where we'll go a long time in advance
(ShenZhen, China, 2014)
Here's my vacation planning process:
Step 1: The Dreaming
I first heard of Tokyo Disney Resort around the time we moved to China. I went to DisneyWorld in 2014 and absolutely loved the experience, so having another Disney park relatively close by made it seem like we ought to visit someday (we did visit Hong Kong Disneyland for our 4th anniversary, but I knew Tokyo would have to be a bigger undertaking than a quick Saturday trip). 2015 was a big and busy year, with an expensive move and a big job change and getting new visas, but I thought we might be able to work the trip in sometime into the next couple of years.
Step 2: Sudden Revelation
I started looking at Fall 2016, but our work/responsibilities schedule for fall is already filling up so much that there was only one week in October we could conceivably get away for a vacation. However, according to my research, Tokyo Disney Resort is especially busy the last week of October, and has lots of special Halloween entertainment, and I don't even like Halloween, so the timing seemed like it wouldn't work. I put all thoughts of the trip aside. Sometime later, I was thinking that I wanted to do something special for my 25th birthday, and suddenly the idea clicked that maybe a Tokyo trip would work then. I did some quick checking--School will be out for the last day or two of our trip, but that shouldn't be the biggest deal. Plane tickets aren't astronomical right now. No can't-miss family or work responsibilities scheduled. Maybe this could work. I approach Angel with the idea.
Step 3: Strategic Booking
Angel agreed that it sounded like a great idea. We finalized the days off with his work, bought plane tickets first, and then made AirBnb reservations (p.s. hit me up if you want to sign up for Airbnb. You can get $20 off your first stay if you use my referral link, and I'll also get $20 off my next stay, which would be great, because we've used Airbnb a lot, and unlike with hotels, $20 actually goes pretty far!). I always say I don't believe anything until the plane tickets are bought. Now is when I give myself license to start believing it'll happen. I handle everything except the actual bookings, that we do together, because we figure it's best to have two sets of eyes so that we don't make any mistakes and choose the wrong date or destination of something of that sort.
Step 4: Making the Itinerary and Budget
We'll have a few days to see the city of Tokyo and a few days to see Tokyo Disney Resort. The trip is pretty much evenly split, with one extra day on the Tokyo side. Yes, there's lots of things to see outside of Tokyo, but with only 7 days on a first trip to the country, I didn't want to put too much on our plate, or overwhelm us with figuring out public transportation to other parts of the country.
Pinterest and Google have been helpful friends as I jot down notes of things to see and do. It's worth noting that other than ticket fees for places I really want to see, I tend to be largely a budget traveler (hence the Airbnb stays rather than hotels!), so most of the free sightseeing is what appeals to me. I don't want to do too much train travel in one day, so I'm hoping to put us in one area with a bunch of things to see and do each day, so that we don't spend tons of time on the metro (I spent lots of time on crowded metros in ShenZhen...it's a little boring). I don't plan strict itineraries, but I've got a word document with a suggested area to visit each day and possible places to see in that area, along with opening hours, ticket prices, and information for the metro lines and stops so that we will hopefully avoid getting lost. The theme park days are easy because we'll just spend the entire day inside the park. I've read lots of warnings that July is hot and humid, but I'll admit I'm not very scared of those warnings, because I'm sure it won't be as hot or as humid as Malaysia (which has been 95 degrees or hotter throughout the dry season this year). When things get closer I'll start thinking about how to strategically pack. As you know, we're cheapskates, which means that we're doing this one-week trip with only carry-ons...I figured the extra cost of a check-in was especially not worth it when I thought about having to lug it all over the place on public transportation...
I am admittedly intimidated by the prospect of visiting a country where I don't speak the language (Since most of my travels have been in the USA, China, Hong Kong, or Malaysia, I've never experienced much of that before), so I'm brushing up on my 1 year of college Japanese classes (uhhh...from 7 years ago...) by relearning hiragana and katakana and some generally practical Japanese. I found that being able to read characters in China was immensely helpful for feeling comfortable navigating, and so I expect that it will also be helpful and provide extra peace of mind during our time in China. Thanks to that previous class, it's all vaguely familiar.
What's your style when it comes to vacations? Are they a regular part of life for you, or do you prefer sticking closer to home? Do you plan everything down to the last detail? Are you up for a spur of the moment trip or are you one of those mysterious beings that can plan vacations years in advance? In your family, do you do all the dreaming and planning, or do you leave that up to someone else and just tag along for the adventure?