Your Guide to Planning a Successful Vacation – Five Research Essentials

I’ve been told that I am an overachiever and a bit of a control freak; I can’t argue with these descriptions. They are not the best character traits in some circumstances, but honestly, these “strong” personality traits have served me well in my professional life. And when planning vacations.

The Essentials of Vacation Planning

The aim of this article IS to help you pinpoint where you should spend your time when planning your vacation (because we all know how valuable time is) so that you won’t over plan and script your vacations.

The aim of this article is NOT meant to help you “over plan” and stress you out. Planning is important, but just like in every other area of life, you will need to strike a balance between making arrangements and keeping open times to explore, learn and relax.

Quick Side Note: Before I continue this post I have to say this – or I’ll hear it from some of you, I know! It is true that some of our most vivid travel memories are from unplanned, spontaneous events + moments. Every travel memory is wonderful. Every “mess-up” has a lesson. Every surprise has meaning. But none of this discounts the fact that a little preparation can improve a trip!

Here are five essential areas for a pre-vacation planning repertoire: 

Locale – Research a locale as a first step, before booking flights or accommodations.

  • Safety: I suggest you look into the safety of the area. And by safety, I don’t mean pick pockets or heckling. While annoying as these are, these are technically safety concerns anywhere you go. Shoot, a stranger heckled me leaving the grocery store the other day and I live in suburbia! Instead, find out if there violent crime in the area? Research what the international relations between your home country and this destination are like? For example, at the time of this article’s publishing political unrest and military conflicts plagued Ukraine. Crimea would not be one of my choices at the moment.
  • Getting There: Research how easy it is to get to and from this destination. You should not be deterred by a difficult destination. Not at all. Instead, just know that you will have to plan a little more time for traveling to and fro.
  • Season: When researching a locale, look into the high and low travel seasons. Note that high season is “high” for a reason (weather, animal migratory patterns, etc.) and will come with a “high” price tag too. Michael and I paid more to shark dive in South Africa during high season, but it was necessary to have an almost guaranteed spotting. It was worth it to us. In contrast, we took a chance and visited Koh Chang, Thailand during the low season and it paid off for us when we book a beachfront bungalow at $25 USD/night.

Great White Bumps Cage


  • Type: Did your mind automatically go to “hotel” when you read the subtitle? If so, stop it! There are so many options – even with the types of hotels! From all-inclusive resorts, chain hotels, and boutique hotels (typically smaller, “family” owned and operated) all the way to bed and breakfasts or guesthouses with meal options. Don’t forget vacation rentals and even hostels are options too.
  • Price Point: I know I don’t need to remind you that you are (more than likely) on a budget. Instead, this is to remind you that hotels in your price range might not exist. Look into it! Do not assume there will be a budget hotel right on the beach in Honolulu.
  • Availability: Do not take fore-granted that a hotel at your price or up to your standards will even be available. Take it from me, we ended up spending waaaay more on lodging in Switzerland than we anticipated because we waited until arrival. It all worked out, but why spend more money than you have to?

Casa Morada King Room


  • Look into the price points of restaurant before you leave – for budgeting reasons. It’s just smart to know food prices when budgeting for a trip. You will also want to look into reservations at any establishments that you are very serious about eating at. I like to research restaurants so we don’t end up settling for a chain restaurant in the area because we do not know what is available. The point of travel is to try new things; do not eat somewhere on vacation that you can eat at when at home. (Note: Locals and hotel/tour workers are the best place to get information on places to eat. However, I like to go with a few options too.)

Sticky Bun The Bunnery

Things to Do

  • For some, a vacation means doing absolutely nothing. If that is you, skip this section. If that is not you, you will want to look into your entertainment options. I believe this is integral to your research because some tours and shows do not accept walk ins and need a reservation. For example, swimming with pigs in Exuma almost didn’t happen for us – and it was a must-see for me – because we did not reserve a tour. Quick thinking and extra money made sure I was able to see swine swim, but a reservation would have saved us headache and cash.
  • Researching tour companies before arriving allows you to check reviews from previous customers. Who wants to waste their money on a tour that is less than stellar? Who wants to risk wasting valuable time while on vacation? Who is willing to gamble with their safety? Not me. Check out prospective companies before leaving, you’ll be happy you did.

Swimming Pigs Georgetown Exuma


  • I write about this facet of travel because we’ve made the mistake of NOT looking into this before going. Twice actually. What can I saw, we’re slow learners at times. Our first mistake came  when we waited to reserve a rental car in Exuma, only to show up and be told that there were no available cars on the island. Not cool. 24 hours later we were “saved” by a car for part of our vacation, and charged a fee for “last-minute rental”. We were not happy with this fee and it seemed bogus, but we were desperate, and they knew it. Our second, and bigger, mistake came in Bali when we reserved a car and attempted drive. To be exact, we tried to drive to the opposite side of the island – in the dark. Again, not cool. We should have hired a car instead. We should have done our research to know that even Aussie’s who vacation on the island annually do not drive. Learn from our mistakes people!


Does this post totally confirm my control-freak status? I hope not. Michael and I do not have an unlimited amount of money or time to travel, so we like to make the most of our trips. Doing some work upfront has saved us headaches, money and time. I hope this post will help you do the same. 

4 thoughts on “Your Guide to Planning a Successful Vacation – Five Research Essentials

  1. cvail

    These are all things that you need to research before going, but I would caution not to book or overbook yourselves. I’ve had the best trips where I had an idea or where and what I wanted to do, but the flexibility to add/subtract anything I wanted and also stay where I decided that day or where I ended up. Great list, and definitely all things worth knowing something about before you go!

    1. Wife with Baggage Post author

      I put the caveat in the post for that reason. I agree with you. “Open space” is important and fun – but planning does not hurt, especially when everyone is so short on money and time!

  2. Pingback: How Do I Get an American Passport? | Wife with Baggage

  3. Pingback: Tips for Driving the PCH | Wife with Baggage

Leave us a comment or question!

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.