Summer is right around the corner, and you've been saving up your vacation days since the dark days of winter. Having tallied up your weddings, family visits, and everything else, you can see there's that one week in August when perhaps—just maybe—you'll have a single week of blessed freedom to choose where to spend your vacation days. Now you have a decision to make: where to?
Don't panic. You can do this. Here's how to choose a trip that, when all is said and done, will leave you feeling satisfied that your money and time have been spent wisely.
6 Tips for Choosing the Trip That's Right for You
1. Let the ideas fly freely. In the brainstorming phase, the point is not so much to come up with concrete plans as to let the ideas fly. You can always winnow down the flurry of wishes later.
2. Determine what matters most. Domestic travel or international? By land, air, or water? City or country? Beach or mountains? Weekend or extended sojourn? Single destination or constantly on the move? Do you like adventurous activities, cultural opportunities, spa treatments? All three?
3. Go with your gut. Which of the following pops out? Rome and Florence. Caribbean beaches. Canadian ski resorts. Disney in Orlando. Camping in Colorado. A Napa Valley inn. Bird-watching in Central America. Cruising the Mediterranean. A safari in Kenya. Shopping in Hong Kong. This list represents broad types of travel, and your answer might reveal just what kind of travel mood you're in.
4. Mix-and-match creatively. With a little ingenuity, one destination can meet mixed needs. Cities have it all, or almost all: nonstop action for the go-getters, culture to spare, sophisticated spas. Outdoorsy types may not be in their optimal element, but they can usually find some kind of sporting activity (consider New York's urban adult playground, Chelsea Piers), and if not, there's always the hotel gym. Beach vacations can be weak on the cultural front: if that's a must, pick an exotic locale, or one steeped in history.
5. Be smart when researching multidestination trips. Sure, you can head to airport and airline Web sites to find out where the carriers fly into and out of and when. But you can save steps by heading to sites like Vayama.com and MontroseTravel.com, which have multidestination research and planning functions, or Flylc.com, a site with information on which low-cost carriers fly to which destination in Europe. And if it's a really complicated trip —say, hopping from one Caribbean island to the next —you can't beat a travel agent who really knows the region. AirTreks.com is a travel agent specializing in writing multistop international tickets.
6. Don't rule out organized tours. These days, tours are often more about activities or experiences in a given destination than they are about schlepping from place to place on a big bus. Companies run from the refined Abercrombie & Kent variety to ones that appeal to go-getters who'd prefer to ride a bike across Cambodia. Whatever your pleasure, there's sure to be a tour to match. You can search for a tour operator —by destination, interest, or both —on the National Tour Operators Association's (www.ntaonline.com) Web site. All operators listed are members of the association and must agree to and follow its code of ethics. Voyagetrek.com is a great place to find operators that specialize in adventure and active travel.
Photo credit: Jo Ann Snover