When it’s time to start planning your once-in-a-lifetime trip, whether it’s for a honeymoon, a family reunion, a solo adventure, or a multiweek (or longer!) grand tour, choosing the right mix of destinations and activities will ensure that your holiday is an unforgettable one. Finding that perfect combination depends, of course, on where you want to go, the length of your trip, what you want to do, who’s coming with you, and how far you need your budget to stretch. Here are 10 things to consider as your starting point.
1. Think about your budget
It’s hard to relax and enjoy your time away if you’re constantly worried about the bill. Luckily, the world is a big place, and what you want out of one pricey destination might be accomplished with a more affordable option. If, say, an African safari sounds dreamy but it’s not in the cards, you might want to consider another destination that offers a similar rustic wildlife experience, such as Costa Rica or Nicaragua.
2. Try a travel advisor
Keep in mind that travel advisors are more than just transactional tools. The best advisors can be your secret weapon for complicated trips. They’re destination experts who can handle time-consuming logistics so you don’t have to. They’re also there for you when disaster strikes and have the pull to help wrangle you perks and upgrades.
3. Be open to unfamiliar destinations
It’s perfectly fine, of course, to have a clear picture of where you want to go, but don’t limit yourself too early. Be sure to think about what you really want out of your trip. Whether the purpose of your getaway is quality time with your extended family, alone time with your significant other, or a lively adventure on your own, think about going off the beaten path.
4. Timing is everything
Planning is key when it comes to weather, pricing, availability, and crowds. Rates start to drop at Mediterranean resorts in October, for example, but there’s still plenty of sun, while the European Alps are ideal in April because there are fewer crowds. Even hurricane season in the Caribbean is worth considering—rates are lower and most resorts and airlines have good cancellation policies.
5. Treat yourself
Going the extra mile to plan a singular experience on your trip will make it all the more memorable. Again, this is when you might want to call in a trusted travel expert for his or her advice and insider contacts. If you’re on your honeymoon, this might mean a secluded beachside dinner. Family reunion? Perhaps a hot air balloon ride or even a private cruise.
6. Refine your itinerary
The idea of an “epic vacation” might conjure up a laundry list of places. But consider the actual experience—are you allowing enough time in your itinerary to actually soak in the places you want to explore? Think of a destination like a friendship: the more time you put into it, the more you get out of it.
7. Consider your company
Choosing the right partner—and deciding when to travel alone—can have a huge impact on your experience of a place. Maybe you don’t need a travel companion on that yoga retreat in India, but a friend could be great when you’re exploring Berlin. If you’ve got a new travel partner in mind, try a quick weekend trip together to compare your travel styles before committing to something more lengthy and far-flung.
8. Try a homeshare
Sites like Airbnb, OneFineStay, and the family-friendly Kid and Coe allow you to live like a local in your destination. You’ll often have access to more residential parts of a city and amenities such as a kitchen. This option is especially great for multigenerational groups in need of a base of operations for exploring a destination.
9. Record your memories
The experiences on your trip might feel exciting in the moment, but keep those precious moments from fading forever when you’re back in your daily grind. This goes beyond pictures: Write your thoughts in a journal. You don’t necessarily have to record a play-by-play of your trip, but if a idea, a revelation, or an insight comes to mind, take note of it.
10. Keep the post-travel blues away
Returning home and reentering your routine after a life-changing trip can be a bit of a downer. Ease back into the daily grind by having something fun planned on your return—maybe it’s dinner with friends to catch up and share your trip stories. If you can, try to work in an extra rest day between your flight home and your first day back at work to take off some of the pressure.
>>Next: The Truth I Learned from a Year of Travel
Jennifer Flowers Jennifer Flowers is an award-winning journalist and the senior deputy editor of AFAR.