When you go on your next adventure, avoid the” woulda, coulda, shoulda” regrets of missed opportunities. Plan ahead to make sure you soak up all the best sounds, sights and activities. If you are like me, take this list along with you so you don’t get too busy and forget these little details that will turn your next trip into a great vacation.

ACTIVITIES:

1 – Say “YES” to unexpected opportunity: Be flexible enough to make a quick change of plans when you find something fun, intriguing, or exciting to do. Make sure you have some extra money in your budget to fund a few extras. On one family trip, we shared the cost of renting jet-skis for an afternoon. On a day in Paris, daughter Andowen and I took a bike taxi ride. Both are memories we still cherish!

unexpected fun, explore, great vacation activities

2 – Talk to a local: Strike up a conversation with a local shopkeeper or another mom at the playground. Folks are often quite proud to be asked for advice. You might find the perfect romantic restaurant or family-friendly café. There is probably a hidden gem of a park or waterfall or swimming hole nearby. (Time in Nature *is* important, ya know… HA!) On our current road trip, I stopped to get a haircut. The barber and his next customer animatedly urged us to explore a nearby nature preserve. We are still talking about the giant eagle nests topping the line of power poles and the great heron spearing his fishy lunch in the marsh.

3 – Find a local market or shop to explore: Avoid chains and big-box stores. It’s far more fun to discover little treasures and one-of-a-kind things at a local emporium. Even better is a store with sky-high prices—an opportunity to window-shop. You can ooh and aah without being tempted to buy anything. Take time to chat with the owner or store-clerk, if possible. They often have interesting stories to tell—about the merchandise, about the local area, or about their own life story. Little details like this can turn a ho-hum trip into a great vacation!

shop local, gift store

4 – Try something outside your comfort zone: Why in the world would I suggest you be uncomfortable (or even terrified) on your next vacation? Because when we are stretched, we learn more about ourselves. So try that zip-line or take a jeep tour. Taste the local food. Hike the mountain above town. Figure out what types of adventures you enjoy and which things you never want to do again!

THINGS:

5 – Find/Buy a meaningful memento: Sure, that stuffed animal is adorable. And that T-shirt has a hilarious saying. But do you really have a place for that quirky candle-holder or colorful poster? Is there empty space in your cupboard for yet one more mug or wine glass? Consider starting a collection of something small instead. Going on a hunt for the perfect spoon or earrings or magnet can become an enjoyable tradition. And each time you glance at your collection back home, you will be reminded of the wonderful adventures you have had.

frig magnets, great vacation mementos

6 – Snap the photos you have missed: Sometimes I remember to make a list of specific photos I don’t want to forget. I know myself—without a reminder, I will take far too many photos of beautiful scenery and architectural details, and far too few pictures of people and quiet moments. Because of my list, on this current trip I have taken more photos of the friends we have visited, the shops we have wandered, and the made-up adventures of the Tiny-Mes (our Lego travelling companions). Snap a quick picture of the sign at a yummy café or a quirky shop. Capture the treasures you find to remember details of your great vacation when you get back home.

7 – Send a postcard to someone special: Grandma would love to hear from you (and so would Mom…trust me!) Share the fun with the person who cheers you on in your adventures. Find a historic photo to send to your favorite history geek. (okay, okay…so I keep these for myself…) Tip: tacky-tourist stores or museum gift shops are often the best places to purchase postcards. Unfortunately, postcards are becoming harder to find!

snail mail, paper ephemera, great vacation memories

MEMORIES:

8 – Savor: Take time to soak in the atmosphere of the place you are visiting. We best remember things associated with strong emotion: excitement is an easy memory trigger. But noticing with our senses also makes deep connections. Notice the changing light on the buildings. Breathe deeply in a garden or near the spices in an open market. (But you might want to use shallow breathing to lessen the stench of an open meat market!) Pay attention to the background noise around you: music, conversations, footsteps, car horns. Feel the warm sunshine or cool wind on your skin. It might seem like you don’t have time to waste on such things. Actually, you are wasting your time if you don’t savor the uniqueness of your great vacation location!

Ocean spray, big waves, Maine coast

9 – Remember your motivation & objectives for this adventure: Why did you take this vacation? Perhaps it was to rest and recharge from a chaotic daily schedule. Maybe it was to add some excitement to your life. You might have wanted to get away from people…or meet new people and hear new stories. As you remind yourself of the purpose(s) for your trip, is there anything you still need to do to fulfill your own expectations?

10 – Take time to reflect: Consider the things you have most enjoyed about this vacation. Make sure you keep these things in mind for your next trip. Ponder the things that frustrated you. How can you lessen those challenges next time? On our first backpacking trip (You can read about it HERE) daughter and I started a daily practice to write down “our three good things.” We allow ourselves to record just one “bad” thing from each day. This helps us notice the things we enjoy, even on hard days. And it makes an excellent reference when planning future trips. We can choose to include more of the things that make our hearts sing!

memories, 3 good things, great vacation

Most of us take a trip at least once a year. What things can YOU add to this list to help others turn an annual tradition into a great vacation? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below…