What does the vacation of your dreams look like?
Are the skies are impossibly blue, beaches powdery and pristine, the kids perfectly behaved, and there never are any crowds? Me too.
But as much as you hope for that Instagram-worthy trip, sometimes it rains. Or the airline loses the bag you’d packed with the only swimsuit that fits just right. Or tickets to the Eiffel Tower means a two hour wait, baking in the Paris summer heat. Now and again, the stars do align, granting you a bliss-filled, picture-postcard week away. But the truth is, a great vacation takes a little work. With a little planning, some flexibility and a dash of creativity, you can have a fantastic vacation anytime, anywhere. Here’s how.
1. GET TO KNOW THE LOCALS
Hopping on an open-top, double-decker tour bus is a great (and fast!) way to see the sites, but you’ll likely miss out on those cool nooks and crannies only a native will know about. Make new friends instantly with a good travel social app. Vayable will hook you up with locals who lead insider excursions from restaurant and pub crawls to neighborhood exploring, photo-walks, and even running tours. Some extra friendly folks will even join you for a meal. The Like a Local app offers in-the-know travel tips, tours and listings of things to do curated by locals in close to 4,000 cities around the world. Bonus: skip the long lines and book tickets directly from the app.
2. DOWNLOAD A PERSONAL ASSISTANT
Love to travel but hate all of the planning? Let your phone help lead the way. Apps such as Field Trip and Time To Enjoy use the GPS on your smartphone to automatically suggest cool activities and places to visit right as you are walking around. Tell it your faves (Gothic architecture! Ethopian food! Fusion jazz!) and it will customize its recommendations. Activities can also be synched up to your phone’s calendar so that you don’t accidentally double-book a Broadway matinee and lunch reservations at that cute little French place. Detour delivers expert narration for great self-guided walking tours.
3. THEN PUT YOUR SMARTPHONE AWAY
Sure, it’s tempting to take a selfie at the edge of the Grand Canyon (pro tip: don’t) or to Instagram your latte art at that impossibly adorable Venetian café. Who doesn’t want a Facebook page filled with bucket-list pix? But while you’re busy capturing yourself at just the right angle, you’re also missing out on the experience of, you know, actually being at the Grand Canyon. Yes, some of the apps recommended above will help you get the most out of your trip, but at the same time, multiple studies suggest that we are spending way too much time on our phones, whether it’s texting or posting to social media, and we’re ignoring the world around us. So you really want to enjoy your vacation, and all of the sites, sounds and smells? Stash away your phone for at least a few hours a day.
4. TAKE A CLASS
One summer a few years ago, it poured every day during my weeklong Cape Cod vacation. After a few days of drowning my disappointment in the hotel’s indoor pool, I wandered into town and found a little art shop that was holding daily scrapbooking classes. A closet crafter, I was thrilled to find something creative to pass away the stormy days. Plus I met a bunch of regulars who gave me lots of good local tips (the pub down the street waters down the drinks, the pancake place serves to-die-for crepes). Explore a new interest or keep up with one you’ve already mastered (Crossfit to burn off those crepes, anyone?). Dabble can help you find local classes in everything including food and art, business and technology, fitness and even education. Plus there are volunteer opportunities to make your soul feel good.
5. BE SPONTANEOUS
My husband and I like to leave at least two vacation days completely unbooked. That means no hotel reservations, no plans and no apps to help us out. The first time was admittedly nerve-wracking. What if we couldn’t find a decent place to stay? With some faith and a full tank of gas, we went off-script and explored the tiny towns we’d otherwise drive right by. The results? A cozy night outside of Taos, New Mexico, in a palapa with a hand-carved four poster bed, a wood-burning adobe stove and a complimentary bottle of tequila left on the nightstand. Sometimes the best plans are the ones you don’t make at all.