23 actually helpful tips for planning a stress-free vacation

By Anna Brech

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Expert tips for planning the adventure of your dreams – no sweat necessary

Planning a great vacation is a bit like being an endurance athlete: you needs acres of time and headspace to deliver results. And unless you’re one of those lucky people who can somehow wrangle hours of “research” into their day job, that commitment can be hard to come by.

“How difficult can it be to book a hotel?” we hear you cry. Well, yes: but small details have the power to make or break a trip – especially one you’ve been saving up months for. You need the right hotel, in the right location, at the right price. Add flights, transport and a series of bucket-list moments into the bargain, and you have yourself a logistical nightmare.

But courage, friends: it can be done. Get your planning cap on straight, and you’ll make the difference between a vacation that is a bit “meh” and one that is outstandingly, remember-my-whole-life brilliant. Or, of course, you can always hop on-board with Flash Pack… just sayin’. Here’s 23 planning tips to help your holiday go with a zing:

Hoi An Vietnam

1 – Sort your passport, visa and insurance

It sounds obvious but if you miss this step, your entire vacation could hang in the balance. Always start by checking the validity your passport (some destinations require it to be valid not only for the duration of the trip but also for six months after). Depending on your nationality and where you’re travelling to, you may also need to arrange a visa: check your country’s embassy website to find out more. Insurance is a must: you never know what may happen on a trip. Medical costs, in particular, can rack up quickly. Make sure your insurance covers any special activities you’re planning on doing, e.g. diving. Finally, store a photo of the inside ID page of your passport, and any visas, in your phone and on email in case you lose it abroad.

2 – Cover your medical needs

There’s nothing more stressful than being ill abroad, but a few quick steps will help minimise risk. Check with your country’s embassy or on public health websites to see if vaccinations are required for the country you’re visiting – these usually need to be arranged at least six weeks in advance of travel. You may also need malaria tablets, insect repellant, a mini medical kit and high-SPF sun cream (again, check for country-specific advice). Don’t forget any prescription meds, along with your prescription for each. If you have a medical condition or allergy that requires particular attention, bring along a doctor’s letter that describes the nature of the condition and the treatment needed.

3 – Budget, budget, budget

It’s all about the money. Set a grand total spend for your trip overall, depending on the health of your bank account. Then take away costs of flights and transfers to work out a daily cash pot for hotels, meals and activities. This figure will govern absolutely everything from where you stay to what you do and how you eat, so it’s important to get it right. It may help to break down between hotels, then again for meals, experiences and so on. Try and leave a little over if you can, to account for unexpected costs. Remember to include any hidden spend such as withdrawal fees or departure taxes, too.

canoe

4 – Plan ahead for bucket-list activities

Fail to plan, plan to fail. If you’re keen to make one activity the standout highlight of your trip – a snowmobile safari in Finland, say, or ziplining in the rainforests of Laos – it’s vital that you organise it well in advance. Some experiences, such as going on safari, require a lot of research on the best prices, dates and operators. Others, for example canyoning in Jordan, only operate at certain times of year. By doing your homework properly, you stand the best chance of making that bucket-list wish come true.

5 – Treat tourist hot spots with caution

That said, there are some experiences that you should consider skipping on altogether. Overtourism is a real problem in an Instagram age: that Venetian gondola trip is a no-go during carnival season, and don’t even think about getting a selfie in front of the Trevi Fountain (you’re better than that). Meanwhile, sections of The Great Wall of China rival rush hour in Manhattan for sheer crowd capacity at certain times of year. Pick and choose what really matters to you and be strategic about trade-ins. For example, the Himalayas has plenty of routes that veer off the massively popular Everest trail, and Peru is home to lesser-known Inca treasures beyond Machu Picchu.

6 – Leave some room for spontaneity 

A surefire way to generate stress on holiday is by packing too many things into it. Not only will this start to resemble a work schedule rather than a vacation, it also misses the point. Some of the best kind of travel will come from simply wandering around and getting the measure of a place. Wherever you are in the world, you want to head away from the centre to hunt down hidden neighbourhood places and simply soak up the tempo of local life. Instead of being tethered to review sites and a must-see list, pluck up the courage to get lost a little – and ask locals for help along the way. This dreamy, carefree amble time will give your adventure wings.

7 – Research exactly where you’re staying

It’s all very well going for a great hotel rate, but make sure you research it before booking. There’s no point paying less if you’re going to have to splurge on taxi fees every night. Where is your hotel in relation to nearby restaurants and bars? What neighbourhood is it in? Are you going to be able to walk around easily after dark? How will you get from A to B? Get on street view and gift yourself the knowledge.

8 – Book hotels well in advance

The world’s population is travelling more and faster than ever before, which means you have to be deft like lightning in bagging that great hotel. If you’ve got somewhere popular in mind, with good views and top reviews, get in quick to nab your spot. If you do end up having to find a place the same day, turn up in person in the early evening. This is when night staff come on; they’re refreshed, generally in a good mood and keen to shift any leftover rooms.

9 – Avoid popular business and holiday routes

Off-peak flights will always be cheaper and less hassle. When you’re booking your journey, try and avoid popular business and school holiday times. This includes regional holidays, e.g, carnival season in Brazil, and one-off sporting and cultural events. When it comes to getting a good fare, it’s also worth remembering that two single flights may land you a better deal than one return. Another workaround if you have time is to cut your route up somewhere unexpected. For example, a return flight from London to Tenerife would be expensive in high season, but you could stopover in the Spanish city of Valencia and take a domestic flight onwards from there. Not only is this cheaper, you also get to max out your travel experience by exploring a new place on the way, too.

10 – Leave more time than you need for everything 

As in life, everything takes longer than you think with travel. To minimise the stress of dashing from place to place, factor in at least an hour more than you need between each transfer and activity. This will allow breathing room for inevitable delays, including traffic, bad weather, cows in the road and – you get the picture.

11 – Accept that not everything will go to plan

Even the best laid plans are liable to go awry, however; in fact, the very best adventures rely on it. When you go on vacation, it’s best to leave your expectations at the door and go with the flow when unexpected things crop up. If you stick with zeal to a pre-planned schedule, you’re likely to be disappointed. Instead, relax and accept that you can’t control everything. To paraphrase the great Ralph Waldo Emerson, travel is a golden opportunity to let loose and “go where there is no path”. You never know who you’ll see and what’ll happen next. Embrace it.

12 – Choose your travel companions carefully

The buddy you enjoy sinking Cointreau with at 4am is not necessarily the same person you want to share a room with for two weeks. Ditto your well-meaning school friend who hates to take risks. Picking a travel companion is a bit like choosing a housemate: you need different qualities to the ones that might seem immediately attractive. And just because you hit it off on a day-to-day basis, it doesn’t mean you’ll have a ball on the road. Group travel dilutes this problem a little, because there are more people to mix it up.

Camping under the stars

13 – Don’t be afraid to take time out

If you *are* planning on travelling with others, remember that you don’t have to spend every minute together. In fact, doing so may bring out your less honourable instincts. Figure out time that can be spent alone if needed: maybe in the form of a few evenings apart, or an extended holiday after one of you has left. This may happen naturally as a result of you wanting to try different activities, too. It’s not about being antisocial so much as ensuring you all have the space you need to get on.

14 – Pack as light as you can

The more belongings you bring, the more stressed you’ll feel in trying to keep track of everything. So the gospel of all good travel planning comes in packing as little as you can (cue: much less than you think). There’s a few things to remember here: you can wash your clothes. If you’re travelling in a group, you can arrange to divide things between you. It’s also likely that, wherever you’re heading to, you can buy anything you’ve forgotten on the ground. The bottom line is, overpacking usually comes down to indecision and uncertainty rather than need. So be ruthless, and whittle down your packing list to the absolute essentials. Bar your passport, it’s unlikely you’ll regret leaving anything behind. But a bulky, bloated backpack will drag you down for the duration of your trip.

15 – Leave valuable jewellery at home

Start your suitcase slimdown by leaving any valuables at home. Expensive watches, precious rings, bracelets and the like will only cause you more hassle on the move, and you’ll stand out for all the wrong reasons. Some people also choose to leave wedding and engagement rings at home, or use a cheap replacement ring for the duration of travel. This also neatly sidesteps any issues that may come up with insurance.

moneky

16 – Make room for a sarong

One thing that is worth bringing is a sarong, simply because it’s the hardest-working multitasker around. You can use a sarong as a scarf when you’re cold, as a towel when you’re wet, and as a pillow when you don’t have one. It’ll work a makeshift cover-up, for wrapping fragile items in your backpack and of course, you can use it on the beach. Plus, it’s lightweight and washes easily = the ultimate travel accessory.

17 – Bring a deck of cards

Cards are another must-have. It’s amazing how far a humble pack of cards can stretch in almost any travel situation the world over. This age-old ritual will see you through overnight train journeys, agonising airport delays, two days in a hostel in the backend of nowhere – you name it, cards will rise to the occasion. Not only do card games kill time, they’re also a great way of meeting new people and overcoming language barriers in the process.

18 – Plan the ultimate carry-on 

Long-haul flights can be stressful, but they become a lot easier if you get smart about your hand luggage. The ultimate carry-on should contain sleep heroes such as an eye mask and soothing podcasts, along with hydrating spray and other toiletries in a clear ziploc bag. You’ll also need high-protein snacks, a reusable water bottle and a hoodie or sweater plus thick socks for when the aircon chill kicks in.

plane-wing

19 – Organise your cash and cards

It’s a good idea to always have local currency handy, and you can either order ahead on this (ordering currency online may save money) or pick up from an airport ATM. On this note, it may be useful to switch to a no-fee ATM card while you’re travelling, to swerve on fees. Think about bringing a spare credit card, too, and store both this and your cash in a few different (and well-secured) places, in case you lose your wallet. You can also store your cards in an RFID blocking holder, to keep them safe from contactless fraud.

20 – Store important contact numbers

Email yourself with a list of toll-free international numbers for your credit/debit card and mobile phone providers, in case you need to cancel either from abroad. Also include contact numbers for local emergency services and your in-country embassy, along with your insurance and flight providers. It’s unlikely you’ll need any of this, and a lot of it will be available online or via apps, but it’s still useful to have as a back-up. 

21 – Buy a local SIM card and download apps

If you want to use your phone abroad without being tethered to wi-fi spots, consider buying a local SIM. For some destinations, e.g. Japan, you can arrange to have this sent you to before travelling. But it’s also easy to pick up at airports and on the road: just do a little research on the best networks for different countries, along with the typical price for deals. A trove of carefully selected travel apps will also serve you well: start with the likes of Google Maps, Google Translate, XE exchange and TripAdvisor, then top up with country-specific apps (there are loads of great ones out there). Don’t forget chargers and adapters for your phone, too.

boat friends

22 – Organise a few days off post-trip

If your vacation allowance can stretch to it, aim for a few days’ off immediately after you come back. There’s nothing more stressful than jumping straight off a plane and into the office, where a huge pile of deadlines and demands await. A few days’ extra will give you breathing room to unpack, shake off any jet lag and do fun things like curates your holiday photos/ go for drinks and mull over your holiday highlights. If time doesn’t allow it, at least set your out of office message so that it extends for a few days after you return, to give yourself space to get through emails.

23 – Book a trip with Flash Pack

Ta-da! The beauty of booking with Flash Pack is that we take the stress of planning a holiday right out of your hands. Using our secret formula, we curate a series of epic activities – think abseiling down Table Mountain in Cape Town, or glamping on a hidden island in the Philippines – along with wow moments designed to surprise and delight. Local, off-radar experiences are at the core of what we do; so wherever you travel, you’ll always come away with a really strong sense of place.

On top of this, we arrange all in-country travel (often by private transfer), the support of a seasoned, English-speaking guide and a small group of like-minded travellers of a similar age and life stage to share your adventure with. Wherever possible, we’ll also stay in independent hotels, complete with boutique details such as rooftop bars and infinity pools. Plus, most expenses are included in an upfront price, so there’s no need to budget religiously for every last cost.

All this means the foundations for a unique and standout trip are already in place. All you have to do is book your flights and rock up; we’ll take care of the rest. Hassle-free adventure, here we come…

Images: Shutterstock, Unsplash

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