We just got home from our 2nd anniversary trip, and, including our honeymoon, our 3rd perfect trip in a row. I was remarking to my wife that it would be hard to keep the bar so high year after year, and that got us thinking. Were we lucking out? What made our trips so amazing? Were we going to have to top each trip to be more extravagant? What makes a vacation a success?
Everyone is different in what they want out of a vacation, so I realize that. Last spring on a different non-anniversary trip we went to an all-inclusive resort in Jamaica and it was pretty much paradise. Hard to top something like that.
Our anniversary trips are a bit different, but here’s what we’ve nailed down as the biggest factors in success. But first, I think the overall arching idea is that we actually go. We decided our first year together that celebrating anniversaries should always be a big deal. Not just the big ones, but every year. I’m sure in our future there will be years where we can’t go anywhere but I’m also sure we’ll figure out how to make it a big deal anyway. We’re committed to this idea that every year together should be celebrated in a really big way. A little getaway is definitely up our alley. We enjoy getting the chance to sneak away for a long weekend, and we always try to take advantage of these moments.
A big factor to our successful vacation, besides leaving 5 children at home, is to stay flexible. We love planning trips but have both traveled enough to know things rarely go as planned. Flights get delayed. Weather hits. People get sick. The museum you planned on seeing is closed on Sundays. We also know that not planning anything doesn’t work either. You spend the weekend in a cycle of, “What should we do?” “I don’t know, what do you want to do?” We’re getting good at planning just enough to know the options but keeping them mostly open. Our honeymoon: We nerded out and decided to hit Washington DC and get all of our National Monument Stamps from around the National Mall as well as tour the Capitol and White House. I know, I know, we are so cool! We decided to hit DC in the middle of January. Not super typical but we were excited. My wife made a 5 page itinerary. She planned each hour, charted the weather, included the airline tickets, the Metro schedule, booked tours. Presented neatly in a binder. Again, planning is fun. It’s often times one of the best parts of a trip. Highly encouraged, unless you’re going to get overly attached and throw a tantrum if it doesn’t work out. As the week drew closer, we were alerted that a big winter storm was headed to DC. A really big storm. We could wait it out, cut our vacation short on the front end. Or, we could get flexible and adventurous. We decided to fly in a day early to beat the storm. Turns out airlines like that and it’s the only time ever that they’ll change your ticket for free, because you are one less person they have to deal with later. We got an extra day away. We touched down just as the very first flurries were dancing down from the sky. Places were starting to shut down in anticipation. We awoke the next morning to 24 inches of snow and a city paralyzed for the next 48 hours. We missed every single tour. Not one thing on our itinerary got checked off, at least not when we had written it down.
And guess what? It was one of the best trips we have ever taken. We took advantage of the down time, snuggled up in quilts and binge-watched shows. We donned our winter gear and hiked to the few train lines that were running, a mile away. We hoofed it through abandoned city streets to still walk the National Mall and see all the monuments we could. We made the most of it, and it was amazing! (Not to worry, an hour before we had to be at the airport, the NP visitor center opened and we got our stamps!) Another upside? It’s merely an excuse to have to go back someday, of course.
This weekend we tossed around the idea of a quick trip to somewhere warm and balmy. We nixed it when we realized the stress of a long flight in the winter over a 4 day weekend might go badly and we’d be stuck. We decided to wait until the weekend and just start driving. The week before we checked cheap airline tickets and found some dirt cheap to Albuquerque! A short, direct flight, cheaper than driving, and a quaint Airbnb? Yes, please! Chalk up a score to flexibility. What’s in Albuquerque you ask? We didn’t know but we wanted to find out!
Another reason for success is variety. We like to mix it up during our weekend. Not all of one thing but a small taste of many. We like to eat well, but healthy on trips. We cook some, we dine some, we snack. We relax, we hike. We sleep in, we hit the high points of the city. We love National Park Passport stamps, but you can get pretty geeked out over them and overdo it (the next park is only 100 miles away!). We hold back and get the most out of a couple. We run together. We do local things. We stay in the heart of it all. We come back and take a nap before going somewhere nice to eat.
It’s hard to go wrong when you can be flexible, embrace a new area for what it has to offer, and focus on things that are fun and relaxing and a little adventurous all at once. This past weekend we tried things we hadn’t before. We signed up for a pottery class. We ate different cuisine every night. We rented a tandem bike for an afternoon. And my wife dragged me on to a hot air balloon. I definitely have a fear of heights, but I did it anyway because she wanted to. And don’t tell her but it wasn’t even that scary and I highly recommend it!
I think the biggest factor is that we come in knowing that as long as we’re together it’s going to be a great trip, no matter what. Last year we found cheap tickets to Vegas. We aren’t the Vegas type, but we are the “Do you know how close we would be to Death Valley? And Lake Mead? And it’s warmer there this time of year? And we could eat somewhere really fancy?” Standing in line once we flew in to get our rental car I started to panic. The one credit card we had I had left at home and only had our trusty debit. Which is fine everywhere except rental car companies. We waited in line forever as I tearfully envisioned us not being able to get a car, the short weekend getaway pretty much ruined. My wife turned to me and said, “Hey, it’s no big deal. We’ll get a taxi if we have to. As long as we are together that’s all that matters.” She was right, and although it ended up being fine, I knew that even if we couldn’t, and our vacation changed, it still would’ve been perfect.
Just go out and do it. I lived too much of my life where I wanted to and never did. Where I got tired of being the only one planning. Or life and kids got in the way. But now I see the value and I have my person to do it all with me. It might not always be somewhere grand. It may be a night away in the town you live. It may be horrible weather or the worst hotel. It may be in a tent. But it will always be worth the effort. You won’t regret it.