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Danielle Williams

In less than two weeks I’ll be boarding a plane to Glasgow to start a 16-day journey through Scotland and England. My boyfriend, Tom, and I were supposed to go over winter break, but some health complications kept us in the states for the holidays. While we were certainly bummed to push off our trip, we can’t wait to visit his homeland in the springtime.

Before every vacation, I have a pretty standard “routine.” I don’t know that I consciously do it, but I’ve noticed a trend.

I think we can all agree that gearing up for a trip is butterflies-in-your-stomach and your-face-hurts-from-smiling kind of exciting. Whether you’re visiting a place for the first time or heading to a regular hot spot, you are setting off on an adventure. Who wouldn’t be excited?

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I start off by getting a general idea of what we want to see and do while we’re away. There’s plenty to do at every destination, so most times, it’s near impossible to fit every activity into one trip.

I’ll make a list of the Must-Sees/Dos plus a list of Nice-to-Sees/Dos. Before I can dive into the planning, I never really know how long it will take to get to different places or how long we’ll need to see a certain site. All I know is there are popular tourist spots that I want to see for myself, so I’ll make sure we can fit those into the itinerary. However, there are other spots that would be nice to see if we have the time, but they won’t make-or-break the trip. That’s where my list comes in handy. (Download yours here!)

For our upcoming trip to Scotland and England, we included several places on our Must-See/Do list: Talisker Distillery, Fairy Pools, Old Man of Storr, Quiraing, York, Peterborough, Cambridge, Devon, and London. For our Nice-to-Sees/Dos, we included Stonehenge, a seal trip at Dunvegan Castle, the botanical gardens in Cambridge, and more.

I’ve learned from past experiences that having a list of things that are “Nice-to-See/Do” is especially helpful. It gives you the flexibility to take more or less time in certain places and you won’t get panicked if you can’t fit it all in. Things happen and sometimes you end up lingering somewhere longer than you anticipated. If you’re too worried about fitting everything in, you can’t truly enjoy each stop. Having a list of places and activities like this basically sets you up to avoid disappointment.

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Things are getting real. My tummy tickles and the jitters start to take over as we get closer to the big day. Tom and I have now mapped out each activity for every day we are gone.

We looked up the driving distances between each destination and organized our lists of stops by proximity. Once you figure out what you must see and what would be nice to see if you have time, you can start mapping everything out.

I like to take down a ton of information for each spot (downloadable form coming soon). I write down:

  • Where it is
  • How far it is from where we’re staying
  • How much time we need
  • How we’ll be getting there
  • How much it’ll cost us.

This allows us to see if we’re spending too much time in a car or train, if we’re spending too much money, or trying to cram too much into one day.

Thankfully, for this trip, I’m not driving myself crazy planning every moment of a 16-day venture. Because Tom grew up in England and almost all of his family still lives there, I have the luxury of doing minimal research.

Normally, I spend hours each week to look up directions and read reviews, but Tom knows what areas are must-sees and how long each stop will take us. This is the first time in a long time that I’m not as organized as I usually am, so I’m a little on-edge, but I can’t wait for him to take me around the places he grew up!

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I need to know everything. I can’t hold out anymore. What the weather has been like, what kind of reviews people leave, what restaurants I want to try—everything.

I start to research so much information on the destination that sometimes I start to feel like I’m already there. It helps calm my excitement (Tom may disagree) and keeps my sights set on planning rather than getting anxious about leaving. I can get annoying about vacation and I start feeling like I have to keep moving. It’s almost as if the faster and more I move, the faster time will tick and the quicker we’ll be able to hop on the plane.

Sadly, that’s not how life works.

If you’re like me and feel like you have everything planned but you just can’t sit still, you probably have way more research you can do. If you’re leaving the country, look up the culture and social norms of where you’re going: do they tip at restaurants? Should you sit in the front or back seat of cabs? Any basic phrases you can learn in their language?

I’m a firm believer that there’s always more to learn about every place on Earth, so don’t just sit and watch the clock until your flight takes off; learn as much as you can. It could save you from looking like a tourist, from being unintentionally rude, and can make your visit more pleasant!

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Remember I said I need to know every detail, down to the weather? This is when I start checking it every day. I always pack at the last minute, so it’s good for me to have an idea of everything I want to bring.

I check the weather to see if I should be packing summer clothes, a mix of spring and winter clothes, athletic clothes (depending on the activities we have planned), and what kind of shoes I should bring. Tom always secretly packs warm clothes for me because I’m never being prepared for the cold. So, now I like to pack a sweatshirt for every time I think, “Oh, it should be pretty nice out.”

I envision my outfits in my head and, most times, I’ll write down everything I need in a list. (Another downloadable form coming soon.) When I already have myself mentally dressed for each day of vacation, the last-minute packing becomes a breeze.

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Sort of.

This is about the time I scramble. It’s usually late the night before I’m supposed to leave and I have absolutely no willpower to pack a bag (or two). I continue to envision the outfits I already planned in my head and silently wish they would work their way into my bags all by themselves.

I do one last-minute check of the weather to make sure nothing drastically changed since yesterday. This normally reaffirms that my choices are good ones and that I should now get up and pack my bags already.

I finally bring myself to check necessities off my list, one by one, and throw myself on my bed when I’m finished. My eyes are heavy, my body is tired, and my bags remain in the middle of the floor. In less than 24 hours, I’ll be setting off on a new adventure, and despite my exhaustion, I can’t. Freaking. Sleep.

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Hopefully, my checklists and experiences help you get through the pre-vacation jitters, too!

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