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Stress free ways to plan a vacation

Each year my dad and I take a father - daughter scuba diving trip. We live 1,000 miles apart and only get to see each other during family get togethers and then my sisters, mom, nieces, nephews, neighbors; you name it, are all there as well. Our special trip allows us to bond for a week, just the two of us, and enjoy our hobby of scuba diving. Being on a dive boat and staying at a resort with other like minded adults we are always discussing other places to dive. During this past trip we kept a list of places to check into once we both had time and energy to spend on our computers. I thought, "Wow, can it really be this easy?"

I remember a few years back when I was trying to find a place for us to take our trip. I searched the internet and emailed countless dive shops and resorts. But my dad turned them all down for one reason or another. I was so frustrated! I could not figure out where to go and as each day passed I knew that if I actually found a place he agreed to it might be sold out when we were available to go. I finally asked my dad what he was looking for in regards to our trip. He sheepishly told me he wanted to go someplace with warm water. He loves to scuba dive, but he does not enjoy putting on a wetsuit before each dive. All the places I was finding and sending to him were in the Pacific Ocean, where the water is much cooler. I thought he wanted a new destination and the chance to see new animals underwater. Nope. He wanted a laid back trip with his daughter.

We have flown to Roatan, Honduras for the past two summers to spend a week at a dive resort. I was hesitant to go the second year, because I was not sure how it would compare to the first year, when everything was unknown and exciting. My dad and I actually had a better time the second year because we knew what to expect and could ask for changes to dive sites, or request our amazing dive master again. And while we do want to return, maybe with some family members next time, we can't help but think, should we try a different venue? So now I am in the same position of trying to find a new place for us to visit next summer. But I also have the added pressure of it living up to or beating the resort we have visited the past two years. I knew I did not want to go through the same frustrations I faced a couple years back. One morning at breakfast my dad and I talked through some key factors for our trip. I highly suggest you do the same with your travel companion or group so that no one is disappointed or you are not stuck trying to make last minute changes. Here are things to keep in mind when planning a trip:

1) Budget - I know, it's hard to talk about money, but it has to be the first thing discussed. You don't need to lock down an exact number, but know everyone's maximum limit. And make sure you know the deposit amount and when it is due.

2) Included and not included items - this goes along with the budget, but a lot of people don't think about this when they see a low price for a week long vacation. My dad and I scuba dive, which can get expensive if you have to pay for each dive individually. So we always look for places that offer dive packages. The same may be true for the activity of your choice. I know ski resorts have better deals on lift tickets and rentals if you go to the same place multiple days during your trip. Food is another item to check before snatching up that to good to be true vacation. Finding places to eat when traveling can be tricky. So keep this in mind when doing a total budget for your trip.

3) Flights - from where I live I can get to most Caribbean island directly. This is not the case with my dad, who always has to connect to get to our destination. He does book his flight early so that he has options with connections and times of arrival and departure. Making sure he has enough time to watch the price for flights is also a plus. Some of the locations we have visited only have 1 flight a week to cities in the US. This fact alone means that you have to stay at your resort for 7 nights. It is best to give yourself time to shop around for good deals on flights. That way you can help keep your total budget down and use any money saved for other parts of your vacation.

4) Reviews - my dad has already started researching our new list of places. He hasn't looked to see what they offer, the cost, or availability He went straight to the reviews left by other customers. Hearing from someone that they liked a certain resort is great, but that's just 1 person. He also wanted to know what things people liked and disliked. We always write reviews after visiting a small hotel or resort, or even an excursion company. Vacations of any kind are highly valued. So it is worth your time to make sure you know what you are getting yourself into and if any information from a resort website is misleading.

5) Questions for the resort - being avid divers we have our own gear and underwater camera equipment. It is always important for us to know our gear will be safe when we are not using it for diving. Most dive companies now have dive lockers so that we can lock up our gear each evening. I have heard that some ski resorts allow you to leave your equipment there for weeks or months at a time. This way you do not have to pay additional luggage fees or carry everything back and forth each trip. Websites and reviews can be very helpful to get you started, but they can only tell you so much. This also allows you to see how the resort responds to your inquires. First impressions, of any kind, really do matter. Any place you pick should be warm and inviting from the very beginning.

While this list is short it still puts a lot of work on you to fit all the pieces together. Working with an experienced travel advisor can eliminate the headache of planning the perfect vacation. And once they know your interests they may even suggest a place or resort you hadn't even thought of. The tools of a skilled travel advisor go way beyond a simple Google search.

The main thing to keep in mind is that you are planning your vacation. Keep the process easy by asking for help, so that you don't end up giving up and not going at all. If possible talk to other people while on your vacation and get ideas from them on where to go next. Ask your travel advisor to send you pamphlets or PDFs of locations that meet your requirements. Just like with anything else the more you travel the easier and better it is to continue planning future vacations.

My dad and I on our scuba boat.

Showing off our matching trip shirts.

Underwater, notice no wetsuits!

Last dive of the trip, had to have some fun!

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