Vacation Marination: The travel planning you’ve never thought of but always needed

You have the airfare, hotels, car rental. You’re ready to travel. And now you’re waiting…… and waiting….. and waiting…..

I want to share an idea to make the wait, your travel, and your memories so much richer.

Finding the best prices on airfare and the coolest hotels usually means booking well in advance. But that also means spending months waiting for your big travel day to show up.

If you’re anything like me, and impatience or (gasp, no) even travel anxiety start to bum you out, try what I call “vacation marination,” to help you build excitement and experience enjoyment before you even pack your bag.

For my latest adventure through California, I spent time “marinating” my destinations. What would have been a cool five day trip was transformed into six weeks of excited imaginative vacation bliss. I’m still taking the positive vacation vibe leftovers to work even three weeks later.

The truth is that when we travel, we are transporting ourselves to a feeling more than a place. It isn’t the sand and the surf you’re looking for, it’s the sense of wonder you get from being in the company of an overwhelmingly beautiful force of nature. It isn’t the streets of Paris, it’s the romance, history, and mystery of one of art’s oldest cities.

You’re used to doing all the regular research that comes along with going to a new place. You’re reading reviews on excursions, museum hours, where to park, calculating the currency exchange, and learning the translation of, “please help quick bathroom.” That’s all necessary, but it can really wear you out and dull your travel sparkle.

Next time you find yourself awaiting departure day, try this strategy to bump up your daily joy and marinate that vacay.

Frame the destination mentally

To ramp back up your excitement level, try doing research that will make your destination feel bigger, more mysterious, and more important. Buy a used book on Amazon about your destination for a couple of dollars. Read online articles or search the internet. Focus on topics that you already find fun and tie that into your destination. If you love painting, search for famous artists from the area.

Last time I visited Tennessee, I bought a book about unsolved disappearances in the Smokies. When I visited, my perspective was framed by the stories of fifteen other visitors over the last hundred years and the grand mystery of what happened to them. I’d visited these same mountains every single summer, but I had never had the feeling that this wilderness was such an enormous powerful force that had been calling so many other visitors for so many years before me.

Before I visited Lake Tahoe last month, I read a book about its place in world history. I learned so many things that allowed me to experience the magic of Tahoe for weeks before I left. When I finally arrived, I was a traveler akin to the Donner Party, Mark Twain, and John F Kennedy. The ski slopes I saw were evidence of the birth of skiing. The cold clear water I went swimming in was a substance so pure and devoid of bacteria that it has kept an underwater grove of trees preserved for hundreds of years, still standing with the bark attached to this very day.

After listening to the audio book of “The Yosemite” during my commute to work, I was able to experience an 1800’s Yosemite Valley through the eyes and emotion of John Muir, even though the 2017 version of the valley includes bumper to bumper traffic and a bus system that could cause a riot. I climbed the boulders to the base of Yosemite Falls and saw John up there a hundred and fifty years ago, sliding down the slick rock to a three inch ledge where the water shoots out over the cliff, risking his life just to get a better view of the crashing water.

Research Ideas:

  • little known facts
  • famous people born there
  • historical photos of the area
  • how and when the city was founded
  • major disasters in the area
  • movies or books inspired by the area
  • mysterious disappearances
  • major news stories
  • historical buildings
  • ecology of the area
  • politics
  • interesting animals that live there and interesting facts about them
  • festivals
  • local religious beliefs

Live like a local, from afar

Spending a week in a place, or maybe even just a day if you’re road tripping, isn’t nearly enough time to get an accurate picture of what a place or life in that place is really like.

A few weeks before you set off, try following some community organizations on Facebook or Instagram. Read the local newspaper or watch their local news online. Learn the common breakfast foods and deserts, find a recipe and try it out. Make crepes if you’re going to France. Practice saying “Look, a rainbow!” in the native tongue.

Check out homes for sale online in the area. Pick which one you would live in, Google street view walk your way to the nearest bookstore and make yourself a cup of coffee at home. You can usually find online webcams to get a view of what is happening in the city right now.

Prepare a travel journal 

Travel journaling is one way to keep the magic of a trip alive for years to come, for yourself and for future generations.

Buy a blank notebook before your trip. To get started, write your destination and your trip dates on the first page. Use the next couple of pages to record any ideas you have while you’re researching and planning. Restaurants you’d like to visit. Technical details of the trip, etc. Then reserve the next pages to record the trip. Keep a log of what you did, where you went, what you saw. Write down funny things that happened, weird things that happened. What you liked and hated. Write down how much things cost. Leave empty space to print photos and tape them in after you get home. Put more captions next to the photos. Record the names of people you met and what you’d do if you went back again.

Imagine your great grandchildren’s children reading your travel journal in a hundred years and marveling about your adventures. It’s amazing how much you forget the minute you get home, there’s something about that four hour layover in Philadelphia that waters down the magic of your trip. The act of writing something down tells your mind that it is important and is worthy or recording and remembering.

Now get out there

Immersion and imagination are the keys to a really great travel experience.

You might find out that some Icelandic people believe in Elves, and that you can attend an “Elf School” in downtown Reykjavik.

Or maybe learn that the Costa Rican town of Monteverde was founded by American Quakers and listen to the yell of the Howler Monkey on Youtube (preferably before one chases you out of the rain forest.)

You might even realize that your next trip is more than a chance to cross something off your bucket list and post some cool pics on Instagram, and start seeing the world as a trillion magical opportunities to learn something, see something, experience something.


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