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5 tips to make your next vacation more fulfilling

POSTED: July 8, 2014 5:00 a.m.
Steven Law/

Doing these 5 things will make your next vacation richer

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My wife and I were ready to book a trip to Belize and Guatemala. We had the money in our savings account, we had vacation time coming and everything was ready to go.

It was October and we could have booked our trip for as early as January, but instead we booked it for June for one reason: it would give us more time to look forward to the trip. I found the anticipation of the journey almost as enjoyable as the trip itself — the anticipation adds additional layers of awareness and appreciation to your journey.

Here are a few things my wife and I like to do to make our vacations more enjoyable.

Make a countdown calendar
When our vacation was about three months away, my wife and I made a countdown calendar. One night, we sat down at our kitchen table with a large sheet of poster board, a pen and ruler and we created a home-made calendar that culminated on the day we’d arrive in Belize.

We had spent several months prior collecting a stack of travel magazines and on the night that we created our countdown calendar we went through them again and cut out pictures that represented our future trip to Belize and Guatemala. Then we pasted the pictures to the borders of the countdown calendar. We pasted on pictures of palm trees and beach fronts, Mayan pyramids and jungle trails.

And as we cut and pasted, we conversed about the activities that we were looking forward to the most. We imagined the day when we’d be swinging in that hammock and climbing the steps of that Mayan pyramid.
When we had finished decorating our countdown calendar, we hung it on the wall of our living room. Each day that passed, we checked off with a fat red marker.

Make a fun-money can
On another night, my wife and I emptied the rolled oats from a Quaker oatmeal cannister into a Tupperware container and turned the cannister into a "fun-money can." Just as we had done with the countdown calendar, we decorated the outside of the Oatmeal container with pictures of Belize and Guatemala cut from travel magazines.

Anytime my wife or I received extra money from tips or freelance gigs, we put it in our fun-money can. This money remained untouched until we arrived in Belize, and once there, we used our windfall cash to buy souvenirs, massages, lobster dinners and other fun upgrades.

Email each other pictures or reminders of the place you’ll be visiting
One of the first things I did as soon as soon as my wife and I had decided on Belize and Guatemala for our vacation was create a Belize and Guatemala Pinterest page. Nearly every day, I’d peruse it and look at the many enticing photos, then email some of my favorites to my wife, always with a line of text saying, “We should do this!” or, “Let’s look into this place!”

Creating a Pinterest page of the place you’ll be visiting is also a great way to discover new places you’d like to explore and additional activities to do. I remember seeing a photo posted on Pinterest of people on innertubes floating through a limestone cave. The caption of the photo said, “Tubing through the limestone caves on the Cave Branch River.” I looked the location up online and learned more about it. My wife and I added it to our itinerary and when we did it, it was one of the funnest days of our trip.

Buy yourself something special for the trip
I can’t help myself; I’m a bit of a daydreamer. I love imagining my future adventure almost as much as taking the actual adventure. Sometime prior to the adventure, I like to buy myself a little present that I won’t use until some specific time during the trip.

I’ve found that having an actual object and an actual plan connected to that object gives my daydream a solid nucleus around which to gather.

So a few months prior to our Belizean/Guatemalan adventure, I bought myself a Slinky that I planned to carry with me to the top of a Mayan pyramid to let loose at the top of its steps. And I imagined myself — months in the future — standing on top of the Mayan temple with my wife watching my slinky walk down 1,200 steps. My wife bought a beautiful sundress and announced that she was going to save it for a special night on our trip when we’d have a candlelight dinner next to the ocean.

All throughout the cold, cloudy, blustery days of January and February, I imagined that balmy breeze blowing in off the ocean. I imagined palm trees silhouetted in moonlight. I imagined my wife’s beautiful face lit by candlelight.

Learn about the history and culture of the area you’ll be visiting
If you’re like me you probably have a general idea where the place you’re planning to visit is located, but not an exact sense. Prior to taking my trip I like to get out some maps and see exactly where the country I’m about to visit is located.

And while I’m at it, I look up a bit about the country’s history. Later, during our explorations of the country the sights we see and the places we visit have geographical and historical context and our understanding and appreciation is greatly increased.

I love visiting new countries and places and all the little anticipatory celebrations my wife and I do in the months prior to our vacations allow it to take on new dimensions and layers of appreciation.

Steven Law writes about travel, adventure and exploration.

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