Vacation Planning Rules – How to Come Home without Needing Another Vacation

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Vactaion Rules - How to Come Home without Needing Another Vacation #travel #planning #ideas #tips #traveltips #travelplanning #relaxation #exploration #vacation #trip #withkids #familyYou may know what I am talking about. You go on vacation and you come home exhausted, needing another vacation. Let’s talk about some rules that you can put in place so that you come home from vacation happier. OK, maybe like the pirate code these are more guidelines.

Restoration vs Exploration

A friend of mine, travel editor Spud Hilton, told me that vacations can be rated in two different ways. How much restoration did you do and how much exploration did you do. I like that idea.

The kind of trip where you “fly and flop”, where you go to some resort and lie on the beach is all restoration. Sometimes we need to recuperate, to unwind, to restore. We don’t usually talk about that kind of trip on the Amateur Traveler but I understand the need for it. I remember working with a co-worker who had a habit of blowing up in senior staff meetings… the day before his vacation. It was a startup company and the work was quite stressful at times. I could tell when it had been too long since my last vacation when a nervous tick would start in my right eye.

The kind of trip where you try and see as much as possible, but you come home needing a vacation may be all about exploration.  I personally love the kind of trip where you see as much as possible but I have had to learn that my family’s ability to sustain a trip with that pace is not the same as mine.

Finding Balance

A lot of trips are somewhere in between. I was thinking about that as I kicked back on the deck of the Viking Sea (listen to more on that cruise) in the photo above, gazing at the skyline of Stockholm. I was about to see the most countries I had ever seen in a 15 day period, and the most UNESCO world heritage sites that I had ever seen on one trip. But I was also about to do it from a cruise ship which is the very type of trip that some of my travel blogger friends disdain.

Finding the right balance is not a new problem in my family. I have mentioned a few times on Amateur Traveler about the trip we did to Spain in 2001. In 10 days we saw Madrid, Toledo, Sevilla, Los Pueblos Blancos, Granada, Cordoba, Barcelona, Segovia, and Avila.  We did the trip in the heat of the Summer and came home exhausted. It was that trip that led to our two-night minimum stay rule (which yes does apparently have a cruise ship exemption).

Rules… maybe Guidelines

We also figured out that my pace is not my family’s pace. When I travel by myself I spend less time on meals and breaks and more time walking, taking pictures and exploring. As we strive towards the right restoration/exploration balance we have found these tips can help:

Rule 1 – “The two-night minimum rule”

We try not to stay in a town for less than two nights. You can easily spend much of your vacation time just getting from place to place. It is often better to see half as much but in better depth or at a better pace.

Rule 2 – “The let Chris go off alone rule”

My wife and kids never saw the Palatine Hill in Rome, the ruins of the old imperial palaces. At that time what sounded better to them was getting an ice cream and taking a break in the hotel. I went one way and they went the other and we were all better for it.

Rule 3 – “The beach exception” –

My son Mike got to the point where he did not care if Europe had another cathedral. For a while, shortly after high school, he took a break from traveling with us. He did have a beach exception. If we were going to go someplace like Hawaii, he was in.

When we planned a trip to the Yucatan following the advice of  Travel to the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico – Episode 163, we planned half a week of exploring Merida, ruins on the Ruta Puc, and half a week of beach time at Playa del Carmen afterward to rest up (granted at least one of those days I went off on my own to explore the amazing ruins at Coba).

Rule 4 – “The rest sandwich paradigm”

My friend Dan and his wife have an interesting approach. She loves to run around and see everything and he would prefer time with a book and a lounge chair. They found a great mix was a cruise to and from Hawaii with a lot of running around in the middle while they were in the islands.


There is no right way to travel, but there is the right way for you and yours today. It may take some experimentation, and yes maybe some mistakes like our Spain trip, to find it. And you might have different needs on one trip than another.

What have you found that works for your family?


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Chris Christensen

by Chris Christensen

Chris Christensen is the creator of the Amateur Traveler blog and podcast. He has been a travel creator since 2005 and has won awards including being named the "Best Independent Travel Journalist" by Travel+Leisure Magazine.

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