This weekend, we went to San Diego to celebrate my 40th birthday. It’s a short road trip for us. We were just out of town two weeks earlier, so I used the recent “lessons learned” to upgrade and streamline my travel prep.
The idea is to avoid predictable hassles. We’ve found that it doesn’t matter how awesome the destination or how perfect the weather when a crisis happens. Several minor crises can be worse than one major one. (At least a major crisis makes for a good story, but nobody wants to hear the continuing saga of petty complaints).
Here is a partial list of preventable hassles from previous trips:
Funny how I’ve never once forgotten to bring abundant reading material, but every other important daily item has been left behind at some point! Everything but ID is replaceable; it’s just a question of how much time gets wasted going to a department store or pharmacy to buy stuff you already have.
The basic elements of an automated vacation are: planning; consolidating and sharing information; supplies; transport; maintaining base of operations. We used to use a clipboard and a 4-page printed checklist. Now we have smartphones! We still use checklists, but now we have the added options of automatic reminders, GPS, and instant 10-day weather forecasts (for what they're worth).
1. Plan the trip. My husband books the transportation and lodging and calls the bank. I take care of the pet sitting, planning activities and meals, and making sure the house is ready.
2. Information management. We just started using TripAdvisor, TripIt, and TripList. We also found out we can pay the house sitter with the Square Cash app. We have all the confirmation numbers, member numbers, phone numbers, bank balances, maps, hours of operation, URLs, etc. loaded and ready to use.
3. Supplies. TripList checks the weather and our itinerary and suggests what we’ll need to bring. We both have capsule wardrobes and we can both fit everything in a single carry-on bag. We’ve developed a systematic perimeter check of the house and hotel rooms.
4. Transport. In the last year, my husband has been around the world, and we’ve been in or on cars, shuttles, buses, light rail, ferries, airplanes, ships, trains, and moving walkways. Between us we’ve been on at least 12 separate trips. It helps to be versatile in terms of bag size and shape, device chargers, outerwear, footwear, and snacks.
5. Base of operations. It is really sad and exhausting to come home to a dirty, disorganized house with a long list of urgent things that need to get done. It takes some of the shine off the trip. My entire housekeeping routine is built around having weekends free. We leave a clean house and come home to a clean house. All we have to do is to run a load of laundry on Monday, as usual, and buy groceries on Monday night, as usual, leaving more time to post photos!
It sounds simple, and it is, but it bears little resemblance to how either of us used to live. I once packed 7 pairs of shoes and I used to bring a separate piece of luggage just for books. Now I can pick up my one little bag and run up a flight of stairs. Sometimes I have to. My light rail car was once delayed due to a presidential motorcade, and by the time I got to the airport, I had under 10 minutes to board my flight! I made it to the gate on time, panting, grateful for my commitment to distance running - only to discover that my flight had been delayed by 45 minutes. Presidential motorcades - is there an app for that?
I wrote this post on Thursday, before our trip. (Usually I write 3-4 weeks in advance, and then edit and schedule 2 weeks out). Everything actually did go according to plan - at first. We had everything we needed. Every place we wanted to go actually existed at the recorded location. We were a few minutes ahead of schedule for every single event. THEN, on Day Two, the edge of a tropical storm blasted down on us for three hours, exquisitely timed for the entire duration of the Pride Parade. We were soaked to the skin, my teeth were chattering, and that was the end of the rest of that day's agenda. The good news is that the dreadful weather galvanized both the crowd and the parade participants. It was more memorable, and possibly more fun, than it would have been on an ordinary sunny day (like the last 40 years' worth of parade days). Also, I got hugged by a cop.
The moral is that planning does still work. Everything we were able to predict worked out perfectly. We did get to have fun, we did have all the stuff and information we needed, and we did come home to a clean house. Nobody could have predicted the thunder or the lightning or the heaviest rain I have personally ever seen. In truth, a few days of rain during our prolonged drought was the best possible birthday gift I could have received. Our memories of this weekend will be of how hard we laughed as we got drenched, rather than the pointless frustration we could have endured through our own poor planning.
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.