Let’s get started

Let’s get started. You have to start planning your trip somewhere. We prefer comfortable but economical travel and plan our trips as much as possible ourselves, within reason, of course. We enjoy having the ability to change direction or activities and have as much freedom as possible.

However, some elements of our trips are not easily or cannot be changed. Flights, some lodging reservations, and even some activities or tours are often locked in, and we have to accept those constraints and work around them to create as much of an impromptu trip as possible.

Cruises are scheduled only so far as being on and off the ship at a definite prescheduled time, so we love cruises. There are always many ways to entertain yourself on a cruise ship.

We love to take spur-of-the-moment or weekend road trips and short (3-5 day) destination trips by air. We always have a preliminary plan for those trips, but our longer and international trips require detailed planning.

Our travel adventures begin with creating a notebook containing everything we want or need to know for each trip. I made a Word and Excel spreadsheet with a rough outline similar to this:

  • Where do we want to go
  • What do we want to see – history/culture
  • Dates – when do we want to go and for how long
  • Flights – airlines and prices, hotels/B&Bs/vacation rentals
  • Transportation
  • Pet and house care

This short, prominent little list will eventually grow into a detailed itinerary with all the information we need for our adventure. It is our trip story.

Let's get started
My sister Charlotte, Giant’s Causeway, Northern Ireland

Where do we want to go

We choose destinations based on lifelong dreams, bucket lists, and travel deals and refer to TV or YouTube programs we watch, news articles, and blog posts from great travel bloggers.

Conversations with friends, conversations overheard at the grocery store, and even destinations friends may plan to visit can become travel destinations.

There are so many choices and opportunities! We all have these travel bucket lists, don’t we? So, where DO we want to go?

Here are some examples of how a few trips came to be.

New Zealand/Australia

A few years ago, one of my sisters lived in New Zealand with her family for several months. They invited us to visit. BOING!

We know where we want to go; we know when we want to go. We took a multi-stop flight purchased with Amex points that allowed us to spend a week in Australia, including a few days in Brisbane and a visit to the Whitsundays to snorkel the Great Barrier Reef before flying to New Zealand.

Given the luxury of using my sister’s apartment in Hamilton as a base, we rented a car, explored North Island and South Island, and even spent a few days on Stewart Island. Bonus — we were able to spend time with my sister and family! It was indeed a dream vacation.

Great Barrier Reef ✔

Let's get started. Great Barrier Reef, Australia


A few years after that, the identical sister and family lived in Ireland for several months, and that is how we came to visit Ireland for the first time.

Ireland, by the way, is my favorite place in the world!


Another year, a co-worker took a trip to Roatan, Bay Islands, Honduras, and had such beautiful stories to tell when she returned that we took a week-long trip to the same resort, Paya Bay. We used a spectacular Groupon offer for that particular adventure.

Before, I had never looked at or considered a Groupon vacation package, but it was a great vacation, a great resort, and had great staff! You never know where your trip inspiration will come from.

Let's get started. Paya Bay Resort, Roatan, Honduras
View from Paya Bay

A little bit of a funny story here — we did not know when we booked this resort that Paya Bay is a wellness nudist resort in alternating weeks! When we checked in during the changeover day, we did have a bit of a surprise.

I had never before seen a naked man that I did not already know extremely well — THAT CLOSE TO ME! We are not in for the nudist weeks but fully clothed; I’d spend a week there again in a heartbeat.

How you might ask, as I asked myself a million times, did I miss that detail when planning the trip? Read ALL the information, guys, and I will forever bless my friend for NOT giving me all the details, so I have this great story to tell!

What do we want to see – history/culture

Once we decide on a destination, I find books to read about that location. Indeed, I read travel books, but I also enjoy reading novels situated where we plan to travel.

One great book I found when planning our trip to Roatan and Paya Bay mentioned above was Roatan Odyssey by Anne Jennings Brown. This fascinating adventure-filled autobiographical tale vividly described Roatan and a treasure-hunting, swashbuckling lifestyle.

The book also contained considerable historical information about Roatan in its early development days. I wanted to see the home described in this book! While on a snorkel excursion by boat, one day, we found the house the author built and had lived in.

Unfortunately, only ruins remain after the destruction caused by hurricanes. That was a great experience. As I write this, I find I want to reread the book, so I just purchased a Kindle version from Amazon! I rarely read books twice, so I gave this to a friend.

Let's get started. Anne Jennings Brown’s home on the coast of Roatan, Honduras
Ruins from Anne Jennings Brown’s home

YouTube is one of my very best friends when planning a trip. I watched videos for months before we took our first trip to Ireland. There’s a tremendous amount of information to learn from these videos.

I watch videos taken by travelers of all ages with eye-catching personalities and take away different information from each one. You get a feel for the culture, history, people, food — everything you can imagine from watching them. I refer to these videos over and over.

We decide what interests us, does not engage us, and what we must see or do.

Our destination choice is based on what we expect to do and see once we reach that destination. There are always specific sites or events unique to the location that we do not want to miss, but I prepare a list of every possible attraction, event, restaurant, or anything we would enjoy experiencing.

I include GPS coordinates, an address, phone number, hours of operation, and a synopsis of what to expect. We rarely reach 1/3 of the places on the list, and we do not expect to; for me, it is all about having options, which is a reason to have our rental car.

Not to be missed, attractions are highlighted or starred to call attention to them, but all items are listed in the order we will approach them as we travel, whether by car, plane, boat, or on foot. This is my “here are all the options” trip planning technique.

I enjoy the research and learning about each destination, and we can choose items 1, 2, 3 and not 4, 5, 6, or item 10 only. This makes the trip our trip; what we want to do at the moment — a plan without a plan.

Even if it may seem like a lot of unnecessary research, I learn so much about our travel destinations, which makes me happy.

Dates – when we want to go and for how long

The when and for how long used to depend on work schedules, but I am pleased and delighted that we can now choose our trip schedules based on when we really want to take them. What a luxury this is for us!

Let’s get started

We always search online to determine the best weather and recommended travel times for our destination. We enjoy traveling when tourist traffic is not at its peak, and the weather is comfortable — as I am sure you do.

I usually create a simple spreadsheet of the typical and anticipated temperatures and rainfall for each specific location on the days we select to travel.

How long will the trip be? Two weeks is very nice, but three weeks is great. The length of the trip will depend mostly on the expense involved because we travel economically. Deciding how long we will leave our dogs is also an important trip-planning factor.

Flights/hotels/B&Bs/vacation rentals

This is definitely the meat of the trip, the major expense. We try to use airline points for flights whenever we can. I shop on all the usual sites (Google Flights, Hopper, Skyscanner, Expedia, individual airlines, and every site I can find) for a long time before purchasing airline tickets.

They are expensive, and we do not want to spend our entire vacation budget just getting there!

We similarly use points for hotels. We also enjoy B&Bs, particularly in Ireland. Although we cannot use points to cover the cost, B&Bs are affordable and offer the opportunity to make new friends while enjoying a delicious home-cooked breakfast.

House rentals, like VRBO, are great and affordable as well. Steve and I, along with my sisters, once rented a three-bedroom house in the Ballinskelligs in Ireland for a seven-day period during one of our trips. There were many advantages to renting a house.

We had a backyard and lots of space, could cook our own meals if we chose, could prepare on-the-go picnics, and, most importantly, could do laundry!

That particular house was a short walk to the beach and had a great view of the Skellig islands (more piles of rocks than islands). A Star Wars movie was filmed on the larger island, Skellig Michael.



We love the freedom of having our own rental car because we enjoy going our own way at our own pace and not being tied to a tour bus or being on anyone else’s schedule but our own. We can go where we want to go and when we want to go.

We’ve found it relatively easy to rent a car everywhere we’ve traveled so far. Ireland is challenging because of its insurance requirements, but it is manageable.

Being on our own means we must map out our route, have emergency contact information readily available, have a reliable GPS, and download Google Maps prepared and available throughout the trip. These are the necessities of the trip.

Here’s my finest “unprepared without a GPS” tale. Once upon a time, at the beginning of our first trip to Ireland, we attempted to follow my sister’s car from Bunratty Castle to Cliffs of Moher — not a great distance. My sister and her husband had been driving in Ireland for months and knew their way around.

On the other hand, we were cranky, jet-lagged, straight from the airport in Shannon, had no map or GPS, and were just getting used to “driving on the wrong side of the road.” The plan was to “follow that car!” We ended up lost for over two and a half hours!

My sister quickly disappeared from sight because of traffic situations we were unfamiliar with, and we quite seriously had no idea where we were.

I did ask for directions once (men don’t ask for directions, do they?), but the charming and delightful Irish gentleman insisted I did not need to write his directions down and definitely did not need to buy a map, which had been my intention.

His directions were simple and easy — he said. He cheerfully instructed me to turn left at Mary’s house on the corner, can’t miss it, the greenhouse; go one mile past the pub on the right after Harry’s place, he has a black car out front… Do you get the idea?

I returned to our car, got in, and told Steve to drive. I had no idea what the man had told me, not even which direction to start off in. We finally made it to our destination, but I have no idea how we managed to do it.

Pet and House Care

Most importantly, we must make arrangements for sitting. I was pleased to stumble on a marvelous website, TrustedHousesitters, that connects homeowners with petsitters!

Generally, unless agreed otherwise, the Petsitter agrees to stay in your home and care for pets and your home in exchange for a place to stay, a sort of vacation for the Petsitter. I placed an advertisement on this website for a Petsitter and received several responses.

After multiple emails, texts, Skype meetings, and phone calls, we decided on a wonderful woman who’s agreed to be our Petsitter while we were away. She brought her elderly mother with her and lived in our home.

She cared wonderfully for our two dog children, provided regular photos of our two dogs with status reports, took care of the house, watered plants, interacted with our neighbors, kept the house spotless, and even left us a plate of homemade cookies to greet us when we returned home!

This was a terrific experience. We are delighted to have another long trip planned soon, and I have once again located a different pet sitter through this same service.

So, this is a bit of the story of how a trip starts in my world. While a lot of research is unnecessary, I enjoy the learning process and believe our trips are enhanced by it. I’d really like to hear any ideas or suggestions you might have to streamline or enhance my current process.

Let\'s get started

6 thoughts on “Let’s get started

  1. Love the site!! I enjoy the history you give about the places you travel and the beautiful pictures but what is most useful for me is the information you give on how to take the trip. I am so ready to visit the Painted Churches!

    1. I am so glad you enjoyed it. The Painted Churches makes a wonderful trip.

  2. You’re good. Loved this article and can’t wait to read the rest!!

    1. Thank you! I am having a great time with this and am glad you enjoyed it.

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