In this article, I am going to share 5 super helpful secrets that I use every time I plan an adventure vacation! Whether it’s a 6-day trip to Disney World for my family of 10, a 22-day cross-country family vacation with my young children, an 8-day family fun in Nashville trip with four generations of my family, or a bucket list national parks adventure for my husband and me — I’ve done it all! So let’s plan an adventure!
First, I want to remind you that there are dozens of reasons why traveling is important to your overall wellness, so be sure to plan as many adventures as possible! Traveling and awesome adventures help keep your mind, body, and spirit young! Even if your adventures are close to home, there are incredible benefits!
For inspiration, you can read Off On Our Next Adventure: Traveling in America. It provides information about traveling anywhere from Florida to Alaska and Maine to California. You can read about adventures to caves and islands, forests and parks, shorelines and mountain tops. There are so many learning experiences to be had out there in the great United States!
5 Secrets to Help You Plan an Adventure Vacation
There are some basic things you must decide before you can plan an adventure vacation. Let’s look at a quick list:
- where do you want to go
- what do you want to see and do
- how will you ensure your safety while traveling
- how will you travel (car, plane, train, boat, etc)
- how long will your adventure be
- what will be your budget
- when will you travel (season)
- where will you stay (hotel/motel, camper, rental house, etc)
- what will you do about travel insurance
In my article about traveling in America, there are lots of tips about how to make these basic, but important, decisions when you’re planning a trip. There are essential things you should think about right from when you start to plan an adventure.
After you’ve decided on the basics of your adventure, you’ll need to start researching and making reservations.
But where do you begin your research?
The Internet has certainly made things a LOT easier over the past 20+ years. And that’s where you’ll find some of the BEST information to plan an adventure vacation!
But you also need to be careful — and wise. Be aware that some bloggers get paid commissions for promoting certain places or things, so their reviews are not always honest. (I’m sorry to say this, but it’s true.)
When looking at reviews online, be aware of whether they are authentic reviews or paid reviews. (More on this later.)
You’ll also want to familiarize yourself with safety factors in areas where you plan to visit. Some cities have less-than-safe areas that you might not want to stay in with children. Or, some places may have isolated areas where you and a friend might not feel safe traveling alone. (More on this later, too.)
Let’s get started with Internet tips to help you plan an adventure vacation! When I plan an adventure, I want to know everything I can about the place before I go so I can be sure to see and do the BEST of the BEST things in that location. I don’t ever want to get home and say, “Oh man! I didn’t know about such-and-such!”
My philosophy when I plan an adventure has always been, “I don’t know if I’ll ever get back there, so I wanna see and do everything possible!” And to do that, you need to plan carefully.
(I would actually prefer not to sleep while I’m out on a fun, adventurous vacation exploring the world, but most of the people I travel with prefer to get some sleep! Plus, we know that sleep hygiene is important to our well-being so it wouldn’t be wise to go without sleep.)
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1. Join Facebook Groups About The Places You Want to Visit
First things first — join Facebook groups about the places where you plan to visit! It is unbelievable how much information you can acquire in those groups! In early 2021, once the decision was made to go to Nashville in July 2021, I joined groups about Nashville to help me develop an itinerary for our trip.
You might need to join several groups before finding a few favorites where you feel the conversations and posts are authentic and positive. Be active in the groups by asking questions, and commenting. You’ll quickly learn which comments are helpful and which are not. Ask lots of questions. People are always willing to help. You’ll get LOTS of opinions, but then you have lots of information to help you make decisions that are best for you.
Currently, I’m in multiple groups to help plan a trip out west to Yellowstone, Grand Teton, and South Dakota. After two months, I realized that one group is very protective of Yellowstone and doesn’t really want to share too much specific information. They are mostly people who want to share their photos and post about the good times they had in the park but, for example, they don’t want to tell you where to find bears or wolves in the park.
In another group, they will happily give you good locations where you stand a good chance of seeing bears or wolves. They are not as protective of the park and more trusting of the people in the group.
In another group, I quickly realized there were a lot of great photographers who were mainly trying to promote their business, get people on their own websites and FB pages, and sell their photos from the parks.
But all of these groups have a purpose. I learn from them. Whenever I see a post that provides information — either directly or indirectly — about something I want or need to know, I copy it and save it into my Yellowstone folder on my computer.
If I see a photo I especially like, I ask where it was taken so I can add the information to my Yellowstone folder. When I see a photo of an animal I don’t know, I ask the name of it so I’ll know the names of the animals that live in the parks in the Yellowstone region.
To be honest, I couldn’t tell you the difference between an elk and a moose until I joined these groups. And I am still trying to learn to tell the difference between wolves and coyotes — I think I can finally identify a fox correctly now! I still can’t always identify the difference between black bears and grizzlies. Did you know black bears can be brown? And grizzlies can be dark?
I’ve never been to any of the four states we will be visiting when we travel west to Yellowstone, so I didn’t have a clue where to begin with my research. But the day after we got home from Nashville in July 2021, I started requesting to join Yellowstone and Grand Teton Facebook groups so I could start the process of planning our trip out west.
Honestly, everything I have needed to know to plan an adventure out west has been available to me in the Facebook groups. Plus, I have learned about weather, cameras, places-to-stay, towns to visit, best routes to take, animals, national park laws, and so much more!
2. Join TripAdvisor to Review Authentic User Comments
One of the best things I did years ago when I started traveling was join TripAdvisor. In 2008, we took our first cruise in 27 years and used TripAdvisor to help determine what adventures we would do in each port.
When you first start using TripAdvisor, you may not realize that the default settings initially take you to ad pages, not necessarily where you’ll find information based on user experiences. I want to read genuine user experiences, not ads from companies that are paying to be there.
It’s important to start on the home page of TripAdvisor, so I always click on the green owl icon to make sure I’m starting there. Then I put my destination into the “Where to?” search box.
I explore the information provided on this page, but when it’s time to get into the nitty-gritty of planning, I go to Things To Do, Restaurants, Hotels, etc. Then I always start on the TRAVELER RANKED pages.
On the right side of the page, you’ll usually see “Sort by:” with a drop down menu. The drop down menu will allow you to see rankings based on Best Value, Price (Low to High), Price (High to Low), and Traveler Ranked.
Why do I want to start with Traveler Ranked information? Because this is where I will see information that is generally unbiased and honest in reviews from people just like me. I look at every recent review written by people who have taken time to share their opinions.
In the Traveler Ranked reviews, I learn about whether people feel safe in the area, whether it is clean, how it compares to other places around it, whether they would return, how convenient it was, whether the people are friendly, and so much more! This is where I typically consider where to make reservations to stay, where we will eat, and what we will see and do.
Then I also look at the information provided in the Best Value section to compare values and keep on researching!
I make lists and keep notes about information I collect from TripAdvisor, but I always make sure I am aware of whether the information I gather is from actual users or paid ads. All of the information I gather from TripAdvisor is part of my process of planning an adventure.
3. Use Online Maps to Determine Driving Routes
This is the fun part for me! I absolutely love pulling up online maps and planning the routes we will take when we plan an adventure! Nowadays, online maps are very detailed. You can scroll in and out to see as much or little as you want. You can trace your route on small roads and large highways.
You can plan a route for multiple stops to determine distances and timing. Compared to what was required in 1994 when I planned a 22-day cross-country trip WITHOUT the internet, planning an adventure is like a fun online game nowadays!
There are multiple maps online so you can search for what works best for you. But I love how Google Maps has the names of hotels, restaurants, and significant places of interest already programmed so you don’t need a specific address for a particular location. You can just put in the name of what you are looking for and Google Maps will show it on the map. So easy!
It has taken me a couple of months to plan an adventure for my husband and me to go out west. I’m still learning and planning! First, I had to used the maps to figure out where Mount Rushmore was located — yes, I had NO idea — but we wanted to go there on our trip. We also wanted to go to Yellowstone, but I only knew it was “out west” somewhere. I had a LOT of research to do for this adventure.
For Nashville, this process wasn’t quite as challenging. I knew we were going to drive because there were 6 of us and it would be costly to fly. I know where Nashville is located, and I knew we were stopping to visit family along the way for a few days. So the maps were much easier to use for that trip.
But wherever you are going, or whatever kind of adventure you are planning, online maps will be VERY helpful!
4. Watch YouTube Videos About Your Destination
When I plan an adventure vacation, I always make a point of gathering information about the area and what to do on YouTube. There is a phenomenal amount of information on those channels. People LOVE to share videos and information about their adventures.
There are also photographers and videographers who promote their businesses on YouTube and proudly show their work using beautiful places such as Yellowstone and Grand Teton.
You sometimes need to filter through the sensational or poor quality videos to find the high quality and high value videos, but they are quite helpful!
This is where I decide on many of the adventures we will do while on our trip. When I see videos of certain places and things that I LOVE, I decide we had to see that in person! The videos often provide a lot of information about the place, also.
Let me share my latest research project with you! Admittedly, it wasn’t exactly for our trip out west — so it’s a little off topic — but it was fun!
There is a 26-year old world-famous bear, Grizzly 399 and her four cubs, who live in the Grand Teton National Park. USUALLY. The past two years, she and her cubs have made their way south during the fall months, out of the park and into Jackson Hole. This has created a safety issue that has everyone up in arms.
Naturalists, photographers, fans, and activists want to protect the bears; some residents want the bears to be gone but don’t want to keep their trash in bear-proof areas; other residents feed the bears because they are cute; safety officials are trying to please everyone and keep humans and bears safe. Grizzly 399 and her four cubs have become an ethical and political problem that has made the national news many times this fall. Normally, bears who regularly transition into domestic areas because of food rewards will be euthanized. But very few people want that outcome for this famous bear and her cubs.
So I started wondering where she belonged in the park and how she would get back there! In the Facebook groups and news articles, I kept reading about her heading north, or heading south, and traveling through the town, and along the river, and through the elk refuge. But I had NO idea what any of that meant.
And because people were being protective of her, no one wanted to say anything specific about where Grizzly 399 would be heading to den for the winter once she left Jackson Hole to return “home.” But I wanted to know! I was just plain curious at this point.
I used Google and YouTube to research the history of Grizzly 399 (I learned everything you could ever imagine knowing about a 400-lb bear who has had 20 cubbies) and was able to create a map of the anticipated path she will use to take her cubs back to an area in the northern part of Grand Teton where she was born 26-years ago and where she dens every year! I was so excited to learn so much about this famous bear and I plan to visit some of the places where she hangs out when we visit the area!
But Grizzly 399 will no longer have her cubs with her after this winter because Mother Nature will tell her it’s time to send them on their way. And I certainly wouldn’t know Grizzly 399 if I came face-to-face with her, but I will be excited to just visit where this famous bear has established her home for 26 years!
And I was able to do this with a few hours on Google and YouTube (over a few days of research)! Trust me — you can find out anything you want to find while planning your adventure trip!
Now let’s look at my #5 favorite tip that is not from the Internet but will help you plan an adventure you’ll never forget! Don’t laugh at my idea! I’ve been doing this for over 20 years!
5. Call Places and Hotels in the Areas You are Going to Visit
Once I am familiar with a location enough to have an intelligent conversation about it, I will pick up the phone and call some of the hotels I am considering for our trip. I ask questions about the specific location, whether they offer discount rates, nearby restaurants and stores, what they serve for breakfast, recommendations for things to do, how many floors they have, shower or bathtubs, what time the pool closes, etc.
I might even already know some of the information from my prior research. But what I’m trying to do is get a feel for the friendliness of the staff and their level of customer service. Often, while I’m having these conversations, if the employee is friendly, she will provide so much MORE information about the area!
The last time I had one of these conversations, I learned which route is the best route to take between Yellowstone and Grand Teton; I also learned that the hotel has a sister hotel in Cody, Wyoming with similar accommodations. The employee even told me about the best places to see bears in Yellowstone and Grand Teton! She was super friendly!
Of course, I checked everything out after I talked to her! And I happily discovered everything she shared was accurate! When we are able to make the trip, I will likely book that hotel and the one in Cody!
I called a few places before I made the final decision, but the person on the other end of this phone call demonstrated the kind of customer service, assistance, and friendliness that I would like to see at a place where I’m going to spend 5-6 days. Plus, she was as enthusiastic about the Yellowstone area as I was!
I’ve called places where the people at the front desk can’t tell me where the closest convenience store is located, or how far they are from the airport. This does not impress me, and I will definitely choose someplace else to stay, if at all possible.
I also sometimes call places of interest in the area to get more information if I haven’t been able to make a decision about what we are going to do during our trip. People will sometimes be able to share additional information about the area that helps me with my planning.
I find it very helpful to actually speak with people in the area where we plan to visit! There were two people I “met” via a phone call while planning our first trip to Alaska who were instrumental in helping me decide what to do during our trip. There was also a very helpful hotel employee who helped me decide where to stay during our time in Anchorage. So far, this strategy has helped whenever I plan an adventure!
With all this being said, I do consider the time of day and try to call at a time when it should not be busy. And if the employee sounds like she’s busy, I will happily call them back another time.
Transportation for Your Adventure
I want to let you know about the travel and transportation we decided to use for a Yellowstone trip.
Ultimately, we decided to do a combination of a fly-and-drive adventure similar to what we did in 1994 when we traveled across the country.
I researched the airports that are closest to Mount Rushmore and Yellowstone. I researched rental vehicles that could be rented at one airport and returned to another airport. I looked at airline prices and car rental prices. This process is important when you plan an adventure vacation, too.
We even sat down and calculated how much it would cost to do a road trip out west from Maryland — the estimated cost of gas, meals, and hotels for the time out there and back.
We considered how much time we wanted to spend in a vehicle driving and the price of airline tickets to the various airports. There was an abundance of information to consider. I was tentatively planning a 15-day adventure out west and it seemed overwhelming at times!
But ultimately, we decided to fly from Baltimore, Maryland to Bozeman, Montana — rent a car for 15-days and drive through Yellowstone, Grand Teton, Wyoming, and then head east to South Dakota. At the end of our trip, we will return the rental vehicle at the Rapid City, South Dakota airport and fly back to Baltimore. Hopefully it will be an amazing adventure for my husband and me.
We have budgeted for the trip; we hope to go in September to avoid the crowds and to see the color changes; we know what hotels we’ll use in the areas we plan to visit during the entire adventure; and we will buy travel insurance (just in case).
I am planning an entire vacation based on information I obtained using the 5 secrets and tips I have shared here! It’s time-consuming but you can do it, too!
Final Thoughts: How to Plan an Adventure Vacation
I hope you’ve found my tips and secrets to plan an adventure vacation helpful. I’ve been planning our adventures on my own since 1993, but the Internet has certainly made it far easier to plan an epic adventure!
If you need some inspiration, check out my article about adventure quotes that will inspire your youthful spirit! You’ll want to be hitting the road as soon as possible! And don’t forget the wellness benefits you achieve from adventures and traveling! Outdoor adventures are especially beneficial to your physical and emotional self care and overall wellbeing!
Be sure to talk with people who have been to the areas you are considering, and ask if they have any travel guides or travel tips from their experiences. Also, be sure to specifically look into safety issues.
According to research, the actual process of planning an adventure trip is good for your mind and personal growth. For me, I love the process of planning — researching, learning, making decisions, and getting excited!
Don’t forget to check out my other articles about why adventurous vacations are good for your overall wellness! You might be surprised by the information — plus, there are wonderful “excuses” for taking adventures often! Adventure travel is amazing!
Love to All! ~ Susan