8 Tips For Creating Your Best Ever Summer Vacation

© 2013 Ralph Grizzle
“I have a dream” or I had one, and I made it come true this summer. My kids at Abba, The Museum, in Stockholm, Sweden. © 2013 Ralph Grizzle

If you are in your fifties or beyond, no one could blame you for thinking that your best summers are behind you. That’s what I thought — until this summer.

At age 55, I am having what just may be the best summer of my life. It did not come easy. I spent hours/days planning how I would spend the summer — and all so far has gone as planned.

Having gone through the planning stages myself, I thought I would share my experiences to help you plan your best summer vacation. What follows are a few tips that I hope will inform and inspire you to formulate a summer of travel as rewarding as mine has been.

The Planning Stages

My summer travel involved planes, trains, automobiles, bicycles — and of course, ships. It began with the idea that I would bring my kids to Europe. In essence, the trip was about spending quality time with family, both with my children — ages 16 and 18 — and with our extended family in the south of Sweden. It was to be a summer of travel and shared experiences, centered around family.

So how did I tackle such a trip, spanning several weeks and with all sorts of details to work out and keep track of?

I began with Google Docs. The cloud-based platform was perfect for collaborative planning. I began with a blank page and titled it “Summer Travel With Family.” One benefit of using Google Docs was that I could access the document on my laptop, iPhone and iPad. Plus, I could share the document with others.

That blank page would become the blueprint to my summer of travel. With my fingers at the keyboard, I began to type my aspirations, and after several weeks, I ended up with a detailed itinerary. Writing down my goals helped me manifest the things I dreamed of doing for the summer. Tip # 1: Put your aspirations for travel in ink — or digital ink.

As the planning progressed, I began to book the individual components of the trip — air, hotels, trains, rental cars. To keep track of those, I used Tripit, another cloud-based platform that syncs between my laptop and mobile devices and which can also be shared with others. Tip # 2: Find a system to organize your bookings.

These two tools helped me formulate the travel and keep track of it. We were ready to travel.

Communication Is Key

One challenge was to arrange international air travel for an often-aloof 16-year-old boy and a well-traveled 18-year-old girl. She would be on her own in Europe for the first time before joining us a week later, and frankly, that made me a bit nervous, even though she is responsible, astute and travel savvy.

Still, I can’t imagine how we would have handled this trip in the days when there were no mobile phones and text messaging. Mobile messaging gave me peace of mind and allowed me to manage our travel.

I booked my son’s air travel so that he would need to change planes only once, flying from Asheville, North Carolina to Newark, New Jersey to Stockholm. Thanks to our mobile devices, I was able to “walk him” from the plane in Newark to his gate for Stockholm.

Both Verizon and AT&T now have reasonably priced international data plans. My daughter signed up for 100mb with Verizon. The cost: $25. Thus equipped, we were able to use the data for messaging one another and calling when we needed to. She was able to easily monitor her usage, so that we did not return home to a heart-stopping phone bill. The data allowed her to share her experiences, ask me for help when she needed it, and inform us of such things as when to meet her and where. Tip # 3: Sign up for an international data plan before leaving home.

I also need to give some credit to United’s website. I was able to track my kids’ flight statuses at united.com. My son’s flight arrived in Stockholm nearly 30 minutes early, and I would not have been there to greet him had I not checked the flight status.

United’s website helped me monitor my kids’ flight statuses.

One of my best moves was to arrive the night before my son’s arrival and book a room at the new Clarion Arlanda hotel. It’s located in the center of the airport, at Sky City, a five-minute walk from the Arrivals Hall. Room rates are reasonable (less than $150 per night, including WiFi and breakfast — and with a good restaurant, gym and pool).

I was there at 7 a.m. when all 6’6″ of my son came ambling into the Arrivals Hall. We returned to my room, where he slept until noon, then took advantage of the two-for-one summer special on Arlanda Express, the fastest and most convenient way to travel between Stockholm’s Central (train) Station and Arlanda Airport (20 minutes and about $35 for both of us). I’ll be writing more about the hotel and how to manage pre- and post-cruise stay-overs in Stockholm on our sister site, Cruising From Stockholm. Tip # 4: Plan your arrival.

Frederick © 2013 Britton Frost
Me, Britton and Alex, always the funny one. © 2013 Britton Frost

A Tale Of Two Cruises

Just as my daughter and I last year, my son and I did two cruises this year. Perhaps it’s not fair to call the first one a cruise as it was only a day trip to the Stockholm Archipelago on the s/s Blidösund. Nonetheless, it was a remarkable trip on a fully functioning and much-loved steamship (fired by a female stoker). Surely, any cruise enthusiast would appreciate a journey on this vessel. Check out our post from that journey, A Must Do When In Stockholm: ‘Steaming’ The Archipelago

The second cruise was on one of the most elegant vessels at sea, Silversea Cruises’ Silver Spirit, on a journey from Athens to Venice. What was especially notable about this voyage was its ease.

One thing that differentiates cruise travel from other modes of travel is that you unpack only once and visit several destinations on one journey. The voyage on Silver Spirit was made even more appealing by the luxury component, including a butler for every suite, small tour groups ashore, never a line for anything, delightful dining and luxurious accommodations. Tip # 5: Cruise.

Frederick © 2013 Ralph Grizzle
Our cruise on Silver Spirit was fun for my son, pictured here being served mocktails by our ever-gracious waiter, Frederick. © 2013 Ralph Grizzle

Recap of our voyage on Silver Spirit:

We were especially fortunate with the weather — not one rainy day — and, in fact, glorious sunshine (for as long as 19 hours per day in Stockholm) for all of July. Surely, the weather contributed to this summer being among the best in my life. Tip # 6: Seek sunshine.

Family Time & Shared Experiences

Our family consists of two families, one in Asheville, North Carolina; the other in Helsingborg, Sweden: one boy, three girls, grandparents — me and my significant other. To bring all of us together was among the biggest successes of my summer travel. The photo below says it all. Tip # 7: Share experiences with those you love.

One of the highlights of our summer was a birthday celebration with our extended family. We dined outdoors, under a gorgeous Swedish sky and posed for a rare photo: all of us together, except for one who was vacationing in Greece.

Traveling with my children was rewarding — not to mention there was always someone to watch the luggage when the other had to go the bathroom at airports are on trains. My kids flew back home from Stockholm yesterday. I flew to Malta to board the new Europa 2 for a weeklong press trip with several other journalists.

As you might imagine, after several weeks of traveling together, ours was a sad farewell at Arlanda airport. I stood there with my arms around my two kids and the awareness that there were many more summers behind me than ahead of me. With luck and some good planning, those summers ahead of me will contend for the top spot as best ever, but better than this one I can hardly imagine – not bad at age 55.

Tip # 8: Start planning today.

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