Rich’s Travel Journal: 3 Key Ingredients For A Great Vacation

Dear Penny,

You might be wondering what a Rich family vacation looks like, especially after I revealed that we spent $36,000 on travel in 2016. Well, thanks for asking! I’ll be posting regularly about my travels, but first I need to describe our recipe for cooking up a great vacation.

Every Rich family vacation has to have 3 key ingredients: Exciting Destination, Comfortable Lodging, and Memorable Activities

1) Exciting Destination: It starts here. Are Mrs. Rich and I genuinely excited about the location? I’m always surprised when people tell me about their planned vacation with precognitive dread. And often, they’ve done the same mediocre trip multiple times. Typical conversation:

Me: “So Jimbo, are you excited to go back to Florida this year?“

Jimbo: “Yeah, well, we have the timeshare. It’s ok. Wouldn’t mind trying something new, but been going there since ‘05. Last year there was a funny raccoon … ”

Me: “Zzzzzzzzzzz.”

Jimbo: “Zzzzzzzzzzz.”

Why do people do this? They already know the trip is boring! And when we’re excited, the kids get excited by osmosis.

Ballynahinch Castle, County Galway, Ireland

2) Quality Lodging: Is there a conveniently located hotel that will provide enough space and comfort so that we all don’t drive each other completely bonkers? HINT: THIS MEANS A SEPARATE ROOM FOR THE KIDS. (In case you missed that, I bolded, italicized, and underlined it for emphasis. And made it blue.) What can we do with the kiddos when they wake up at 5am or get bored at 7pm? And how’s the food, and the gym/spa?

Perhaps the most important question these days is does it get stellar TripAdvisor reviews? TripAdvisor has become essential to our planning because with a little research we can know all the pros and cons of a hotel before we arrive, which helps us make an informed decision.

To me, lodging can make or break a trip, so we pay for quality. It doesn’t mean we always go for expensive hotels — sometimes extremely high end lodging can be stuffy. If the only dining room requires a jacket and tie, for example, it might not be a comfortable hygge-style home away from home.

A quick note on home rentals, which have become very popular in the sharing economy. We’ve rented houses and apartments with mixed results. We’re very careful because they often don’t have the same history and quantity of reviews that a hotel will have. A great hotel needs to take care of you to maintain its reputation, whereas a private party might try to cut corners.

Roundstone Bay, County Galway, Ireland. View of Roundstone from lobster boat.

3) Memorable Activities: Are there fun and memorable experiences available for everyone? Our twins are 5 years old — what can they do that will be exciting, active, and (preferably) tiring. Just as importantly, are there things to see and do for us, the parents? We try to imagine the stories we’ll tell ourselves about the trip in 5 or 10 years.

We are not on board with trips that are only for the kids. Yes, we will go to a playground and a children’s museum, but there has to be something for adults too. We like to ask ourselves if we would be going to the area if we didn’t have the kids with us. I mean, think about it. When was the last time you asked your spouse to spend a weekend, just the two of you, at a water slide park?

I need to mention the elephant mouse in the room. I know people love Disney, and if consenting adults want to spend their hard-earned vacation time going on rides and figuring out what kind of animal Goofy is, so be it. But c’mon, a week of that stuff? Not on my watch.

So there you have it, our 3 ingredients for a great vacation. Where to go, where to stay, and what to do? It sounds simple, but with so many choices out there, I’ve found that people don’t always think about what exactly makes for an enjoyable trip. They might think about what’s easy, or what’s expected, rather than what will give them a truly happy experience.

I know I didn’t mention cost, and I recognize that my income might give me more choices than many people have. That said, a vacation isn’t more fun just because it’s expensive — it still has to meet the criteria. And conversely, if your budget is tight, a vacation will not be more fun if it’s “a good deal.” Vacations are not like Cold Stone ice creams — the free ones aren’t any better just because they’re free. You could not pay me to share a room with my kids in a Motel 8 near Magic Mountain.

I’m curious how you pick your vacations, Penny. Traveling is part of my philosophy on the meaning of life, but is it a priority for you? Are there certain types of trips that your family enjoys? Do you like to research destinations and plan for getaways in your budget? What’s the best family vacation you’ve ever taken? The worst?


PS — Pictures in this post were taken by me in Ireland last year.

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