Saturday, March 22, 2014

Winter, A Great Time to Plan Your Dream Caribbean Vacation

Yes, I have finally figured out that winter is a great time for day-dreaming and planning your dream Caribbean vacation and thanks to technology you can do it rather easily and in your pajamas.

More than usual this winter I have found myself day-dreaming of nice warm beautiful vacation places with long white sandy beaches, with sparkling clear and warm water, all preferably in the Caribbean. I can almost feel the breeze, hear the sound of the waves, and feel the warmth of the sun while holding a nice healthy glass of a tropical drink, preferably with rum. Yum, OK I am dreaming again.

White sandy beach

One thing I like to do while looking at a Caribbean map, is to ask myself the following; if I could go anywhere where would I want to go? Yes, where would you want to go? And this is how it all starts for me. This is how I start planning my dream vacations and the process is what I want to share with you.

The Process

There are several questions that need some answering first to help find a place that will energize your soul, make your spirit soar and stimulate your senses.

So I ask myself;

    1.   What do I want from my vacation?
Do I want to to just sit on the beach while having a delicious rum drink? Do I want to have some entertainment as in tours or sightseeing? What kind of food do I want to have? Do I want to go snorkeling? Or simply go swimming in the ocean? Does it matter if I have gone there before?

    2.   Then I make a list of potential locations
With a map in hand (or on the computer), I start to make a list, I don't even think about cost at this point. This is my most recent list: The Bahamas, Turks and Caicos, Jamaica, Cayman Islands, Puerto Rico, Martinique, Barbados, Trinidad & Tobago, St. Lucia, Aruba.

Caribbean map showing islands

    3.   Start ranking the locations with whatever knowledge you have about them
Before I start doing any web search or read travel books, I review the list and see how I feel about each of them because if you are like me, you have seen pictures, read something, or seen a travel show about them.

So for me, it went like this,
  • The Bahamas, I have already been there and would not mind going again but not a priority.
  • Turks and Caicos sound interesting but I could take a cruise there from Baltimore on a last-minute notice.
  • Jamaica, oh yeah that has potential. I have heard about it.
  • Cayman Islands, oh yeah, great place for strong and wicked delicious rum. Fabulous beaches and great snorkeling but I have already been there, will definitely go again sometime.
  • Puerto Rico is a fabulous place. It has great food, is great for sightseeing and tours. I am definitely going back but maybe not yet.
  • Martinique, nice place but maybe not yet.
  • Barbados, Trinidad and Tobago, I saw a travel show about them, they have potential.
  • Aruba seems like a desert island, so no for now.
  • St. Lucia, now that is intriguing. I remember a travel show about it and remember feeling very good about it.
  • So it seems my list is, in no particular order: Jamaica, Barbados, Trinidad and Tobago, St. Lucia.

    4.   Start doing your research to find the top 2 locations to go.
First, I do a cursory web search on all of them looking for something that either would make it go to the top or make me say, not now.
The top 2 places start to surface, when I see that, I start a folder under my vacations directory in my computer, then I do a more serious Google search. I look at pictures, I read reviews, and I look for the top things to do. What are the people raving about or upset about, I take notes.

Then I go to the local bookstore to do more reading. Luckily for me, there is still one bookstore, Barnes and Noble and that is where I went. I spent one very wintry Saturday having coffee, browsing and reading travel books about St. Lucia and Jamaica with heavy emphasis on St. Lucia. When I went to the bookstore, I brought my computer and while reading I began to take notes about the main points of interest to me about St. Lucia.

Here is my list of what I want to know during my research:
  • What is the main language?
  • What is the main currency? And can I use American dollars?
  • What is the local food or drink?
  • Any health considerations, comments, concerns? 
  • Do I need any vaccinations?
  • What are the main attractions? What are the must see places?
  • What are the popular touristic areas to avoid or to enjoy?
  • What is the mode of transportation?
  • How do I get from the airport to the hotel?
  • Do I need a car?
  • How long to drive ALL around the island?
  • Where in the map are the best beaches?
  • Where are the best snorkeling spots? I like to snorkel so I always want to know this.

Picture of St. Lucia beach with a view of the Pitons.

    5.  Start planning your trip as if you are going in the next 6 months.
What you want to know here is how much your dream Caribbean vacation will cost? This is how you develop a budget.
  • Find out what airline goes to your dream vacation destination, and how much? I use Kayak to give me a general idea. I also find out what car rentals I can pick up from the airport and how much will it cost.
  • Find out what hotels are near the beaches or general area you want to go. You can use Travelocity to find what hotels are around and how much. Use Google maps to show where exactly on the map the hotels are, the airport and the beaches. Read reviews and comments from people who have gone to the hotels. Choose one to find out about how much it will cost.
  • Then you need to set up your sightseeing budget, to do this you need to have identified from your research what tours you might want to take. By now you have an idea of what the must-sees in the area are and if you want to see them. So now is the time to go to their websites and find a cost.
  • Then you need to set up a food budget. This is a bit trickier, so I normally assume what I would spend at home on vacation eating out. If you eat like the locals during your vacation, you will not blow your budget and have a greater experience. Usually the biggest cost is the drinking part of the food budget so you need to watch that or not.
  • Then you need a clothing budget because even though you really don't need much, you will buy a new bathing suit and towels and other details before you go. A word of advice, don't blow your budget before you leave for your vacation buying clothing, don't over pack but don't forget the sunscreen and mosquito repellent.
So this is how I prepare for my dream vacations. What I can tell you is that the dark gloomy winter days go by faster and they become secondary to your vision of your upcoming Caribbean dream vacation. I highly recommend you try it. Let yourself go, day-dream, fantasize, you will soon be smiling and glowing and dancing in the kitchen.

picture of a tropical drink

So where do you want to go? Start day-dreaming, start fantasizing, leave me a note. If you liked this post, please share.

In my next blog, I will share with you how I pay for my dream vacations.

Happy Travels!

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