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8 Great Decisions to Help You Travel Happy

In addition to basic travel happy decisions, like WHO (to travel with), WHAT (to do), WHERE (domestic or abroad), WHEN (peak or off season), and HOW (long), happy travelers have a multitude of decisions to consider for every trip.

Please note that travelers make different decisions for every trip. Sometimes even during the same trip. Maybe even on the same day.


8 Great Decisions to Help You Travel Happy

8 Great Decisions to Help You Travel Happy

8 Great Decisions to Help You Travel Happy

Decide to Go

The first decision happy travelers make is simply deciding to take a trip, to make travel a priority. I like the advice Erin Bender gave in this article, “Just book it!” So, go ahead, book a trip, it is the first step to Travel Happy. To paraphrase Lewis Carroll, happy travelers “only regret the trips we do not take.

What to Pack

Deciding to pack light and travel with only a carryon bag (plus the ambiguous personal bag) has been my most powerful and enlightening (yes, pun) travel decision. Traveling with less stuff saves money, time, and stress—and that should be the ultimate goal of all happy travelers. There is a reason I made Pack Light my first Habit of Happy Travelers.

How to Get There

Since 2001, I have expanded the distance I will drive instead of fly for vacations. Some of the factors why I reduce my air travel frequency include TSA/security measures meaning check in 90 minutes early, route changes eliminating favorite nonstop flights, centralized car rental centers, and frequent delays. Where I used to take a flight for a short distance, like 200 miles away, I now will drive up to 550 miles rather than fly. One advantage to driving your own car is that you can skip the rental car at the destination and bring more stuff (including pillows and snacks).

Public Transportation

Many happy travelers arrange trips requiring no car at all. For city vacations, there is no need for a rental car and you can use local public transportation. Visit Washington DC, Philadelphia, New York City, and many other US cities by riding with Amtrak. When exploring the countryside, though, recognize whether you prefer to independently explore or be part of an organized tour group. Renting a car might be a better option when you want to explore away from cities, places like Ireland and Iceland.

8 Great Decisions to Help You Travel Happy

8 Great Decisions to Help You Travel Happy

Where to Stay

Many happy travelers find vacation rental properties (like Airbnb) offer more space and amenities at a lower price than hotels. Other alternatives to standard chain hotels include independent hotels or motels, inns, B&Bs, camping or glamping, hostels, Couchsurfing, or even Irish castles.

Travel Local

By Travel Local, I do not mean stay home and not travel. I mean to have local experiences at your destinations. Happy Travelers believe this leads to the most authentic travel experiences. Eat local—fresher and healthier for you than fast food and packaged items. Stay local—save money and have more fun. Drink local—local craft beer, wine, cider, and spirits are exploding industries. Explore local—hire a local small group tour guide for access to places that are better for the environment. Minimize your footprint at the destination to make up for the environmental impact of getting there.

Travel Off the Beaten Path

Happy travelers know that taking the road less traveled leads to more fulfilling travel experiences. While everyone else is standing in line at popular tourist attractions, walk into an adjacent neighborhood and explore shops, restaurants, and parks that most visitors do not see. Drive small roads instead of highways. Book a small cruise ship rather than a big mega ship. Take a small group walking tour of a city rather than a big bus group. Travel during the offseason when the crowds are much smaller but the weather might even be better. Have dinner at a farm-to-table cafe with a local chef instead of fast food. See more, Do more. Travel happy.

Practice Serendipity

The strongest travel memories result from unplanned moments, I believe. While it makes sense to have some structure and plan on your trips, allow some time for unstructured exploring and free roaming. Happy travelers are flexible and adventurous. Practice Serendipity is not exactly accurate. Maybe Create Serendipitous Moments would be more accurate.

8 Great Decisions to Help You Travel Happy

8 Great Decisions to Help You Travel Happy

By no means are these the only travel happy decisions that happy travelers make. For instance, most of my travel friends earn and use points to partially pay for their trips so I would say that using loyalty programs is definitely another travel happy decision.

What other decisions to travel happy can you think of?

To travel happy, travelers face many decisions. Happy travelers may make different decisions for every trip. Maybe even during the same trip.

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8 Great Decisions to Help You Travel Happy was originally published on McCool Travel on 28 October 2016.


64 Responses to “8 Great Decisions to Help You Travel Happy”

  1. bolaaka December 3, 2017 at 2:30 pm #

    I always plan my trips but I always leave room for serendipity. I just like the whole idea of exploring.

  2. mags November 28, 2017 at 12:09 am #

    You saved the best for last. For me the key to a successful trip is always to leave room for serendipity. Overly planned trips and packed itineraries stress me out!

    • McCoolTravel (@CharlesMcCool) November 28, 2017 at 7:13 am #

      So glad you pointed that out. I did not intentionally save that for last but more serendipity is a worthwhile habit!

  3. Alli Blair November 27, 2017 at 9:36 am #

    I love this post. At first glance it comes across as so simple – but it really isn’t for many! I love the point about eating local – that is such an important one! You getting to enjoy and experience the local cuisine – and it is so fresh! When I was in Bangkok I was traveling with someone who only wanted to eat North American food . . . I imagine those unfamiliar ingredients and cuisines would offer a not so fresh experience. Not the time for pizza, in my opinion 🙂

    • McCoolTravel (@CharlesMcCool) November 27, 2017 at 9:38 pm #

      I appreciate your kind words, Alli. Agreed, simple but powerful concepts. Once accepted and developed, they are true habits. Travel Happy!

  4. A Taste for Travel November 26, 2017 at 8:13 pm #

    Those are all very handy tips but I especially like the reminder that going “small” is a key to being a happy traveller. lt’s also helpful in creating a “happy planet” as it reduces our travel footprint

  5. pattimorrow November 26, 2017 at 6:17 pm #

    Those are all really great points, Charles. I try to do all of those as well, but in particular, I’ve been doing a lot of driving AFTER arriving in a new country. It’s a great way to get off the beaten path and see the real culture.

  6. alison abbott (@GreenWithRenvy) November 26, 2017 at 12:43 pm #

    Packing light is my #1 tip for my own mental health. It means I’m more stressed beforehand trying to decide what makes the cut, but so much happier once I hit the airport. I also love the tip about off the beaten path. My goal is to always try and avoid the crowds.

    • McCoolTravel (@CharlesMcCool) November 27, 2017 at 9:31 pm #

      Good stuff, Alison. Thank you. Packing light, I like to say sometimes, is more than just physical. Packing less mental anguish also leads to happier travel.

  7. Hannah Lukaszewicz November 25, 2017 at 6:45 pm #

    Hey stranger long time no see! How do you get away with carry on only? That sounds like a dream? With Adam being a photographer we just have so much gear there is no way we can do carry on. Sounds amazing. Great tips in here too. Safe travels.

    • McCoolTravel (@CharlesMcCool) November 27, 2017 at 9:34 pm #

      I am blessed with inferior photographic skills and get by with only a smartphone. One strategy we have to bring less clothes is to do laundry every few days, usually in a vacation rental (like an apartment with a washer).

  8. Plaid Shirt Yoga Pants November 25, 2017 at 6:23 pm #

    I like to do one way car rentals. One of my best trips was flying to Rapid City – driving all over South Dakota and Wyoming – then flying out of Bozeman.

    • McCoolTravel (@CharlesMcCool) November 27, 2017 at 9:29 pm #

      Wonderful. Those one way car rentals are great deals. It takes a little more planning, to synchronize the flights with the car pick up and return, but usually well worth it.

  9. Natalie November 25, 2017 at 10:21 am #

    Packing light for airline travel does make me a happier traveler! On our first international trip with our kids, we were able to travel carry-on only (plus 2 carseats) and it was tremendously helpful. When we moved abroad, we traveled with 7 bags and two carseats. That was more difficult, but necessary. Once the bags were checked, it wasn’t too bad.

    I also really like road trips because I can overpack a little without being inconvenienced. I also prefer to keep the distance to what would take 8 hours to drive, though in the US, I’d probably be willing to do a longer drive as long as we split it up over two days.

    I’m currently living in Mexico and that allows us to travel to more off the beaten path places. I love it and I haven’t been disappointed yet!

  10. Sara Broers (@TravelWithSara) November 25, 2017 at 9:59 am #

    To me there is no other way to travel, but happy. With so many beautiful places to go and yes, there are bumps along the way. When I find those bumps I always meet some of the nicest people, which make the travel experience a happy one! A little planning does help, especially when it comes to a budget, which = happy!

  11. wendy November 24, 2017 at 6:21 pm #

    I am always ready to travel so making the decision to go is easy for me. I am not as good at packing light. Honestly, I do not have that down yet. Like you we have expanded where we will drive. In 2018 we will drive from the northeast US to the American Southwest and back in a small RV, so no packing and unpacking. This year we drove both the north and south islands of New Zealand. I like the flexibility of driving.

    When not on a marathon trip, we do indulge in our local area’s treasures, as our town is a weekend escape area for New Yorkers and Philadelphians.

    I guess this says, I agree with your tips!

  12. Myro November 24, 2017 at 6:26 am #

    This is interesting.Now, I am curious and want to give it a try.Definitely sounds like a great time!

  13. Karen Warren November 22, 2017 at 8:05 am #

    Some great tips here but my favourite is “practice serendipity”. Almost all my best travel experiences have been the things I found by accident!

  14. Carole Terwilliger Meyers November 21, 2017 at 8:15 pm #

    All these tips are helpful but I most agree with How to Get There and the idea of driving if the distance is in the 500 miles range. Following this rule, we almost always drive between San Francisco and L.A. and especially like having our own car when we are “on location.”

    • McCoolTravel (@CharlesMcCool) November 25, 2017 at 9:24 am #

      Once upon a time, I flew between SFO and SoCal airports a lot. I definitely would prefer to drive it now. Whether that is maturity or the state of air travel or both, I wonder.

  15. Sand In My Suitcase November 21, 2017 at 7:37 pm #

    Public transport is a great tip! It’s so stressful renting a car and trying to find your way around (perhaps even driving on the wrong side of the road). In Europe, especially, the trains are a wonderful way to travel – and Uber is good too for short hops within a city if you don’t want to take the subway.

    • McCoolTravel (@CharlesMcCool) November 25, 2017 at 9:26 am #

      Certainly worth deciding which is a better personal option. Public transportation certainly saves money, time, and stress for some trips.

  16. Michele November 20, 2017 at 7:26 pm #

    Love this such great advice such simple but important things make travel so much more enjoyable

    • McCoolTravel (@CharlesMcCool) November 21, 2017 at 10:30 am #

      Thank you much, Michele. I do think it is important to empower people to be happy travelers and I do not mind being the person to do it.

  17. Doreen PendgracsD November 20, 2017 at 1:58 pm #

    Awesome tips, Charles. Travel almost always makes me ecstatic. Not just happy! But with your good advice, travellers can ensure that they’ve done everything they can do prepare for a great trip.

  18. jane November 20, 2017 at 10:50 am #

    Great tips, Charles and I agree with the drive more, fly less. Henk and I are actually ‘reserving’ some of our potential drive destinations for later on – we want to do the longest-haul flights sooner rather than later, while we are still patient enough to survive the trips! 😉

    • McCoolTravel (@CharlesMcCool) November 21, 2017 at 10:31 am #

      Sensible planning. I notice I am becoming less enthused about flights as I travel more. I am not quite at that Slow Travel phase though. Soon enough.

  19. ourboomerblog November 20, 2017 at 8:40 am #

    We use quite a few of these tips when making our travel decisions. The idea of auto travel offers us the ability to take in sights along the way, and even make unknown detours when the mood strikes. Our travel blogs tagline is “Visit Like a Local”, so we truly see the advantage of seeking out the locally produced and offered items. It can not only save money, but will give a better cultural experience to the traveler. Thanks for sharing all of these great tips.

  20. Jo Castro November 19, 2017 at 10:18 pm #

    Yes again! And as well as travel local, also shop local and eat local.

  21. Vacations with Mom November 6, 2016 at 11:43 am #

    Such great suggestions! I especially like create serindipitious moments! Makes travel such an amazing adventure!

    • McCool Travel November 9, 2016 at 12:04 am #

      Of course I totally agree. Thank you for the note.

  22. alison abbott November 5, 2016 at 3:10 pm #

    Great suggestions as are the ones in the comments. Deciding where to go is often the hardest part for me, but the planning is a delight. I love striking up a conversation with locals and trying to get some insider tips.

  23. Irene S. Levine November 1, 2016 at 11:26 pm #

    All great advice—I like to eat local!

  24. The GypsyNesters October 31, 2016 at 12:55 pm #

    Totally agree with all of this. We call it traveling low to the ground, but the idea is the same, try to experience a destination as much like a local as possible.

    • McCool Travel November 1, 2016 at 10:08 pm #

      Low to the ground. I love it. Thank you for stopping by.

  25. Carolina Colborn October 31, 2016 at 12:09 pm #

    Practice Serendipity is wise. Then you can be eternally surprised! We have been.

  26. Karen Warren October 31, 2016 at 10:17 am #

    I always prefer to stay in a rental property and buy at least some food in the local supermarket. And I definitely agree about getting off the beaten track – I avoid anywhere with crowds or long queues, however much of a “must do” experience it is.

    • McCool Travel November 1, 2016 at 10:10 pm #

      Thank you for the note, Karen. Supermarket shopping in unfamiliar destinations is so fun.

  27. Rebecca Hall (Bex) October 31, 2016 at 6:54 am #

    I have to agree: the booking of a trip and planning is the fun part – sometimes more than the actual trip!
    For this reason, I tend to agree: Boomers – with their extensive prior travel experience – tend to have better planning skills and make the most from trips

    • McCool Travel November 1, 2016 at 10:10 pm #

      Thank you for the note, Bex. Travel happy!

  28. Donna Janke October 31, 2016 at 5:39 am #

    Booking a trip and starting to plan it makes me happy. I can agree with the other suggestions too. I like staying in vacation rental properties.

    • McCool Travel November 1, 2016 at 10:10 pm #

      Planning gets the mind feeling happy. Thank you, Donna.

  29. Johanna~ Lifestyle Fifty October 31, 2016 at 4:27 am #

    I agree – just decide to go is the first and most important step, and I too truly believe in the power of serendipity. Good things really do happen in unexpected places at unexpected times.

  30. Noel Morata October 31, 2016 at 12:34 am #

    I agree, the first step is to just book it and start planning to make your trip effortless, but at the same time once you are there allow for enough flexibility for discovery and just enjoying being present.

    • McCool Travel November 1, 2016 at 10:12 pm #

      Absolutely. Some scheduling makes sense but I skew toward more exploring.

  31. Judy Freedman October 30, 2016 at 10:57 pm #

    I live to stay in Airbnb lodging. Definitely is less expensive and provides a more local experience.

  32. Suzanne Fluhr October 30, 2016 at 10:54 pm #

    Arrange to meet up with virtual on line friends IRL (in real life) when you’re in their area. Facebook (and blogging) have introduced me to people all over the world. Having the chance to meet them in person has enhanced our travels.

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