The Best Ideas Start With a Pen & Paper!

I’m often asked, ”How do you do it?  How do you start planning your vacations?”  Then it’s mostly followed-up with, ”I don’t know, it all seems so complicated!”  I’m no travel agent, & I’ve never desired to become one.  In fact, I’m a Registered Nurse in a busy Emergency Department, but traveling has always been something that Floyd & I love to do.


Between the 2 of us, I actually do 95% of our vacation or ‘mini-getaway’ planning.  If I left any extensive planning to Floyd… Well I won’t put all of his business out there about where we could possibly end-up, lol.  We have a joke between the 2 of us that by the time I’ve taken a couple of months & has everything close to all planned out, this is when then he will actually add in his 5% to the travel plans. Truthfully that 5% doesn’t seem like much @ all, BUT he’s come up with some truly phenomenal, what I like to call, ‘side notes’!  Recently, the Al Maha, Desert Resort & Spa, DubaiStegastein Viewpoint, Norway were completely his idea & so so DOPE!


I can actually be a bit ‘bougie’ when planning our travel shenanigans, but I prefer to call them ‘sassy travels’.  I start out very ‘old school’ per se, by grabbing a pen/ pencil, a PAPER calendar print-out for the month that we have in mind & my Iphone.  So this is my thought process below:


1.Choose A Destination


– Most have a general idea of where they want to go, but 1st & foremost, if your dream is to travel internationally, then you need a passport.  Applying for 1 about 4 months prior to international travel is a good idea as routine processing times take 8-11wks according to the website.  You’ll need to give yourself plenty of time to receive it so you won’t be stressed!



If you’re applying for the 1st time, you will need to apply in person & has a search page where you can find the closest location based on your ZIP Code.


If you just need to renew a passport that hasn’t yet EXPIRED, then it’s recommended that you renew it a few months prior to expiration.  It doesn’t take as long to receive an updated passport when you’re renewing it, but it should still be done pretty far in advance. (All details for 1st timers or renewals are in the provided links!)


After you’ve narrowed down your destination, it’s time now to think about the best time of the year to visit that location.  If we’re going somewhere ‘tropical’, then the location has to get pretty hot for our travel window.  That way we can really enjoy the beaches & the water temperatures aren’t too chilly.


So it’s imperative that I check AccuWeather or The Weather Channel for the location’s weather for whatever time of the year that we want to travel to a specific destination.  I will actually end up checking the weather multiple times  (closer to when we leave) so that I have a general idea of the potential forecast. 


Side Note –  We will often visit @ least 2 countries in 1 trip.  It just makes sense to us & our thought process is ‘If your going THAT far, then why not tack on another reasonably close country that you also want to see!’  We call them ‘Twofers‘, lol, but we recently did a ‘Threefer‘! Lol


Also, checking Trip Advisor is an ABSOLUTE MUST, as It has valuable information on what other travelers thought of hotels, restaurants, excursions, etc.  Here are a few other helpful apps below! (some are linked just as an Apple device download, but all of these apps can be downloaded for both Android & Apple)





2. $So What’s Your Budget? $


Self explanatory.  You’re gonna need a few ‘coins’!  Need I say more?  Well, I will say this, we’re normal people.  We work very hard to continue to pay our bills AND travel well.  We still have a nice house, 2 inexpensive cars & a few things. Though our 3 children are grown, we still have 2 @ home & an aging parent who lives with us. The kids work & 2 are in grad school.





When we vacation, we usually don’t skimp on accommodations because we don’t ‘just lay our heads anywhere’, so to say.  I’ll often search for ‘All Inclusives’, too, & make sure that the resort has a variety of restaurants.  Specifically, for dining, we don’t eat @ Michelin starred restaurants, but we will eat at a unique restaurant such as the Ossiano | Best Fine Dining Restaurant In Dubai – Atlantis Resort.


3. How Much Time Off Do You Have?


 If you work FT jobs like us, it’s imperative that you know how many vacation hours you have AND how many actual days off you can take from your job for your vacation.




 Floyd & I have to carefully coordinate our time off together.  At this point, we’re normally able to take 2 ‘big’ vacations/ year & then some ‘little jaunts’ or ‘mini-getaways’ from time to time. He would actually sometimes like to go to Mexico or Puerto Rico for the weekend or a ‘long weekend’, but I’ve never been able to embrace that idea.  A short jaunt (5 days or less, in my book) to any tropical/ international destination is just a tease, & it would greatly disappoint me to have to come back so soon!  Anywhere within the  US for that short period of time would be very doable, but anywhere ‘exotic’ for a few days would literally hurt my feelings!  


4. Flexible Travel Dates


This is also important because flexibility can save you quite a few dollars when it comes to booking flights & hotels.  I’ll always check different days around the dates that we want to vacation to try & get the best deal.  When we decide on an ‘exotic’ destination, we’re more likely to go in the ‘off season’ to save as much money as we possibly can.  How do you know when it’s the ‘off season’?  Check-out # 5!




5. Research, Research, Research!


When I plan our trips, it’s very labor intensive. I call it a ‘Labor of Love.’ It is actually something that I LOVE to do, but only for the 2 of us.  Which is why I’m not a Travel Agent!  I’m always researching to find the best deals for flight, hotels, car rentals, excursions –  basically everything related to what we want to do.  We want to find unique experiences also so that takes time.  Passion & patience goes into planning any extraordinary vacation which is why I call our plans ‘Labors of Love’.  I actually could be a Travel Agent though, lol!  




6. Flights


I spend a good amount of time searching for the best flight deals. We’ll fly budget or major airlines – there’s not a lot of discrimination for us, it just has to be a decent deal.  (I tell you what, I won’t ever fly Air China again though!  You live & you learn!)  I’ll search Expedia, momondo, Booking, KAYAK, Skyscanner, Hopper, etc. or search the airline websites directly.

Image Cred: AllforNala
  • Side Note – Be careful when booking flights through Hopper.  I recently booked  a flight & was unable to pay for baggage in advance because I’d used ‘3rd party booking’, according to when I called the airline.   

Take into account that a lot of airlines are tacking on ‘hella’ fees nowadays.  Checked bag fees can be pretty costly so keep that in mind.  The food has also gone downhill, for the most part, unless you’re flying 1st or Business Class.  So I don’t know this, because we’ve never flown anything other than coach, but from what I’ve seen, Business & 1st definitely ‘has it going on!’.  


Why don’t we fly 1st or Business?  There’s no way we can justify spending upwards of $4000+ EACH for the ‘exotic’ destination trips that we like to go on.  That money can go to so many other things or NOT go to so many other things!  We joke that we have to drop a few pounds before every international trip so that we can comfortably fit in COACH, and we do!


Side Note – There’s a new budget airline that I want to try that flies to Paris, Bora Bora, Tahiti – it’s called French Bee.  Flights to both destinations look exceptionally reasonable.    **Drop a comment if anyone has flown with them.**


I also look at different routes to take that may be less expensive when we fly international.  We’ll often fly from our home base in Raleigh, NC to New York, NJ, Houston, DC, Atlanta – wherever that gives us the least expensive avenue.  I’ll even check Chicago, Boston or airports in Florida.  We’ve been known to incorporate layovers of up to 24hrs in interesting cities, too.


We have flown Emirates in coach & overall, it wasn’t all that it’s hyped-up to be.  I’ve always thought that even an Emirates coach flight would be phenomenal, but after years of thoughts of having a luxurious Emirates coach experience… Those thoughts were certainly dashed!


However, we did book a short stay in the JFK Emirates Worldwide lounge, & that experience was definitely worth $100 per person prior to our flight to Dubai!  It was our very 1st lounge experience, because surely not all lounges are created equal…  We almost bought a Priority Pass for various airport lounge access, prior to our Dubai trip, but you can’t get into the ‘high end’ lounges, such as Emirates, with a Priority Pass.  The JFK Emirates Lounge was definitely worth more than flying the airline itself, & you can only get into an Emirates Lounge if you’re flying their airline.


Side Note – We recently flew Turkish Airlines (coach!) & it was really nice.  The food was great, too!


For domestic travel, our all time favorite airline to fly is Southwest!  NO CHANGE FEES & NO BAGGAGE FEES… because I have been a certified #overpacker.  We fly them enough to get a once in a while ticket for < $20. That’s #winning!   


7. Accommodation


 We RARELY skimp & the digs must be pretty sweet!  I search high & low for the best deals.  We can’t always find our favorite hotel, Kimpton Boutique Hotels, everywhere we go, but nice, ‘boutique-type’ hotels are preferred.  We can do some Marriott’s for local destinations, but we’ll try to be a bit fancier when out of the country.  It’s definitely a plus when you can find a hotel that offers more than just continental breakfast.  If offered, a ‘Club level’ access room is definitely worth a 2nd thought, as there is usually a phenomenal breakfast buffet with likely unlimited mimosas, a cocktail hour or 2 (hours), and evening canapés.  If you’re lucky, the club lounge may even offer an included lunch buffet as well.  Now, let’s not be afraid of buffets anymore…


Marina Bay Sands, Singapore – Click to see the huge infinity pool!


8. Travel Insurance


To be honest with you, ‘Covid Times’ made us buy travel insurance once.  We bought a policy through Generali Global Assistance Travel Insurance when we were going to Dubai & the Maldives. ONLY because the Maldivian hotel was very $, & if anything were to occur where we couldn’t make it, there would be no refund.  They also only allowed rebooking’s up to 3 months out!


The policy that we bought through Generali was very inexpensive for such a costly trip.  It was very easy to secure a policy as most, if not all, companies have easy online forms that you fill-out.  You’ll enter basic trip information that includes your ESTIMATE of the total cost of the trip, & then you can get an immediate quote.  We paid around $350 total for that specific policy, & ended-up using it for 1 thing:  JetBlue tore holes in my thick, plastic luggage covers for my Beis bags, & I filed a claim once we were home & settled.  Claims also generally need to be filed within a year of returning from a covered trip.


A travel policy will also cover certain medical expenses if anything were to happen.  My nursing career has also included a position in my hospital’s Transfer Center, and trust me, any medically necessary transfer from an international destination will ‘cost you both arms & legs’!  Easily in excess of $100,000.  Even medical transfers from inside of the continental US are pretty expensive also.  A good travel policy can offset most if not all of those costs.


For Iceland, Finland & Norway, we didn’t purchase a policy because the rates were astronomical for a trip that was a fraction of the cost of Dubai & the Maldives.  So we did take our chances with that one.  Prices likely skyrocketed due to the huge spike in Covid cases in the few weeks before that trip.


As I’ve done more research, there are other companies that are mentioned as having ‘reasonable’ rates. World Nomads is being talked about quite a bit, so I will definitely give them serious thought for our next trip.


9. Global Entry & TSA PreCheck


As of this blog entry, it’s been 2 months since we applied for Global Entry, AND our applications are still pending!  We’ve heard great things about both programs & we honestly should’ve gotten Global Entry by now.  Global Entry ($100) also includes TSA PreCheck (which is $85 alone), & either membership lasts for 5 yrs.


TSA PreCheck offers  ‘A smoother screening process – no need to remove shoes, belts, 3-1-1 liquids, laptops or light jackets.’, & ‘As of April 2022, 94% of TSA PreCheck passengers waited less than 5 minutes.’  TSA Precheck is for traveling only by air & only for departures from US airports.


Global Entry benefits include ‘Reduced wait times with self-service kiosks’ & some of those kiosks use facial recognition. ‘No paperwork to be filled out by passengers upon entry’ back into the US, & you can ‘Use the Global Entry Customs Kiosks at more than 75 airports when returning to the US from travel abroad.’  Global Entry is for travel by air, land & sea.


I will go ahead & highly recommend either of these programs because of the convenience they offer.  We have been to countries where you don’t have to remove your shoes while going through security checkpoints or they’ve been a bit more lenient with the liquids rule, but trust me, it is all a royal pain either way.

So if you don’t have to remove your heavy, laced-up UGG® Boots because you’re traveling to or from a super dope, cold destination…  Well, just give that some thought.


Also, going through JFK International Airport at any point will have you kicking your own butt for not being a member of either program.  It took us just 2 times of having JFK connecting flights to make us realize that we had to get Global Entry! 


10. Covid 19 Testing


  This section mostly relates to International Travel. For our international trip this past February, testing requirements changed for a lot of different countries (except for the US), almost overnight!  We were prepared to test while abroad & even bought at home covid tests to use by abbottbinax NOW.

You can get a 2 pack for about $69.  These tests include a virtual visit with a Telehealth Services provider who will apparently watch you open the test & self swab.  They’ll guide you through the process, & you’re supposed to get the results & a digital certificate within 15min via an app that you download to your phone.  Then you’ll have the results certificate on your smartphone to store, display & share your test results when needed.


Floyd & I actually didn’t need to test but once (before we left the US for Iceland, & ONLY because Iceland wanted to see a test result whether we’d recently had covid or not) – as we had both tested + the month before.  If you’ve tested + for Covid in the past 90 days prior to international travel, you can visit your PCP (with your + test result) & actually travel with documentation from your Dr. saying that ‘because a person can still test + for up to 90 days, it’s unnecessary to test again since there could be a false positive.’  We both obtained signed & dated letters from our physicians (on office letterhead) that basically listed: 


Name & DOB

 Date of the office visit

 The body of the letter went on to say: Melissa had Covid identified by PCR on (date) & she made a full recovery with no lingering symptoms

 There was also a reference regarding the possibility of having a false + test if made to test within 90 days of having Covid, so testing again is unnecessary gives you ‘Covid-19 Country Specific Information that is VERY helpful for knowing what different countries require for entry & exit related to Covid-19.  I HIGHLY suggest using that site for any international travel plans!


So there you go… Good information for travel during ‘Covid Times’!


11. Now the’fun’ part – PACKING!


 I enjoy packing for our trips! It naturally has to do with the associated shopping sprees & Amazon packages that show-up! #funforme


We recently used these Shacke Pak packing cubes for an international trip & let me tell you, that was one of the best decisions ever!  They help greatly with organization & condensing what you pack.  I actually won’t pack without them ever again!  We ended-up buying 2 sets each… Since I’ve historically been a #certifiedoverpacker, but I’m proud to say that’s already stopped.


I often start packing 2 or 3 months in advance AND I pack for my husband, too… That way critical things, like his underwear, won’t get left @ home!  Can anyone just imagine that’s happened before?!  He does a final check & ‘ok’s’ what I’ve put in his bags though!


All the Best,

Ms Sassy Travels