How to plan an awesome trip

The absolute joy of my life is planning. I thrill at the opportunity to put an agenda together. There are times when I don’t have a trip on the calendar and I can feel happiness and sense of purpose gradually evaporating from my body.

I share my travel guides on here sometimes because I know that I have painstakingly combed the internet, talked to friends, and tested and tried all the best places at a destination. I do so much work before a vacation because I genuinely enjoy it, but even more than that, I do it because the trip is so much more satisfying to me when I know we’ve done all the best there is to do in that destination. All that work that I put into my own vacation surely can’t just die in my Google Calendar. Perhaps you’ve even referenced one of my travel guides before. But now, I want to share the very near-and-dear-to-my-heart process of how I plan a trip.

First, here are the general assumptions: I already know where I’m going and when and with whom. Maybe I’ve also booked flights, but everything else is totally undecided.

1. DECIDE WHERE TO STAY. Where you stay is extremely important to the overall success of the trip. I don’t care what your accommodation preference is, or what your price point is, but I do care that you stay in an area that’s central to the things that you care about. Because I recently traveled there, let’s use Maui as an example. I know that a trip to Maui for me means relaxation and the luxury of being able to walk to dinner and drinks and leisurely make my way home at night. It also means being able to take in the ocean’s natural beauty. While I enjoy the lush foliage of some parts of the island, I don’t want it to be rainy. So, I take to Google. I’m going to search something generic, like “best areas to stay in Maui.” This will not be a definitive list, because someone else’s definition of the best place can be very different from mine. I’ll read the description of each of the “best places” and pick one that sounds like what I want. Then, I’ll go to Google Maps and zoom in on that area. Are there lots of restaurants? How well are they rated? Do the menus and hours look compatible? If so, then it’s time to start seeing what else is in the area. Are the beaches in this area accessible? Can I snorkel and boogie board, or do I have to just watch the waves from shore? If everything checks out on Google Maps, then I’m going to move to hotels.com or airbnb to start searching for a place that’s walking distance to these restaurants and beaches. Filter by price and date, and you’ll have a location decided easily.

2. CREATE A GOOGLE DOC. I plan every trip by creating a Google doc for it. I will keep tabs on what restaurants I want to try, sights I need to see, and beaches I want to visit. Use this sort of as a scratch pad. I might clean it up later and add a schedule, but usually I’m not doing much else but writing down all my ideas here.

3. GET ON EATER.COM AND THRILLIST. Food is one of the most important experiences to me when traveling. Eater and Thrillist both are extremely reliable sources for me when I’m planning a trip. Eater is fantastic for mapping out restaurants: They have moveable maps with their restaurant recommendations, and often their posts are VERY specific categories, like “Best Bottomless Mimosa Brunches on the Las Vegas Strip.” First of all, hell yes I want bottomless mimosas whenever I’m on vacation. But also, all these places are vouched for by a site I trust, and it helps narrow down the wasteland that is Google Maps when I’m looking for fantastic food. Thrillist is fantastic and I find it generally has more content overall, though they don’t do the moveable maps. I’ve used Thrillist to plan wine trips (like my upcoming one in Paso Robles), ensure that I’m updated on the best places in Miami whenever I visit, and I even recently found that they sent a writer to test all the subway toilets in New York and share which ones aren’t just a boiling pit of filth (aka doing the Lord’s work). It enumerates art exhibits worth seeing, parks worth frolicking, beaches worth beaching. Eater and Thrillist aren’t the only sites I use, though. Also try the web pages for Conde Nast Traveler, Food & Wine, and the New York Times “36 Hours in” series. Any place you want to visit, add it to your Google Doc!

4. SCHEDULE EVERYTHING BEFORE YOU BOOK IT. Now’s the time to start making a visual for what you’re going to do and when. I use Google Calendar to schedule out my days. In some cities, I’ll want to do an “excursion,” like the day-long Road to Hana drive in Maui or a trip to Aconcagua in the Andes of South America. Suss out what day you want to do that, and add it to the calendar. Start to build around that: What night do you want to go to that amazing restaurant? What day will you make it to the renowned winery? Will you set aside a day to just lounge? I love to decide what “events” I’m doing first, like excursions or winery visits. Then, I see what restaurants are nearby that I can visit before or after that event. This way, you don’t spend too much of your vacation in transit to different places, and you can be a bit more relaxed. If you’re going to a very busy city like New York, London, or Miami, you’ll want to book everything in advance after you’ve finished sketching out your trip. But if you’re going somewhere relaxed, like Maui or Mendoza, you can be a little more lax with actually booking.

5. BUILD IN OPTIONS. Sometimes, you don’t want to book everything in advance. Maybe you’re not sure how much downtime you’ll want, or if you’ll need to catch up on work, or if your travel companion will need a day to sleep in, or whatever. Build in options wherever you can! This is my favorite thing to do when I’m traveling with my husband, because we have different travel styles. I love to be on the go and do everything, and while he definitely loves to adventure with me, he needs a bit more downtime to recharge. This can be a blocked-off few hours in Maui that gives the option of doing a coastal drive, or heading a nearby beach and reading our books; it can be going to dinner and then heading back to the condo, or staying out after dinner and getting a drink nearby. When I’m traveling with girlfriends, this can mean making two dinner reservations, one at a higher-end place and one at a more affordable spot, and letting them take a look at the menus to decide without judgment or pressure. It sounds simple, but the key is that I always know where we’d go if we took advantage of either option. You avoid the dance of figuring out where to go and then giving up or having a less-than experience.

Great planning is the key to the best vacation. Everyone’s relaxed, because all you have to do is show up. Plus, the next time a friend visits one of your favorite places, you can send them your recommendations, because you know that they’re the best of the best.

What are your secrets to planning a fantastic vacation? What did I miss?

Featured image: my calendar from a May 2018 trip to Disney World. Every. Ride. Was. Scheduled. (But had those good good options built in.) And it was amazing.

Remember when people constantly posted cryptic things on social media?

There are several applications that let you go back in time through your photos and social media. Facebook advertises a “look back on your memories from a year ago”; TimeHop allows looks into what happened on this day one, two, or more years in the past; Google Photos often reminds me to check out a series of photos I took (mostly of my cats) last year. For the most part, I enjoy remembering what happened in years previous. For example, last week was my one-year wedding anniversary, so it’s a really great memory! But on any other average Tuesday, I’m not guaranteed to have such a fun or interesting walk down memory lane.

The number one thing that apps like TimeHop have taught me: I was a complete idiot a few years ago. I constantly find photo captions from my years in college that are so puzzlingly cryptic and veiled. After college, in the era of Instagram, I posted the stupidest and most low-quality photos into what is now a pretty beautiful and lively feed. I recently discovered that 6 years ago I had posted a screenshot of a tweet by obscure former Bachelorette competitor cast member Jef Holm (Jef with one F, Emily’s season, aka the only season I watched ever) saying that he was going to Charleston with Chris Harrison (the host of the Bachelor/ette franchise) followed by a golf emoji. And as I posted that screenshot of a very unimportant (to me) person, I captioned it with absolutely NO explicit meaning. Observe:
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My caption: “Time to get real about my not so secret love for the bachelorette. Though there is a golf emoji, there’s no way this means… PLEASE ADVISE”

Like, WHAT? What does this nonsense even mean? Here’s the information I can gather. 1) I’m attempting to say that I like the Bachelorette. But I didn’t really. I watched it once with some women from my sorority with whom I was living over the summer in college. 2) I’m assuming that it’s a little bit shameful to like the Bachelorette because I refer to it as secret (or rather, not-so). 3) I acknowledge there’s a golf emoji. No further comment necessary here. 4) There’s no way this means WHAT? It drives me absolutely nuts how often I posted cryptic, unfinished thoughts like this. I must have expected people to read my mind. Or maybe I thought it was a manic-pixie-dream-girl type thing to allude to my meaning without saying it.

Present day Amanda would never assume people can read her mind. Present day Amanda writes thorough captions describing how she felt, or what she likes about the image, or something that made her think. She avoids ellipses that trail off into nothing. It’s so frustrating to me that this is how I lived my public, in-writing, forever-saved-in-the-dredges-of-the-internet life.

Sometimes I wonder if my lengthy, thought-out Instagram captions are being judged or are on the receiving end of some eye rolls. But looking through the way I used to post on social media — so cryptic, so strange, so pointless and guarded and not letting people actually know my thoughts — I thoroughly prefer to write my exact feelings and thoughts as I do today. I like being able to share and be vulnerable. For so long in my life, I was rarely open to letting people actually know me. I tried to do what I thought was cool. I tried to make myself sound like I had hobbies or interests or thoughts similar to whatever guy I had a crush on, or some coworker I wanted to befriend. It was a long journey to learn what it really means to “be yourself,” and it involved a lot of appointments with a therapist. And in those appointments, I wasn’t discussing how I couldn’t be vulnerable. No, we discussed specific problems I was having at work or with a certain person. And eventually by working on those areas of my life, it opened up my ability to be myself. I hate looking back on the years I spent trying to be cool, sound cool, do things I didn’t want to do, people I tried to impress. But I wouldn’t be embarrassed to run into those people again, because I am so obviously not that cryptic, closed-off idiot of yesteryear. People are dumb sometimes, but sometimes they stop being dumb. I’m a proud reformed idiot, and I’m here to share with you my lengthy, personal Instagram captions, whether you want them or not. ♦

Maui Travel Guide

Tim and I went to Maui for the second time. It continues to be our favorite of the islands we’ve visited (Oahu, Kauai, Maui), and I feel so strongly about it!

Stay in Kihei if you can. It’s mostly people from Seattle and Canada, so I really felt at home. (Hehe.) There are tons of great restaurants and beaches within walking distance, and it’s the least rainy part of the island. We have rented condos both time (once through AirBnB and once on Hotels.com) and wouldn’t do it any other way.

Food & Drink:

  • Three’s Bar & Grill: I had the ramen the first time we visited and it was not amazing, but the poke bowls were fabulous. I appreciate craft cocktails, too, and they had some options with local ingredients! Wine drinkers, they have a longer list here. (Just don’t expect local wines unless you want sugar.)

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  • South Shore Tiki Lounge: The classic mai tai with the Myer’s Rum upgrade was delicious — and strong! We went here every single day on our second trip. Also, the Surf’s Up pizza was pretty good and hits the spot after boogie boarding. It’s no Neapolitan, but it’s fresh and hearty.
  • Ohana: Probably the biggest surprise of the trip, this place didn’t seem that spectacular from the outside but was a great dinner! We got the dynamite poke bowl, the kalua pork spring rolls, and the Cubano sandwich prepared with kalua pork. The Cubano wasn’t as good as the real deal from FL or Cuba, but the pork was still awesome. They also have cool craft cocktails. All great!
  • Kihei Caffe: We ate here every single morning on both trips! The pork fried rice with eggs over-easy can’t be beat. I also loved the breakfast plate of eggs, bacon, potatoes, and a biscuit. Their bacon is something special. I didn’t try the cinnamon rolls ever, but they looked incredible. It’s cash only, so prepare accordingly or use the ATM in house.
  • Paia Fish Market: There’s one in Paia and one near the Banyan Tree in Lahaina, but the one in Kihei is the one we visited. I get plates with the daily catch. Always fresh, always good.
  • What Ales You: Decent beer spot. They have wine, too, in case someone doesn’t want beer. They had live music when we went, which I enjoyed!
  • Nalu’s South Shore Grill: I got the ahi BLT, which was amazing!

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  • Ululani’s Shave Ice: Get a scoop of ice cream on the bottom under your shave ice! Definitely the best, creamiest shave ice — don’t settle for less.
  • Mama’s Fish House: I’m sure you’ve heard of this by now. It’s not in Kihei but instead near Paia (North Shore) and truly was as fantastic as everyone says. The menu shares the name of the fisher(wo)man or the ship that caught the fish. We started with the three-fish sashimi ($32) which was AMAZING, and then both got the Opah with avocado, tomato, quinoa ($58). I also got the Mai Tai, which was a little coconutty — I really liked it. Arrive early or plan to stay after to take in the beautiful views and snap a couple pictures.
  • Cafe O’Lei: I mainly went here because of the clever name. But it’s just a pretty average restaurant with pretty fun passionfruit mojitos that are worth the trip.

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  • Maui Brewing Co: You can make your own flights with any number of tastes! And the food was actually good — maybe up there with the best we’ve had in Maui. Elevated pub fare. Loved it.
Beaches/views
  • Makena / Big Beach: The obvious choice, recommended by many. The lifeguards stressed how dangerous the waves were, and we almost didn’t go in, but eventually we started boogie boarding and did not feel in danger whatsoever. So, I guess go at your own risk and know your ability level. At the least, take chairs and a book and enjoy the expanse. We saw a bunch of whales here!

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  • Maluaka: This was our favorite of the beaches we visited! Solid waves, beautiful and unobstructed sunset views, and minimally populated when we visited. I snorkeled here, too, and saw a LOT of eels.
  • Kamaole I, II, III: These are three sequential beach areas in the Kihei area. Kam II has snorkeling.
  • Ho’okipa Bay / Lookout: Gorgeous views just east of Mama’s Fish House, we saw TONS of turtles swimming here!
  • Lahaina Banyan Court: One of the biggest Banyan trees alive today. They live so long because their notorious dangling roots strangle other trees around them. They have multiple trunks, too — crazy! Nearby is more gorgeous ocean.
  • Olowalu Beach: Great snorkeling! Not as good for casual beachgoing as the sand is very rocky.

Activities

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  • Snorkeling – Guided: We went on the Four Winds II out to Molokini Crater, one of the most high-visibility snorkeling locations in the state! We saw several whales and got decently close to “Target Island,” where the US gov tested bombs for 50 years. It was so gorgeous and totally recommended. Bonus: the tour company provides free beer, wine, juice, water, and soda throughout the trip. You can also buy lunch for $8, which I totally recommend because you have the option if you want it, but it’s not so pricy that you’ll be upset if you skip it and get a good lunch before/after. We did the afternoon tour, which normally goes to Coral Gardens due to the tempestuous winds on the way to Molokini, but weather cooperated for us. We’ve done it twice now, and the second time I did SNUBA (sort of like scuba but not as complex/deep) which I don’t regret.
  • Snorkeling – DIY: Rental equipment is so cheap! Go to Boss Frog’s. They gave us a map with recommended locations, plus they gave us tons of discount cards for local restaurants and a number to call if we had questions. So kind! Even better, they offer full-face masks, which are so much better than in-mouth snorkels.
  • Boogie Boarding: Tim and I are surprisingly avid boogie boarders. We aren’t good but we are tireless and really enjoy it. Plus, it lets us justify that third mai tai at South Shore Tiki Lounge.
  • Hike: We did the East Maui Waterfall & Rainforest Hike with Hike Maui. It was very informative and gorgeous! It’s not physically exerting, so if you are an avid real hiker, try the gorgeous Haleakala hike (which only runs on specific days, which is why we didn’t get to do it!).

  • Road to Hana: I’m sure everyone has told you to do this already. We took a guided trip with Dynamic Tours. I wouldn’t say I regret it by any means, but I do think it’s extremely overrated. Yes, I know that a guided trip doesn’t allow you to allot your time the way that you would if you did it yourself. But we saw what we saw, and it was beautiful, but it really wasn’t better than the insane Jurassic Park views of Kauai, or the crystal waters of the Caribbean. Do it if you want to, but I’m here to say you don’t have to.
  • Pineapple Tours: I always insist on snorkeling lots, so I made sure Tim got to choose something that he wanted to do. This 2-hour event was filled with a lot of pineapple straight from the fields, and a very energetic tour guide who was maybe a little too energetic for me. Afterward, we tasted spirits at Hali’imaile Distillery next door, which limits you to only 3 tastings (seriously, you cannot convince them to do otherwise) which was a big disappointment. We didn’t buy anything and it wasn’t great, but I would check out one of the other distilleries next time.
  • Tip: If you want to do something early-morning, try doing it on your first full day on the island. It’s two hours behind the Pacific Time Zone (5 behind the Eastern!) so it’ll be easier to wake up early.
  • Killing time: It’s no secret Tim and I love to play games. We brought two games with us — Uno and Roll For It — that we played on our balcony while watching the sunset and enjoying a can from Maui Brewing. We also played verbal games on our walks to and from the restaurants and bars at night. One that we love is “Convergence,” in which both people think of a random word — ANY word — and say it on the count of three. Imagine hearing this in synch: “One, two, three, DOG!” “One, two, three, UMBRELLA!” You’d then need to think of some other word that you think has common ground with Dog and Umbrella. Maybe you think “collar” or “booties” or “raincoat” or maybe your first thought is “stuffed animal” or maybe it’s “palm tree” because that’s what first came to you! Then you count to three and both say your new word. You keep repeating this until you finally say the same word. It’s extremely exciting when you do, and it’s a great way to pass the time. Another verbal game is what we call “First and Last.” Pick a category — say, musicians and bands — and then say a name. “Beatles.” Then the next person has to think of a word that BEGINS with the LAST letter of “Beatles.” So the game might go like this: “Beatles. Sublime. Everclear. Rolling Stones. Shirley Bassey. Yellowcard. Darkness.” and so on. One of the best things about Hawaii is the slow, relaxed pace. These dumb little games always symbolize to me that we have lots of free time to unwind. Have fun!

It’s our wedding anniversary!

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I can’t believe it.

So many people have told me that their first year was the hardest. I don’t think Tim or I would call this a particularly extra-difficult year. We did so much to prepare for marriage: Took our time dating and getting to know all our ins and outs, talked to experts about how to get through fights, negotiated our roles and responsibilities in the relationship.

The number-one thing I wanted to avoid — that I felt I could avoid — was having the excuse, “We rushed into this.” While I know many marriages and relationships that have excelled after a short courtship (this is NOT about you, it is about me, and I’m not just saying that, I really mean it), I knew myself and knew that I could find myself blaming any of our problems on “rushing into it.” And what happens if I think that you rushed into it and that I’m fundamentally flawed as a couple? I’m more likely to want out. So I knew that there was no way we’d be getting engaged or moving in together without hitting certain milestones. I don’t want to go through a rough patch and then feel I have any justification for getting out of the marriage that has to do with “not knowing what I was getting into.”

We’ve been married one year now, which makes us no experts. (1 year = 8760 hours, not 10,000 like Malcolm Gladwell taught me.) But it counts as a milestone. Throughout our first year of marriage, we’ve traveled a ton, made life-changing decisions, started a Google doc about ideals of how we’d like to raise kids (more on that later — and no, we’re not starting a family soon). We’ve done a lot, and it’s tested our marriage, and our marriage has definitely proved itself on solid ground. We’ve laughed way more than we’ve cried — even when both of our flights to Australia totally screwed us over, even when our cat had multiple medical emergencies that cost thousands of unplanned dollars, even when our closet collapsed in the middle of the night and even when I decided not to go back to a desk job. We haven’t even really gotten questions from friends and family wondering when we’re going to start popping out babies. (THANK YOU FOR NOT ASKING. IT IS NOT YOUR BUSINESS BUT ALSO YOUR OPINION IS IRRELEVANT AND OURS IS THE ONLY OPINION THAT MATTERS BECAUSE WE ARE THE ONES WHO WON’T BE SLEEPING WELL FOR 18 YEARS.)

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Sometimes I fondly and enviously remember the days when I did whatever I wanted all the time. I could go out five times in a week, I could spend money on whatever I wanted, and I didn’t have to do anyone else’s laundry. And as cliche as it may be, as much as I loved my life then, I still vastly prefer life with Tim, even though I miss some things about my life before. Now, I can still go out five times in a week if I really wanted. I still pretty much spend money on whatever I want, though big purchases are shared with Tim first and any time we decide not to buy something it’s because I really didn’t need it. And while I definitely do Tim’s laundry for him, at least I do it in our in-unit washer and dryer, as opposed to in my old apartment’s poorly-maintained laundry room (that inexplicably got someone else’s gum on my clothes twice). Also, you and I both know that Tim’s wardrobe is as easy as it gets.

I loved being single, and for different reasons, I love being married. And I love knowing and proving that we’ll work through any of our issues, whether proactively and preventatively, or by facing them as they come. Since our first year of marriage didn’t kill us, I’m waiting to discover what phase of our lives almost does. (I’m assuming it’s when we have a toddler and a newborn — right? Or two mouthy teenagers and we start disagreeing in front of them?) Whenever it happens, though, I’m ready. I know we took our time, and that we chose each other, and we will always choose each other. ♦

Why I decided to change my name

It’s been almost a year since I married the cutest guy in the world. (He’s going to hate that I put that in writing, but I say it to him about 4000 times per day so what’s the difference?)

A couple weeks before our wedding, we went over to the applicable government office and applied for our marriage license. I was still undecided and had been successfully avoiding committing to any sort of name change. When we were speaking to the county clerk’s office, though, they asked if I wanted a new name put on the marriage license. I panicked and got a huge spike of anxiety. The person who was assisting us mentioned that I never actually had to change my name to whatever I put on the license, which gave me peace, so I said that he could put my husband’s last name in place of my own.

Looking back on it, I truly wish that I had premeditated my name change more. It was so difficult for me to seriously think about it, because every time I did, I’d get anxious and sweaty and need air and had to stuff it back down. (This is not a healthy way to deal with anxiety.) I still can’t put a finger on exactly why it gave me such a visceral reaction. I don’t necessarily think it was negative or a sign that I didn’t actually want to change my name. I’ve always planned on changing my last name to my husband’s — before I even knew Tim. I’m pretty progressive overall and a thousand percent hate that the practice began essentially like transferring the title of a car — from parental “ownership” to husband “ownership” — but I also really love the symbolism of having the same name as a family unit. Plus, my husband and I very much have an equality-focused partnership, and just because the practice of sharing a last name is super antiquated in origin doesn’t mean that our use of the practice has to represent that negative baggage. And yes, it’ll be nice to have the same last name as my kids.

I think what I was really wrestling with was that I just didn’t recognize the name. When I said or wrote “Amanda Treese,” I kept hearing a voice in my head saying, “Who?” It was unsettling. I like my last name just fine, and I wasn’t in a hurry to change it. I didn’t know who Amanda Treese was, and I didn’t like thinking that somehow, this name that I didn’t recognize was actually me.

Many months have passed since we applied for that marriage license. We had the best wedding ever followed by an amazing honeymoon, traveled a ton, built a solid palate for and collection of wine, and took seven billion photos of our cats. The fact that my last name was different than his mattered not a single bit. And I realized, having the same last name as his also does not matter a single bit. Now, I know this sounds like a “don’t change my last name” post, but it’s the opposite. I decided that our names were really inconsequential and it changes absolutely nothing about who I am, and if I want to have the same last name as my husband, just do it. The only time I have to strictly go by that name is in legal documents. Plus, I was about to be in a rare time in life with absolutely NO flights booked for a couple months — the perfect time to change my last name, if ever. So I went for it.

I still wish that I had made my maiden name my middle name, but I didn’t put that on the marriage license and I didn’t feel like going through the process of getting a new one. Again, I realized, who cares what my exact name is? I’m in the middle of the extremely arduous process now — I enlisted HitchSwitch to help me through it all — but thankfully I’m at the perfect time in my life to take on an painstaking project like this. And when Tim and I move to a new city one day, no one there will even know my old name. It’s not really who I am. It’s just what was written on a birth certificate …a few… years ago.

For those out there who are undecided or chose to not change their name, I hope you know that this is just my personal experience working toward being comfortable with something that I did genuinely want to do. To change or not change your name is an extremely personal decision that involves no one but you, and nothing is right or wrong except doing what makes you happy.

In conclusion, does anyone know how to get a “Dame” honorific from the Queen? Because I think that would really spice up my new name.

Love,
Dame Amanda M. (Delzell) Treese