While thinking about what I got out of my vacation I also made some notes about key ingredients for having a great vacation.

1. Forget the hotel and rent a house, cabin, or condo–the cost is often the same or a tiny bit more than a hotel, but the experience is much richer and less sterile than a hotel room.  Often you have 10 times as much space and the ability to cook your own food.  Having your own place also makes it much easier and more fun for kids.  Craigslist, VRBO, and Google are great places to find rentals.

2. Bring good food and cook it yourself.  It gets tiring looking for and eating at random restaurants on vacation.  It can also be costly and time-consuming depending on how far you are from civilization.  That isn’t to say that an occasional meal out isn’t nice too.

3. Bring your own knives, pans, and any other kitchen utensils you depend on.  Sharp knives are often nonexistent and good pans are rare.  It’s disturbing to have gouged Teflon frying pans or aluminum sauce pans from the 1970’s as your only options.  A good frying pan and a medium-sized sauce pan usually cover most of the bases.  This time we also brought a blender for smoothies at lunch.

4. Turn off the TV. Who cares if you are 100 miles from civilization (or not) and able to access 300 satellite channels?  TV is impediment to quality conversation and being “present” with each other.  It also fills white space.  An occasional movie at night is fun, however, us this special time to do things you wouldn’t otherwise do like making a bonfire or sitting on the boat dock after the sun sets.  The tranquillity of a lake on a summer night should not be missed.

5. Leave your cell phone in the car. Last year we had a cabin on a lake with no land-line or cell phone coverage.  It was harder to coordinate activities with our relatives, but there was also a sense of “letting whatever happened, happen” and being fine with whatever the outcome was.  Everything turned out fine.

6. Don’t plan every day in advance.  Let each one happen.  At the same time, don’t spend the whole day in bed waiting to find out happens.

7. Define success.  Before you leave for vacation identify two or three things you want to experience while you are away or feel when you return.  As the time goes by, ask yourself if the activities and interactions you’re having are contributing to those goals.  They don’t have to be big and lofty.  One of my goals was to completely let down and recharge and not feel like I had to achieve anything all week.  If I was sitting on the deck reading a book or cruising Hayden Lake in search of the best five million dollar home–my goal was being met and I couldn’t feel guilty for not doing something else.

8. Bring a couple of good books to read and a backup or two if the ones you bring are duds.  I like a mixture of page-turning thrillers and thought-provoking, big idea type books that aren’t too dense.  I read The Bricklayer (amazon affiliate link) by Noah Boyd and A Million Miles in a Thousand Years (amazon affiliate link) by Donald Miller.  Miller’s book was highly inspiring and worth the read.  See Chris Brogan’s short video review.

9. Leave your computer at home.  It’s amazing how much perspective a week away from work and personal email brings.  You might come home and realize that the email threads of doom and drama in the open source project you work on really aren’t that important in the grand scheme of things.  You might find it is time to unsubscribe from a few lists and explore new areas.

10. Do as much as outdoors as possible.  Save the rainy, not so great weather days to go to museums, shopping, etc.  We did some indoor activities at the start of the week when the weather was great.  Towards the end of the week it was cold and raining.  It did make it easier to go home, but we wished we’d done things differently.

11. Write down the things you want to repeat and those you don’t.  You’ll be amazed how much you’ve forgotten when you go to read them a year later.  Think of it as a retrospective of sorts.

What are your tips for having a great vacation?

Image by proudfott via flickr used under a Creative Commons license.