The perks (and burdens) of planning your own vacation

Early this spring, I finally booked a flight to Austin, Texas, a place that’s been at the top of my vacation list for a while because it’s a funky cultural hub, tacos are celebrated at every meal and, of course, it’s warmer than Maine is in March.

It was also the first real trip I took without someone else (i.e., Mom and Dad) deciding the destination and planning the itinerary. As fully fledged adult, it’s all on me—for better or for worse.

I planned to meet friends there and bunk with people they knew. By the end of the long weekend I’d learned a lot about vacationing in my 30s (a canceled flight and hours trapped in an airport really forced some reflection).

Like everything at this age, we’re probably in a very different spot than our best friends or coworkers when it comes to how and where we travel. For some, babies might be on board, dictating every aspect of the trip, while other friends are spending weeks in luxurious locales. We might have more money than we did in the previous decade and can afford to travel, but still wonder (with some jealousy) how our peers manage to afford the fancy vacations they post about on social media. (Seriously, how do they get so many vacation days?)

We might be traveling with our partner, with friends or on our own. And there are pros and cons to being the masters of our own travels.

We get to choose where to go (pro), but we have to pay for it (con). When we get stuck in the airport, it’s on us, not Mom and Dad, to worry about the details of rescheduling our flight. It’s on us to stay awake to make sure we don’t miss the next bus or get our purse stolen (con). There’s also no one to yell at us if we want to have a milkshake for dinner (pro).

We also have to make a plan for the trip. I groaned to myself when I was chatting with my Austin travel mates about booking a car. “Ugh,” I thought. “Not it!”

Growing up, my parents planned out every detail. They went to AAA and would scoop up a TripTik to plan the route (before Google Maps, can you imagine?). We had tickets pre-purchased to everything we planned on doing and everything was in place months in advance.

When I tried soliciting travel plans and must-do Austin activities from my travel companions in advance of our trip, I got crickets from the other end of the phone. So when I arrived in Austin with a day to kill before my friends arrived, I ended up making my way around the city without a plan. I found delicious food, a presidential library that left me in awe and plenty to keep my attention. It ended up being a highlight of the trip and made me realize solo travel isn’t so scary (pro).

Of course, having good company was lovely (pro), but dealing with moods, staying in a stranger’s house—and remembering how to be a polite houseguest who cannot wander around without a bra on—was limiting (con). On the upside, aforementioned stranger’s house was free, cozier than a hotel and there were pets to snuggle (pro).

Vacationing as a 30-something definitely feels more grown up in a lot of ways, but it’s worth the hassle of planning to be able to go wherever I want to go.

Katie Bell is a Portland-based freelance writer who has contributed to publications throughout Maine, New England and London.

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