travel advice

LONG TERM PLANNER: 9 steps to creating your own 5-Year Bucket-List Travel Plan

bucket list

Your husband dreams of visiting the D-Day memorial near the beaches of Normandy. Your daughter has been dying to see the Great Wall of China ever since she learned about it in Social Studies. You have been secretly dreaming of setting sail on a cruise to Greece ever since you watched the movie”Mama Mia.”

Like many, your family has big dreams of seeing the wonders of the world but also struggles to come up with money for summer camps, save for college, and pay the mortgage. So what does a family do when they have unending travel ambitions but limited funds? They create a 5-year Bucket-List Travel Plan.

If you are like me, you have reluctantly observed that you can’t afford to go on the BIG trips to Stonehenge, the Pyramids of Giza, or that Mediterranean cruise every summer. You might be able to pull off a big trip like that every 5 years though if you plan ahead and plan well. This year our family decided to stop dreaming and start planning and created our 5-year Bucket List Travel Plan.

If this plan sounds right for your family, here are 9 simple steps to making your dream a reality:

Step 1: Create individual Wishlists and share them with your family

Have everyone create their own bucket-lists and share them with the family. Make sure each person prioritizes the trips that are the most important to them. If you have younger kids, you might need to give them suggestions and have them decide which are their favorites.

When voicing your individual bucket lists, be sure and point out WHY you feel the family should choose this destination or experience as the next family vacation. Be persuasive. Family trips are a compromise but your powers of persuasion can definitely have an impact. Adjustments to individual lists can be made after hearing everyone read their list out loud.

Step 2: Determine the Order of the trips on the Travel Plan

Here are some things to consider when determining the order:

Analyze Age/Interest Differences– Determine if a 9-year old will really enjoy seeing the Sistine Chapel or would you be better off taking them to Disneyland Paris? Will your 5-year-old reasonably be able to make it on an 18-hour flight? Analyze the stage of life for each family member and decide when the best time is to take each trip.

-Timing– You might not want to plan that once-in-a-lifetime African Safari if you do not think the kids are old enough to remember it in 5 years. That 4-week trip to Australia and New Zealand might not be possible if your son has Football training in the middle of summer break (the only time of the year you could take a 4-week long trip). Some trips you might find are best to leave until after the “kids” are no longer kids and you are not dealing with school/activity schedules.

-Prioritize common choices- Discover which Bucket List trips all family members have in common and prioritize them. If you see that snorkeling the Great Barrier reef is listed on everyone’s list then maybe that should be high on the Family travel plan. If you find you are the only one who wants to see Machu Picchu, then it might be best left as a solo trip.


Step 3: Identify what the family wishes to accomplish and take away from each trip

The purpose of a trip can be very different for each person. Are you seeking education, relaxation, learning a skill or new language, sightseeing, or meeting people from different cultures? Make sure you not only agree on the destination for your next Bucket list trip but also ensure the trip follows its purpose. Determine as a family the purpose of each trip and plan accordingly.

Step 4: Create your 5-year Bucket-List Travel Plan

As a family, write out a timeline of the 5-year Bucket-List Travel Plan. Determine the best time of year to travel to each Bucket list destination. What is the weather of your destination like during different times of the year?  What times of year will be crowded or hectic? When is pricing more reasonable? Are there festivals or activities you would like to attend during a particular time of year? What dates will work best for your family to get away?

Step 5: Estimate the cost for each Bucket List trip

Research your destination online and start planning the trip.

-Determine how many days you would need to travel there and accomplish the purpose of the trip whether it be sightseeing, activities, cultural experiences, or relaxation.

-Based on current pricing, estimate the cost of flights for your family.

-Estimate costs for lodging for your family for the duration of your trip

-Determine daily food, transportation, and activities costs including admissions to museums or points of interest.

-Research Escorted trip options and compare with creating the itinerary on your own


Step 6: Open a  5-year Bucket List Vacation fund and start saving.

In order to conquer the Bucket list, you need to create a 5-year Bucket List Vacation fund. After estimating the cost of the trip and setting a date for your first trip, you can determine how much you will need to save each month to have enough money for the trip. Be sure to take into account when you will need to book the trip and pay any deposits and when you will need to pay the remainder of the trip cost.

Our family currently has money automatically deposited each month into our Vacation fund. We determined our Europe vacation will be about $10,000 and we had a little over 2 years to save that money since we wanted to travel to celebrate our 5-year Wedding anniversary and our daughter’s 16th birthday.

We have been putting $400 each month into the vacation fund so we would reach our goal in about 2 years. Of course, our first trip on the list we have a lot less time to save than the typical 5 years.

If we had 5 years, we could have had about 4 years to save enough for the airfare and deposit for the hotel or escorted trip and then another year to save for the balance and extras. In this 5-year scenario, we would only have had to save $175-$200 a month for the vacation fund.

You can always save a little extra for the other small trips you take each year as well.  I also suggest adding a portion of any bonus checks or tax refunds each year to help keep the Vacation fund healthy.

Step 7: Plan the first Bucket-list trip!

About 9-11 months before the trip is set to begin, plan on booking your hotel and airfare and placing any initial deposits. You can book this online yourself or have a knowledgeable travel consultant help you plan the trip. Reach out to friends and family that travel often and get recommendations on travel consultants or trip plans that worked for them. You should have enough saved up at this point in your fund to pay all the necessary airline and deposit costs.

Before finalizing the trip be sure to confirm time off work and check your calendars for important holidays or events to be sure you have chosen dates that will work for your family. Make sure everyone has passports or will be able to get them soon. Look into travel insurance to protect your deposits.

Step 8: Book small trips in between the Big Trips

Plan small getaways or inexpensive trips on the off years in between the Bucket list trips. You will probably find that the travel itch will need to be scratched from time to time leading up to the BIG trip. Use the money from the Vacation Fund to help pay for these small inexpensive getaways.

Step 9: Revisit your Travel plan annually

Have your families interests changed? Are you in a different phase in life and want a different type of trip? You might come home from Italy with a passion to go back and explore deeper. Your kids might discover their passion for Scuba diving in Cozumel and diving in other locales becomes the priority. This vacation plan is as flexible as you want it to be. It can be changed easily as the family’s priorities and dreams change. I hope you all find this helpful in your travel journey. Happy Planning!


Our Families 5-year Bucket List Travel plan (Always subject to change):

2020: London, Paris, and Edinburgh

2025: Alaskan Cruise

2030: Spain/Italy/Greece Mediterranean Cruise

2035: Australia/ New Zealand (20 year Anniversary)

2040: Egypt and Israel

2045: South Africa and African Safari

2050: Machu Picchu

2055: Thailand/Philippines/Malaysia



travel advice

WACO, A CITY WITH SOUL- My Magnolia and Waco, TX Experience

“People will forget what you said, forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

– Maya Angelou

It is easy to find a friend who is there for you when times are good. Finding a friend that stands by you during troubled times forms a lifelong bond.

I was going through a particularly hard time in life when I first met Alison. We commiserated with one another about our recent divorces and faced single parenthood together. Along with our young girls, we went to divorce counseling, enjoyed movie nights, vacationed, and attended church together. We supported each other as we found new love and remarried. Through shared loss and common interests, we forged a strong friendship.

So when Alison and her family were relocated to Keller, Texas for work, I immediately started planning a visit to see her. A year later, my sister and I found ourselves on a plane to Dallas/Fort Worth airport for a long weekend with our dear friend. She was such a wonderful tour guide and a gracious host. Seeing her again was like coming home. We picked right up where we had left off.

In true “Alison” style, she planned out a 3-day itinerary with great care and we had a wonderful few days in the greater Dallas area. Below is a photo tour of our three days in Texas and some highlights we experienced. We absolutely loved Dallas, Fort Worth and Waco and recommend a visit for those who love southern hospitality, delicious eats, incredible shopping, and plenty of museums and entertainment. There is something here for everyone. It was sad to leave my dear friend after a few days, but now I have a great excuse to come back to Texas!


View from the plane on our way to Dallas
My sister Kristen and I at the Fort Worth Stockyards on our first day
Stampede of Longhorns. They do this twice a day every day.
Rodeo statue in Fort Worth Stockyards
You can get a picture on the Longhorn for $5. We passed.
Rodeo Arena in one of the largest country western bars in Texas
Tamales from Reatas in downtown Fort Worth

Downtown Fort Worth
Downtown Fort Worth was beautiful
Fort Worth Opera house

Alison at the Water Garden in downtown Fort Worth







The waiting area for Magnolia Table restaurant in Waco
Alison, Kristen and I at Magnolia Table
Gardens at Magnolia and the Silos in Waco, Texas
Enjoying some sweets at the Silos Baking company. Chip and Joanna did a great job with this place. My personal favorite was their Silo cookie with walnuts, peanut butter chips, and chocolate chips. Kristen enjoyed the Campfire Smores cupcake.

We enjoyed some shopping at the Magnolia shop

I enjoyed some Brown butter pecan ice cream at Heritage Creamery
Made our first Czech stop for some delicious Kolaches! I loved the Strawberry and cream cheese Kolache.

We began our Fixer Upper house self-guided tour. We looked up some addresses online and found some houses they had redone in the area and also went to Harp Design and the original Magnolia antique store.
A random Castle home we drove by on our tour.
The house made for Clint Harp with Harp Designs
There was a lot of diversity in the homes we saw as we drove around. A lot of Waco still was pretty rundown but you would also find beautiful old neighborhoods and homes that had been redone.
My longhorn friend and I at a park near the Waco suspension bridge you often see on Fixer-Upper


The “Shotgun” house as seen on Fixer-Upper
The Findery– A cute antique mall in Waco near Magnolia and the Silos
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One of many foodtrucks set up outside of Magnolia and the Silos
Greenhouse and garden area outside of Magnolia and the Silos
Kristen cooling herself off after lots of shopping. It was HOT!!
Alison and I at the Magnolia Silos

Silos Baking Co

Inside of the Silos

Adorable Rest stop on the way to Waco
Magnolia Table
Magnolia Table

Alison and Kristen outside of the rest stop on the way to Waco





Some of the delicious food that we ate on our Uptown Dallas Foodie tour- highly recommend! Look at that Peanut butter pie!
Kristen and I on our free Trolley ride in Uptown Dallas
Our Foodie walking tour group
Macaroons from Bisous Bisous
The Rustic

Yummy steak tacos
Eureka was a hit! We loved our Fig burger and sweet potato fries with honey

Delicious Chicken Schwarma and Pita

Our Trolley
Touring the Dallas Museum of Art

We had our delicious steak taco and margarita from here
Fig burger with sweet potato fries at Eureka

Polenta bread in sausage gravy, Avocado toast, and Egg Frittata to die for. The Rustic was our favorite.
The menu at the Rustic
Alison, Kristen and Ashley eating breakfast at the Rustic

travel advice


Our family and my 13-year-old niece recently stayed a week at Barcelo Aruba resort on beautiful Palm Beach. This area is known for its spectacular soft sand, turquoise waters, beautiful resorts, and a wealth of dining and shopping venues within walking distance. We fell in love with the beaches, the weather, and the atmosphere here. However, after a couple of days of sun and sand, we wanted to see what else Aruba had to offer. What better way to explore a 19-mile long island with a diverse landscape than in a Jeep?  When adventure calls, you rent a Jeep and go exploring.  If you think of yourself as an adventurous person and find yourself in Aruba, do it. It was definitely the highlight of our trip. This part of our trip was unanimously everyone’s favorite. Despite the lack of road signs and rocky terrain, we found it safe and fairly easy to get around this beautiful island. They drive on the right side of the road as we do and follow most of the same traffic laws. We never felt unsafe anywhere we went. I hope our photo journey below will help you plan your own adventure next time you find yourself in Aruba.


We rented a Jeep to tour the rocky North Eastern coast of Aruba and the Arikok National Park. Best decision we made! Aruba was made to be seen in a Jeep.


Our first stop was a morning shopping trip and tour of downtown Oranjestad. We loved this cute little Dutch town with luxury shops and markets.


Second stop was snorkeling at Arashi Beach. This was our niece Dani’s first snorkeling experience! Great coral reefs and beautiful calm water.
Second stop was California Lighthouse (built in 1916) on the Northeast coast. It was named for the steamship California, which was wrecked nearby on September 23, 1891.

Our group in front of the California Lighthouse
The girls loved sticking their heads out of the top of the Jeep and driving along the coastline.

Volcanic crater-like rock all along the Eastern coastline
Giant waves crashed along the shoreline

Rows and rows of Rock Stacks or “Cairns” were all along the coastline. Tourists make a rock stack and make a wish.
The girls wanted to make their own rock stack

A balancing rock we found while driving along the coastline
Alto Vista Chapel, also known as “Pilgrim’s Church”, was originally consecrated in 1750, rebuilt in 1952.

Inside Alto Vista Chapel
Dozens of these little coves can be found driving on the Eastern coast of Aruba
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It is hard to put into words what this view was like. It was breathtaking and scary at the same time with the intense wind and crashing waves. Another person could not be found as far as we looked.

Bushiribana Ruins was the next stop that day. The Aruba Island Gold Mining Company built the Bushiribana smelter in 1825 to extract gold from the ore that was being mined in the nearby hills of Ceru Plat; it operated for ten years. Today is a tourist stop along the trail to Arikok Park and the Natural Pool.

We started our second day in our Jeep at the Ayo Rock Formations. These were really cool. We walked through the caves, climbed on top of the giant formations, and even saw some cave drawings.

Jason and I at the Ayo rock formations.

Rock climbing is their favorite so Dani and Taylor loved this area.
“Circle of Life” demonstration on their own Pride rock
Primitive Cave drawings found in Ayo Rock formations. The Arawak people were the earliest settlers on the island. They used to visit Ayo Rock Formations so that they could hear incoming thunderstorms closing in on the island of Aruba. They also carved paintings in rocks called petroglyphs while performing religious rites.
Our next stop was the Natural Pool. We arrived at the entrance to the Natural pool planning on hiking to the pool. We were told that a Jeep can get down there just fine and the hike would be over an hour and pretty difficult. We made the decision to try to go by Jeep. This was the most intense part of the trip. Driving on the extremely rocky roads in a Jeep to get to the tall staircase down to the Natural pool was quite the trek. Jason was really anxious that our tire would rupture or we would get stuck. Luckily we did arrive safely and the Jeep did remarkably well. The end result was as shown in this picture. An incredible Natural pool filled with fish and sea life. Lots of other people were jumping off rocks into the pool below, snorkeling, and relaxing in the cool water. I was the only one in our group who got in. It was definitely difficult to get in and out and there were a lot of crabs everywhere waiting to bite your toes. Once in a lifetime experience though.

We stopped for lunch at a hidden gem right in Arikok National Park- Boca Prins Bar and Restaurant
We loved the authentic Aruban Cuisine. Pictured above is Keshi Yena which is made from Gouda cheese covering spicy chicken, caesar salad, and Fried Plantains. We also enjoyed Pan Bati which is sort of a smashed bread that looks like a pancake that is common here. 


We finished our 2nd Jeep day at Baby Beach on the southern tip of Aruba. We snorkeled and relaxed at this tranquil beach where a lot of locals come to hang out.
travel advice

WHY CHOOSE ARUBA? A Travel Agent’s guide to why we chose Aruba as our next vacation spot

I count myself lucky. As a travel consultant, I get a lot of opportunities to travel and see the world. I spend my days helping others find the right destination and hotel for their travel style and needs. However, every year I am faced with a challenge. Where should I take my own family vacation? I will freely admit, my family is a bit spoiled. We have seen and done a lot over the years.

Where do you take a teen who is well traveled and not easily impressed? This year, after a lot of deliberation we settled on the ‘Happy Island’ of Aruba. Here are 9 reasons why you should also consider Aruba for your next vacation:


1.) Great Weather all year round

It is 82 degrees and mostly sunny year round with a steady breeze from the trade winds. Rain is scarce here and lots of sunshine.


2.) It is outside of the Hurricane Belt

You can rest easy traveling to Aruba during the typical Caribbean Hurricane Season. Aruba is just north of South America and this area avoids the path of most hurricanes.


3.) Beaches

The west coast of Aruba has world-famous Eagle and Palm Beaches. Turquoise water and white sand for miles.


4.) Diverse Landscape

Adventure travelers will love the diverse landscape with cactus-studded desert landscapes, rocky coastlines, and soft white sandy beaches to enjoy.


5.) Safety

I get this question asked all of the time. Is this island safe? Yes. Aruba is one of those islands you can feel comfortable walking around off property, renting a jeep, or catching the bus. Most locals will speak English and there is a lot of shopping and restaurants to get out and try.


6.) Hassle-free Caribbean Vacation

Yes, you will need to get a passport and some areas will require two planes to get there. However, there are currently about 10 US cities that offer nonstop flights to Aruba and new nonstop flights from US cities are springing up all of the time. Also, you get the advantage of going through US Customs in the Aruba Airport on your way home. It does not get much easier than that.


7.) Family-Friendly Hotels

Aruba is very welcoming to both young and old. Families can easily reconnect and enjoy time together on this beautiful island. There are a wealth of family friendly hotels that are designed to make sure the whole family is happy.



The Dutch island of Aruba is not only a pristine beach destination but a place full of culinary delights! Enjoy fresh seafood, pan bati (pancake-like bread), Balashi beer, and Keshi Yena (spicy meat, usually chicken, covered in gouda cheese). Yum! You can easily dine around the island of Aruba and get international cuisine as well as classic Aruban cuisine. Eating out can be a little pricey here at times so be sure to do some research to find how to eat on a budget.


9.) Aruban Hospitality

Tourism is Aruba’s heart and soul. You will find most businesses in Aruba love tourists and greet you with welcoming arms. The island’s 110,000 inhabitants are made up of a broad international mixture of well-educated people and warm hospitality.

travel advice



The idea came to me last night while chatting with my husband. We were lying in bed preparing for a busy work week and he asked: “Do you ever dread the start of vacation because then you will have nothing left to look forward to?” That is an interesting thought. Are Americans so stressed out, exhausted, and anxious that we can’t enjoy vacations without worrying about them ending before they have begun?

As most of us know, Americans have very little vacation time compared to other countries. The United States is the only developed country in the world without a single legally required paid vacation day or holiday. In comparison, by law, every country in the European Union has at least four work weeks of paid vacation. Since our vacation time is so rare, most Americans look forward to our one or two week vacation all year long. Personally, vacation is the pinnacle of my year. I enjoy planning fun activities and daydreaming about the trip all year long. As the date approaches, I start the internal countdown to vacation bliss.  However, once the trip has begun many of us get anxious or sad that our much-anticipated vacation will soon be over.

A day or two into a vacation, the letdown usually begins to take hold. No more anticipation. No more countdown. No more pre-vacation shopping trips. No more dreaming of umbrella drinks and swaying palm trees. Some people can shake off the gloom and savor the moment. Others have a harder time shrugging off the feeling that while you are on vacation, you are walking the green mile. Each moment is a step closer back to the daily grind.

Say you are a lucky one who has managed to push away the dark thoughts and worries and fully embraced your vacation. When vacation ends and you are thrust back into the real world, many people struggle with coming off that high. When we’re on vacation, there’s a boost in two brain neurotransmitters — dopamine and serotonin — which are involved in mood and depression, says Baird Brightman, PhD, a Massachusetts-based psychologist and organizational consultant. People who are depressed have low levels of these neurotransmitters, and the work environment can make that worse. Post-vacation depression and anxiety is real. Who has not found themselves in such a packing frenzy before a trip that you leave your house in disarray and chaos? You come home from paradise to the exciting prospect of cleaning the house, doing laundry, sorting through piles of mail, and unpacking suitcases. You also go from excitement and relaxation to humdrum and hassles. It can cause some whiplash.

Here’s the good news: Vacations give us a chance to recharge our batteries — change the pace, alter the scenery, and improve our attitude. We just need to know ways to cope with the anxiety and roller coaster effect that goes along with vacation.  If you find yourself with the “vacation blues” before, after or during your vacation, here are a few ways to snap yourself out of it:


1.) Plan your trip well so you are less stressed while on vacation

Have you ever heard the phrase”Your Poor planning is not MY Emergency”? Well, your poor planning also does not need to be YOUR emergency either. Plan as much as you can in advance so you don’t have to do the work while on vacation. You are also less likely to have as many stressful emergencies spring up to make your vacation more anxiety-riddled.  However, be careful not to make your vacation too jam-packed or regimented. You need some flexibility and room to be spontaneous if the opportunity arises.

If deciding where to eat every night is a common argument with your travel companions, do the arguing before you go and decide where you all will be eating most of the nights.

If you think you might want to Scuba dive while on your trip, maybe investigate what you need to do to be prepared or what certifications or medical records you might need.

If you know that you will be tired and cranky after flying all day, arrange a private transfer to your hotel so you can avoid the hassle of making multiple stops before reaching your hotel.  Find ways to make the travel process as smooth as possible so you can relax and enjoy.

2.) Savor the Moment-

So you have planned the trip well, now it is time to enjoy the fruits of your labor . Sleep in, eat ice cream daily, laugh loudly, enjoy the sun on your face, and find a new skill you never knew you had. If you feel the dark clouds rolling in, find something that AMAZES you and makes you come alive. You can worry about life the other 51 weeks of the year. Vacations are statistically GREAT for your mental and physical health, so enjoy them.

  • One 2005 study from the Marshfield Clinic in Wisconsin found that women who don’t take regular vacations were two to three times more likely to be depressed compared to women who take regular vacations.
  • Another study followed 12,338 men for nine years — and found that men who didn’t take annual vacations had 32% higher risk of death from heart attack and 21% higher risk of death from all causes.
  • One study analyzed surveys completed by women enrolled in the 20-year Framingham Heart Study. Researchers found an eight times higher risk of heart attack and death among women who rarely took vacations (every six years or less) — compared to women who took at least one vacation every two to five years. (

3.) Come home to a clean orderly home and a short to-do list

No one wants to come home from a nice vacation to a giant to-do list. You don’t want your vacation to end as soon as you step in the door because you didn’t properly prep your house before you left. You don’t want to clean before you can unpack. Try and do a much as possible before you go on vacation so you can come back to a peaceful and welcoming environment.

4.) Plan fun activities to do when you come back

If you know that when you return home that you will have post-vacation depression, then find what best helps you snap out of it. Plan to do something you love a few days after you get back from your trip. Go out to dinner with friends and share vacation stories and pictures. Take a long walk in the park with the dogs. Get a post-vacation massage or pedicure. Binge watch the shows you missed while on vacation or go see a movie. Be pro-active and make sure you have things to look forward to when you get back home.

5.) Mentally start planning your next vacation

So you made it through your trip with a positive outlook and thoroughly enjoyed a relaxing week away. Now it is time to fly home. Mentally start accessing your vacation. What did you love? What would you change next time? Take this time to start planning where you would love to go next time. Will it be back to the beach or to a cabin on the lake? Who will come with you? Reflect on your incredible vacation and start the dreaming process all over again.