How to Plan the Perfect Custom Adventure Vacation

By Carol Austin

Custom Adventure packages

Over the past 13 seasons I have had the pleasure of working with many guests, helping them choose the adventure that is just right for them. That said, my favorite trips to plan are custom vacations and/or exclusive adventures. I love going from A-Z, start to finish with the group, family, or friends getting together for that special adventure vacation of a lifetime. Nothing gives me a better sense of accomplishment than knowing it’s another trip well done!

So many times I have heard conversations like this: “At dinner with the Smiths last week my husband John mentioned we were looking to take our family to Alaska and then the Smiths chimed in they too were looking for an Alaska Adventure. We started talking and mentioned we had such an amazing Family Adventure to Yellowstone with Austin Adventures. The Smiths then went on to mention that their friends the Jones were talking about an Alaska Adventure as well. So I volunteered to call you.”

And there it starts.You find yourself ‘chairing’ the planning and scheduling of an adventure vacation for three families, each with lots of different ideas, dreams, and expectations. No need to be worried, every great experience starts with that first step. And that first step doesn’t have to be overwhelming.

In the next few minutes I am going to try and share some simple steps I have learned and used over the last decade. I will try and take away a bit of the anxiety and put in a dose of reality and a pinch of fun! These 12 steps can be used for an extended multigenerational family vacation or corporate retreat, for a singles getaway for that special group of girlfriends or just you and yours wanting something really special.

Without boasting I will take a minute and share just a few of my favorites these last few years:

How about the grandfather that called wanting help in taking his two grandchildren on a National Park vacation? The catch being that they wanted to do 5 National Parks in 6 days by private jet. It was a challenge, but we made it happen!

Or there was the very special 60th birthday party on the island of Kauai for a dozen friends celebrating this special occasion. The special day and moment came at sunset, standing in the surf, cocktail in hand as the Hawaiian Trio played and a helicopter dropped rose petals from the sky. (OK that’s one of my all-time favorites and doesn’t happen every day.)

One more was a custom Yellowstone National Park adventure for a mother, her sons, their spouses and their children. Three generations also known as 20 willing adventurers of all ages and desires. Everything from horseback riding, rafting, hiking, to wine tasting (for the adults while the kids were treated to a poolside pizza party).

The point is, anything and everything for anyone is possible! It just starts with that first step (call) and we will do our part to make it as easy as possible.

Key is information and education, you first need to determine a rough idea of who the group is and what they may want. So before you get too far into it, try kicking things off with a get together of the key decision makers. Be prepared to ask at least the following questions and take copious notes:

1. Narrow down your destination. It’s okay to have a couple but not more than three. Keeping it simple really helps when trying to decide. Be sure to agree on domestic or foreign.

2. When is the best time for everyone? Caution here, this can be a big challenge. Try and get all to block out at least a few dates.

3. Budget. Better get what the budget is (or can be) out on the table as quickly as you can.

4. Wish list. Next up key activities and the wish list of everything you want to do. (Horseback riding, rafting, biking, etc.)

5. Think accommodations. (This ties back to budget) Whether it’s camping or four-star properties, try and get a consensus on what everyone is comfortable with.

6. Length. Also tied to budget is the overall length. Be sure to allow a day or two on either end for traveling.

OK, now armed with the above answers, you are ready to make a few calls or send a few emails. Pick one or two tour operators (preferably from personal experience and/or direct referrals). Then pick up the phone and give them a call!

7. Be up front. Let your travel consultant know you are just the spokesperson for a group and describe the demographics of your party.

8. Work with your adventure consultant. Come up with 2-3 rough and simple itineraries. Do not put endless hours into the details until you have a few sample itineraries to supply your group. No need to flesh out what you are doing on day three until you have determined if you are going to Alaska or Belize. Get a budget on the sample itineraries and take back to your party.

9. Almost ready. Armed with a rough itinerary, budget, destination and dates, you will soon find out how easy it’s going to be. Often this is the case, but occasionally its back to the drawing board. But if you did 1-6 above, you should be dang close and should be able to get everyone to agree on at least the next phase!

10. Top pick. Once you have that top pick ask for more input from the group. What they really like, what might be missing, special events (birthdays, anniversaries, etc.) and take this information back to your adventure consultant. Share all the details!

11. Finalize. With all this in place you should be able to get a final itinerary (remembering it’s a custom/exclusive vacation and can be adjusted at any point, including while on the fly; ask me and I will tell you a few fun ones). With the final itinerary you should be able to lock in dates and pricing.

12. Last steps. Hand (almost) everything off to your adventure consultant you have been working with. They’ll help you get the final details, deposits, paperwork, insurance, etc., all in one place. This doesn’t have to be your chore, it’s what we get paid to do. All we need is the list of participants and their contact information!

Now step back and relax. You did your part! There will be a lot of back and forth, a lot of Q&A before the actual trip, but remember, your travel consultant is doing their job and making your dream vacation come to life.

When the day finally arrives and you find yourself heading out to enjoy the adventure of a lifetime with the fellow travelers you help get on their way, you will smile ear-to-ear with the extra satisfaction that comes with being a key contributor in creating the perfect Custom Vacation!

In closing I will share one of my most memorable compliments, it came from a grandmother that I worked with to arrange a 80th birthday trip for her husband, adult children and grandchildren to Costa Rica. She called me from the hotel in Guanacaste to tell me how perfect and fantastic everything was. A couple of years later I had the pleasure of working with her again to plan a trip with the family for her 75th birthday. We are already talking about what we are going to do for his 90th!

Your friendly travel expert,

Carol Austin

[email protected]

(800) 575-1540

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