A few weeks ago my parents invited me to go with them on a trip to Mexico. We would be staying in Puerto Vallarta for 9 days at an all inclusive resort. As you can imagine there was no hesitation on my part to say YES! We would be leaving two weeks later, so I had a short time to plan accordingly. With most vacations you have plenty of time to plan and research and other times an opportunity arises and you need to get the ball rolling fast.
_ As Soon As You Say Yes _
I believe everyone should have a passport. You never know when the opportunity to travel to another country will strike. Luckily, there are places in Los Angeles (and other parts of the US), that expedite passport processing like Rapid Passports and Visas. You’ll need to show proof of identity and get all your documents in order like your birth certificate. If you’re planning on driving or taking a boat across the border to Mexico, Canada, Bermuda, or The Caribbean, you can get away with having a passport card which is a lot less expensive.
Booking a flight on short notice can be pricey. The first thing I do is see if I have any SkyMiles saved up in my Delta account. This time I didn't, so the search was on. I checked sites like Kayak to find the best price with the fastest route. A trick I’ve learned over the years is to browse in private mode when you’re searching for the cheapest flights. I’ve read that this doesn’t really help, but I test this theory every time I book a flight, and when I’m browsing in private mode the flights are cheaper. Another thing I do is look for deals that airlines are offering. If my dates are flexible I find which dates are offered at the most affordable prices.
Luckily for me, the hotel was already booked. I went online and read about where we would be staying--The Hilton Puerto Vallarta. When I saw the photos of the resort situated on the white sandy beach in Mexico I became very excited. In just two weeks I’d be on the beach with a pina colada.
But take it from someone who’s booked more than their fair share of hotels--it can be stressful. When I’m searching for places to stay, I look into location, reviews, and price. I also consider things like is there a pool and restaurant on site, is there a gym, and is it all inclusive? I then head to sites like Expedia, and look at what they’re offering. When I’ve found the resort I want, I go on the resort's website to compare the prices. A lot of “discount” booking sites are more expensive than the actual hotel. This happened last year when I went to New York City, and stayed at the Intercontinental Barclay. It was cheaper booking through the hotels website than on a discount site, so make sure you do your research.
f you’re planning a spur-of-the-moment vacation, first ask your boss if it’s okay that you’re going to be out of the office for a specific amount of time. If you get the okay, you should inform your co-workers and delegate any work assignments ASAP. Since I’m my own boss I don’t have to ask anyone, but I need to work with my bloggers to make sure that everything is running smoothly. I’ll send out a memo letting them know when I’ll be away and how they can reach me. I also try to get a lot of work done beforehand so that I’m not sitting on my computer during my vacation.
_ A Week Before _
About a week before I leave I like to get my skin ready for the sun. Normally I would lay out a few times to get my skin adjusted (with SPF of course), but this time it wasn’t possible since my pool deck was being renovated. I decided to use self tanner, and my go-to brand is Tan Luxe. It comes in a bottle with a dropper and you simply add as many drops as you’d like to your regular moisturizer. I use one drop per application and repeat 3 or 4 days in a row and the results are a golden brown tan that lasts a while. It’s also a good idea to make any hair, waxing, or spray tan appointments about a week before; that way if you have any issues you’ll have time to fix them.
As soon as I got the awesome news, I headed straight to my closet to start planning my outfits. I took out everything that I was planning on bringing and then thought about what I still may need. On my list was a black one-piece swimsuit that could double as a bodysuit, a new sundress, some brightly colored jewelry, a small white purse, a hat, and of course a new beach bag! I then went on Dolls Kill to shop and went to some local stores to pick up the rest.
I started researching Puerto Vallarta and checked out websites like Trip Advisor to read what other tourists had to say. I watched videos on Youtube to get a feel for what the country of Mexico is like. I had been to Tijuana before but learned from my research that Puerto Vallarta was nothing like that. On my list of things to do were the El Malecón Boardwalk, Rhythms of The Night Savia, parasailing, shopping in the little markets, eating amazing Mexican food, and obviously enjoying the pool and beach.
_ Three Days Before _
Before I started to pack I checked to see what the weather would be like and I learned that it would be really hot, as in 90 degree days. This told me not to bring things like jeans or heavy jackets. I then took out each outfit that I was planning on bringing and matched a pair of shoes, a handbag, and accessories to go with it. I then took a photo of each potential outfit. This may seem like extra work, but it allowed me to pack exactly what I needed and nothing more.
You can download and print A Girl in LA's summer packing list to make sure you bring everything you need on your next vacation.
When traveling, apps are your best friend. I buy a Wifi pass before I leave--although it doesn’t work when flying over International waters, and I use Gogo Inflight entertainment. I also have rideshare apps like Lyft, and Uber already installed on my phone; I found out that Lyft doesn’t work in Puerto Vallarta, but Uber does. And of course Spotify, because creating a vacation playlist is a must! I then thought about what apps I may need, and downloaded Mobile Passport, which helped me breeze through customs. Since I'm not fluent in Spanish I downloaded Speak and Translate, as well as Rosetta Stone. Another must have app was XE Currency so that I could convert US dollars to Pesos.
I headed to the bank to withdraw cash because I didn’t want to use my debit or credit cards while in Mexico. As soon as I got there I planned to convert some of the cash into pesos. Most places accept US dollars, but since it’s stronger than the peso, it’s more beneficial to use pesos because you get more for your money. If you do plan on using your debit or credit cards in another country you will need to contact your bank before you leave and let them know where you will be traveling so it doesn’t raise suspicion of fraud.
_ One Day Before _
I knew that I was being over dramatic, but I registered with the US Embassy since it’s better to be safe than sorry. I signed up for the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program which allows you to give information like where you’re staying and for how long, so you can be reached in case of an emergency. Since my boyfriend wasn’t able to come with me I left him all of the information as well.
24 hours before your flight is due to depart (you can check-in online.)
Before I leave I always confirm my reservation with the hotel that I’ll be staying at. If my flight is due to come in before check-in time, I’ll ask if there is anyway the room can be available a little bit earlier. I’ll also make any special requests, like a room upgrade.
After I took all the steps to plan my vacation...running from store to store, packing and planning, on top of work and writing, it was time to arrive and relax. My flight landed around 5:20pm and luckily the hotel was only 10 minutes away. As soon as I got there I had dinner at SeaFire Grill, and then went and had a drink on the beach while I anticipated the next 8 days to come!
Stay tuned for my Puerto Vallarta trip highlights.