Jun 15, 2011

Tips for a happy honeymoon

A year ago, we were celebrating being newlyweds in the lovely island of Aruba -- its motto: "One happy island." It was our first big trip as a couple, and we had a fantastic time (of course, how can you spend five days on a beach in 85-degree weather and NOT have a good time??).

I'm no travel expert, but I learned a few things from our honeymoon, so I thought I'd share some tips on how to make the most of your honeymoon or vacation.

Budget beforehand
Remember how much we love to budget? With all the resources out there, especially online, it's so easy to research how much everything will cost -- hotel, airfare, meals, activities, etc. And don't limit yourself unrealistically. Sure, you may not buy pina coladas every day, but if you budget for the expense, you're less likely to go over and you won't feel so guilty indulging yourself.

The view from our hotel room

That said... don't pick a trip you can only afford if you bare-bones it. We picked a honeymoon we knew we could afford AND have a good time. That included doing a few excursions, a little shopping and some good eating. Lots of popular honeymoon locations have all-inclusive packages, so definitely look into those, so you don't have to worry every day about how much you're spending on booze or food. We did a semi-inclusive (some meals and alcohol covered), which we really liked, because we didn't feel obligated to eat at the resort every meal, but knew we'd always have breakfast and lunch covered.

Breakfast at the hotel

Keep peak travel times in mind
Research when the peak season is for your destination, and keep that in mind when you plan your trip. If you're looking for a quiet, secluded experience, you might not want to go during peak season. We found it really helpful to read hotel reviews tripadvisor.com that people submitted for the same month we were going, instead of just the most recent ones. At many of the hotels in Aruba, even the five-star ones, many reviewers in January and February complained about crowded beaches and noisy hallways. But reviewers who went in the off season, when we were going, had practically the opposite experience. Not only did it reinforce our decision to go on the off-season, but it gave perspective to the negative reviews (i.e. it wasn't the hotel, it was the time of year).

Talk to the locals
Hotel concierges and guidebooks are great, but no one knows the best restaurants like the people who live there. We asked our cab driver what restaurants he'd recommend (have a pen and paper ready!), and ended up at this little, off-the-beaten-path, authentic Aruban restaurant. Since it was mid-week and off season, we practically had the patio to ourselves, and the owner himself came over to explain to us traditional Aruban dishes and he even opened our champagne for us. It was an experience we'll never forget, and one we wouldn't have gotten by staying near the resorts (but remember to be safe!).

Go easy on the souvenirs
It's easy to get carried away, but seriously, people don't really want T-shirts or keychains. We settled with just getting people a nice postcard and a small piece of coral from the beach. Ditto for yourselves, too -- really, the most important thing you can bring home are lots of pictures and good memories. We skipped the tchotchkes for ourselves too -- the hubs bought a T-shirt with the name of a local brewery, since he's into beer, and I bought a cute tote bag I knew I'd use for the beach back home. (I admit, though, I did buy a keychain at the airport, and I use it every day!)

A local product with significance is a good souvenir too. For example, in Aruba, they grow aloe and make lotions, soaps and other products out of it -- it's the island's only export industry. We visited the aloe factory, and I bought some lotion for myself and my mom. It had cultural significance, it supported the local economy and it was something I knew my mom would use, instead of a trinket that would collect dust.

I also brought home the cork from a bottle of wine we had at dinner one night. Little things like that are easy to bring home and hold lots of sentimental value.

Make yourself relax
This is especially important if you're going on your honeymoon right after your wedding. You've just spent months doing practically nothing but wedding planning, and thrown a giant party where, unless you have the World's Perfect Family, there was probably some drama. After that trajectory, it's hard to just sit and do nothing, but make yourself do it. We planned absolutely nothing for the first day of our honeymoon, so we could settle in, check out the hotel and decide what we wanted to do that day. Mostly, we sat on the beach.

I'm not gonna lie, it was harder than it seemed -- by 11 a.m. I was feeling restless, feeling like I should be doing something. But after a couple more hours (and perhaps a frosty beverage...), I was thoroughly enjoying not having to stuff envelopes or figure out seating charts.

These will help!

Make time for two
It might sound like a no-brainer, since you're on your honeymoon and the whole point is to spend time together, but if you're the kind of person who likes to go on guided tours, or you're thinking about doing a lot of resort-organized excursions, consider blazing your own trail and going off just the two of you. We knew we wanted to snorkel in Aruba, but since we were already doing a group motorcycle tour around the island, we decided not to do an organized snorkeling excursion. Instead, we rented a Jeep and used our guidebook to find a few good snorkeling spots that we explored on our own. It was so nice to spend the day just the two of us. Plus, the cost of renting the Jeep was about the same as paying for the hotel's snorkeling excursion,  but it was a lot more personal and romantic.

We did a little accidental offroading trying to get to that road you see in the middle of the photo.

Again, be safe. Some places aren't safe for tourists to go wandering around without a guide. We did enough research to know the places we visited were tourist-friendly.

Related to that, don't be afraid to invest in things that will maximize your experience. We bought an underwater camera from L.L.Bean that straps on your wrist, just to take pictures and videos while we snorkeled, and it was worth every penny. We also bought our own snorkel equipment. It wasn't any more expensive than renting, and we got equipment perfectly sized to us and in new condition -- definitely good to consider if the equipment is not too pricey and requires a good fit to be functional (like a snorkel mask). We also brought our own beach towels so we could dry off when we went off the beaten path.


Have a memory trigger
This might seem random, but it really works. My sister gave me a candle as a bridal shower present called Caribbean Escape. Since it was small, I brought it with me to Aruba and lit it every night. Now, whenever I light it at home, the scent brings me right back to the honeymoon, and it. Is. Amazing! It doesn't have to be scent -- the feel of a silky nightie or light cotton dress, a song you heard or that you played while you were there, a picture of ocean waves or a sunset. If there's anything special to your trip, just having it around will help remind you of all the fun and hopefully make you smile.

I also kept a journal while we were there, and wrote in it every day while lying on the beach, and while on the plane home. It's crazy how fast things can leave your brain, even just a year later. I love being able to read it now and relive the once-in-a-lifetime experience.

I hope you found these tips helpful! And if you're thinking about going somewhere warm, I would highly recommend Aruba. It's one of the safest Caribbean islands, everyone speaks English and you can use U.S. money, and it's outside the hurricane belt so good to go on the off season, and also not too hot in the off season, since the temps stay pretty much the same all year round. Its economy is mostly tourism, making it very safe and traveler-friendly. And, did you see those gorgeous beaches?! Yes, please!

Happy vacationing, everyone!

Linking up to the Tutorials and Tips party at Home Stories A to Z!

1 comment:

❀ⒹⒺⒺ❀ said...

I've always wanted to go to Aruba.

I enjoyed your photo's.