In high school, we’d head out on Friday night with little more thought than figuring out who could borrow a car. We just wanted to get out of the house! We’d figure out what we were doing as we went. More often than not, that meant we’d end up just hanging out talking or something because it was cheap.

In college, we gave a little more thought to what we did on the weekends. Those Friday and Saturday nights were precious! We didn’t want to fritter them away, so we started to put a little planning in to the parties, camping trips, and road trips that took our minds off of homework and exams. Good times.

As adults, we acutely feel the value of time away. Our evenings and weekends are absorbed with the kids’ activities and yard work. When it’s time to get away, we want to leave work behind and truly re-create ourselves. We have the resources to make something happen, and it’s not uncommon to spend weeks or even months planning our next getaway.

There are three documents you need for a successful vacation:

  1. A budget. Nothing is worse than getting back from vacation only to find that it’s followed you home on your credit card. The relaxation disappears as soon as you realize how long you’re going to be paying for it. Decide ahead of time what kind of hotels you’re going to stay in and how much you’ll spend on restaurants. Remember that a budget isn’t supposed to be restrictive; you’ve decided ahead of time whether you can spend money on tchotchkes, so when you see that perfect glazed shell to remind you of your trip to Fiji, go for it!
  2. A schedule. The plan for your money and the plan for your time go hand-in-hand. They’re often two sides of the same coin. The key here isn’t to be too rigid—you’re supposed to be having fun, after all—but make sure that you’ve planned time for the important activities. You have a limited amount of time on vacation before you have to go back to the real world. Use it intentionally.
  3. A packing list. Organization maven Julia Morgenstern got her start with a packing list to make sure she had everything she needed in the diaper bag. My wife and I have three go-to templates for what we need for a trip: a quick overnight stay, a weekend getaway, and a two-week junket out-of-state. With a few adjustments to suit the specifics of our schedule, we know what to throw in a suitcase. You can also use the packing list to make sure you’ve collected everything you scattered around the AirBNB over the last few days.

Not all vacations will require the same degree of planning, but you need to think of all three. It could be as simple as grabbing your swimsuit, towel, and five bucks for a shake as you head out the door to spend the afternoon at the beach—that’s a plan. If you’re going to spend three weeks backpacking across Europe, you’ll need a more formal plan.

Spontaneity has its place, but being unprepared will shut you down quickly. A little preparation gives you the flexibility to really sieze the moment.

Question: How do you plan for your getaways? Share your thoughts in the comments, on Twitter, LinkedIn, or Facebook.