At long last, your hard-earned vacation in the Texas Hill Country is right around the corner! We all look forward to an escape, to some time off just for ourselves, a chance to unplug and clear our minds. Your time off is precious to you, where you call all the shots and can do things you enjoy, whether it's just a weekend away or an extended holiday of a week or more. Finally, a chance to relax! You've chosen the right region; the Hill Country is home to any number of relaxing vacation spots.

Even though the ultimate goal of a holiday is to unwind, decompress, and enjoy quality time with those around us, the fact of the matter is that planning and carrying out a vacation can also present plenty of stress and tension if you're not careful. Lack of planning, changes in plans, and clashes of personalities are just a few factors that can contribute to bumps in the road before, during, and after your vacation time.

There's probably no such thing as a 100 percent stress-free vacation; there will always be unforeseen circumstances that may alter even the best-laid plans. We aren't bringing that up to rain on your parade, though; quite the opposite! There are simple steps you can take that will not only minimize those frustrating circumstances, but will also turn negative factors into positives. Backroads Reservations has helped thousands of people plan their Hill Country holidays since 2001, and in that spirit, we're presenting this article. Here's how to maximize the fun, adventure, and relaxation, and reduce the vacation stress, of your next visit to the Hill Country—or any getaway plans you may have in the future.

BEFORE YOUR VACATION

Chaos reigns! Did I pack my phone charger? (Reminder: pack your phone charger.) Which day of our trip should we do this? Or this? Or this? Can I take my teddy bear? Will there be armadillos? Can I have an armadillo? What's an armadillo? Your slightly trembling hand reaches for the ibuprofen.

And all this is within five minutes of your announcing your Hill Country holiday. We won't tell you how many pairs of underwear or socks to pack, or whether that teddy bear will fit in your luggage, but we can certainly offer tips for those important days of preparation before your vacation. Smooth out the experience of your upcoming getaway with the following pointers.

Book for budget AND comfort

You could say we're a tiny bit biased on this topic, and that's fair; Backroads Reservations has been arranging the best Hill Country vacation homes for our visitors for over twenty years. But consider the logic behind what we're saying here: the choice of where you're going to stay for your vacation should be just as important as the places and attractions you plan to visit. How many people are you bringing along? Is plenty of interior space a priority? Access to water? A swimming pool? Complimentary breakfast? How about sunny decks, fire pits, and barbecue grills? The desired amenities for no two vacation groups are alike; your “home base” during your time away plays a pivotal role in your ability to relax, as well as your holiday overall. It's something to consider carefully.

Involve everyone in the planning

This is considerably easier if you're planning a romantic getaway for two, but as the numbers in your group increase, so do their varying interests. Engage everyone in your holiday plans, kids and adults alike. Take all the interests and desires of your party into account, and make it clear that your plans will include a little give and take, so all those interests are included. With this kind of group brainstorming going into your planning, you're far less likely to encounter the frustration or boredom of others during your vacation if everyone's in on the game plan from the beginning. It also gives all involved a strong and reassuring sense of contribution to the holiday, and even more for them to look forward to once it's underway!

Don't cram your schedule

While you and your holiday group gather to decide which activities, shops, restaurants, and other attractions you all are going to visit, do your level best not to pack every single minute of your free time. We know that's easier said than done; the Texas Hill Country certainly has a lot to do and see! But you'll thank yourself when you set a realistic schedule for your holiday. Plan for the attractions and places that generate the most interest with your crew, and perhaps leave some others for a future visit. You'll save yourself the stress of scrambling all day along as you try to do absolutely everything.

Go shopping ahead of time

When you hold your planning meeting as suggested above, make it a point to also get everyone's input toward what supplies you'll need to take along during your vacation. Common, but often forgotten, items include sunscreen, batteries, beverages, snacks, and general first aid for the various scrapes, cuts, and bug bites that can happen. Brainstorm with the other folks going with you, and pick up these necessary items before your holiday; if you wait, it could cost you, because gift shops and convenience stores on the road will charge more for the same items (as opposed to stopping at Walmart or Target ahead of time).

Plan a realistic budget

Running out of funds before your vacation's over is a guaranteed way to spike your frustration! Once you have a list of activities and places your group wants to visit, do your research! Find out what admission fees (if any) you'll need to plan for; review online menus to get an idea of meal costs; take note of any rental fees you might encounter for activity gear like tubes or kayaks; allocate a piece of your budget for souvenirs and other purchases. Once you have all that taken care of, add one-third to that total; consider it a “just in case” or “mad money” fund. When it comes to budget, too much is exponentially better than too little. Also, your holiday budget should be within your means; plan so it's something you can afford without having to limit yourself financially for months afterward.

Check your gear

If your plans include tubing, kayaking, or bike riding, and you're taking along your own gear for those activities (as opposed to renting them from an outfitter), take the time to give all the equipment an inspection before you leave, to assure it's all in good working order. There's nothing more disappointing than having eight bikers, but only seven working bikes, once you hit the trail! This goes for vehicles, too—make sure your car or motorcycle is in good running condition before it's time to get on the road. No one's idea of a relaxing vacation includes sitting in the waiting room of a repair shop in a strange town.

We know a lot of people who have trouble enforcing this particular rule, and that's a shame, because it's a critically important thing to do to ensure relaxation during your time away from home. In the days before your holiday, establish in a friendly but firm manner that your time off is exactly that. This guideline applies to every single human being who isn't going with you on your holiday. Make it clear to your place of employment, friends, and family members that this getaway is one of your rare opportunities to focus on your own well-being, and to spend precious and undistracted time with those important to you. Let folks know that only in an emergency situation should they attempt to contact you.

An important facet of this point is to set boundaries for yourself, as well. Folks who have Type A personality, or “workaholic,” traits, can find it difficult to just walk away from their professional responsibilities, even temporarily. Delegate your work duties to coworkers you know are up to the task; review with them what's expected while you're gone. Then—and we know this can be the tough part—LET GO. The company won't collapse in your absence! Again, let them know you're there in case of emergencies, but otherwise you aren't to be contacted. And let yourself stick to this, too! Resist the temptation to check just one or two work emails; before you know it, you're up to your armpits in hundreds of them, and it's like you never went on vacation at all. Finally, if a work emergency does spring up, don't allow anyone to lay a guilt trip on you and cut your holiday short. Certainly there is someone on hand at work who's capable of handling the situation; delegate it to them!

Set boundaries

We know a lot of people who have trouble enforcing this particular rule, and that's a shame, because it's a critically important thing to do to ensure relaxation during your time away from home. In the days before your holiday, establish in a friendly but firm manner that your time off is exactly that. This guideline applies to every single human being who isn't going with you on your holiday. Make it clear to your place of employment, friends, and family members that this getaway is one of your rare opportunities to focus on your own well-being, and to spend precious and undistracted time with those important to you. Let folks know that only in an emergency situation should they attempt to contact you.

An important facet of this point is to set boundaries for yourself, as well. Folks who have Type A personality, or “workaholic,” traits, can find it difficult to just walk away from their professional responsibilities, even temporarily. Delegate your work duties to coworkers you know are up to the task; review with them what's expected while you're gone. Then—and we know this can be the tough part—LET GO. The company won't collapse in your absence! Again, let them know you're there in case of emergencies, but otherwise you aren't to be contacted. And let yourself stick to this, too! Resist the temptation to check just one or two work emails; before you know it, you're up to your armpits in hundreds of them, and it's like you never went on vacation at all. Finally, if a work emergency does spring up, don't allow anyone to lay a guilt trip on you and cut your holiday short. Certainly there is someone on hand at work who's capable of handling the situation; delegate it to them!

Button down the house

As you head out, give your house or apartment a quick once-over to make sure all the windows and doors are locked. If you have an alarm system, be sure it's armed, and if you have a door camera system, check to assure it's set up to notify your phone if it detects any activity. Have a trusted friend or neighbor check your home periodically, and have them take in all mail, newspapers, and packages. When they do this, have them place these items where they can't be seen from the outside of the house; potential thieves like to peek through mail slots and windows to see if there is a large amount of mail or packages stacked somewhere. This is an indicator that no one's home, and they consider the house or apartment as fair game. Along those same lines, consider a light timer or two that turns on lights at random times. Some theft prevention specialists also suggest leaving a TV or radio on, to give the impression that someone's home.

Keep your plans private

Of course you're excited about your upcoming getaway, and you're practically bursting a button wanting to share that excitement. And there's nothing wrong with that at all! But, play it smart. Share your plans beforehand, and photos and memories during your holiday, with trusted friends and family members, absolutely. But please do it privately. Face-to-face conversations, text messages, and video chats (provided the latter two are on private Internet connections) are all perfect ways to share this information. However, DON'T post your vacation plans or snapshots during your trip on social media or any other public-facing platform. You might think you're harmlessly posting on your Facebook account, “Yay! Off to Bandera for a week!” But...what a burglar sees when they read this is, “NO ONE'S HOME. PLEASE ROB ME.” Share your photos and memories of your vacation on social media after you're back, and your home is more secure.

With the proper prep work, you'll be able to get yourself ready for your getaway financially, mentally, and physically. You'll minimize unexpected surprises by being on top of the situation, and that will result in a great state of peace of mind—the perfect recipe for a successful, relaxing, and fun vacation!

DURING YOUR VACATION

The second your luggage hits the floor in your vacation rental, you'll be itching to get going and make the most of every second of free time you've got. Holidays can be hectic, with so much to see and do in the Hill Country, but that's hectic in a good way. To keep the bad kind of hectic moments at bay, use these pointers during your time out and about.

Relax.

Yup. That's the point of this entire article, really. In our workaday lives, our bodies and minds are in almost perpetual motion all the time, and it often takes a vacation before we can unplug and rest our entire selves. Now that your free time is upon you, make it a priority to find adequate time to relax. Even a bustling family gathering has the potential to be a quiet getaway if you plan accordingly. Sip some wine in a porch swing, or a cup of coffee on a deck overlooking the Hill Country. Cast a line in the water. Kick back in front of a fire pit. Go for a quiet stroll along the bubbling waters of a creek, and soak in the soothing sounds of twittering birds and leaves rustling in the breeze. If you're vacationing with a family group, maybe send the others off with your significant other so you can have a few hours of “me time.” (If that's the case, return the favor to your spouse.) Rest those frazzled nerves!

It's also wise to realize that even though you're on vacation, not every moment of every day will be relaxing; that's just the nature of the beast. Popular attractions and events draw crowds, which can increase stress levels for some people, and if you consider yourself the organizer of the getaway, you may feel a sense of responsibility for those around you. You want to make sure they're having a good time, and that can create a low-level stress. BUT keep in mind this is your vacation, too. That's why it's all the more important that you let yourself go and prioritize your own moments of relaxation.

Leave room for down time

This point goes hand-in-hand with the overall relaxation concept noted above, but it focuses more on essential rest. Just as burnout is a genuine concern in the workaday world, you can get too much of a good thing, too. Activities like hiking, tubing, bike riding, and kayaking can sneak up and drain your energy; even strolling through shops or a museum can wear you down a little. Plan some time for a brief sit-down and recharge period between activities and events, especially those that involve more physical exertion. When your crew does this, they'll find they have more energy to last throughout the entire vacation, and won't feel like they're exhausted and collapsing like a sack of rocks each night.

Have backup activities handy

It's great to have a vacation plan, but make sure whatever plans you make aren't carved in stone; after all, any number of factors can change things at the last moment. That tubing trip gets delayed because it's storming out; another activity ran long and now the museum you wanted to visit is closed; maybe one member of your group just needs some time to rest and recharge. Be prepared to think on your feet and offer alternative things to do if fate intervenes. Just like in the group planning session before your trip, call everyone together and get their input as to how to proceed—and be prepared with your list of potential backups.

Plan phone time

Young ones and adults alike are equally guilty of burying their noses in their tablets and smartphones, to the exclusion of actual human beings who are right there with them. Frankly, it's hard to bond and build memories with someone who's staring at their phone and muttering, “yeah” and “uh huh” while you're trying to engage them in conversation or an activity. Now, we're not advocating throwing their phone into the nearest river, however tempting that may be. That would only create more tension, and it's also extremely expensive.

Instead, agree ahead of time when using phones and tablets is okay, and when it isn't. For the latter, establish where the devices will be put, preferably somewhere relatively out of reach. Set the example here by doing the same with your own phone, too. Alternate activities abound, after all; take a hike or a swim, go wildlife watching, check out the shops in town, play board games, or engage them in conversation on topics that interest them. This is a prime opportunity for Grade A quality time; take advantage of it! Those folks on the other end of all those tech devices can wait.

Read the room

This is especially true of kids, but it can apply to adults, too. If a member of your group is displaying signs of boredom such as disinterest or fidgeting, or they either go completely quiet or, worse, start complaining openly, it's time to take their feelings into account. That museum or historic site might be endlessly fascinating to you, but some kids might consider it a form of torture the longer it goes on. Direct positive attention to them; share your enthusiasm and try to engage them in the experience. Ask for their input! Another solution could be something as simple as telling them that they can pick the next activity, or that something more to their liking is coming up soon.

Balance your food and drink intake

It's vacation, right? No rules! Woooo! Well, yes and no. By all means indulge yourself; go on that wine tour, savor those culinary delights you might not otherwise have available to you back home, sample those indulgent fair foods. A lot of these tasty treats offer a quick lift in mood, but that's often temporary, and usually involves a “crash” afterward. Make it a point to balance all those sweet and savory items with snacks like fruits and vegetables, and hydrate thoroughly with fresh, cool water. It'll help keep your overall health and stress levels on a more even keel.

Laugh!

This may sound silly, and maybe that's the point! Hearty laughter does tons of positive things to your mind and body: it enhances your oxygen intake; stimulates your heart, lungs, and muscles; releases healthy and uplifting endorphins into your system; and supercharges circulation and muscle relaxation. Over time, your sense of humor can even boost your immune system! The tried-but-true adage that laughter is the best medicine isn't just empty words. Having a good laugh not only helps you, but its effects can be contagious, lifting the spirits of those around you, too. Finally, laughing helps to reduce, if not eliminate, the symptoms of stress and tension. A happy mindset will vastly improve the experience of your Hill Country outing—not to mention the rest of your life.

Soak up some sun

This is especially important if your day-to-day life confines you indoors. Think of “cabin fever,” the springtime anxiety that hits a lot of folks who have been cooped up all winter. There's actually a medical term for this lack of exposure to sunlight: seasonal affective disorder, or SAD. Your body craves the sun's rays, and they have positive effects on your overall well-being. The sun's ultraviolet (UV) rays help to stimulate the release of endorphins and hormones (chiefly seratonin), which help to elevate your sense of overall happiness and well-being. Sunshine also helps your body by supplying Vitamin D3, which helps everything from bone health to improved cardiovascular and immune systems. Vitamin D3 also helps to boost your nervous system and brain health, both of which are crucial to processing and eliminating stress.

Now, this isn't to say that we're recommending baking yourself to a crisp during your vacation; that's almost assured to increase your stress! Manage your intake of sunlight, and use sunscreen and/or stylish clothing and a sun hat if you're going to be outside for extended periods of time. With responsible moderation, though, sunlight can be both soothing and healthy.

Everyone deserves to make the most of their time off, and the vast selection of attractions in the Hill Country makes that easier to do, with exciting options that cater to every interest. It's our hope that these tips will enable you to enjoy a getaway you'll remember fondly for years to come!

AFTER YOUR VACATION

Your vacation went great, no one got poison ivy, and now it's time to return to your home and work. That holiday afterglow you feel means you did it just right: you got quality time with those you took along; you got to do and see fascinating, fun, and adventurous things; and you got a chance to relax, refresh, and recharge. The memories of your getaway are a great source to draw upon as you return to your daily routine. Changing gears abruptly from vacation to the nine-to-five can be a shock to the system, if you let it. Here are some tips to make that transition a smooth and pleasant one.

Reconnect, but gradually.

Coworkers, loved ones, friends, and other acquaintances will no doubt want to know how your vacation went, and they'll also want your input on both professional and personal matters now that you're back. Now is the time to sort through the emails, letters, packages, and other correspondence that have piled up during your absence. If you don't approach this in a calm and gradual manner, it can be overwhelming. It's a form of informational overload, and can dump a heavy load of stress on your shoulders if you try to take it in all at once.

Plugging back into your work responsibilities will probably be your highest priority. Hopefully, the coworkers you delegated your tasks to will have handled them while you were gone, and your reintroduction to the work flow will be relatively quick and painless. Even if that isn't the case (this not being a perfect world), don't take everything onto your shoulders in one huge lump. Prioritize what needs to be taken care of immediately, then “ramp up” gradually into those details that can wait.

Friends and family can wait. They'll understand. Give them a quick overview of your vacation, and that you had a wonderful time, and would love to get together with them soon to discuss it in more detail. Let them know you need to dive back into your work, but plan an evening or weekend with them to catch up with them.

All this reminds us....

Give yourself a “cushion day.”

If at all possible, don't immerse yourself in work the day after you return from vacation. Plan ahead, and give yourself a day to take care of all those back-from-vacation details. Unpack. Review your snail mail and emails. Post an overview of your Hill Country holiday to your social media. Relax. The pleasant memories of your vacation will remain intact longer if you don't push yourself from holiday mode to regular mode in too short a period of time.

So, welcome home! Allow yourself the time to ease back into your regular schedule, and as you do so, you can always look forward to the next time the Hill Country, and its famous Texas hospitality, beckons.

Making the best of your vacation time is at the heart and soul of what we do at Backroads Reservations, and we offer the most unique and charming Hill Country vacation rentals in the business. Our guest homes and cabins feature the best amenities, and are located close to whatever might spark your interest in this beautiful region. We'll also be happy to recommend the most relaxing vacation spots in our neck of