Celebration Travel // How to Make it Extra Special

Yesterday was my birthday! Woohoo! I guess I am still young enough to get really excited when February 7th rolls around each year. I love making people feel special on their birthdays, and I’m super blessed to have people who do the same for me. Not surprisingly, my favorite things to give and receive are experiences. And that, my friends, is how you segue into talking about celebration travel!

What is celebration travel?

The short answer is, “just what it sounds like,” but celebration travel can come in many different forms and for a variety of reasons. Celebration travel does for everyday life experiences and milestones what the honeymoon does for marriage. It closes one chapter and begins a new one with a unique sense of purpose and gratitude.

Celebrating a birthday on vacation is just the best, isn’t it? Usually, people will use a “big birthday” as an excuse to take a “big trip”. A group of us celebrated my brother-in-law’s 50th birthday in the Dominican Republic last summer. I have clients who will celebrate a 30th birthday across four European countries two weeks from now, and others who marked a 50th birthday in Ireland last fall. But even those run-of-the-mill 44th, 62nd, 17th, and 39th birthdays can be celebrated in style with a fun vacation.

Celebration travel isn’t just about birthdays, though.

Vacations are a reminder to seize the moment and live your dreams. Take a babymoon before the little bundle of sleepless nights arrives. Hit the beach with your high school graduate before she goes away to college. Celebrate a clear cancer screening by taking that trip to Italy instead of leaving it on the back burner for another year.

How to set your celebration apart

I’ve planned a ton of fun celebration vacations, and I’m happy to share some tips that may just help yours stick out. Most of these ideas can be integrated into almost any kind of trip across the world. They not only will provide for some fun laughs along the way, they will provide you with extra opportunities to cherish special memories.

Stage a photoshoot

Y’all, I am obsessed with Flytographer!!! This service provides local, vetted, professional photographers to take pics of your group while in your destination. With a pre-determined location (or list of locations), your photographer will capture images of you just being on vacation. This really isn’t about everyone coordinating outfits and saying cheese. It’s providing an opportunity to take pictures that tell the story of your travels. My family will be utilizing this service on our trip to Paris in March, and I seriously cannot wait!

Call (or mail) your surprises ahead.

With just a little planning, you can arrange for a special surprise for the guest of honor. This is extra fun when there’s a romantic spin. I’ve had (quite a few) picnics set up for honeymooners in front of the Eiffel Tower, wedding pictures hung in an anniversary suite, and a violinist on hand to serenade a couple as they got engaged in Tuscany.

These are elaborate examples that I can pull off because I have fantastic local connections, but there are plenty more ideas where those came from. For example, a hotel concierge can arrange to have your wife’s favorite flowers in the room when you arrive. An efficient restaurant host will already have a chilled bottle of Champagne at your table when you are seated. A shop owner can greet your husband by name (and with his favorite Scotch) when you suggest “popping in” to look around. Truly, great surprises are only limited by your imagination and cleverness.

Spring for once-in-a-lifetime experiences.

OK. This is where some people make big mistakes, so listen carefully. Unless (a) you are confident in your ability to flawlessly pull off a massive surprise without being a nervous nelly the entire trip, AND (b) your loved one really, really likes surprises, do not try this away from home!

Here’s why.

  • Once-in-a-lifetime experiences are almost always special without a surprise factor.
  • They are extraordinarily fun to anticipate, and that element is lost with a surprise.
  • The person keeping the secret is miserable and not at all plugged in to the other things taking place.

Trust me on this. I’ve masterminded some exceptional experiences and I know what it takes to get them right. Here are some examples to get you inspired:

Taking a hot air balloon ride over the Dordogne River Valley.

Eating dinner in the Eiffel Tower overlooking the City of Light.

Seeing U2 perform. In Ireland.

A private shopping experience in Milan for a group of girlfriends.

Cruising the Italian hills in a Ferrari.


Whatever you are celebrating, there is ultimately one thing that will set your experience apart: JOY.

Remember who and what you’re celebrating and the many things you have to be thankful for. Whether you are traveling solo, in a group, or as a couple, the tiny details can be the things you will remember the most…but none of that matters if you spend time worrying about all the things that could go wrong. So relax, take it easy, and raise your glass to joie de vivre!

Ciao Chow and Bon Vivant!

Autumn Welborn is a vacation planner and travel agent in Lubbock, Texas