Oh boy. I absolutely love surprising my spouse at any opportunity. That might mean gifts that he wasn’t expecting “just because”, outings, or even vacations. Gifts are easy – but there are ways a surprise trip for your spouse can go horribly wrong! Here are some things to avoid, but also ways to make sure it works out instead.
Big thanks to my friend Anne from Unique Gifter for contributing this article.
The Ways a Surprise Trip for Your Spouse Can Go Horribly Wrong
Writing this while traveling is restricted means my spouse and I are dying to travel now more than ever. I’m sure a lot of couples are feeling the same way; it’s really the perfect time to start planning those vacations.
For most people, a surprise trip would be pretty amazing. I’m picturing a movie scene where the guy tells his gorgeous girlfriend to pack her bags because they’re heading somewhere exotic. She’s in a funk, of course, and this is just the pick-me-up that’s needed.
From there, awesome things keep happening and everyone lives happily ever after. Of course, the viewer is left wondering: What about work? Who feeds the dog? How did she pack the right shoes?
Real life isn’t like the movies and there’s plenty of ways that even the best intentions can backfire on you.
Not Arranging Child/Pet Care
OK, seriously though, there is a lot of planning that goes into a trip. Especially if kids or pets are involved. If you put together this surprise trip but haven’t locked down who will hold down the fort while you’re gone there’s going to be a serious problem.
Pets are a little easier (hire a pet sitter or use a kennel) but kids are complicated. Not only should you make sure that everything is taken care of, you also have to make sure you’re leaving them with someone you both trust.
If either of you is worrying about the kids while you’re gone it’s not going to be a very fun trip.
Absolutely No Packing Direction
Yes, it’s a surprise, but that doesn’t mean you can’t give some hints. Not telling your spouse what to pack might lead to over-packing or them missing something that alters the quality of the trip.
For example, if you’re going to be doing a lot of walking they may want to bring a specific pair of shoes. Or maybe you’re visiting a place that doesn’t have a lot of shopping options so you need to bring extras of certain items.
Packing for them and surprising them at the airport is a really big no-no unless you know them extremely well or plan on buying whatever you need at your destination.
Forgetting About Work
Most people have jobs that require at least some prior notice to take holidays. Surprising your spouse that you’re “leaving this afternoon!” isn’t going to be exciting if they can’t get time off work.
Actually, let’s be real: creating work drama for your spouse will hurt your relationship and ruin your trip.
There are ways to get around this, though. First of all you can book the trip when they already have time off scheduled. Long-weekend getaways if they work Monday-Friday, spring break trips for teachers, or a surprise twist to a “staycation” are all good times.
Another thing you can do is to speak to your spouse’s manager, but use this very cautiously. It really depends on the kind of job your spouse has and how they would feel if you booked time off on their behalf.
Leaving Out Details About The Surprise Trip For Your Spouse
This one is pretty broad but it’s super important to keep in mind. Everyone has their unique quirks surrounding taking trips that make the experience better or easier for them.
One big one is making sure the house is clean before you go, so you don’t come back to dirty dishes or a pile of laundry that’s been sitting. Other things could include letting the neighbors know to watch the house, informing your credit card companies so your cards work, or making sure all the windows are locked.
If you’re normally the one who does all the travel planning this will be a bit easier to handle. For those that aren’t familiar, though, look online for a checklist so you don’t leave anything out.
Missing Something Important
Medications are a great example here. Imagine, you have the trip planned. You’re ready to go and everything is packed. Except your spouse doesn’t have enough of their prescription for the next week and it will take 3 days to order into the pharmacy.
Make sure you have a plan for everything well in advance if you’re going to surprise your spouse with a trip. Otherwise, it can really throw a wrench in the whole thing.
Another thing to look at is your spouse’s schedule. Do they have a specialist appointment booked that took 6 months to get into? Is there an important event happening that week that they’ll be upset to miss?
Make sure you take the same consideration into your spouse’s schedule and needs as you do your own.
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Not Planning The Trip Well
This is especially awful if your spouse is normally the one who takes care of this sort of thing. If you “plan” a surprise trip, make sure you actually have a handle on the whole thing. If your spouse has to jump into the planning you might as well have planned the whole thing together.
Messing this up will create tension and possibly take away from how much your spouse enjoys the surprise.
Besides the flights and hotels, you should also plan out transportation to and from the airport, make sure you don’t need any shots or visas and have some idea of what your itinerary will look like.
Don’t forget that your partner won’t be able to research your destination before you go. Study up so you have some ideas about the area, the food, activities, and so on.
Messing up The Family Budget
Unless you have separate finances (and can afford it) the cost of a trip generally falls on both people in a relationship. That means that even though it’s your idea and your gift you’re still affecting your spouse financially with a surprise vacation.
Booking a holiday that you can’t afford is a terrible idea. The same goes for booking one that your spouse wouldn’t approve of or that takes away from something else.
The safest way to get around this is to surprise your spouse with a trip that you’ve already discussed and agree on. If you’ve been secretly putting money away (without giving up anything) specifically for a vacation together then it will most likely be a welcomed surprise.
Of course, if you have completely separate finances or you’re very well off then money is less likely to be an issue here.
Blowing the Secret
“Honey, why is there a $3,500 charge to our credit card from ‘Travel Agent’?” is probably not what someone planning a surprise trip for their spouse wants to hear.
Don’t charge any aspect of the trip to joint accounts or credit cards. If your spouse monitors the accounts for any reason (even just to pay bills) use an account they don’t have access to.
Another way you can keep the secret is with a smaller white lie. Tell your spouse not to check your account because you’re going to be ordering them a gift (choose the nearest upcoming occasion) and you don’t want to give away the surprise.
Even with all that, don’t spoil things by leaving trip planning stuff open on your computer or talk about it when your spouse may overhear.
Surprising The Wrong Person
Even if the most well-laid plans can fail if you’re trying to surprise someone who hates surprises. This is your spouse we’re talking about – you’ll know if they’d be happy with a surprise trip or not.
Studies show that the anticipation and lead-up to a trip is part of the experience. Leaving your spouse out of the process might be more upsetting than spoiling the surprise.
Then again, some people love surprises. Really the key is to use your best judgment here and think about what makes your spouse happy rather than what you want.
Alternative Idea: The Partial Surprise Trip For Your Spouse
If you want to surprise your spouse but also need them in on the idea of a trip this is probably the best idea. You can still have some mystery but also give away enough to make things go smoothly.
How you approach this will depend on where you’re going and your family’s logistics. It might be as simple as “we’re going somewhere warm in 3 months between these dates so pack your bags and book time off work!”.
Or you might surprise them the day of departure but reveal the destination so they can pack accordingly. You could also plan the trip together but dedicate a day to “surprises” that your spouse doesn’t know about.
Finally, there are also travel agencies that offer surprise trips. You tell them what you’re looking for and the budget and they make all the arrangements. Instead of booking a surprise trip for just your spouse, you can both be surprised!
Tips to Make a Surprise Trip for Your Spouse Go Right
OK, so you know how to stop things from going wrong… But how can you make this surprise trip even better?
- Make a list of all the little details. That way you won’t forget anything. Think stuff like backup phone chargers, sunglasses, and personal care items.
- Keep it magical. You’re whisking them away, after all! Plan everything out carefully and try and stack on as many surprises as you can. Pick them up in a limo, have flowers waiting in the room, buy them some new clothes, etc.
- Plan a grand reveal. How are you going to tell your spouse that you’re going on a trip? This might be a once-in-a-lifetime experience so the pressure is on!
- Give them the weather forecast to help with packing. This works for all trips including ones that are close to home!
- Use holidays as an excuse. Surprise trips are great gift ideas for Valentine’s Day or milestone birthdays and anniversaries. Of course, you can also go “just because”!
The Bald Thoughts
The biggest takeaway is to make sure that you’ve thought of everything, covered logistics, and that you know it’s something your spouse will love. With careful planning, you should be able to pull off an amazing surprise trip for your spouse!
About Anne from Unique Gifter
Anne loves finding the perfect gift idea that’s on budget. She has been writing about gift-giving and personal finance online since 2012, as the owner of UniqueGifter.com. Her favorite beverage is champagne and she loves figure skating, even if it’s harder now that she’s not 20!
My first thought is, “only 9?” lol
HAHA So true! I’m sure my wife could easily rattle off 9 things I’ve done wrong when planning trips in a single breath. Luckily, she still loves me anyway.