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A couple of travel makers: How to plan a surprise birthday trip

My sneaky secrets to pulling off the ultimate surprise trip for your other half.

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I don't know about you, but as the years go by my birthday presents for my better half get bigger and bigger. They also become less tangible.

This year is my biggest yet: a surprise birthday trip.

It's the first time I've done this and if it's yours too, I'm here to share with you my secrets for pulling it off … as well as a few failings to learn from for your big surprise.

Good luck and try to keep your mouth shut around him/her.

Stef and D on honeymoon. Image: Finder

We're Stef and D, a pair of married jetsetters. Together, we've visited over 50 countries - though we're determined to see even more. All while working full time and paying off a mortgage. We count our dollars at home and away and are here to share our tips on how you can travel on budget.

New blog posts every fortnight on Mondays | Follow us: @acoupleoftravelmakers


Chose a destination they've always wanted to go to

Sad to say as much as you're joining them on the trip, it is for their birthday. So you're going to have to book a destination with their interests in mind. Choose somewhere they've been talking about for a bit but have never managed to commit to travel to, or somewhere they already love because they have family or friends who live there.

It doesn't have to be a massive month-long trip to Europe (actually, no one's expecting that) just somewhere where the two of you can bliss out.

Book in a date with family and friends

If you're headed somewhere where your partner's family or friends live, send them a text. Warn them that you're organising a secret trip for your other half and see if you can tee up a time to meet up. It'll be the icing on the birthday surprise cake.

Book in events that are specific to the location

This isn't a must but it's a bonus. For example, if you're headed to the Hunter Valley book in a wine tour. If you're going to the Whitsundays, make it snorkelling or scuba diving. Obviously make sure it's something they want to do. If they're not big drinkers a wine tour might be better swapped out for a stroll in the Hunter Valley Gardens. You know them best. Psst. I booked tickets to see Harry Potter and The Cursed Child. Because I could.

Keep it to the weekend

This makes things super easy for you when hiding the trip. All you have to do is make sure the weekend remains clear of any events or activities. If you've been invited to a shindig the weekend of your big surprise, speak to the inviter directly about not being able to make it, or see if they can postpone it.

But if you do want to make it a longer trip…

You're going to have to get a little crafty. Lucky for me my husband likes surprises, so telling him that he had to take a few days off work didn't spark any questions. If your other half isn't as patient as mine (i.e. you're like me), you're going to have to get sneakier. If you're cushy with their manager, warn them that you have plans to whisk them away and see if they're okay with putting the annual leave request in on your partner's behalf.

Otherwise, you might have to do a little fibbing and tell your partner that you have to go somewhere to visit family for a few days. Interstate wedding/birthday? Make it plausible so as not to draw any suspicion.

Or, if you want to get a little cheeky and start telling them, their family and their mates each different destinations. That way he/she will never know (and hopefully will give up asking).

Abuse companion sales or mate's rates sales

These were made for situations like this. Virgin Australia often hosts a mate's rates sale or Jetstar has a return-for-free sale that literally means you pay for one return ticket, but get two. That's the one I chose. The price was just too good to pass up ($167 return for two to Melbourne) and the dates aligned with my husband's birthday. It was like kismet – I couldn't resist.

Budget tip:

Because you booked the S.O. a trip doesn't mean it has to be super glamorous. The trip itself is the gift. You CAN fly on budget airlines (we did!) and you CAN stay in mid-level accommodation (again, we did). No one expects a blow-out. Though you can treat them to a swanky dinner or 5-star stay on their actual birthday if you really want.


Include their frequent flyer number or email address on the itinerary

The Internet is way too smart these days and if you've inputted too many identifying details about your other half the itinerary will pop up in their apps and potentially their inboxes. Keep their details on the itinerary to a minimum. They can add those frequent flyer points at check-in or after their trip.

Use a shared credit card to pay for any bookings

Sounds logical but I've been known to go into autopilot on a few purchases. If he can see the purchase, he'll know something is up. Or that you have a secret lover on the side he doesn't know about. Book with another card or another form of payment. If you have too many shared accounts, consider using a friend or family member's card (and obviously pay them back) to keep things under wraps.

Tell anyone

Again, it goes without saying, but unless you're surrounded by people who've taken a vow of silence, anyone can accidentally slip up. Believe me, a few people have almost mentioned that I'd be in said location on certain dates. Moral of the story? Try and keep the people who know to a minimum.

Give away hints

I was doing well keeping mum about our day's itinerary. Then I blabbed about us going somewhere he couldn't bring his camera. Big no-no when you're staying in the theatre district and have tickets to a show. Keep details to a minimum or on a need-to-know basis. If there's a cloak room where he can put his camera in, then let that handle this detail. But you can give them a little bit of direction, particularly regarding attire. If it's a fancy restaurant, tell them to dress up. If it's a hike, tell them to wear comfortable walking shoes.

Overstuff your itinerary

I'm a planner. I can't help it. And the longer I have to mull over a trip the more I want to add to it. I think it's important to have some things sorted like a reservation for dinner on their birthday or a specific time and place to catch up with mates, but when on holidays compromise comes back into the picture and you should give the other person a chance to lead.

So keep as many things as you can flexible, that way they can dictate the itinerary (or at least some of it) as well and have the trip they want.

Budget tip:

Look for "free cancellation" on your bookings in case plans change. You won't find this on flights (book travel insurance for this unless you're willing to forgo the cost) but you can for accommodation, car hire and restaurant bookings. Things happen. Plans change. They might not like what you've chosen to do (how dare). Free cancellations are often up to the wire (the hotel I booked let us cancel on the day of our arrival for nix) so if you decide to stay somewhere else, don't need to hire a car or have found somewhere better to eat you can call up, can it and be none the poorer.

Cogs starting to move? Take a browse to see how much a flight over their birthday would cost

Go on, you know you want to.

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