When I was a teenager, my parents gave me a fantastic Christmas present. Under the tree, nicely wrapped, were brochures about Hawaii. It was their way of telling me and my two sisters that we were all going to the sunny islands in February -- two years out. Our wait would be 14 months, not a mere 2.

Anticipation is part of the joy of any trip, Dad explained, and he certainly wasn't going to deprive us of that.

The timing did not diminish our excitement. We were giddy and, in fact, brimming with anticipation. By the time we got on the airplane more than a year later, I understood my dad's wisdom.

As an adult, I've never forgotten the lesson. Sure, I've taken impulsive trips, without planning (to both good and bad effect). But I like the building expectation. So last February I began ironing out details for my own family trip to Hawaii this January. With the airline tickets bought and the hotel booked, there is more room in my mind for dreaming about the fun stuff: snorkeling with my daughter, yoga on the beach, surfing lessons.

My family has talked about the trip over dinner, watched a public television show about the Big Island's volcano with keen interest, and this weekend, as cold weather sets in, we're going to hit the guide books.

In time, I suppose, I'll get busy stockpiling sun screen and packing, fretting about my daughter's lost sunglasses and that darn midnight layover.

Still, if the preparation makes me tense, I know just what to do: Begin scheming for another family vacation and let the hopeful anticipation cheer me.

Send your questions or tips to travel editor Kerri Westenberg at travel@startribune.com, and follow her on Twitter @kerriwestenberg.