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Would you like to be a smarter traveller? Do you love to travel but don’t know how to start planning your ideal trip? Is the idea of finding and booking your own hotel too confusing so you give up? Do you always pack far too much stuff so your bag is too heavy? Where can you go to get so you get a good deal on your airfare or to grab the best prices for your train tickets?
You have so many questions when you should just be enjoying planning your trip. Please don’t worry if this sounds like you. You’re certainly not alone. These problems and many more worry loads of people. Then it puts them off organising and booking their own travel itinerary. Of course, you could pay a travel agent to organise it for you but that just eats into your travel budget. This is where I can help you. My aim is to help you maximise your budget and travel smarter. To help you get out there and travel and have the greatest possible experience. The key to this is successful planning and anyone can do it with just a few strategies.
So, I want to share some of my travel tips and advice with you. Many of these tips are things I learned the hard way by making mistakes and getting things wrong. However, over the years I’ve built up my expertise in travel planning and successfully navigating the world of travel. I’ve become a smarter traveller and I want you to be one too. Here’s my 10 point plan for planning and booking your trip.
Step 1: Decide where to travel and when to go
So, where shall I start? What’s the first thing you need to think about when you start planning a trip? Let’s start at the beginning and look at where to go and when. Maybe, you already have somewhere in mind for your next trip. Or do you need to travel at a certain time of year and want to find somewhere that’s ideal to travel then? It might seem obvious but it’s actually a very important part of the planning process.
Once you’ve chosen where you want to go now is the time to make sure your passport and other documents are in order. Take a look at our international travel checklist to make sure you don’t miss any essential documents.
Step 2: Decide how you’re going to get there
So now you’ve decided where you want to travel to and you know what time of year you want to go. What’s next? Well, now that you’ve got a place in mind let’s think about how you’re going to get there. Of course, this will depend on several factors. Firstly, what are your options?
If you live in the UK and you plan to visit Australia or Canada or the USA you’ll probably need to fly. I say probably because it’s actually possible to get to Canada and the USA from the UK without flying. Yes really, I’ve done it. But here I’m assuming you’re planning a regular vacation trip rather than a 2-month overland extravaganza. If you’re not and you really would like advice on longer overland journeys then watch this space as I’m planning to do a series of articles on our Round the World without Flying trip in the near future.
For now, let’s assume you’re taking a regular 2-3 week travel trip. Therefore, you don’t want to spend over a month getting to your destination. In this case, as I already pointed out, if you live in the UK and you want to travel long haul you’re going to need to fly. Easy decision.
However, I know a lot of you don’t live in the UK so I try not to be too UK specific. What if you live closer to your destination? For instance, you live in Ottawa and you want to take a trip to Halifax. Or you live in Paris and you want to take a trip to Rome. Then you have lots of exciting options and you’ll need to make a choice.
Step 3: Will you stay in one place or tour around?
This is really important. When you get to your destination are you going to stay in one place for your entire stay or do you plan on travelling around? Either way will give you a fantastic holiday but they can be very different experiences. In general, I must admit we do tend to do a lot of touring type trips as we enjoy being on the move. Also, the journey is very much part of the experience for us. We’re all different though and this travel blog is all about helping you to plan the kind of travel experience you want. So please take my tips and advice but use it to help craft your ideal trip, not mine. That’s what being a smarter traveller is all about.
Step 4: Choose your accommodation
Over the years, I think we’ve stayed in pretty much every possible type of accommodation. Certainly, we mix it up a lot. Now, don’t get me wrong, I love a luxury hotel as much as the next person but if I only travelled when that was an option I wouldn’t have travelled half as much as I have. Sometimes, actually I should say often, compromise is needed in travel planning. Do you travel less and spend more or do you travel more and spend less? One of the things that is very important to me when I travel is value for money. I love a bargain but only if it’s a good bargain. Nobody wants to turn up at that bargain hotel they booked and find it’s a dump. Because bargain should mean great value for money but still a great product. At least that’s what it means to me.
Step 5: How are you going to get around while you’re there?
If you plan on staying in one place for your entire trip then this will be easy. But there are still a few things to consider. Will you be able to walk everywhere? Or perhaps more importantly, do you want to? So, you need to know what local transport is available.
If you plan on touring around then you may be covering quite large distances each time you move on. You need to look at what options are available at your destination and consider which ones suit you best.
Step 6: Start booking
So, you might be surprised that we’ve got to step 6 and I’m only just telling you to start booking. Why do you need to go through all these planning processes before you think about booking anything?
Well, over the years, I’ve found that my plans often change as I go through the planning steps. For instance, I begin by thinking I’ll go to 5 cities and travel between them all by train or bus. Then I start my travel planning and I discover that I can’t easily get to one of the cities from any of the others. Or I find I can get to all the places I want to go but only if I do them in a different order so that the transport links work. Occasionally, I find the trip works better if I start or finish in a different place. Or more likely what happens is when I’m doing my research I find somewhere else I just have to visit as well so it gets added in.
If you’ve already booked any part of the trip it will be much harder to be flexible at this stage. You can also lose out a lot in cancellation and amendment fees if your plans change. So try to get everything mapped out so that your trip works well for you as a whole. Then you start booking.
What do you book first?
What do you book first? If I’m flying then I start by booking my flights. Why? Well, firstly, it allows you to be a bit flexible with your dates and this can be really helpful in getting a good deal. It depends where you’re flying to and from but sometimes it’s best to fly midweek and avoid Friday to Sunday. If you plan on flying business class, however, you might find it’s cheaper to fly on the weekends when fewer business travellers fly. Play around with the search engines and see what difference it makes.
If you’re travelling by train or bus then you may not be able to book that far out. For example, many train companies only release train fares around 120 days ahead of your scheduled departure date. Occasionally, it’s earlier than that though. I recently booked train tickets on VIA Canada and I was surprised to discover that they were already available 6 months out. However, it’s not uncommon to find that you can’t buy train tickets until a month or two before you travel. The same is true of bus and coach tickets except even more so.
To be a smarter traveller, you need to stay flexible. So, if you’re travelling to your destination by bus or train you’ll probably have to wait until nearer the time before purchasing your tickets. That’s fine. In that case head straight to the next step and start booking your accommodation. If you plan on driving to your destination then you’ll only need to book ahead if you need a ferry crossing. How far out these can be booked depends a lot on the route you take so check with your chosen ferry operator.
Step 7: Book your accommodation
Generally, I book my accommodation after I’ve booked my flights. As I already mentioned, if you’re not flying you can skip straight ahead and start booking your accommodation as soon as you decide you’re definitely travelling. Of course, if you book somewhere with a no strings attached cancellation policy you can always book your accommodation first but I find it’s a real pain when I need to alter something. And of course, I always have to alter something. If I see a really good deal though I do occasionally book accommodation first but it’s always on the basis that I can cancel it if my plans alter.
Step 8: Smart travellers purchase Insurance
Ok, now you’re in full booking mode. Your flights or trains are booked. You’ve chosen accommodation and made bookings. What’s next? Well, this next step may not seem quite as exciting but it is absolutely essential. As soon as possible after you start booking you need to purchase travel insurance.
Now, some of you, like me may have an annual policy. That’s great as you’re already covered. Just double-check though by checking the terms of your policy to make sure you’re definitely covered. For example, our policy only covers us for trips up to 30 days in duration. That’s fine for most of our trips but we do occasionally venture out for longer and then we need to purchase additional coverage.
If you don’t have an annual insurance policy then you need to get cover as soon as possible. You can buy an annual policy if you’re likely to travel again within 12 months or you can just buy a short-term policy to cover one trip. But please, buy insurance. Travel insurance is cheap, medical bills abroad rarely are.
But I don’t carry anything valuable!
We never carry anything particularly valuable with us when we travel so I’m not overly worried about losing my luggage. Although it’s nice to know that if you lose all your travel clothes you’re covered for replacements. However, the point I’m trying to make is insurance covers many things. Our policy offers compensation for long flight delays for example. But what’s so much more important is that it covers you for any medical treatment you may need. Even if you’re fit and healthy before you go that doesn’t mean you can’t have an accident, pick up some kind of bug or whatever.
Fortunately, this isn’t one of the lessons I’ve learned the hard way. I’ve always been a firm believer in travel insurance. Despite travelling to more than 65 different countries I’ve only claimed on my insurance a few times. Every time it happens though I’m always reminded of how valuable it is. I’ve never had a major emergency abroad. Thank goodness! But I do know people who have and the bills have been over £10,000, some much higher. That’s really going to ruin your trip. You’re not travelling smart if you don’t have insurance.
Step 9: Plan your day-to-day sightseeing itinerary
I hope you’ve now taken out a travel insurance policy so now we can get back to the fun stuff again. What are you going to do during your trip? This is the part of planning I love most as I can immerse myself in my travel destination and start looking for fabulous places to see and amazing things to do.
Try to draw up a day-to-day itinerary with some rough timings. Don’t worry, you don’t need to stick to it like a military operation but it does give you a good idea of how much you can reasonably fit in. In addition, it helps to ensure that you don’t miss out on anything that’s really important to you just because you run out of time.
At this stage, it’s a good idea to research the things that appeal to you most and then group other sights and activities with them by location. So for instance, if you’re planning a trip to Paris you’ll probably be keen to see the Eiffel Tower. Write it down, then find all the other sights near it and put them underneath. Allow a certain period of time to spend in that area. However, long you like. It can be a half-day, a whole day. Go to the Eiffel tower first, then work your way through your list of sights. That way, if you run out of time you’ve still seen your must-do attractions.
Step 10: Enjoy your trip
Once you’ve finished all that planning and you’ve booked your dream trip all you need to do now is sit back and wait for your departure date.
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