Veteran travelers would say that by doing the first four steps that I have discussed you have started planning your trip already, well, I guess that is true. However, I don’t really agree with that because you only have a location, time and budget i.e., that leads to what type of trip you are doing. You still don’t have an itinerary or an agency or tour group you are going to use. In independent travel, you don’t have reservations or tickets purchased for you. So you basically have only been “spitballing” until now. This is when you do the actual heavy lifting. Get your phone out and warm up your computer and grab all your maps, and reference books on your destination(s). If you are like me, you probably have a shelf full of travel books and maps already. If you are missing a few of them…relax, that is what Amazon Prime is for. When you buy your maps try to buy the ones that are coated and water proof.
Nobody can deny that travel can be expensive. So you should consider protecting that investment from unforeseen circumstances. You can do this with traveler’s insurance. AAA provides travel insurance options as does the website http://www.travelers.com. These insurance policies are trip specific and cover things such as acts of God which interfere with your travel plans. Once the trip is over the policy coverage also ends. DAN provides year round diver-related insurance coverage for those adventurous spirits that like to go diving in their travels. While companies such as World Nomads and AIG Travel Guard also provide diving options for the intrepid traveler, however, the insurance coverage ends after the trip is over.
I am sure you are saying why do I need maps and books if I have a GPS outfitted cell phone? Well, my young “padawan”, if you have to ask this question, you truly are a newbie to travel. If you are staying in the US or highly populated areas in industrialized countries, you might be OK, but if your trip involve any third world countries your phone will become a camera only. You just won’t have service. This happened to us in Paris, we even bought a new chip, but it did not work. Two days into our trip we finally had cell phone access. When we traveled to the Philippines our wi-fi access was so slow that it took hours to open up even the most basic web browser. When we visited the Bisti Badlands in New Mexico, our GPS on our cell phone was totally useless. As a result, we never did find all of the sites we were looking for. Have I provided enough examples? Oh, by the way, your books and maps don’t need batteries and they still work even if they get wet. All you have to do is dry them off. So do yourself a favor and have backups to your phone. I estimate that we easily lost three days of travel time in the Philippines because I listened to my wife and did not bring my maps and books. You know what, my wife never complains about the books and maps that I bring with us. They have come in handy on more than one occasion. If you are going with a tour group, I will let you slide by on this one, but no extra credit points for you.
If you go on a tour group, decide what attractions you want to see and visit, there may be options or add-ons to the tour. If you have free days or time to check out other attractions, your travel books and maps will come in handy in finding them quickly and easily. If you are into photography, try to chose a travel group that specializes in photography. They will work a little harder to get you to locations at the best times to photograph them. They will also allot more time for you to take photos and may actually help you to find just that right spot. Remember, they work for tips. If you go through a travel agency that offers all inconclusive services, your travel planning won’t go much past writing a check or pulling out a debit/credit card. However, even if you opt to go this route, do yourself a favor and plan like you were doing it on your own. The more educated you become on your destination, the more fun you will have and the more respect you will get from the locals. Many of these people rely on tourist money, but they also appreciate it when a traveler takes the time to learn something about their country. Besides they are proud of where they live, just like you are.
When I plan a trip I allow myself one day after my last day of work to pack and double check everything, like having a neighbor water your plants, or keep an eye on your place, take your pets to a kennel or set up your house sitter. Remember the more complicated your travel plans and itinerary is the more stuff you have to pack. Do yourself a favor, double check everything you pack to make sure that you have everything you need. A missing cable can ruin a trip. Replacing missing or forgotten items is easy if you are in an industrial area but it may be impossible if you are in a third world country. I used to do a lot of diving on my trips. One time I forgot to pack my dive computer. Guess what 50 pounds of luggage became deadweight. I just brought it back to the airport and put it into a locker until we left. Then I had to rent all my stuff every time I went diving. Another time, I forgot to bring my charger for my camera batteries. Amazon Prime to the rescue. Even better after you checked everything twice, have your partner check through your stuff again, and you do the same thing for them. Go through your check list out loud with your partner as well.
I also allow myself one to two days to decompress from my long trips. Even though it is a vacation, you truly are not resting, you are having fun. Don’t mistake the two of them. You still need to rest before going back to work.
So when you are planning your itinerary and buying your tickets, allow for these extra days for packing and relaxing. If you follow my plan for travel, you will have a list of things you want to do and see on the trip, even better they will be graded on must-do/see and as nice but not do or die if you don’t get to them. If there is a chance that they may be booked up early, make the reservations in advance, the same goes with hotels and any other attraction that may be sold out. When you are planning out your itinerary make sure the places are opened on the days you have scheduled for them. This happened to us when we were in New Orleans. We had a certain day scheduled to eat our breakfast at the world famous Brennan’s. When we went there they were closed, and we were leaving before they re-opened. The bad thing is that had we known, we could have went the day before. However, “every cloud has a silver lining,” and we got to enjoy an absolutely fabulous breakfast at the Court of Two Sisters located close by.
When you are reserving your hotels make sure that they are as close by to the things you want to see as possible. Many hotels offer lower prices and this is for a reason, they are usually quite a bit farther away, and the money you spent in transportation may come to more than amount saved with the cheaper hotel. Some cities that have lots of attractions like Rome and Paris, may offer ticket books that offer discounts on their attractions. There is also discounts for transportation. If you are traveling in Europe, do yourself a favor and watch the respective show by Rick Steves for your vacation destination. He also has a show for vacation planning that is quite good.
When you travel you should try to blend in as much as possible. So go to the internet and check on what types of clothes they wear. I don’t expect you to wear lederhosen or knee-length leather breeches, but at least get a feel what will not stand out too much. Once you have an idea of what you will need to wear to be comfortable, pull out all of your clothing that you think might work. That includes comfortable shoes. Plan on doing a lot of walking no matter where you are going. Remember, comfort is more important than style. You may ask why I am talking about this stuff in the planning chapter? Well, if you wait to the last minute to go through your clothes you may find out that you don’t have the appropriate clothes. If you do it in the early stages, you will have time to buy the appropriate items and you will also have the budget for them. Try to buy clothing that will be usable for other trips and life at home as well.
If you are planning a cold weather trip, make sure that you have the appropriate clothing. I live in Las Vegas and I was planning a trip to see the northern lights in Alaska in January. I thought I was buying the appropriate clothing, I was wrong. Even though I was wearing two hats and two pairs of gloves, and two jackets, I froze my ass off. I had to buy new gloves, jacket and hat in Alaska and so did my wife. The lesson learned here is buy the appropriate clothing from the appropriate location. If you want sushi, don’t buy it at a gas station convenience store.
When we went to Paris, I knew that they had a high amount of pick pocketing and theft. So we went to my favorite anti-theft web site https://pacsafe.com and purchased sling packs, small travel camera backpacks and ant-theft camera straps. Since my spouse and I are avid photographers, we have lots of camera gear. However, we went out of our way and brought our smallest and least obvious gear which was our “mirrorless” cameras. They look just like point-and-shoot cameras but perform as full sized DSLRs. Remember, try to blend in. Now a lot of people just have cell phones, however, this doesn’t guarantee that you won’t be robbed anyway. My niece had her cell phone stolen in Paris. Four guys tried to rob me in a subway in Paris but thanks to my sling pack, they were unsuccessful in getting anything. Do not keep anything in your pockets, do not keep anything where you can’t see it. My sling pack was always in front of me. You may ask what the backpacks were for, and that was for the airports as a carry on.
One item I consider essential for all of your travels is a small portable luggage scale. It is easier to adjust your luggage in your hotel rather than, in line at the airport. Always allow yourself a couple of pounds extra, their scales may be off some. Bring the scale even if you have carry on only, because a lot of airlines weigh that luggage as well. So now that you have all of the items purchased that you will need, you can put them to the side for now. They will come to play for packing day. Everything you buy for the trip, just keep it all together. If you think about it, do it, don’t procrastinate. You might also forget. If this is a big trip, you are going to spend thousands of dollars on it, so be thorough.
When you are planning your itinerary, try not to do more than one big thing a day, allow down time and time to simply enjoy yourself, you may find that these times bring the most of enjoyment. That is what happens to us on a lot of occasions, we tend to enjoy the spontaneous activities the most. Make sure that your budget has room for some spontaneity. If you find something you can’t do without, buy it and ship it home. If I have the room in my luggage I bring a small duffel bag that I can pack things that I bought on the trip.
When you make reservations for your plane, hotel and possible car rental go through one of the travel sites. I found a nice internet site called travelfreak.com for a listing of travel booking sites.
1. Booking.com: Best to Find Cheap Hotels
2. Hotels.com: Best Hotel Rewards Program
3. Vrbo: Best Site for Vacation Rentals
4. Hostelworld: Best Booking Site for Hostels
5. Agoda: Best Booking Site for Hotels in Asia
6. Couchsurfing: Best for a Free Place to Crash
13. G Adventures
14. Intrepid Travel
When you are planning out your budget for each day double what you think you will possibly spend. Even if the main meal is included in the package, allow for it in your budget anyways. You may find that you absolutely hate where they are taking you. If you have not allowed for this added expense, you are basically out of luck and are stuck eating their food. Being flexible can be costly, but what price do you put on the memories of a lifetime. Besides everything costs more than you think it should. I have taken too many trips on a shoestring budget, it can really suck. Do yourself a favor and take a few less trips and save for the nice trips. Also don’t feel like you have to blow your entire budget on this one trip. If you have money left over, you’re already getting ready for your next trip. One more thing as your planning your trip out, don’t make it the end all be all trip. If you put too much pressure on this trip, you will be let down and disappointed. Nothing can live up to those expectations.
I came across this really good site, practicalwanderlust.com, “How to Plan a Trip: The Ultimate Practical Travel Planning Guide.” BY LIA GARCIA. It is too massive for me to copy , so I have just listed it. Give her a visit, she deserves the view.