Planning a Trip

By 7th December 2016Tips

If you are the sort of person who can spontaneously book a trip one day, fly out the next and just work stuff out as you go, this blog will tell you nothing.  If you are like me and can enjoy the moment so long as it has some structure around it – read on…..

I love trying new things out.  I love getting into things and exploring.  But to really enjoy those things I need some sort of structure wrapped around it – how do we get there? what do I need with me? what should I expect? where will we sleep? Depending on the needs of the kids and the complexity or newness of the trip, I might ask more questions.

Getting answers to those questions gives me the peace of mind and that secure feeling so I can really enjoy all the good bits.  Without the answers, there is a part of my brain that whirrs away, distracts me.

Here are some tips to help you get those answers –

  1.  Who is going?  Just you, the two of you, the family, more?  What do you like to do?  What do you want from a holiday?  If you are all really diverse, perhaps a place with plenty to do, somewhere where you don’t need to rely on each other for transport would be a good option.  What will the kids enjoy?  Happy kids, happy life right?  Having specific kid friendly activities or events keeps them interested, but remember – too much of a good thing…..  Also, its your holiday too.  If you are refreshed and happy, you’ll have better quality time with your kids, and in turn, they will be happier.  Even if you are ’embarrassing Dad’.
  2. Where can you go?  This is a crucial question.  It could dictate budget – before, during and after your trip.  It could allow you a sense of adventure or get you back to a place of familiarity.  Be careful that you don’t live out someone else’s view of a holiday, what an advert might portray or how good it’ll look on your social media pages.

    Search your feelings…..(in my best Darth Vader voice).  What is your perfect day on a holiday?  Seeing something new, wandering about a bit, relaxing somewhere, having a new experience?  Do you like history, architecture, culture, activities?  Don’t know?  Well, think about this.  If you had the day tomorrow to do whatever you wanted, right here where you live what would you do?  Not home improvements or that little job thingy you’ve been thinking about – something for you?  Hold that thought.  Now let’s assume you had the day after that off, what would you want to do that day – the same as Day 1 or something different?  Think about that, and repeat for a few days.  Likelihood is, you won’t want to be doing the same thing on day 4 as you do on day 1.

    Now translate that into a holiday.  What would that look like?  Here is an example.  If I had the day off tomorrow, I’d probably stay in on the sofa and watch TV.  Probably go out for a meal or a coffee and cake.  Day 2 though, I might go into the City and do some shopping – I might even take in a museum or wander about further a field.  Day 3 I’d like to go to the beach or for a walk in the country, something outside in the air.

    For me, translating that into a holiday would be – somewhere scenic, with access to day trips, learning about the history or taking pictures of buildings.  Enjoying a meal out each day and chilling out.  Now check out Tripadvisor for the ‘Best of’ section.  Ask friends and family about their trips.  Get some guide books and start reading up about places.  Keep your virtual holiday in your head and compare that against what you are reading/hearing.
  3. Costs.  Obviously costs are a factor.  But the reason they are not top of this list is that most people are willing to flex the budget in their heads based on the added value that a few extra pounds is going to bring.  You set a budget of £100 for an overnight stay, so you filter all websites to the under £100 setting.  You make your choice.  You are oblivious to the possibility that for £101 you could have got a better star rated hotel room, got a meal included, got closer to the city centre, had a wonderful view from the balcony…and so on.  Obviously, that rarely works out for £1 extra, but you get the idea.  Next time, set a budget, search for it.  Then search around it.  What could you get for 10% more?  Are you getting any less for 10% less.  Let the budget guide you, not restrict you.
  4. Consider other options.  Flights, hotels and transfers all in one package.  Flights and accommodation separately.  Multi centre trips.  Fly drives.  Road trips.  Train journeys.  Camping.  People all over the world are doing these things every day.  They might be new to you, make you nervous.  But you could do them.  When I present my ideas to the family, I come up with a few sensible options and then a ‘wild card’.  I can’t ever remember us agreeing to the wild card, but if often triggers the conversation “Ok, not there, but what’s a bit closer?” or “What if we ….”
  5. Getting there.
    Planes.  I’m no expert on getting cheap flights.  But I have learned that prices can fluctuate massively.  There are websites that help you see the average prices for flights per month.  There are tons of articles about booking early, booking late etc.  My advice, when you see a bargain buy it.  Don’t wait.  If there are no bargains, pay a price that you feel comfortable with.  Don’t obsess after the purchase and disappoint yourself if the price drops.  Just be content that the price you paid was reasonable and be happy with that.

    Trains.  I travel on trains a lot for work.  Like flights, prices go up an down ridiculously.  But more often than not, they mainly go up.  Booking early is an almost guaranteed way to get the best value.  Don’t forget to research travel cards – often countries do deals for families, seniors, disabled travellers.  You have to pay to get that particular travel card, but it might work out cheaper overall when you apply the discount to your trip.

    Automobiles.  (I’m going with Movie references in this blog).  For a detailed review of travelling by car read this How To article.  While travelling by car is more trashy and takes more planning, it can have big advantages.  Don’t rule it out straight away.
  6. What to do when you are there.  Do not underestimate this section.  No I don’t mean plan out every minute of every day.  But get a feel for what is on offer and how long it would take you to do it – an hour, half a day, the full day.  Make a note of these things.  I was talking to a work colleague about a trip to New York.  He wanted to write down all the things he wanted to do, work out where they were in relation to one another and then group them into days.  Very sensible.  Did he do them all, nope.  Did he do each day when he had planned, nope.  But it meant that when he was away most of the hard work was done.  He had a framework to explore.  Also, getting a feel for what you might do helps significantly work out your budget.  If you know how much it is to do stuff in advance you can factor those costs in.  You might decide to splash out on the day, or avoid an attraction.  But at least you know.
  7. Food and Drink.  This is another factor in blowing the budget.  Our single greatest expense can be on food.  Also, this can feel like the really extravagant part of a trip.  I mean, who eats out every meal every day in normal life.  Are you going to go all inclusive, part board or self catering.  Are you planning on cooking and eating meals in the house or out.  It might sound great to say “Yeah, we’ll cook a few meals in”.  Have you thought that through and are you prepared for that.  Cooking a meal after a long day out is not a great idea.  Co-ordinate meals with more relaxing days.  Also, I hate to spend good money on bad food.  I make a list of good places before I go. Sometimes we search them out, other times I just keep them in mind in case we see them.  Interestingly, in some countries, we’ve found the food in tourist areas to actually be cheaper than off the beaten track.  It can pay to look about before hand, nobody wants to compare restaurant after restaurant when they are tired and hungry.
  8. Finally, make a list.  Everybody loves lists.  They make you feel organised and show your friends you mean business!  Write down ideas and thoughts.  Places you’ve read about or heard about that seem interesting.  Take pictures on your phone of attractions in magazines and books.   Over time turn your list into an itinerary.  Take it with you on your trip.  I like to turn my itinerary into a diary when I am there.   That’s to blame for this blog!

Not of these suggestions are rocket science.  But they have helped us to have holidays that we have really, really enjoyed.  And do so, roughly on budget.  What do you find that works?  Any suggestions?

Whatever your choice – enjoy!

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