You saved for this trip, spent time planning and eventually embarking on your dream vacation. Now that it’s over, what do you have in return for your efforts and money spent? Souvenirs and photos are reminders about the trip, but the best measure of the value of your vacation is the memories that stay with you after the trip is done! The longer those memories linger, the greater the value associated with the trip.
If the memories were positive you are ahead of the game. If there were some mishaps or some of it was less that expected, you rue the day you took that plunge. You vow to never repeat those mistakes again.
So how can you get the best from your next trip? Here are some tips to help you get the best from your vacation spending.
Your Next Trip
Most people I speak to these days have intentions to travel outside their home base. Their reasons for taking a trip are varied. Some want to visit family, others want to get away and relax, still others want to explore and seek new adventures or join with friends at an exotic venue celebrating a wedding or anniversary. Some want to go solo. Others want to travel with friends or family or go on a cruise.
Generally most of people with travel intentions will have a specific destination in mind as well as a time frame that suits their convenience.
Unless you are super-impulsive and willing to take a chance on a last-minute deal, whatever the reason for the trip, there is an element of planning involved. This is usually a key part of determining whether your trip turns out to be a success or a disappointment
To get the best value from your next vacation, let’s look at what’s involved before you hop on that flight, train or bus.
The Inns and Outs of Trip Planning
Assuming this is an out-of-town trip and you want to ensure that there are no surprises lurking along the way, whether you are going solo or with others, some minimal pre-planning needs to be done. Here are some things you would want to arrange in advance :
- The cheapest flight
- Reliable local transportation, getting to your hotel and back to the airport
- The best accommodation for your budget
- Meals : if they are included with the accommodation, that’s great
- You have to spend extra: maybe for lunch and/or dinner, drinks and other delights
- Local activities
- Shopping, souvenirs, Tips
- Health and safety precautions
- Contingencies : what if something goes wrong
- Contacts, who will take care of the pets, mail and other home matters?
So how do smart travelers avoid the vacation traps? Let’s look at what others who claim to have nailed it do.
Popular Ways to Plan a Trip
There is an immense body of useful information available online. Tech savvy users check reviews, travel blogs and OTAs(Online Travel Agents) to find the best being offered. Not all of the information can be trusted these days. Here are some things to keep in mind when using these online travel resources.
You do a Google search for the destination you have in mind and Trip Advisor is the first that pops up on your screen. Lots of reviews from people who say they were there. However, beware of fake reviews. These have been growing in proportion recently as some providers have confessed to paying people to post false review. These are mostly anonymous and you have no way to verify the review except read between the lines. A simple guide is to dismiss any reviews that appear too rosy. Look for excessive superlative phrases like ‘Everything was great… wonderful… fantastic and such like terms’.
Other properties like hotels, attractions and others host reviews by visitors on their own websites. These property owners usually have access to update reviews and also hide negative reviews. Sites that allow display of negative reviews, offer reasonable explanation and corrective measures, receive a higher level of trust than ones that don’t.
Evaluate all reviews critically and the ones that seem overly lavish with accolades, trust them with a grain of salt!
Travel blogs have grown in popularity with the successful ones attracting thousands of followers. The popularity has evolved primarily on the basis of trust of the blogger by her followers. They travel to the destinations, post their assessments in their blogs with images that share the experience with others. The list of popular travel bloggers continues to grow as they expand their base to include others with comments, guest posts and other social sharing means.
Be sure to check some of these blog sites as you prepare for your next trip. They are filled not only with useful first-hand commentaries but out-of-the-ordinary things that may catch your interest, things that appeal to you that could move your trip from GREAT to EXCEPTIONAL!
Use A Travel Agent
If you are too busy to go through the rigorous process of putting the trip plan together, your next best option is a travel agent. Travelers who have suffered through the trauma of flight cancellations, accidents or other emergencies while abroad know the value of a travel agent only too well. They are there to help you with the many things that could go wrong. That’s why we see many travelers are returning to the travel agents for booking their next trip.
For a small fee, travel agents will research the best deals for your flight, accommodation and local activities for your chosen destination and trip dates. Most importantly, they will be there to help if something dreadful happens while on your trip.
There is a growing list of travel agents who work from home and offer excellent and personalized trip planning services. Check out the Travel Agent Next Door to find an agent near you.
All-Inclusive versus Individual Bookings
All inclusive offer the comfort of getting everything you may need in your vacation package. It usually includes flight, accommodation and meals. Some go further and include a tour in their package. Generally it’s a one-size-fits -all deal with restrictions or no flexibility. The main advantage of all-inclusive packages is in the price which can generally be much less than booking the flight, accommodation and meals separately. Also selecting an all-inclusive saves the hassle of planning as the flight, hotel and meals are pre-selected for you.
Researching and finding the best flight, hotel, meals and local activities will give you more flexibility but at a price. Frequent travelers get rewards from their favorite hotels that they can use to offset the price of future stays. Having your personal data in their files, they inform you of deals that may interest you. However, there is a serious downside to booking with major hotels as the major chain Mariott Hotels database was hacked recently and some five hundred million customers data stolen.
Recently, we have also seen the data of eight hundred thousand customers who used online airline bookings compromised.
In the light of this, we recommend that if you are traveling to an out-of-town or overseas destination, check the independent local hotels that may be just as good and offer better prices than the major brand hotels. Your data may be safer with them!
One key point to note regarding value. Enjoyment of a trip seldom comes from the flight. No one enjoys the hassles of waiting in airports, sitting for long periods in a confined airplane seat and lugging baggage in and out. The hotel may offer more enjoyment because of the comfort, getting pampered and feeling that you experience being away from home. The best value usually comes from the local experiences and the photos from the trip that you take back with you to enjoy and share with others!
Planning Local Activities
Whether your trip is for relaxation, adventure, leisure or a celebration with friends and family, what you see and do while there, will undoubtedly add much to your enjoyment.
Most destinations offer their special and often unique attractions. If you are a first-time visitor, the touristy activities could be appropriate. If you have special interests, planning your visits in advance is highly recommended. DON’T WAIT UNTIL YOU ARRIVE TO ASK THE FRONT DESK OR CONCIERGE! They are not trained or knowledgeable as tour guides and most of the time, will point you to things available in brochures.
A colleague of mine was visiting Port Elizabeth in South Africa with his wife. They hired a local guide, his wife wanted to do the shore excursion which everyone else seem to be excited about. My friend has a passion for antique cars. He mentioned that in conversation with the guide. The next day he got hooked up with a local dealer of exotic antique cars. That made his trip!
Lesson learned? The best way to find the things that most excite you is to plan your activities in advance with the help of a local guide.
Other Things to Consider
Here is a summary of some other important considerations when planning your next trip :
- Credit cards, bank charges and and currency exchange fees. Here is a tip from one of our seasoned travelers that can save you much : He found that the best bank to use for traveling is N26. It’s a German online bank but it’s also available to Americans. It’s entirely free and there are no fees for transactions or withdrawals that can be in any currency anywhere in the world.
- Luggage, airline charges, carry on limitations
- Local transport efficiencies, ride sharing and local travel times
- Car rentals and local navigation challenges, thefts, insurance coverage
- Local safety precautions, do’s and dont’s
- Value and benefits of a hiring a local guide
- Latest travel gadgets that can save hassles and time
- Local restaurants : cleanliness, where to eat, local dishes
- Clothing, appropriate, weather considerations
Cheaper vs Better
No doubt, you can discover bargains for flights, hotels or all-inclusive deals. However, cheaper is not always better.
Cheap flights usually come with multiple stop-offs, transfers and long wait times for connecting flights. Cheaper accommodation can result in sub-standard rooms, poor sanitation, dysfunctional air conditioning, faulty plumbing and such things that could ruin your enjoyment.
Our advice is : Don’t spend hours or days trying to save money on cheaper flights, accommodation or tours. After spending on these items, ask yourself : ‘Are you willing to risk ruining your enjoyment of your vacation for the sake of saving a few dollars?’
Remember that the value of your vacation is in the memories that linger after the trip is done. The longer and more pleasant those memories, the better the value of your vacation spending. I never heard anyone say : ‘I loved the flight!’ or ‘The hotel really made my vacation most enjoyable’. Enjoyment mostly comes from what you see and do after you arrive at your destination.
Unless you are willing to endure the pain that ‘cheap’ could bring, be prepared to spend a bit more and get the value you deserve for that hard-earned vacation spending.
New Emerging Alternatives
Travel will become more affordable over the next few years as the price of fuel continues to drop. Travelers want to see more of the world. Emerging destinations like Ethopia, Vietnam, Cambodia, Panama, Columbia, Brazil, Peru to name a few, are attracting travelers with exotic offers, cheaper plans and unique experiences. Airlines are opening new routes to many of these places. Local airline services are seeing increased bookings.
New ways of packaging vacations are also starting to appear. The Wyzgo website for instance, allows travelers to build their own tour packages for more than four hundred destinations. A personal local guide helps plan the trip and you get to set your own budget!
Air B&B is using their leverage with property owners to extend their market into vacation packages. Trip Advisor and Google are extending their offerings into local guides and tour packages.
Personalized tour packages are growing in popularity as interests in specialty areas like pilgrimage tours, food tours, unique experiences and such like are becoming more readily available.
In summary, here are some key things to keep in mind as you plan your next trip :
- plan ahead to minimize surprises
- hook up with a guide to help with your plan
- read online reviews with a critical eye
- check popular travel blogs for better ideas
- keep safety uttermost in mind especially in overseas destinations
- check the restrictions before booking
- arrange for home support in case of emergencies
- prepare to try newer offerings besides the popular Expedia, Bookings and Trip Advisor
- check local accommodation especially independent ones
- prepare to spend a bit more to get the best value
- images can be deceiving, check the details
- last but not least : protect your financial exposure with a new credit card