So. You want to go on vacation. The first thing you’re going to want to do is narrow down where you want to go. Are you traveling internationally? Do you have a passport? If not, you’ll want to apply for one as quickly as possible since it can take several weeks for the application to be processed and for it to come via snail mail. Also, be prepared for a photo so horrible that it’ll make your driver’s license look like a glamour shot. Mine makes me look a few decades older and several pounds heavier and I thought for certain I’d have to verify that I’m “Me” when I went through security…that didn’t happen so it’s seriously done a number on my ego.
Once you decide where you want to go, decide what you want to do. When I select an area to travel to I search and find out what temperatures to expect, typical weather patterns, Major Tourist Attractions, and less popular/more local sights or events. Doing this before booking hotels or flights can impact which airport you want to fly in/out of, when you want to travel, and also where you want to stay. I recommend doing a few weeks of research on your selected area before making any final decisions.
|Overlooking the Arch of Constantine and Colosseum. Rome, Italy (Nov 2016)|
So, how do I research an area? I start on Pinterest. As many of you know, Pinterest has a lot of wonderfully crafty things that usually convince me to attempt and succeed at many, many Pinterest Fails. But it also has a lot of travel ideas and wanderlust inspired boards. You’ll find a lot of blogs pinned for firsthand accounts of travels. From there, I’ll move to the official country website and eventually to the official city website. And ya’ll. TripAdvisor. Get to know it. Use it. Love it. Have your travel partner do the same. Then compare notes, argue over whose ideas are better, research more, compare again, argue a bit more, maybe hold a competition and the victor chooses a non-negotiable tourist spot, compare and compromise a little more until you've finally got a plan. My husband and I have breakfast dates at Waffle House for these planning sessions. The kids are at school and we aren't overwhelmed with other things.....yet.
Now that you know what you want to do start researching flights. Don’t be afraid to travel a little further than your closest airport. For instance, the closest airport to me is JAX international but if I travel a few extra hours to fly out of MIAinternational I can usually find roundtrip flights for an average of $500 cheaper per ticket. Taking "non namebrand" airlines can save a lot, too. We flew Scandanavian Airlines (sometimes listed as Norweigen Air) and saved almost a thousand dollars per ticket...on top of the $500 we already saved by flying from Miami.
|SAS Flight Leaving MIA, Nov 2016|
Doing the math, it’s absolutely worth the savings to spend a little more on gas and tolls! The same rule applies to which airport you fly into. Don’t be afraid to explore a little bit. During your research you might notice layovers. Unless you’re on a very tight schedule, layovers can be a blast! Think of it as multiple vacations in one. During a recent trip to Italy I had a seven hour layover in Copenhagen and then a nine hour layover is Oslo. You can leave the airport and explore the city for a few hours. Just call an Uber and be on your way! We found the Copenhagen airport had luggage locker rentals for about $10 for a day so we didn’t have to worry about dragging it around with us.
The further out you book your flight the cheaper it’ll be. That being said, prices spike around Christmas because more people are traveling and more people are giving flights as gifts. So of course airlines will capitalize on that. Start pricing flights and making plans and then sign up for price-watch sites or use the Scratchpad on Expedia – which is my preferred booking site. Once you get a feel for price patterns you can book with more confidence that you’re getting the best deal possible, plus you can play around with those layover options a little more. If you’re staying in the same city that you fly in to, you can book a bundle deal with Expedia. For certain options you get your whole hotel stay for free!! FOR FREE! Did I mention it’s free? And they’re usually three or four star hotels within the tourist hub.
Once you have your flight and hotel planned and purchased, it’s time to think about how you’re going to get around the city. Is it close enough that you can walk where you want to go? Do you want to Uber or take a bus? Maybe a train is your best option. These are things you’re going to want to plan in advance for unless you want to spend your vacation wondering around hunting for transportation. For our stay in Rome we had a room at FortySeven Hotel which was within walking distance to all the major tourist attractions. But we still had to Uber to and from the airport and also to the train station for our trip to Venice. Making these plans in advance (we didn’t call the Uber until I was done primping of course) saved us a lot of frustration and worry. If you want a truly carefree vacation, I really recommend making these preparations. Also buying your train tickets in advance not only means not having to buy them last minute but it also guarantees that you get a seat – or a window seat in my case. I like to ogle the country side. Call me picky, but I’ve got standards.
So now you’ve got your travel plans and accommodations set. But what do you pack!? During my next post I’ll take you through how I packed for an eight day Italy trip and fit it all in a carry-on.