Plan the perfect travel – savvy trip!

I’ve been fortunate enough to do a fair amount of travelling over the past few years but I am always on the lookout for my next trip – who doesn’t need plenty of dreams and plans to look forward to and work towards?!  So where to start?

The first thing I do when thinking about going away is deciding when it is I want to go and what sort of trip it is that I want to go on.  Do I want to do a city break, do I want some sunshine, do I want some culture, do I want to go outside of Europe?  How long am I able to go for? How much am I looking to spend? Where is good to go to at that time of year?  I don’t have children so I am lucky in so much as I am fully flexible in when it is I can escape the doom and gloom of the Great British weather.

If you are lacking destination inspiration, head to a trusty search engine.  Typing in “Where is good to travel to in March” for example, will bring up thousands of websites that offer a month by month guide to whereabouts in the world is good in each month of the year – many of these websites factor in high and low tourist seasons, the weather, associated costs and prices etc and many also subsequently break them down into continents so they are a really handy way of getting a vast and varied list of holiday suggestions…  The hard part is then deciding where to go.

From there I make a short list of the places I fancy and then research the weather – a few years ago I saw a trip to Thailand advertised at a ridiculously cheap price and after seeing it would be an average of 34 degrees I booked it straight away.  A few months later after much anticipation and great excitement and 4 hot and humid days in Bangkok I flew down to Phuket – it was indeed baking hot but it was also their rainy season so it did nothing but rain for the entire time I was there!  A lesson learnt the hard way.  So when looking at the weather, as well as checking the temperature I would also look at what monsoon seasons there may be (a lot of websites consider the monsoon season to be the windy season and doesn’t necessarily relate to rain so it is worth checking this too), hurricane seasons, snow seasons, average sunshine hours etc so you can know what to expect and of course, what to pack.

It is always a good idea to research the place you’re going to so you have a list of places you want to go, restaurants you want to try or sites you would like to visit.  There is little point getting to your destination and not knowing what to do with yourself and spending half of your holiday sifting through leaflets trying to decide what to do!   Destination guides can be bought cheaply online on sites such as Amazon or eBay (go for the most recent version if you can).  Alternatively if you are tech savvy there are many travel apps you can download – the Trip Advisor app for example is great for city guides as it not only lists different categories (i.e. Restaurants, Attractions, Nightlife, Shopping, Tours and Tickets etc), it also has lots of suggested itineraries so you can glean some ideas, pick and choose what you fancy and it will help you get a bearing of distances between each place so you don’t spend so long trying to navigate your way to your next stop.

With regards to public transport I would say to give it a go and don’t be afraid to barter as you can get ripped off massively if you don’t! The first time I landed in Thailand for example we had been on a 16 hour journey via India and my boyfriend at the time just wanted to get to our hotel so he went straight up to a taxi booth within the airport and agreed to pay 1600 Baht for a taxi to take us to our hotel.  On the way back, it cost us 140.  Getting a Metro card in New York and taking the subway for example will save you loads of money in cab fare.  It is dependent on where you are and what you feel comfortable with, but taking the bus or a train, or hiring a push bike can be a great way to save a few pennies whilst away!

If you are going to a non English speaking country, it is always a nice and very much appreciated gesture to try and speak in their native tongue –a few key sentences will help you get by.  I have often found people are fiercely proud and patriotic of their country and are always far more willing to help you if you have made an effort to speak to them in their language and don’t just expect them to speak English.  From a security point of view, learning the word for “help” or “police” or “danger” for example will stand you in good stead if you are in the middle of nowhere surrounded by people who don’t speak or understand any English at all.

Hints and Tips:

  • Check the length of time left on your passport! Many countries require a minimum of 6 months’ validity, so make sure you have enough time left on it before travelling.
  • Sign up for travel deal websites such as travelzoo.com, travelbagasia.co.uk, wowchergo.co.uk – they often have flash sales and you can get some amazing deals by just keeping an eye on them.
  • Many holiday websites give you the option to book a holiday and pay a low deposit to secure it and will then allow you to chip away at the balance, usually needing the balance paid in full between 2-12 weeks before departure. southalltravel.co.uk www.onthebeach.co.uk, www.theinternettraveller.com  are some good examples.
  • Book your travel insurance as soon as you know you are going away so you have cover in place for trip cancellation – the rest of the benefits will kick in once you depart for your trip.
  • Shop around for the best currency deals – if you are going in branch, tell the cashier you have been offered a better rate by one of their competitors. Very often they will be able to better the rate for you as they won’t want to lose your business.
  • Buying your currency online is also an excellent way of securing the best rate, the only problem you may find is that you aren’t able to get the denominations you want.
  • Leave yourself plenty of time to purchase your currency – if you are going to a more obscure country many currency providers will have to order it in for you especially. Even if it is just a standard currency such as Euros or US Dollars, it is still a good idea to give yourself enough time, particularly if you are needing specific denominations – i.e. going to somewhere like Tanzania they like crisp one dollar bills and they are harder to come by so specify when ordering what it is you want.
  • Consider some form of travel money card or a credit card that doesn’t charge you to use overseas – it is often a lot safer than taking a whole load of cash with you.
  • The money cards basically act like your normal UK debit cards however they are loaded in your chosen currency so when you are away and you use them for purchasing you won’t incur bank charges for using them. Check for ATM withdrawal charges though!
  • There are some excellent credit cards that don’t charge commission for purchasing overseas and are great for emergencies or impulse buys!
  • Research the country you are travelling to, find out if you need visas, what their currency is, what the cultures and traditions are. I once had a trip to Vietnam booked and had read online that you can buy the visa at the airport – as it turns out, you can’t when travelling from Malaysia! I lost the whole trip, so it is always best to be thorough and have everything in place before you go.
  • Many airlines now charge high prices to take additional luggage so try to leave as much room in your suitcase as possible so you have space for any souvenirs or trinkets you may find whilst away, and you won’t have to jam things in and pay excess luggage. If you do have hold luggage included, you could put a smaller case (maybe your hand luggage) inside a case the next size up so you have two cases to come home with.
  • Take a little First Aid kit if you can, including plasters, antiseptic cream, paracetamol and cold/flu tablets – a lot of warmer countries have air conditioning which can give you a really sore throat and you don’t want to spend your hard earned holiday feeling poorly.
  • Buy a spare camera battery (cheaply online), and take both with you when you go.
  • If you have a smart phone, look at downloading an app such as Whatsapp or Viber – these (with Wifi access) let you message, send pictures and videos and make calls to other users at home free of charge and are a great way of staying in touch with loved ones and letting them know you have arrived safely etc without fear of arriving home to a massive phone bill.
  • If you have left over currency and think you might go back, save it until your next trip if you are able to – you will lose out big time selling it back to a Bureau de Change. Alternatively, for example, if you had $100 left over which cost you £70 to buy and you found out you would only get £55 for selling it back, split the difference and sell it to a friend or family who may need it for their upcoming trip, or you could sell it on eBay or Facebook at say £65 so both parties are benefitting.

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Image: Krabi Transportation courtesy of Mike Behnken on Flickr

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