Travel resources online, offline, in person and in print
Here are five key things to do:
- Start planning and saving early.
- Find a good travel agent.
- Read up.
- Talk to people.
- Surf the Internet (wisely).
1.) Start planning and saving early
Most of us have a long list of places we’d love to see someday. But where should you start? With some basic questions: What do you want to do? How much time do you have? How much money do you have? How much challenge do you want to have on your vacation? Or, how easy do you want it to be? Do you want to lie on a beach and watch the waves or vanish for a month in Mexico on a hillside pueblo with just a rucksack of essentials? Do you have a high or low tolerance for risk taking? Whatever your answer to these questions, the best way to make your trip happen is to begin planning as soon as you can and, whenever possible, to start saving money well in advance. If you’re planning to travel internationally, make sure you apply for a passport/visa as soon as you can — preferably at least three months in advance. Once you’ve applied, passports or visas can easily take six to eight weeks to receive in the mail. You can have the process expedited, but it’ll cost you (more on this later).
2.) Find a good travel agent
Nothing beats a good travel agent. Some people believe the Internet has replaced the need for them. Not me. I may use the Internet to gather information and comparison shop air fares, but I’m still a believer in working with a travel agent. A good travel agent can save you plenty of time and money. Were they all created equal? Of course not, But the good ones will listen, ask questions and consistently come up with creative solutions to your particular travel needs without pressuring you to make a decision. So how do you find a good one? Comparison testing, shoppers. Here’s an easy method: Call two separate travel agents at random, present them both with the same ticketing request, and see which one of them comes up with the best solution. The one that does, makes the cut. Depending on the travel agency, it may not cost you anything to have an agent check ticket prices and itinerary options for you. And a good travel agent will offer to call you back with the information if you don’t have time to hold. Give them the coordinates and see what vector they deliver. But bear in mind that the agent who comes up with the cheapest ticket isn’t necessarily the best travel agent.
Ask yourself these questions (planning a vacation checklist)
- When you’re deciding what you want to do and where you want to go, ask yourself these questions.
- What type of travel do you like? Do you want to drive, fly, take the train or combine methods of transportation?
- What type and level of activity do you enjoy?
- Do you want to travel alone or with someone? Do you want to share a room? If so, smoking or nonsmoking?
- Does the person you’re traveling with have similar likes and dislikes?
- Do you want to travel with a tour or group?
- How much do you want to accomplish on your vacation?
- Do you want to relax or see and do as much as possible?
- What type of traveler are you? Do you usually stay in moderately priced hotels or luxury accommodations?
- What would you like to splurge on? What are you willing to economize on?
- Do you prefer elevators where you’re staying? Are you willing to walk up a few flights of stairs with your bags?
- What activities do you enjoy on a daily basis? Does your destination offer them?
3.) Read up
Reading is a key resource for travelers, and you don’t have to spend a fortune to do it. Just find a bookstore with a travel section or better yet, a good travel blog. Checkout different guides provided there, Give half an hour in at the maps of the countries and cities that interest you.
Pick up a copy of the Sunday paper and read the travel section. Bookstores are great for firing up the traveler’s imagination. They can help you with the process of elimination when you’re not sure where you want to go. And they can help you find the right guidebook, map or phrase book for your trip once you’ve chosen your destination. Best tip for making a trip happen is buy a book on the destination. For some reason, once you buy a book, you feel like you have to go. It can be very motivational. If you think you might want to go some-where in particular (such as Barcelona) or only have a general destination in mind (say, Spain), buy a book and leave it out in plain sight. It sits on your table, you keep looking at the beautiful cover, and it gets you thinking, “Gotta go, gotta go, gotta go.” So go. Go through the book with a highlighter or Post notes, write on the pages, read what interests you and skip what doesn’t. Then start planning where you’ll go, how long you’ll stay and whom you want to travel with (or not, solo travelers). A book can get you motivated. It’s a reality. You read it, look at the pictures, keep it around the house or leave it on the nightstand and read a chapter every night before you go to sleep. Once you begin to get excited about a destination; you can start making your trip a reality. If you’re tempted to buy out the bookstore and you’re worried about blowing your travel budget, go to the public library first. Public libraries are great for helping travelers sort through travel books before they buy.
4.) Talk to people
I’m a people person. I enjoy talking to people. I like getting some-one’s honest opinion about Chicago or Istanbul or Sydney. If you’re trying to figure out where to go, ask people who travel: friends, family members, your co-workers. Where did they have a great time? Some friends of mine just got back from Maine. They were very excited about the lobster and the wild beauty of Acadia. It made me want to go there. People love talking about their travels, and firsthand information can be very helpful. Ask your friends questions. What’s their favorite bed-and-breakfast and why? People who know us often know what we like and what we’re interested in. When in doubt, ask them to clarify. When you’re listening to people’s input, be sure you understand what they’re saying. Do they like staying in a Motel 6 or at the Four Seasons? Firsthand information also can be a great resource when you’re in transit.
5.) Surf the Internet (wisely)
Love it or hate it, most of us use the Internet to one degree or another in the course of our lives. When it’s good, it’s very good. When it’s bad, it can misinform or waste valuable time. But the Internet is an incredible resource for travelers. Whether you’re surfing from your personal computer at home so you can print a passport application or logging on in Rome at the combination Laundromat/cybercafe to check your e-mail while your socks dry, the Internet has plenty to offer. My advice to the cyberphobic traveler is this: Relax. Don’t be intimidated if you don’t have much experience using the Internet. It’s not that hard to get the hang of it. You don’t have to buy anything or enter your credit card number to find lots of good travel sites and begin pointing and clicking your way through the topics that interest you. There are entire travel blogs dedicated to the subject of the Internet. This isn’t only one of them, so feel free to keep reading more articles. But throughout this blog, I’ll steer you to sites that I think are particularly helpful when they’re relevant to the topics being discussed in a categories. One of the Internet’s great blessings to the traveler is the ability it gives you to instantly check information, such as the latest State Department reports and travel advisories for any country in the world. If you tried to put all of that information into a blog post it would become a complete package of knowledge. There are, however, some things to keep in mind about the Internet. Current information is essential to the traveler, and there’s no shortage of it online. But what do you really need to know? What can you afford to ignore? And what’s true? The Internet can be very useful, informative and fun for trip planning and do-it-yourself bookings. For many, it’s an essential resource for last-minute travel arrangements. But check your facts. Don’t assume anything is gospel truth just because you see it in print online.
Whatever you decide, start planning as soon as you can. And, once again, if your plans include overseas or international travel, be sure you’ve got a current passport before you buy that $400 bargain fare to London. Departure day? This Friday.
Oops. Non-refundable ticket.
Dream big, but be realistic about the kind of traveler you are.
If you haven’t traveled extensively, don’t stress yourself out at the starting gate. Don’t jump into something that’s really difficult. If you’ve never left the country, it’s probably not a great idea to begin with a culture that’s completely alien to you or go somewhere where you don’t speak the language and nobody speaks your language. If you’re not an experienced traveler, try a weekend of car camping or a trip to the shore before canoeing your way into the Amazon rainforest. It’s easier to pack a car than a suitcase, which has space limitations. If you have a real problem with packing, start with a weekend away before you jump right into a five-day walking trek of the Inca Trail and Machu Picchu high in the Peruvian Andes.
Before you go, how to plan a vacation trip in advance
- Do your homework when you think of a destination. Find out as much as you can about the area, places of interest and local customs. Study the brochures of the travel company you’re interested in and write down any questions you might have so you don’t forget to ask.
- Form a lasting relationship with a travel agent.
- Make your plans six to eight months in advance to get the best prices and availability.
- Pay attention to the small details now — seat assignments, special meal requests, frequent flyer numbers, seating for cruises and other details.
- Be aware of the entry requirements for the country you’re visiting. Passports should be valid for six months past your return date to the States. Find out now about visa requirements. Your travel agent should provide this information and assistance in having visa’s processed.
- Check with your physician or local health department and ask about health precautions or vaccinations that may be required or suggested for your trip.
PLANNING FAMILY TRIPS IDEAS
There are certain great democratic principles that can be applied to all kinds of group travel, whether you’re traveling with a college friend, spouse, children, grandchildren or grandparents. We’ll talk about those principles as well as ways families can travel together without going broke or driving each other crazy in the process.
Pacing your trip, pacing your day
Pace your vacation days wisely. If you’re traveling with children or seniors, consider how much stamina they have. For that matter, consider how much stamina you have. It’s better to plan a few key activities that everyone will enjoy than to exhaust the whole group by trying to do too much. That goes for in-transit days, too. If you spend 14 hours flying to New Zealand through seven time zones, don’t expect to take in a long sightseeing tour right off the plane. You might need a nap first. Then again, a walk might be just the thing to shake off the jet lag (before you sleep for 12 hours straight without moving once). Whatever your pace, whatever your preference, know before you go and plan your days accordingly. If you pace yourself are realistic about what you can do and remain flexible, you’ll be a lot happier. Most travelers find that they build up stamina as a trip goes along. You get excited, and you get into the swing of things. But it can take a few days to shake off home, work and jet lag, to get used to a new territory, new people and different food. Everything in your system needs time to adjust. Let it don’t worry; you’ll still have plenty of time to enjoy your vacation. And so what if you don’t get to every last thing on your itinerary? Your trip won’t be a failure because you spend the afternoon walking through the farmer’s market eating fresh olives and feta cheese instead of parasailing on the beach. The key is not to stress yourself unnecessarily with unreasonable expectations about what you can or must do.
Consider these opinions about the Internet
- Try to keep in mind at least some of the following as you point and click your way across the globe. Here are five opinions about the Internet for the traveler to consider:
- It shouldn’t be your only resource for travel planning. Variety is not only the spice of life, it’s a smart way to approach travel information resources. Don’t just be a “mouse potato” surfing the Internet. Talk to people, read and watch travel documentaries and use your imagination.
- It’s not always faster or cheaper. For example: These days, if you have a dial-up connection instead of a high-speed direct connection, the Internet isn’t necessarily faster than being your own personal browser in a good travel book-store or just talking with someone. (And high-speed, direct connections to the Internet aren’t free — or even cheap, depending on your household budget.)
- Many websites are trying to sell you something. It’s true of course, but …
- That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Hey, I’ve found some very handy travel gizmos while surfing travel sites. You can find a lot of very useful information from sites geared toward turning a profit. But, as with all modes of shopping anywhere, the golden rule is always let the buyer beware. Just use your good judgment. The vast majority of consumers still prefer to use the Internet for research rather than for making purchases.
- You don’t have to own a computer to make good use of one. Many public libraries offer free or inexpensive online access, and cybercafés can be a convenient, affordable alternative to buying a computer or schlepping one around the world.
Don’t bite off more than you can chew
Rome wasn’t built in a day, so don’t try to see it in one. Pacing is one of the most important things to consider when you’re planning your trip. We all want to get the most out of our travel experience and our budget, but running yourself ragged isn’t the way to do it.