The most common question I get about booking a trip is: “How do you know where to go to book a trip?” The truth is, I don’t. It is all online. I just know how to find it. To me planning and booking the trip is almost as exciting as taking the trip itself. Learning about my upcoming trip destination and getting to know the area is truly exciting. Knowing about where I am going and what to expect also relieves some of the stress of the unknown. Learning as much as possible about a place ahead of time really sets my mind at ease.
Booking a trip is almost as easy as reading the news online. So here are the steps I follow each and every time:
1. Decide where you want to go
This is probably a tough one for some people because there are so many places to see but you have to start somewhere. The easiest place to start is with your bucket list. What is the one place that excites you, that intrigues you, that you have to see at least once in your life? Maybe picking an area rather than a place is a great way to go. If you have sufficient time consider visiting more than one place in the area, you will be there anyway. It is also a great way to save money. A flight to a neighboring city or country will be a lot cheaper from where you already are than having to come back home and go on another trip. If you are still having a hard time deciding check the prices of tickets to different destinations and maybe finding a sale on airfare will help you choose a place. For a few more ideas you can check Google Flights or the Mimski.com blog for ideas.
2. Decide how much time you want to spend there
How much time you have will determine how far you can go and how much you will be able to see on one trip. If you only have a long weekend I would suggest limiting your flight time to no more than six hours each way. You don’t want to spend an entire day getting there. If you have at least a week then you can pretty much go anywhere in the world.
3. Book your flights
I always like to start with booking the flights first. When and where you are flying to will determine how many days of accommodations you need and what activities you will have at your disposal. The reason for booking your flight first is that with the world’s time differences, flight lay overs etc, you may end skipping or gaining a full day when going to certain destinations. It is very important to know what time your flights leave and arrive so you can book around them. For example, leaving Los Angeles to anywhere in Asia taking a red eye flight let’s say on Friday May 23rd at 11:55pm will get you to Asia on Sunday (!) May 25th in the morning. In terms of booking a hotel that means you don’t need to book a room for May 24th because you will not be there. Your flight may be only 13-14 hours, but you actually skip an entire day timezone-wise. If you are on a time crunch or just want to spend as much time at your destination instead of at airports, look for direct flights. Layovers are okay in certain situations, but be prepared because some layovers are quite long.
Here are some of the sites I use for booking Flights: Kayak is great because it allows you to compare prices among other websites like Orbitz, Travelocity or Priceline. The other option I always check is buying from the airline directly. Sometimes you will get a much better deal from the airline than any other place. If booking a multi-city flight plan, it is imperative to decide if you are going to book one itinerary with all flights on it or if you are going to book separate flights. Here are the pros and cons to that. Booking a multi-city itinerary on one ticket may be cheaper than booking separate flights, however if for any reason you miss one of your flights…all of your remaining flights will be cancelled. It happened to us while in Peru and turned into a $4000 mistake. If you book separate flights you may pay a little more but missing a flight won’t be the end of the world. You just have to re-purchase that flight, the rest stay in place. All this is assuming that you are flying coach. If you are traveling First Class then you probably have nothing to worry about.
4. Book your accommodations
Where you stay and how much you pay for accommodations can vary dramatically. The few criteria to keep in mind is that you want a place that is centrally located, preferably walking distance to shops, restaurants and tourist attractions. I like to look at a map of the destination city and find out what I want to see and based on that I pick a hotel in the vicinity. This eliminates the need to always take a taxi. There is nothing better than being able to leave your hotel and walk to eat or to sight see. For accommodations reviews I use TripAdvisor and Tablet Hotels for boutique and luxury hotels. The resources are endless, mainly what I need from the websites is travelers’ reviews. Once you have identified a place you would like check if the hotel has its own website. Some hotels will offer you free or added amenities if you book directly with them. I have received perks such as free airport pick-ups, free Wi-Fi, free upgrades, free breakfast, free nights etc. for booking directly from the hotel website. So check all options before you make a final booking.
5. Book other activities/tours
I am a big proponent of taking day trips away from the city. This type of a trip allows for you to see so much more of the country and does not require you to book different accommodations and transportation. The hotel you already booked becomes your base for the trip and you venture out during the day to see other parts of the area. I don’t know about you but when I go somewhere I want to see and experience as much as possible. I want to know more than just the big city. I want to see the countryside and the landmarks not immediately located in the city center. Some of the more fascinating places we have seen have been outside the major metropolitan areas. You have a choice of hiring a private tour guide or a group tour. The group tours are usually cheaper, but also allow for less flexibility of the itinerary and are a lot less personal. A great resource for day tours is TripAdvisor. They have a variety of options for every budget. Don’t feel obligated to spend every day in the city, be adventurous and take a look around.
6. Arrange for airport transportation
There is nothing worse than to arrive in a foreign country not speaking the language and not having a clear idea of how to get around. Sometimes the options are few but it is better to be prepared. Here are some of the choices you may have:
Hotel Shuttles – First check with your hotel, many offer airport pick up free of charge and others have a fee. If it is free, email the hotel with your arrival and departure information and they will arrange for pick up and drop off. That is easy! If they charge, decide on whether you are okay with the charge or if you feel that it is too much, explore your options.
Taxis – You can search the Internet for information on taxi rates from the airport to your hotel. Sometimes it is cheaper to take a taxi than the hotel shuttle. It is smart to have an idea of what to expect as far as taxi fares are concerned because in many countries taxi drivers will try to charge you more than the standard fare. Search the internet by using phrases such as “how much is a taxi between X airport and X hotel?”. Write down the information you find and remember that almost everywhere in the world you can negotiate with taxi drivers!
Private Transportation Companies – There are also private companies that you can hire to provide you with transportation from the airport to your hotel. In this case you can pre-negotiate the fee, so there are no surprises.
Public Transportation – Sometimes the best option to get around is public transportation especially in large metropolitan cities. Always check whether your destination city has a subway/train/bus etc system. Public transportation is not only convenient, but also much cheaper than any of the above options. It may require a little more planning, but it is well worth it especially if you are on a budget. Most large cities have websites about their public transit system with maps and additional information to help you get around.
If all else fails and you can’t find the information you need, email the hotel and ask them for suggestions on getting around. They will be happy to give you the information you need.
Planning a trip is not difficult, but can be time consuming. Try to look at trip planning as the beginning of your adventure and not a chore. The more information you have before your journey the more likely it is that you will find activities that you will truly enjoy. Also booking ahead of time gives you the chance to review companies and service providers and pick one you feel comfortable with. Take your time with planning and enjoy the process,