I’ve been fortunate enough to be able to travel my whole life. I’ve also made tons of mistakes while traveling. I thought I’d share some of the personal lessons I’ve learned with the hopes that you can learn from them. Feel free to also share your own.
- What do you want to do?
It helps to have a plan. I’m not one of those people who can just fly by the seat of their pants. I hate surprises. I find it helpful to look up places you want to go, like landmarks, restaurants, or hikes. Traditional guidebooks still provide a wealth of information, but for those of us who prefer digital content, I find Pinterest, Instagram, WordPress blogs, and Google (of course) to be great resources. I frequently stalk Instagram users with beautiful travel pictures and scour WordPress for firsthand accounts of travel experiences. TRUE STORY: I planned my Montreal trip based on Instagram and Pinterest posts, so thanks to those influencers!
- How long will it take?
First, make sure that you have enough time off work for your trip. There’s nothing worse than planning the whole thing out and having your PTO request denied. Take your research and organize what you’ll do each day. Make sure to leave ample time for travel and try to group your sites together — a map can be helpful for this. TRUE STORY: I’m in the process of planning a trip to Ireland, and apparently Blarney Castle is far from Dublin. Definitely need a separate day to make that trip. I wouldn’t have known that without a map. If it’s your first time to a place, you might be inclined to do and see everything. This isn’t possible, unless you have the finances to stay several weeks, in which case, the more power to you. For us regular folk who only get a couple of weeks off from work (if that) at a time, always plan your trips like you’re going to return. Don’t be too ambitions — narrow down what you absolutely must and can see in the amount of time available to you, and leave everything else for another trip.
- Shop flights (or trains or boats)
I mainly fly to my destinations, but keep an open mind in that there are many ways to get around. I’m just not quite familiar with the best ways to get discounts for other modes of transportation. I use Kayak to get an idea of when flights to a particular destination will be cheapest, or if I know when I’ll be off from work, I can see which destinations are more affordable for a certain time period. Google Flights have been particularly helpful in finding the cheapest flights, and it’s simple to use. PRO TIP: I’m not sure how much truth there is to this, but someone once told me that your browser saves cookies from sites you’ve visited, including travel websites, and subsequent searches may lead to pricier flights. I was advised to always look for the cheapest flights after clearing my Internet cache or browsing in a private window or in “Incognito” mode. You might also save money by using frequent flier miles, but my job keeps me quite close to the ground, so I don’t really have that luxury.I know there are tons of budget airlines taking off (pun intended), but consider budget airlines carefully. Look closely at every airline’s list of fees and seating arrangements. I have flown budget airlines a few times, and while you usually get quite the bargain on tickets, but keep in mind that the “bargain price” does not include most regular airline amenities. It often costs more to bring your bags as carryon versus checking them in. Calculate the inclusion of baggage fees with your tickets — depending on what you’re bringing, it may not be much of a bargain to fly a “bargain” airline. Frontier airlines, which I have used few times, assigns you randomly to a seat for free, but if you desire a specific seat, there is an added fee. To appease my slightly neurotic self, I need to have an aisle seat on flights over 2 hours. Don’t ask. It also doesn’t matter if you’re traveling with a party, because they basically put you wherever and you most likely will not be seated together. I did get a nasty glare from a mom and her daughter when I refused to switch seats because they were separated and neither of them had an aisle seat for me to switch to.
- Where to stay?
There are also a number of ways to go: hotels, hostels, Airbnb, couch surfing, or staying with family/friends. I personally prefer hotels. I honestly like having someone clean up after me when I’m on vacation (I am careful about making an excessive amount of mess). I know hostels are much cheaper, and there are some that are beautiful and are set up with single occupancy rooms, but I have uneasiness of the unknown. Plus, I’m super socially awkward, so it’s calming for me to sit in my hotel room by myself after a long day of running around. Some people prefer the local experience and opt for Airbnb or couch surfing, but I honestly don’t care about pretending like I live in a foreign place. I have done Airbnb before, but we didn’t have a cleaning service. Staying with family or friends is a plus because it’s usually free, but you also should be considerate of other people and make sure they have the time off to take you around, or they don’t mind if you come and go at all hours.
- How are you going to get around?
You’ll have to find a way to get to all of your desired attractions because most likely you won’t be circling the same city block during your entire trip. I never go hiking on vacation, and I’m not really outdoorsy, but I imagine if you’re going somewhere remote, it’s best to rent the appropriate transportation.I usually visit big cities, and the public transportation systems in larger cities are usually wonderful. Most places in the States are very Uber/Lyft accessible, but keep in mind that they may not be available internationally. TRUE STORY: Uber is not available in Montreal due to something along the lines of they don’t pay taxes or something like that. My tour guide told me, but I don’t remember. Montreal has their own carpool system, but I’m not sure how to use it.
Public transportation is usually my preferred mode of transportation. Always download the local transportation map before you go. If you’re going to be traveling in the same area for several days and you’re down to use public transportation, invest in a weekly pass for the public transportation system. I often save money by taking public transportation — I especially like taking commuter trains and subways. Be aware of public transportation schedules as well. Not all cities operate their systems 24/7.
Of course, there is the old-fashion mode of walking, which is also an effective, albeit slower, way of getting around
So, now you’re ready to plan your next adventure. Where are you off to? What travel-planning tips to you have?