Deciding WHERE you want to go can be a tricky decision making process. There are things to consider, like weather. Is it a major holiday in the country you are considering during the time you’ll be on vacation? Many things need to be factored in, but once you’ve made up your mind, the next difficult (and fun) step is the planning process.
Not to give away all of our tricks of the trade... we do, after all, do this for a living, but a certain percentage of traveler - the nomads, especially -enjoy the planning process almost as much as the journey itself. Others like to wing it and be spontaneous (not recommended unless you have three or more weeks in one region). So if you are one of the ones who likes to plan every detail, or thing you’d like to try to plan some of the trip on your own, we are going to help you navigate your way around the internet (and, in some cases, bookshelves).
First stop, getting your passport, visas, and airline ticket (and other modes of transportation). In many cases, these processes precede checking hotel availability, but is some cases, when you want to stay at a specific resort or facility (retreat or dive trip, etc), then the searching for a hotel stage if first. You always will need a passport, and in most cases, you will need one that is valid for six months after arrival.
This is the stage that most people put off, or procrastinate, if you will. It seems daunting to many, but it’s actually quite simple, especially if you have some time in advance to apply for one. First, you’ll need two passport photos. Costco and AAA are great places to do this, or even your local Walgreens type drug store. Next, log on to the Official US State Department .gov site. There are some imposter sites that rank higher in google search (they pay to rank higher) and these sights will charge you unnecessary fees, unless you need your passport in less than three weeks. The official link is https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/passports.html. Fees vary depending on how much time you have. Tip: get the extra pages. It is no more expensive and allows you plenty of room for stamps and visas, plus it is a lot cooler than the super thin ones.
As of July 10, 2018, US Citizens can travel to 186 countries without obtaining a Visa in advance (although some of these require a Visa on Arrival). Brazil and China remain the two countries which still require us to obtain Visas in advance (due to the Reciprocal Visa program meaning because we require one of their citizens, they return the favor. To identify whether or not you need a Visa in advance, or will need to get a Visa on Arrival, hop on over to this up-to-date, informative website: https://passportinfo.com/countries-that-require-visas-for-us-citizens/ Remember it is always best to check the Consulate for the country you will be visiting (for general travel warnings and recommended vaccinations as well).
Now it’s time to research airfare. Note that some carriers and third party booking sites require you to input a passport number to complete your booking. We have heard of travelers using a random number that is the same number of digits as a legitimate passport number and then contacting the airline over the phone to update the information once the passport finally arrives. (How to avoid this? Get a passport now! If you are even reading this, you must be considering traveling, so just get one. They make domestic travel much easier as well.)
Some things to consider: if you will be traveling around a country or region, then think about flying into one city and out of another. This will save you money in internal flights, hotels, and most important, time. Time is money too, especially when it means you might need one day less vacation. Example: If you are traveling to Europe and want to see many parts of the continent, fly into one city, for example Paris (it is one of the least expensive airline tickets within Europe) and book your return ticket from the furthest place you will travel to, like Rome. You can then travel by rental car and/or train or plane within Europe and end up in Rome to fly home. This is called an Open Jaw or “multi-city” itinerary. If you plan to stay near one hub or capital city, then book a standard round-trip ticket.
Next it’s time to look into booking a flight. Check Google Flights first. This will give you a reference point to flight times and prices. Depending on which region you are traveling to, One Travel (CheapOAir), Kayak, Expedia, and last but not least, Skycanner (UK) are great sites to book with. Tip: If they send you to an airline’s website, go into a fresh browser and go right to that airline directly. Booking with third party sites usually does not allow you to book your seats for International Flights, so it is always optimal to book directly with the airline (if fares are low enough for this to make sense).
Is it really cheaper to book flights on a Tuesday? Reviews are mixed as to whether these days are over, but while helping a tour group book flights to Thailand (a Multi-City itinerary flying into Chiang Mai and back from Phuket), the three travelers with the lowest priced ticket on the same airline all booked on a Tuesday. Random? Maybe, but if you are planning far enough in advance, why not try it?
Again, sometimes it’s best to book your hotel first. Trip Advisor is a good first step because the reviews are generally pretty accurate. It also shows which sites have the lowest rate so I go to those too and read reviews again. Try to find one Hotel Booking Engine and stick with them because you well get points and eventually those add up. I recently got a free night from points I had accumulated on Agoda.com. Be careful when booking your hotel to note that some rates are 100% non refundable, but for a few extra dollars, you can get a fully refundable rate and many sites don’t charge you until just before you travel. If you are a fan of chains like SPG/Marriott or Hilton Group, don’t bother using a Hotel Booking Engine because you won’t accumulate points within that chain and it’s always best to book for points of some kind. Find a chain you like and stay loyal, and you should even consider getting their credit card. Marriott will be announcing HUGE sign up bonuses as they merge SPG into their brand. Stay tuned for that to happen in late August 2018.
Sometimes, Airbnb is the best bet. In many Southeast Asia destinations you can get a Villa with your own pool for under $100 a night. Add in the benefit of having a kitchen and parking, and these short term rentals are by far the cheapest way to go for accommodation. Or consider mixing up your trip with a few hotel nights and a few Airbnb stays to really make the most of your trip!
https://www.airbnb.com/c/lstegeman4 (Airbnb Coupon)
Next you can take a planning break and let it all soak in. When you are getting closer to your departure time, grab a guide book like one of the Lonely Planet titles (available in Kindle editions too) and get a board going on Pinterest. Pinterest is one of the best ways to research just about anything these days. YouTube is another source for checking out other traveler’s tips or watch a travel “influencer” or “Vlogger” show you around an area of the world they have become expert on. And don’t forget to stop by our website for some other pre trip planning ideas and techniques or give us a call for help in planning some or all of your next getaway. Now GET OUT THERE!