Planning Travel Like a Pro

By whitney | June 20, 2013

Photo via Pinterest

Photo via John Lund

We all know that planning a trip can be a little overwhelming. First, you have to decide on a destination. Then, you have to choose when to fly, where to stay, and what to do to make the best of your trip. In order to reduce pre-travel jitters, we suggest breaking down planning into small, manageable “chunks.” Here are some tips to make planning for travel less daunting and more productive.

  • Start with your airfare. If you have an airline you normally fly with, check their rates first. If you are open to options, websites like Cheapoair and Kayak let you search multiple airlines for the best rate. In addition, have a range of dates in mind of when you could possibly leave and come back. Being flexible within a day or two can help you find the best prices. Generally, flying on the weekdays is cheaper than weekends. Although it’s been said that booking flights (meaning, actually sitting down to your computer and purchasing a flight) on Tuesdays and Wednesday will give you the best rate options, this is an urban myth. However, actually flying on these days can save you money. According to new research conducted by Cheap Air, the best time to book a domestic flight is 49 days (or 7 weeks) in advance. If you’re planning to fly internationally, book about 81 days (3 months) beforehand. Interestingly, booking a flight too far in advance can be just as costly as booking it too late.
  • Once you have purchased airfare, it’s safe to book your hotel. By using websites like Expedia and Travelocity, you can search by neighborhood, star rating, and price. Unless you already have a good idea of the activities you want to do and if those activities are all in one particular area, it’s best to book a hotel in a central location. To determine that location, check out the neighborhood map provided by the website. Another great option is RoomKey. It allows you to search for the best rates and then book directly through the website. Experts advise making your hotel reservations a month ahead of time. Keep in mind that pricing may be affected by factors such as holidays, peak and off-season windows, conventions, and major events (the Super Bowl, for example).When you have found a hotel that fits your needs, it can be beneficial to make reservations via phone instead of online. Hotel staff can provide information about expected guest volume and local events that may affect rates. Hotel staff may also know about discounted rates that were not advertised online. Always be sure to ask about hotel cancellation policies. After making a reservation, it is suggested that you call back a couple times to check if room rates have gone down. If they have, you could cancel the room and book a new one at the lower rate, or you might be able to negotiate the lower rate.

  • Now that you have your flight and room booked, it’s time to plan your trip itinerary. It may be good to invest in a travel guidebook, like Lonely Planet or Fodor’s, both of which come in US and international editions. My personal favorite for Europe is Rick Steve’s. Either look through a guidebook or Google the destination (the city or country is likely to have their own tourism website) to find out what there is to do. Also, talk to your travel mates. See if anyone has ideas of what they want to do and then discuss various possibilities. Trip Advisor is a great place to get others’ opinions of restaurants and activities. Although it’s important to keep in mind people may be paid to write negative or favorable comments about a place, an overall high rating is a good sign.

  • Once you have decided what you will be doing, grab a map (print one online or use the guidebooks) and circle the places you want to visit. This helps you to see where everything is and allows you to plan your days by location and thus avoid backtracking. Also, and if applicable, make a note of any restrictions associated with your destination. For instance, you don’t want to show up at 8am to that world-famous museum only to find out that it opens at 11.

Now that you’ve done a little pre-planning, it’s time to relax in confidence and enjoy the ride! Oh, except there is the whole packing thing…

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