So I’ve been traveling for a decade now. I’ve gone on all sorts of trips and vacations and weekends away – overwhelmingly these have been formative experiences for my personal development. In these 10 years, I’ve made a number of mistakes. Obviously – my style of travel may not be for everyone but I thought of the tips that I give the most often to people who are looking to book travel in the near future.
- Do not use a travel agent. Ever. Here’s the thing – if you are going on a trip without a group of people, travel agents are a complete rip off. That’s why it’s not really an option as a career anymore. With the facility of online booking agents – I seriously advise against actually booking with a travel agent. That being said, if you are a member of AAA or something similar, you can use them as a starting point if you are stumped by where to say or what activities might be up your street. When it comes to booking flights – they just are going to use the same search engines as you. So get the advice but skip the actual booking.
- On the subject of online booking – booking directly with a hotel or airline with almost universally be cheaper than booking through a third party booking engine (anything along the lines of Booking.com, Expedia, or Orbitz). The one time it may be more economical is if you pay the full price ahead and are not allowed to cancel. Here’s the thing – third party booking agents are a huge pain in the ass for hotels and airlines. Hotels in particular are much more likely to grant a special request if you book with them as they don’t have to pay comission to the website. So use kayak or orbitz for ideas but go directly to the hotel or airline to book. If there are any problems or changes, you cut out that middle man.
- If you have a set time but are more flexible on a location – give a tool like kayak explore a shot. It may guide you somewhere you would never had considered that’s a hidden gem. In 2014, my friend and I traveled across Europe based on cheap flights and ended up in some pretty awesome cities that weren’t initially on our list (Ljubljana and Krakow!) It’s a really good way to put places on your radar. Colombia is another one which was really cheap to get to – I know my friends may not have come with me if the ticket prices weren’t $250 round trip from Buffalo.
- If you are going on a longer trip – mix in large cities with smaller ones. This is especially pertinent in Europe. The major capitals are great but often I find the most charm in small towns. In June, I was visiting my sister in Germany and I ended up going to see a friend in this tiny town, Schwabish Hall. It was charming and quiet but bright. It was a perfect escape for a day. That’s just one example but there are so many adorable untouched towns all over Europe. I have similar feelings about the town of Bled in Slovenia, Ghent in Belgium, Saint Jean de Luz in France and Lubeck in Germany. It’s definitely worth an ask-around or internet search to find good day trip options.
- At any age: do not rule out or be intimidated by solo travel. In total, I’ve probably gone on about a dozen solo trips. Whether it was a leg of a larger trip or a whole adventure in itself – I have a lot of lovely memories of my solo travels. Especially as I’m getting older and my friends are settling down – travel might be less of a priority for them than me. Why should that stop me from going to Porto for a week? Or exploring Copenhagen? Or doing a trip through the UK? It seems a lot more stressful and lonely than it actually is. When you travel, you are surrounded by culture – from food, to art to music to sights – you really aren’t alone. Add in other travelers who you can have a chat with – it’s kind of refreshing to just do exactly what you want to do. If you find someone who is always on the same page as you – that may be your lifelong travel pal.
- Look into all types of accomodation in a given place – you may be surprised which is the least expensive. In Greece – it’s overwhelmingly hotels. In Croatia – it was apartments. In Denmark – hostels. In Spain – sometimes renting a single private room of an apartment is the most cost effective. It’s not only about which is least expensive – one might fit your travel style more. When I’m on a solo trip – you better believe I’m staying at a hostel. If I’m going to be somewhere for a little while – an apartment might be nice because I can cook. I think the key is – you can really learn a lot from reviews. Know your dealbreakers – those should be the same no matter what type of accomodation you stay in. Maybe you cannot sleep through street noise or you really can’t handle sleeping in a room with strangers. That’s ok. That doesn’t mean you should completely rule out a central location or a hostel. Hostels have private rooms and soundproofing exists. If you are reading reviews – keep a critical lens to see if it seems that you person had a bad experience or there’s a pattern.
- Similarly, look into many different types of transport. I used to be a real snob about buses (I think they have a negative connotation here), but now I take them all the time. Bla Bla Car, a car share app is also extremely popular and cost effective in Spain. Renting a car can be peanuts in some places and in Europe sometimes it’s cheaper to fly that take the train. Don’t rule any type of transport out.
- Do not forget to budget for food. Food sneaks up on you. Hanger when traveling is absolutely a thing. This Christmas, a family that I am close with came to Barcelona. When they landed – they were all starving. I wasn’t so knowledgable about the area we were in and we just ended up eating at a tourist trap. It was ok – it staved of the hunger and anger for a couple hours. It ended up costing a lot more than we expected. So that’s my advice. It’s going to be more than you expected. I always think – oh I can budget like 10 Euro a day on food. That might be true in Colombia but it sure as shit is not enough in Madrid. Just keep that in mind.
- Do everything. Eat everything. Experience everything. In 2014, this is exactly what my friend’s mom, Mrs. Knittel, said to the two of us when we went on our longest Eurotrip. Travel is such a luxury for so many people. Whether you have the time and money to go for a nice cushy vacation or just a weekend away – take advantage of it. I cannot think of any money I regret spending on travel (except overpaying for plane tickets). I can think of a handful of things I wish I did. So taking a row boat across Lake Bled was 6 Euro – my friend and I saw a beautiful lake and have an epic story about seeing the Stanley Cup. A one day 3 island cruise was $25. That was probably the best day of my life. Mini Europe in Belgium was like 15 Euro – it was hilarious. I could literally keep going for days. It’s worth it. Every single thing you do is worth it.A few months ago, an old student reached out to me about studying abroad in Australia. This was the advice I gave her. There’s an oppertunity to go to New Zealand – go. You want to go to the Great Barrier Reef – sure (maybe do it as ecologically as possible). Your friends want to go to the outback and hang with kangaroos – do it. I’m glad I could pass down this advice to her. (Huge thanks to Mrs. Knittel).
So there you have it – my favorite general travel planning tips and tricks. Are there any trips you swear by – let me know! I’m always looking to expand my travel planning horizons.