Do we have any travel junkies out there? As soon as I return from a trip, I find myself pining for the next adventure. And planning the trip is almost as fun as the trip itself. I’m tickled to share with you five of my best tips for planning your next trip.
Live Like a Local
Sure, it’s easy to book a hotel room and be done with it. But what fun is that? With a little more effort, you can enrich your stay in a vacation home or apartment that features a kitchen, private bedroom space and amenities like you experience in your own home. And oftentimes, it’s drastically cheaper. My Mom and I are going on our first trip to New York City in March. I probably looked at a hundred hotels and couldn’t find one that met my standards but also within my price range. I almost gave up when it looked like we may have to settle for a Super 8 in Brooklyn, priced at $170 a night. In one last ditch effort, I did a quick search on Homeaway and found an apartment rental in a historic Manhattan Brownstone…wait for it…at $100 a night. And it gets better—the on-site caretaker will deliver baked goods to welcome us when we arrive.
If you’re like me, you like to travel like a queen but spend like pauper. There’s no reason that frugality and the quality of experience should be mutually exclusive. You can have the best of both worlds–you just have to know how to do it. Every time I cruise, I cringe when I hear a fellow cruiser talk about booking their excursions on the boat. Ouch. They’re going to pay triple what I paid and my excursion will likely be less crowded, last longer, and we’ll do more. So about a month before each cruise, I take a look at the recommended excursions for each port, and then I book directly through local operators. Last year, my friend Molly and I went on a cruise around the Western Caribbean. One stop included a cave tubing excursion in Belize. We paid $55 for a river guide to chaperone our through the Belizean jungle and navigate us and our top-of-the-line tubes through the rocky rapids. Our money also transported us to and from the cruise port and bought us lunch at a local restaurant with some yummy chips and salsa. Our group was made up of only six people. The cruiseline’s group was also on the path that day, and there were at least 40 of them, bumbling their large tubes (without backrests; ours had them) on the muddy path. They were accompanied by one guide–who we discovered wasn’t that experienced when he cut his excursion short–while my group rafted on down the river. And they paid double what we did.
Booking your own fun applies to other kinds of travel as well. Forget guided tours and tours that keep you on a bus all day long. You want to actually go up in the Eiffel Tower, right? Not drive past it. Don’t be afraid to navigate on your own. I guarantee you will see more, at your own pace, and pay less.
Which leads me to the next tip…
Do Your Homework
There’s this little thing called the “Internet.” It holds a vast wealth of information and you can become your own travel agent. I don’t stay in any hotel, eat at any restaurant, go on any tour, or patronize many businesses nowadays without checking out the online reviews. In my experience, something that looks great online isn’t always so great in person. It’s essential that you find out what others are saying before you commit. My favorite site when researching a vacation is TripAdvisor. The site not only includes detailed reviews from past patrons, but user photos (not those canned professional shots that most businesses use) so you can see the real deal. Also, check out CruiseCritic. The site hosts message boards pertaining to all things cruising. There will even be a message board for your specific cruise ship and date, and you can interact with your future cruisers and get tips from the more experienced ones. SeatGuru is another must-visit when planning airline travel. You don’t want to sit in a seat that doesn’t recline, right? This site will tell you so.
When in Rome, Do as the Romans
Prior to my first trip to France, I was under the impression that French people were snobby, cold and rude. It’s all lies. Generally, the French are reserved, but polite, warm and welcoming. I have a feeling the person that told me otherwise tromped around Paris in their fanny pack and demanded a Big Mac at a Patisserie. Let’s think about it this way… When foreigners visit our country, we require them to follow our social rules and cues, obey our laws and even speak the language. Why should it be any different when we travel outside our communities? The name of the game is “acclimate.” If the women in the region wear long skirts, you should too. If a museum sign says “No Photography,” put your camera away. And maybe even make an effort to learn a bit of the native language. A cheery “Bonjour” when entering a Parisian business is not only expected–it’s much more likely to get you good service. Practicing good manners and understanding local customs is not only for your enjoyment…it’s for your safety too. You’re much less likely to be a target of a crime if you blend in with the locals.
Your Plan B
It happens. Despite your best efforts with hand sanitizer, you get sick. Even though you walked down a well-lit street, you got mugged. Your forgetful husband left his passport in the taxi cab. Maybe it’s the Girl Scout in me, but I’m a big believer that you prepare for the worst, and then count your blessings when you travel without incident. Always make copies of your credit cards (even the back side with the fraud phone numbers), passport, drivers license and other important documents, and keep them in a separate place from what you carry with you. It’s so much easier to shut down a credit card or to reclaim a passport if you have that information at your fingertips. And while you’re at it, write down local emergency numbers. If you’re traveling internationally, it’s always a good idea to note the phone number and address of the US Embassy or Consulate. Travel with a first aid kit that includes bandaids and basic over-the-counter medications like Tylenol and cough-and-cold pills. You might be surprised to know you can’t always get basic medications in some countries, or find that their medications aren’t regulated. The point? Better safe than sorry.
So…who has a trip in the works? We would love to hear your own travel tips!
Mary Anna Brown is a Marketing Strategist for LifeWay Women who spends her days marketing the Women’s brand and Bible study product lines for Women, Marriage, Family and Film. Mary Anna always has a bag packed – and she’s ready to travel at a moment’s notice.