Wow, it seems that I’ll be able to finish this 30 day challenge after all although I’ve cheated a few times (posted 3 blogs in one day but ante-dated the entries hahahaha!).. Only a few days left. For today, I want to tackle an entry that a friend of mine suggested I do for this challenge. Edz suggested that I do a travel planning entry. She’s currently booked to go on a SE Asian tour before the end of the year.
First thing to consider of course is your budget. How much are you planning to shell out for your trip. Then you break it down to your major expenses – plane fare, hotel, tours, food, pasalubong, etc.
I am subscribed by email to almost all the low budget cost airline traversing the Philippines – Cebu Pacific, Air Philippines, Jet Star, PAL, Air Asia, Tiger. This way, I’ll immediately know if there are seat sales. If you have a twitter account, follow them too. They sometime tweet first before sending out the email alerts of their seat sale. Always compare plane fares before finalizing your booking. When I book, I don’t pay for extra baggage. 10kilos is enough for me especially if we’re travelling in a group because when you check-in you actually add up your baggage allowance. I also opt not to choose the seats online as this will cost us extra, just check-in early at the counters or do the online check-in. I also don’t buy travel insurance from the airline. I only want to pay for my fare and the taxes associated with it.
Now this is one of the exciting parts of researching before you travel. As I mentioned, this will depend on your budget. This will also depend on what your vacation is for. Do you want to shop till you drop or do you want to just stay in your hotel, sleep in and eat. Of course, if you want to shop and tour around and just use your room to sleep in, then you can opt to get cheaper hotels with all the basic necessities that you need. No need to book at a posh hotel. But when you want to stay in the hotel, then you may want to stay in a really nice one to fully enjoy your vacation. Take for instance my two trips to Kota Kinabalu. On my first trip, I was with Joema and a bunch of our adventurous friends. We stayed in a relatively cheap but clean and centrally located hostel. We only stayed there during the night when we’re about to sleep anyway. For my second trip, I was with a friend who wanted to just relax and chill. So we opted to stay at a 5-star hotel and basically just stayed there and enjoyed the hotel’s amenities. Booking a hotel is sometimes tricky because there are websites where they offer deals for different hotels or you can book the hotel directly through the hotel’s website. Again, compare the prices and book with the cheaper one. But I must say, I always book directly with the hotel simply because I’m more confident on booking with them. Although, I have friends who have already tried Agoda or Hotels when booking their hotels. So it is also farely safe to go that route.
Another thing to consider in booking the hotel is the location. As they say, location, location, location. For hotel reviews, I usually go to Tripadvisor for reviews of actual people who already went to the hotel. And you can also view the photos of the hotel. You know there are times when the hotel’s websites have very good photos and then when you look at photos not taken by professionals you’re simply disappointed at the place? So that’s what I do. Of course, when reading reviews, you must take everything with a grain of salt. I find that some people have high expectations from their hotels so they sometimes post negative reviews on the hotel. While the others are relatively saying good things about the hotel. Take into consideration, what that person is complaining about the hotel. If they’re complaining that the space is too small, maybe because he’s a Caucasian while you’re a petite Asian then you can probably let go of that bad review.
Reading other people’s blogs may also help. If I find a certain hotel that I like, I google the hotel for reviews from other bloggers. I basically get a sense if I really like the hotel or not.
On our recent trip to HK we stayed in an apartment rental. This is cheaper than a hotel and you get to live like a local. We booked our apartment via Airbnb. Just check the location of the apartment if it's convenient to travel to and from. Our apartment in HK is located in Central and very near the MTR stations. Another site that offers vacation rentals is Roomarama.
If you go to a tourist friendly place then this is very easy to research on. Like HK they have their discover hong kong website which is very informative. You can actually plan your whole trip in that website. But if you’re going into a relatively new place and not familiar with the place, then you can opt for tour packages. You can also search Lonely Planet’s website for activities and places to see in the area. I usually borrow a Lonely Planet guide from our library before our trip to read on and research on the place we’re going to visit. Again, this will depend on what you want to do on your vacation. Do you want to see everything touristy, do you want go on a cultural trip, do you want to go on a gastronomic trip. Really depends on your priorities for your vacation. Aside from Lonely Planet, I also go use VirtualTourist for research. They have travel guides, hotel reviews, you can even post questions in their forum.
As with the hotel, I read other people’s blogs for references on what to do when we travel. But when I’m travelling with my family and it’s our first time going to a place, sometimes we opt to get a package tour like what we did when we went to Korea. I was not confident enough to be their guide there and I don’t want to stress about our itinerary and basically enjoy the trip as well. So we opted to get package tours. But next time we visit, I plan to just wing it haha. I have a few friends who already went there that I can ask about what to see and how to go there. That’s another source of information, friends who already went to the place you’re going to visit. Ask ask ask. When my family went to Vietnam without us (I was pregnant then), I asked a friend to email me where they can eat and the places they need to visit. I printed that email and lent them a Lonely Planet guide and off they went. Thank God, they’re trip was a success!
I always keep an Excel file of all these things with all the links from the websites. I think using Pinterest when planning a trip can also be convenient. You just pin everything you think you'll need in your research and there you go. I think this basically covers the essential of planning a trip. Other things you need to consider - visa requirement, weather, transportation, electrical outlet. These are all covered in Lonely Planet's guide books. They are really helpful!
Day 26 of 30 (x2)