While many are making resolutions to live better, eat better, work better, etc., etc., etc…I say forget all of that and make a resolution to travel better. The best way to improve your life is to add some adventure and travel! And the key to better travel is planning.
It is important to do research, but with so many resources including blogs like this one, Twitter, TripAdvisor, Expedia, Frommers, etc., the amount of information can be overwhelming. This is why you must keep track of the information you uncover. I suggest researching core travel items like airfare, hotels, tours and restaurants one at a time. Keep a file of your top three choices and compare reviews, location, convenience, price and amenities prior to making a final decision.
Once you’ve decided your dream vacation plans, check, check and re-check prices. Never book airfare until you are comfortable with the price and your seating location, but don’t make the mistake of thinking you will get a last minute deal. Sometimes waiting until the last minute can cost you not only dollars and cents but also travel sanity. Starting your trip sitting between strangers, adjacent the bathroom and with your carry-on luggage confiscated due to overhead storage space will do nothing to set the tone of a much-needed vacation. Start checking prices as soon as you know your travel plans, even 6 months out can save money and space. If prices seem outrageous – round trip flights with connections are usually $300-$500 a person – hold off and check again. The best time to check airfare prices have been revealed by travel experts to be Tuesday and Thursday afternoon, but I’ve found deals at midnight on Saturday and in the middle of a Sunday afternoon. Check as often as possible.
The same goes for hotel reservations. Once you’ve decided on where you will lay your head, make a reservation. Just be sure to not book a nonrefundable rate. If rates go down – which they usually do – you are stuck. Usually closer to departure you can save 10-20% of your hotel cost just by checking rates online and requesting the appropriate price adjustment from hotel management.
Car rentals also fluctuate, but making an adjustment is a little more difficult. I suggest booking a rate that can be canceled. Once you find a better rate, book it and cancel your original reservation. It takes a few extra steps, but trust me, with more cash in your pocket you won’t mind.
When it comes to tours and restaurants, prices don’t fluctuate, but planning is still important. Popular tours and the best restaurants can fill up fast. Always, always book ahead of time. If you can, make arrangements several months out, especially if you are celebrating a special occasion. The tour guide will remember it and the restaurant may help you celebrate with free dessert or cocktails.
Once all your plans are made, be flexible. Planning provides the foundation to a good vacation, but it doesn’t guarantee one. Talk to the locals, go with the flow and be open to change. After all, it’s supposed to be an adventure!