Travel Preparations - Well Prepared is Half Done
We all love to travel - don't we? and we are ready to head out of the town on every available opportunity. But if you have been to a visit recently, you would know how difficult are the days leading up to the start of vacation. There are unending multiple lists of tasks that one has to accomplish and it is easy to get overwhelmed with all one has to do to prepare for the holidays. Well, there are those who would sneak out without much of preparations but if you are with family or would like to make the most of your time, it is best to prepare well. The attempt in this article is to help all those in the preparations stage for a vacation. I have used my experience over the years and leveraged various lessons learned to put together specific considerations during trip planning.
Hopefully, these do ease your trouble to some extent!!
Choose the Right Destination and ItineraryThe first thing to decide for any vacation is the time and destination. While timing in most cases will be determined by when your organization has holidays in their yearly calendar or when you are able to cajole your boss into approving your leave application. Once your timelines are ready, start by identifying the destination where you would like to spend your well-deserved vacation. There are many considerations that go behind this - duration, the purpose of the holiday, budget etc.
First start with the time you have in hand and look for places you can head out to. There would be locations which you can cover as a weekend getaway whereas if you have an entire week off you could reach farther off. If you plan to get out of the country, it only makes sense if you have adequate time off - my rule of thumb 9+ days. The notion that Indian holidays are cheaper is no longer valid and most South East Asian countries can be covered in almost the same budget as a Kerala Vacation for a Delhite. Another important thing to consider is the purpose of your vacation. If you looking for a relaxing time with family then head to beaches or hill resorts which are relatively less commercialized. If you are in the touristy mood and want to explore places, mingle with locals and visit sites, choose your destination accordingly. Also, one could look at choosing destinations which are not at the peak of their season, that is if you are okay with a bit of sun or rain. This could help you reduce your expenses to a great deal as it would be easier to negotiate deals during such times.
Once you decide the region or destination, determine all the cities or locations you would touch during the trip. It generally gets boring staying at same hotel or city after a time and hence We recommend breaking up the monotony by covering multiple places - We try to touch 2 - 3 places of stay for a 9-10 day vacation meant for relaxing holiday. If you are onto exploration, make it 4 or 5 at the maximum beyond which you are just running from place to place. Out of those 4 places, at least have one stop of 3 - 4 days preferably towards the end of the trip. This way you could chill out before returning to rigors of life. Once the locations are locked, put down the exact itinerary - datewise places you would be in and transfers from one city to other. We would recommend keeping enough buffers in your timeline to accommodate flight delays, weather, and mood-swings.
Travel - Flight Tickets / Train ReservationsThis is one major expense item for most international holidays and a major concern for all domestic ones i.e. if you pick train travel. Hence it makes perfect sense to freeze these tickets as much in advance as possible. Especially, if you have a tentative itinerary in hand, getting train tickets booked is the best bet. At worst you lose token money in cancellations, but it would be worth it in long run. Flight tickets are bit tricky and you would want to be relatively sure of your travel dates. However, there are some online ticketing websites which run offers allowing you easy cancellations. Before booking your flight tickets, explore all popular websites and your cards or wallets to identify the offers running across. Reward points combinations, cash-backs, discounts etc. become considerable savings when we have high-value tickets. Also, make sure you book reliable flights with good safety records. You may also want to look at airlines which may not be glamorous, yet have good services. For example. Cathay Pacific is not high on any list but has impeccable service in most aspects.
Once tickets are booked, I always make it a point to validate the PNR on the particular airline's website. This is to ensure that booking has gone through from the booking agent to the airline and I would get a seat when I show up. Also, most international airlines and some domestic ones allow you to choose your seats, without a fee. Always, use that option and choose most desirable seats - my favorite are aisles, away from galleys and washrooms, reclinable and two-seaters (if you are traveling in 2s, these are worth paying for too). If you are traveling overseas, make it a point to call the customer service or log into the web portal to specify your meal preferences. They may not carry your Indian vegetarian meal (yes Indian is a different type of vegetarian) and you would be left with salads or bread. In case you need special help, do let the airline know beforehand.
Train vs By Road vs Flight?
Generally, my thumb rule is to choose train if it takes you to your destination overnight. This way you can leave the previous day and utilize your night to travel towards your destination. Anything longer than that or at other times eats up from your leisure time. I am sure we find train journeys fun but I for sure would prefer to kick off my vacations at the destinations sooner rather than later. If you are an enthusiast, a car can be a fun way to travel and road trips are experiences in themselves. However if your first destination is more than 6-7 hours by car, I would recommend taking a train or flight until the first destination and then take a car rental from there. This way you enjoy the road trip and avoid exertion of the longer leg. As for the flights, there are some journeys you are bound to take by air - at least the overseas travel. For domestic travel, if train takes too much time, I would say flights are pretty affordable nowadays and in some cases more economical than trains. Case in point, my latest Delhi-Mumbai return fare was cheaper than a Third AC Rajdhani fare on the same route.
AccommodationThis is one aspect of your trip that has the potential to make or break the fun you have during the vacation. I have seen tourists overlooking the importance of accommodation and opting for cheaper motels or un-starred hotel to save money on the pretext that limited time is spent in a hotel room - after all, they are there to be out roaming. While this may be entirely false for someone going in for a lazy getaway, it is still a fallacy for someone interested in covering the city as a tourist. Once you are done with your rigorous day tour, you would want to come back to a cozy bed or a rocking chair and enjoy a cup of coffee. You would like to have an ambiance that feels comfortable and tempts you to explore it. If you are with the family, you may want to stroll around in evenings and mornings which is not possible if your hotel is right on a market street. Whatever the circumstance is, choosing an accommodation carefully is one of the most fruitful investment you would make in you planning.
If you are opting for a package tour, the operator would provide you with a listing of hotels at various locations that they would book for you. If you are on a group tour you would have limited maneuverability compared to a customized tour but still, make it a point to ask the operator for options. They would though hesitantly, in all probability give you a few. Research each of them well before making a final pick. If you have a customized package being made, ask for options from the operator and also identify a few options on your own. Similarly, if you are on your own booking individual places, finalize the amount you want to spend on accommodation and then look out for various places available in your budget.
As part of the hotel research, your first destination should be TripAdvisor or Make My Trip or any other web portal where you can search for all the hotels in a city. Once you have shortlisted places within your budget (or have a list of options from your travel operator), read through the reviews online. Make sure you check out pictures of the place, including those from travelers. Also, pay close attention to where the place is located. For an urban city, I would recommend finding a place in the city center and in case you are off to a beach destination, look for something by the beach. Depending on the purpose of the holiday, the location plays an important role in determining how much you reap from the journey.
Once you book your accommodation, and if done through an online portal or a third party agency, confirm the bookings with the hotel to make sure that booking went through. Further, a couple of days before departing from home, re-confirm the bookings to avoid last minute issues. Inform the hotel of your expected time of arrival and if you have any specific preferences. I personally ask for non-smoking rooms on the higher floors of the facility.
Travel DocumentsOnce the basic booking are done and accommodation and travel plans are finalized, one has to ready up the travel documents folder. No one prefers any hurdles or issues during a holiday and if these come in form of lack of documents, they may actually take a serious turn ruining the entire trip. Travel documents are especially critical if you are going for a trip abroad, but there are a few things that you need even for a domestic getaway. Let us look for things that are required irrespective of the travel destination. First are your booking vouchers and tickets - holiday vouchers (for package bookings), hotel booking confirmation, flight tickets, email confirmations from hotel/flight, additional reservation vouchers etc. You have them in your email but I recommend taking a print out and pinning them up in a folder to make things easy at each step. You never know when your phone battery or data plan may give up on you. Next, I would also recommend having a copy of the local map (source it from google maps if you may) of the city you are visiting. I actually keep a few version handy - one is the zoomed-in version of the Hotel I would be staying at, one is a tourist map of the city and another is driving directions from the airport or railway station, if possible.
Now if you are traveling abroad there are few more documents that gain importance. First one is your passport - grab it and confirm validity. Next is to get your visa sorted out. Check if the country you are visiting allows visa-on-arrival for your passport. If it does, I would recommend opting for that option as it saves some preparation hurdles and you can conveniently have a stamp at the start of your journey. Read the documentation requirements in details and prepare for the process at your destination. Most countries prescribe need of a passport photograph (I anyway ask you to keep a few copies handy), bank statement, return flight tickets, hotel booking confirmation, visa fee and of course the passport. Get an extra copy of these things to avoid any last-minute hurdle. Most places accept visa fee in multiple currencies or have card swipe machines but some prefer local currency or the US Dollars in bills. As a security measure or as a prescribed requirement, take a travel insurance for your trip to save you from uncontrolled expenditure in case of emergency.
Get all documentation ready and pinned well before your departure date. Prior to departing, make it a point to double check these documents as this is a critical part of your luggage - things you cannot buy at any cost. As a backup, I tend to keep an electronic copy on my PDA and also on my mail server just in case I need to retrieve it for whatever reason.
CurrencyMoney is what you need to travel, apart from the attitude and aptitude to travel. If you are traveling domestic, keep some hard currency handy as a lot of interior places would not offer card payments or ATM machines. Networks are elusive in many parts and you may find yourselves stranded for fuel or other requirements. It is best to carry cash as a buffer and keep topping it up as you use it. If you are traveling overseas, this heading gains critical importance. First, research the currency that is applicable for your destination and identifies current exchange rates. Also, estimate the amount of money you would need - research the living indexes, travelers' estimations, and other online information. If you are on a package tour, consult your travel advisor too. Settle for an amount on the higher side of your estimation. I have alway benefitted from online reviews and other discussion boards while opting for currency transactions. There are currencies which are difficult to procure because of short supply and hence carry high exchange margins. For such destinations, it is better to pick up US Dollars in India and have them exchanged locally in that country. The two transactions come out to be economical than one in such cases. Further, if you are opting this route, I recommend using authorized money changers. I always go for airport or bank counters which are a bit pricey but reliable. Also, carry an international debit or credit card (Visa/Master Card) to source cash in emergencies.
LuggageI always make it a point to travel light for multiple reasons - airline limits, logistical ease, light load on shoulders etc. However traveling light does not mean to be unprepared for where you are headed. While you can buy almost everything everywhere, you may not want to spend those priced moments looking for a right place. First and foremost, assess the weather conditions in your destination and pack clothing accordingly. Also, keep a pair extra clothing for exigencies. Pair up your accessories with dresses but try to keep them to a minimum. Footwear occupies quite some space so try to reduce them to the extent possible. However, do have a pair of casual sports shoes which come in handy for many occasions. There would be other clothing items you may want to include based on your plan and itinerary.
However, clothing is only a part of the luggage and there are few more critical items you may want to pack. First is a small first aid kit - bandages, Dettol, general medicines, any specifically prescribed medicines etc. Then there are electronics including camera, chargers, power banks, headphones, and memory cards. Do ensure that you charge your batteries to full and wipe out memory cards before starting the trip. Also, you may want to backup your phone and laptop data in case the worst happens. If traveling overseas, add in a couple of international/universal adapters. Also, if you like you could pack in ready to use beverages especially during trips abroad - as we like to pack a few pouches of powdered tea mixes. At last of course, toiletries based on your need.
A golden rule that my wife taught me - run through the things you need from morning to night in mind while packing luggage. This helps remind crucial items which would otherwise have gone unpacked.
Your luggage is packed and bookings are done. All you need now is to head out, catch your flight or train and have a great time. And yeah, do not forget to come back and let us know how your trip went. Of course, if you have any other trick in hand for travel preparations, we would be happy to give you your due credit!!
If you need details about a particular destination, you may find value in our travel experiences below.