Holiday season is upon us!
That’s right – it’s FINALLY Summer after what seems like the longest Winter/Spring in the history of British seasons. And there’s no better feeling than having a holiday to look forward to after many months of endless working/studying and cold weather.
Before I met my partner, I had never planned or booked a holiday – I had always gone away with either family who had booked it on my behalf – or with college on trips which I just had to pay my fee and turn up! So, it’s been an eye opening experience as to the level of organisation that goes into it – and I have found my own way of planning a holiday to make sure all needs are met whilst exploring a new city and country.
For those of you planning your own trips and may or may not have done it before, here are my top tips for making sure you have thought of everything you potentially haven’t considered in your prep!
So without further ado – here are my Top 10 Holiday Planning Tips:
1. Shop Around…
I almost fell into the ‘package holiday’ habit as that is what my Mum has always done when booking a holiday. However, I learned whilst studying Travel and Tourism that it can usually work out a lot cheaper to book your hotel and flights separately – especially when it comes to finding accommodation. It all comes down to personal preference, really.
Your flights are a standard price regardless – it’s the accommodation and level of board (self-catering, bed and breakfast, all inclusive) that fluctuates the price. If, like me, you simply want a flight and a place to stay in between your activities and exploring, then you are usually best looking at what you can find by yourself. I have booked all my holidays this way – and have got some really good deals in the process.
Use sites like Trivago, TripAdvisor and Booking to look at deals in the destination you’ve picked. *Remember – Trivago prices are per night, not as a total so use the budget tools available on the site to limit what you can afford to spend.* It can also end up being cheaper using alternatives such as AirB&B – which is people renting out their house/apartment/guest bedroom for a cheap price – or using TripAdvisor to look at the cost of renting a villa or apartment if you have a large group of people. Villas will usually cost around £400-£500 a week, and that covers everybody – as opposed to renting multiple hotel rooms at a cost per night – e.g. 7 nights at a hotel for 6 people could mean booking 3 hotel rooms at £50 per night. That’s £1050 in total. Whereas a villa for 6 at £500 for the week costs only £83 each for the entire week – leaving more money for the essentials like food, drink and excursions.
This also applies to flights – if you’re not picky about dates or are able to book well in advance, SkyScanner is an excellent tool that allows you to check all flights to a destination over a month from all UK airports! and show you the cheapest month/time of month to fly to help you budget. I usually start planning holidays 3-4 months ahead to check prices, and work my holiday around that rather than picking specific dates and risk being caught up with those huge prices!
So shop around, price up and see what you can find.
2. Location, Location, Location
The first thing I look at when booking to go away is where the accommodation is – as usually, the cost reflects the location – either in the middle of the main square (more expensive) vs. a few streets away in the outskirts (much cheaper).
Don’t be disheartened that your hope of staying in a centrally located hotel doesn’t match the budget – as most destinations are now very well linked up with their transport system and actually pushes you to explore a little more than you would should you be in the centre of it all. Being outside of the centre also means you’re more likely to be uninterrupted by noise and disruption outside when it comes to getting some well needed rest in an evening.
This is particularly important when going on city breaks – as you will always find that hotels/accommodation is much cheaper just on the outskirts of the city. So if you discover a great hotel at a great price – make sure to open up Google Maps before making a booking and check out where the local bus/train/underground is and how easy it’s going to be for you to get around.
Google Maps is my best friend when it comes to planning – and even whilst on holiday. You can usually find the way to a chosen tourist destination using public transport or your way back home after a particularly enthusiastic detour whilst exploring. These are the icons you need to be looking for near your hotel:
You can usually get a tourist travel pass for the main tourism cities such as Rome, London, Berlin etc. So, make sure to check that if your accommodation isn’t directly in the centre, you’re near enough to a transport method to get you around for cheap. With city breaks, everything is usually within walking distance anyway but for those who (like me) have a condition that hinders walking for long distances, it’s helpful and puts your mind at ease to know you can jump on the local tram to the Colosseum in Rome or the underground to visit Kensington Palace.
A lot of main cities offer a ‘pass’ that offers you a travel card as well as entry/discounted entry to numerous attractions for one pass. So again, it’s all about shopping around and seeing what’s on offer. You can grab yourself a really good deal if you’re into culture and exploring museums and attractions.
3. Surround Yourself With Essentials
Picking a hotel isn’t just about how far you are from the beach, but also about what else is around you that you may need as the week goes on. For me, that would be a shop where I can stock up on essentials such as water or some bits of food should I have not been able to eat whilst exploring for whatever reason. It can take a lot of pressure off, too, knowing you don’t need to trek miles to a shop when there’s a corner shop that stocks everything you may need last minute such as some pain killers for that deadly hangover or some bread and meats to keep you ticking over til lunchtime.
So have a look what the reviews say about the local area and see what’s nearby.
4. Accessibility for Additional Needs
The majority of places are now working towards being disabled friendly – but it’s difficult to always allow for this when your hotel is located on the side of a hill or up a set of 300 steps. And Google Maps from a birds eye view makes everything look as flat and as accessible as possible.
What I would say is don’t trust the travel agent or advertising website when it states the accommodation is ‘accessible’ – this is because this usually refers to the hotel itself and not the area it is located. Trust this from someone who knows – when booking into a hotel in Tenerife, the travel agent assured us the hotel was ‘disabled friendly’ as my sister uses a wheelchair – and to our horror, when we pulled up outside, it was located on a steep hill which restricted my sister to staying in the hotel for most of the week as the trip in and out of the centre was so difficult and distressing for all involved in sweltering heat.
So, to avoid disappointment, make sure to have a look at where the location is on Google Maps before you book anywhere and take a ‘virtual’ trip from your accommodation to the main attractions/tourist places. You can drag the ‘little yellow man’ in the right hand corner onto a road and click the arrows. This will give you a 360 degree view of your potential spot and give you an idea as to how difficult it is to navigate.
5. Take It From Someone Who Knows
Want to know the best spot to have a meal whilst the sun goes down – or a bar that does the best cocktails but doesn’t advertise itself to tourists?
Then TripAdvisor is your source of all information.
TripAdvisor not only compares prices for hotels and has some brilliant articles on how to spend your time away, but their forums are the most popular in the world and you can ask any question and be answered by a mix of locals, who know the place like the back of their hand, and regular travellers who have come to know the place like a home from home. This can vary from anything at all – such as how a sole traveller can spend their one-day’s crossover in Tokyo to where the best hostels are in Melbourne. You can also check up on why prices are so high in a certain week – the locals will know what events are on in town – and can give you the best advice and knowledge going.
Don’t be afraid to ask something – they’ve likely been asked before or have wondered the same thing themselves at some point.
As well as asking questions about the place you’re visiting, copy and paste the name of your chosen hotel into google followed by ‘tripadvisor’ and find honest reviews by other travellers. Just because a hotel is classed as ‘4 star’ – doesn’t mean the service and rooms still are. So utilise the information available before making your choice.
6. Excursion Pre-Booking = Winner
One of your biggest expenses whilst away will usually be activities and excursions – this includes water parks, wildlife parks, museums, boat trips etc.
What a lot of people don’t know is that booking in advance of going away is much more beneficial for the holiday funds. Not only are you leaving more money for spends when you arrive, but you can actually get some really good deals online – especially when going on city breaks. You can usually find bundles for several activities – for example, when going to Benalmadena, I found a website that offered a much cheaper price to visit the marine park and a mountain cable car with a wild bird show on one ticket which saved us money. With museums, you will nearly always find a better price online – and a possible opportunity to skip the queues.
So, I would suggest before you go anywhere, have a look at what things you might be doing/like to do and google search ‘cheap tickets’ or ‘discount’ and see what offers you find! Not only will it save you from dipping into your spends upon arrival, it can save you money too.
7. Get Organised!
If you’re anything like me, organisation and feeling like you’re ‘on top of everything’ is what will enable a smooth trip. I like to plan everything ahead, especially when going on city breaks as there’s so much to see in a short space of time.
So you will usually see me with a pack of paperwork – which includes an itinerary of the flights, the transfers (I will nearly always find a train or bus that goes from the airport rather than spend loads on a taxi), the accommodation, tickets for excursions, etc.
If you want to get organised but don’t like the sound of carrying a wad of papers around, there are apps that store all of that for you – with a virtual itinerary and some suggestions of places to go based on top ratings by other users – Sygic would be the option for you. Sygic allows you to plan your trip on either your computer – and sync it to your phone app – or directly on your phone. You can input flight details, hotel address, which attractions you are seeing on which date etc.
8. The Wheels On The Bus Go Round & Round
In my opinion, the best way to start a trip is by getting a local bus tour to take you around the main areas. It gives you a feel for the place, you get to know the area and you can get some ideas as to what you might like to see or where you could visit during your stay.
Not only that, but some places offer hop-on hop-off bus services – so if you know you have a particularly busy day ahead sightseeing, a hop on/off bus might actually be logistically better to help you retain some energy as they will usually stop off outside the main attractions and pick you up to take you to the next one. It saves miles of walking and – in beautiful weather – can offer an amazing experience. Check out this website if your chosen destination has a tour available.
Just don’t go in cold weather. Otherwise you’ll end up looking like me in December whilst in Dublin:
9. The Final Bill
Often, when visiting main cities, you will find that a ‘city tax’ is imposed by law on all hotels in the area. This is not typically included in your booking price when making your reservation online – and will be payable at the hotel, usually upon departure.
The terms of the tax, however, is stated when making a booking so make sure to check for this before you go – whether it is included or not – so that you’re not caught out by an unexpected request for more money when you arrive.
10. Always Plan Ahead
I’ve been fortunate to have not found myself in a sticky situation abroad and needed some help. However, it does happen – and it’s always best to plan ahead to ensure you’re able to get yourself some help if you ever need it.
First things first – travel insurance. I don’t usually book travel insurance when going away for two or three days as we are usually just sightseeing and eating our way through the local delicacies, though I probably should. But when we go away for long trips such as 6 or 7 days, I always book insurance as you don’t know what might happen – especially if you’re going on boat trips, excursions and taking in a lot more sun than you would normally. You can pick insurance up for a good price – just make sure it covers you for hospital fees and that there aren’t any exclusions that you may need.
I would always advise to have access to funds in an emergency – such as your money/purse gets stolen. When we arrive at a hotel, we will divide our money up and put it in different places so that if someone ‘handsy’ comes across a bit of money in your room, you’re only down by 30 euros rather than 300. So far, we’ve not had any go missing but it does happen.
If you have access to a credit card, use it only when you need to but do keep it on you somewhere other than your bag or purse so that if your bag gets stolen, you’re not stuck without. As much as they’re not fashionable, there are pouches you can wear under your clothes that pick-pockets can’t get to – and these are what I wore in places notorious for pick pocketing such as Rome and Barcelona – such as these. *the photos show them over the clothes for advertising, but they are supposed to go under your shirt!
It’s also handy to make a list of places you may need at some point – such as a chemist – and to keep a list of the addresses of these to show a local if you get lost or need help. The locals may be much more likely to help if there isn’t a complete language barrier and you’re shouting “CHEMIST???” at someone and pointing at a list of English words. The lady we rented an apartment from in Spain gave us the address of our apartment and when we got lost or needed to get a taxi late at night, we had the address written to show the taxi driver without having to shout a mix of Spanish and English with the hope he knew what I was going on about.
Also make a note of the local embassy for your nationality (just in case), some emergency contacts should you lose your phone – and photocopy your passport and keep in a safe place in your room. Just little things that can help you out should you find yourself in a sticky spot.
So there you have it – my top ten tips for booking your first holiday abroad. And trust me, once you’ve successfully done it once, it all comes natural and you know what to look for yourself. But it’s always handy for some advice to make sure all grounds are covered before you jet off for your first self-booked holiday.