Somebody once remarked that I seem to live from one trip to another. That is true, but there is more than just living between trips. When the family is not travelling, that means I, as the chief travel planner of the household, am in the middle of scheming, planning and managing the budget for our next one.
We generally take between 2-4 trips in a year, not including trips and sailing we do around the country, and I fall into the pattern of planning 2 trips ahead. With each trip planned and booked between 3-6 months in advance, by the time we actually go, most of the big expenses (e.g. flights, accommodations, car hire) are already paid off. This also means we are spreading the cost of our travels quite evenly throughout the year, which is easier to sustain than trying to save the money to pay in bulks at the time of the trip itself.
Basically, here is how the travel cycle goes:
1. Deciding where to go
The most important decision of all. We don’t have a bucket list to go through, and any mental list we have on the places we’d like to go to is at best nebulous and prone to shake ups when we found new destinations worthy of a spot or when we’re feeling impulsive about where we want to go next.
Usually, Hubby and I discuss and narrow down our picks into a short list that I can start my research on. Three main factors at this stage are:
- The duration of the trip. Obviously, if we only have one week to spare, we won’t be going somewhere requiring 20 hours of flights to reach. My rule of thumb is 1.5 hours of flight for every day we’re spending in a place is the maximum acceptable trade-off.
- The budget. The biggest expense is almost always the airfare for the three of us. So before deciding where to go, we look into how much we can spend for the flight, and limit our options accordingly. Fortunately for us, our home airport, Amsterdam Schiphol, has excellent connections to pretty much everywhere in the world that we can avoid expensive and inefficient connecting flights.
- Time of the year and what kind of trip we want to take. We don’t always have to be somewhere warm, but avoiding rainy season can make the difference of having a great time and being stuck indoor with limited options. Popular tourist destinations are best visited out of high season, if at all.
Some times, a destination just came out from out of nowhere as if it’s calling us, and we decided to go with the gut instinct and proceed with the bookings right away.
2. Hunting for the right airfare deal
This stage can make or break any earlier planning we have. I tend to use several different online ticket booking sites along with airlines’s official sites and compare them all. This exposes me to a deluge of competing offers and comparable destinations. A better offer in price, flight schedules (11am vs. 4am flight), connectivity (do I want to pay more for a direct flight rather than cheaper but with transfers in between?), or flight policy (checked in luggage included for free vs. pay per item), have been known to have us pick a different destination than the one we originally researching for.
Unless I got a really good deal I can’t resist on the flights, I don’t usually book right away, but monitor the price for a while until I’m quite sure that there is no benefit in waiting to book any longer. On average, I book flights 2-3 months in advance. Travelling as a family with a school-age child which bind us to travel during school vacations, there’s no hope of ever getting cheap last minute tickets, so it’s always better to book early.
3. Planning a rough itineraries and finding where to stay
Once the flights are booked and paid for, the next step is to figure out a rough itineraries. Do we want to set up a base camp at one spot or do we want to move around and spend several days each at different villages/towns/cities? This would help me deciding on the best accommodation options. Self catering accommodation is always preferable, but if we’re staying for 1-2 nights only, hotels can be more practical and cheaper. Looking for a place to stay can be the most time consuming of all the planning process, simply because of the abundance of options. I have written a long post about selecting the perfect accommodation here.
Some booking sites, require you to pay in advance, while some others charge part of the rate, or nothing at all until you checked out of the premise. I always prefer to pay them in advance, not only because you can usually get a better rate, but it works better for our budgeting rather than footing the bill after the trip when we have other after-travel bills to pay.
4. Wrapping up loose ends
With flights and a place to sleep organised, and usually paid for, we don’t usually do further planning, other than excitedly reading about the place we’re about to visit and how we would go around once we’re there. I like to have a bit of knowledge about the place, but we always prefer to keep our options open, and leave the day-to-day itineraries to what we feel best at the moment.
Any additional planning at this stage would only involve organising car hire, or visas, if necessary.
5. The best part of the cycle: we’re off!
6. Back home again
Coming back home is always a mix of remaining travel buzz, exhaustion, and the joy of being back home.
And there are bills to pay. We’re dedicating a full month after the trip to collect and get all the leftover bills from the trip settled.
7. It’s time to plan another trip.
By this time, we probably have had a trip ahead already planned, but we would already get giddy over the prospect of another one after that. Back to step 1.