How To Make Your Own Travel Plans
Making your own plans involves the patience and time to explore all options. If you love to shop and browse, you already have this mindset. The more you travel and make your own plans, the quicker the process, even when you start to explore new destinations. But if you don't have fun making your own plans, or if you only like part of the process, that's what travel agents are for.
1. How to Get Started
You should be able to use the Internet with a desktop computer, a laptop, a tablet and smartphone. This is essential and crucial for such tasks creating accounts on various sites, purchasing tickets with your debit or credit card, making reservations online, etc. To minimize hacking and if you're concerned with security issues, you may want to designate one card for purchases. For some alternative lodging (like vacation rentals), you may need a cash account, such as PayPal, Venmo or CashApp.
You also should have access to a printer and a scanner (although you can now take photos of your documents with your phone and use those images). A physical printout might be required for some places. Also, printouts are great back-ups for reservations and tickets in case something happens to the digital ones. There are some units that are all in one: printer, scanner, fax machine.
2. Where to go?
If you are new to traveling beyond visiting family or going to the same place every year, it can be overwhelming to decide where to go. Talking to people is one way to get ideas; watching travel shows is another; you'll get ideas watching movies, going to an event, following hobbies (your favorite team, performing artist or fan conventions). Still other people have a mission: the top roller coasters, every water park, waterfalls, lighthouses, national parks, etc. You may want to golf the most famous courses or you may be a food or wine connoisseur. Finally, there is the wish list: all the major cities, every continent, all 50 US states, you get the picture. Whatever the reason, all trips have three basic components: how to get there, where to stay and what to do.
3. What to do?
Even if you use a travel consultant, doing your own research first is best to decide what you want to do. This way, you’ll be able to give the consultant a clear idea of what you want and get smoother service. Also, guidebooks are still a great investment. My favorite series are Rick Steves, Lonely Planet, Moon, Frommers, and Fodor's. I buy one of the pocket versions and buy two of the electronic versions. You can order on a desktop computer and then use their apps on your tablet or phone. Finally, leave a little time for spontaneous fun. You can get ideas for these from the pamphlets and brochures.
4. How to get there?
If you are cruising, you can work directly with the cruise line of your choice or use a travel agent (recommended). Cruise.com and cruisecritic.com can be good search engines to filter through to narrow down a cruise line that has the location and time of year that you want. Cruising combines it all: where, how, what to do. It gives you a taste of places by way of boat and a place to stay at the same time. If you are flying, there are tons of search engines. These sites will scan all the possibilities for you without you having to go to each individual airline's website. Popular sites are Kayak, Orbitz, Cheapoair, Expedia, Travelocity, Hipmunk, Hotwire and Hopper. Most will let you set notifications so that you can keep track of prices. Then, once you have narrowed down the airline, book directly on the airline's site to be sure that you get your reward points, the best possible price and some options that are not available through search engines. If you are taking a bus, there are also many options. I do not travel by bus but others do. I would only recommend this for short journeys, especially if you do not drive or taking your car is not feasible. Greyhound and Trailways are still around but traveling by budget bus has become very popular: Megabus, BoltBus, etc.
Finally, there is driving by automobile, whether it's your car or a rental. AAA, Map Quest, Google Maps, Maps.Me, Waze and many GPS apps will give you any type of directions you need. Plus, learn the app because it will also give you icons for lodging, gas, restaurants
Resort, Hotel or Apartment?
5. Where to stay?
Resort, hotel or motel or rented apartment: the above-mentioned search engines have lodging information also. There's also Hotels.com, Getaroom.com and Hotel Tonight. Resorts will give you full service with lots of amenities (pool, spa, fitness, maybe a beach), usually including meals (especially if it's inclusive), activities and on-site entertainment. Hotels might include on-site restaurants, bars or lounges (for additional prices), a concierge to help arrange activities, a fitness area, a business center with a computer and printer, guest laundry, pool or more. Motels mean that the door opens to the outside rather than a corridor inside the hotel. But in some areas, this does not mean that they are always sleazy or dangerous. In locations known for their outdoor activities, this may be the norm and frequently they are small businesses with many of the same amenities as hotels. Many hotels and motels include a complimentary breakfast which varies from coffee and pastry to a full meal. Rentals can mean a wide variety of options: apartments, rooms in a house, camping sites, etc. Use a website that vets the owners as well as the rentals and read the reviews (a skill in itself) before booking. But apartment rentals in many areas are a great option.
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