So. Hubby and I off again this winter, my friends. Not travelling, but planning for travel. Not leaving home just yet, except through the magic of the internet, in our imaginations, and in our conversations over our morning tea. We’re just getting started, and I thought I’d write about the process we use to plan a trip, as we go along. We’ve refined what we do so that it’s pretty much the same every time, now. Keep in mind we are NOT professionals; we’ve just found what works for us.
The first thing I will say, is that travel planning is a ton of work. A lot of reading, asking questions, numerous e-mails, and seemingly endless discussions before we’re ready to make our bookings.
We could, easily enough, offload that onto a travel agent who would do the work for us. And we did do that in the past when we were relative newbies to the travel thing.
For our first trip to New Zealand and Australia in 2003, we used a travel agent from Goway who specialized in trips downunder. Our agent Audrey was great. We did our reading first. I shouldn’t say “we.” Mostly it was Hubby since I was still working. He chose a bunch of things he thought we’d love to do, and I mostly looked up from my marking and said, “Sounds wonderful.”
Audrey helped us plan a 3-month itinerary which incorporated all the things Hubby had decided, and a couple she suggested. She booked all flights and cars for us, several short package tours which we chose from their booklets (a three-day outback safari from Alice Springs, our Cains/Great Barrier Reef package, and the resort where we spent four wonderful days in the Cook Islands enroute to New Zealand. That stop-over was a necessity for me. We left home less than a week after my semester ended, during which time I had to shop, and pack, and tie up loose ends at work, and I needed some time to de-stress. Audrey also booked our first night’s accommodation when we flew into a new place (Auckland, Melbourne, Hobart etc.) and our hotel in Sydney for the last four days of our trip.
The rest of the time, we used local travel information sites and booked our hotels and motels a couple of days in advance. We were so happy that we did this. Our least favourite (and most expensive) places to stay were the ones booked by our agent. The local information sites were wonderful, and we met, and yakked up a storm, with lots of lovely people. We stayed in quirky motels, and cabins in camp grounds (or caravan parks) that we’d never have known about otherwise. We even booked a wonderful cottage in the Grampian Mountains because the local lady turned and asked her colleague, “Isn’t Ed renting out his place this season?” He was. And later that afternoon, we were able to pop our clothes in Ed’s washing machine, and step out Ed’s back door straight onto a hiking trail.
That first big trip in 2003 whetted our appetite and gave us much needed experience. We learned a lot during our numerous consultations with Audrey. And over the years, we found our courage and little by little began to steer our own ship, so to speak.
We realized that planning for travel, especially an extended, multi-destination trip, is the same process we used planning a new course when we were still teaching. Read, read, read, and research first. Set goals. Map out the big picture. How many weeks in total, where to start, where to end, and where to go in between. How many days will we need in each place? Where will we stay? We rough all this out. Then we book our flights and cars. And last we book our accommodations. Sounds easy, eh?
Planning a trip is easy, especially with the aid of the internet, if you don’t mind doing a lot of work. Much of which has to take place up front. The world is a big, big place. Where do we want to go? And why? Those are the questions we ask ourselves first.
It’s funny when I think about it. Hubby and I always end up liking the same kinds of places. But we decide where we want to go for very different reasons. He’s driven by a love of geography and wild places, and his knowledge of history. Me, well, I’ve usually read about a place in a book. Or it has some relationship to literature, or fashion. Or a personal connection for me. Hemingway’s apartment, and Shakespeare and Company, in Paris. The Brontë Museum in Haworth, Yorkshire. Katherine Mansfield’s birthplace in Wellington, New Zealand. Tralee in Southern Ireland where my ancestors emigrated from in 1819. Mostar in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Well, you get the idea.
Because we usually have different ideas of the places we most want to go, we try to alternate who chooses where we’re going next. South America in 2017 was Hubby’s trip. Italy was my choice since I’d never been. We both wanted to see some of eastern Europe, so the Balkans was a mutual choice. And this next one, Africa, is Hubby’s. He has long wanted to go. And we decided we’d better get our act together, and just go. We’re not getting any younger. Ha.
So what are we doing first? Well, we’re reading and researching. The first thing we do is to read as many guide books on our potential destination as the library has to offer. Then we choose one book to buy. Last year we read several books on the Balkans, and eventually settled on the Rick Steves guide to Slovenia and Croatia. I highly recommend this guide. You can find the updated 2020 version here. We found Steves very outspoken in his opinions. He doesn’t sugarcoat things. In fact we opted to take several of his back road routes, and they made our trip much more memorable. We do love our back roads. Some guide books offer little in the way of opinions, instead giving only objective information, or saying only positive things, and you really have to read between the lines.
We’re also talking to people whom we know and trust, who have been where we want to go. Actually that is often our first job. Who has been where, what did they do, and do they have an itinerary?
Last year we started with an itinerary from old friends who had been to the Balkans a couple of years before. We’ve used their itineraries as our initial planning tool for several trips. They travel a lot, and often to places we’d like to go as well. But we have realized over the years that their priorities, while similar in many ways, are also different in others. It’s really important to understand the rationale behind someone else’s choices. When someone says, “You can’t go to blank without seeing or doing blank,” always try to understand why they say that.
Our friends are more given to stay in large cities (for instance, Budapest and Split) and more interested in museums and galleries than we are. That’s fine. Everyone has their own reasons for travel. We’ve learned to take on what is helpful for us, and leave the rest. Last year, we visited Split for the day, but stayed in a small place near Trogir, and were very happy that we chose to substitute Zagreb for Budapest.
Once we’ve begun to identify some places of interest, we ask lots and lots of questions. Months before our Balkan trip, I was e-mailing my friend Frances who had visited Croatia twice in recent years, and Dottoressa who lives in Zagreb. They both helped us decide what we wanted to do. It was Frances who suggested Trogir rather than Split… and Dottoressa who suggested we stay inland on Istria which lead to our idyllic few days in Motovun.
Oddly enough, one thing we’ve learned quite recently is that many people are loathe to say anything negative about a trip they have taken. Once home it seems that a certain amount of amnesia sets in. In hindsight, everything was wonderful, everywhere was amazing. Yes, you absolutely should see this or that. It was only after we returned from Italy and described some of the negative experiences we’d had that friends admitted, “Yes, that was unpleasant wasn’t it?” Whatever we were complaining about had happened to them too. So, you see, it’s not just guide books that gloss over the possible glitches. This made me value the information we received from Frances and Dottoressa even more than before.
So, as I said we are in the reading, reading, dreaming stage of planning our Africa trip.
We’re consulting two itineraries from two sets of friends. They are quite different trips, which is interesting. We’ve ordered a stack of guides from the library. And we were sent a really interesting and valuable link to a planning site by a hockey-golfing buddy of Hubby’s who has been to Africa several times. And we’ve been casually googling various safari packages. Ooh… that is a dangerous thing to do, people. Dangerous in that it’s way too early to get excited.
And… of course… we’re chatting every morning over our first couple of cups of tea. And dreaming of places we might be seeing in real life this time next year.
Once we have entered the information overload part of the planning process, we’ll be ready to choose a route, pick places, and move on from there. I’ll get back to you on that in the weeks to come.
Now, what about you, my friends? Do you have a planning for travel process ? Or do you prefer to leave it to the professionals?
P.S The travel guide link is an affiliate link. If you buy something after clicking on it I will earn a commission.
Joining Catherine this week at #ShareAllLinkup