Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Trip Planning

I’ve decided to dedicate this post to trip planning. I honestly believe one of the biggest ways to save money and time (which equals money in my book) is with a good plan. Note: I’ll admit upfront for my “Type B” people that this blog post probably isn’t for you. Sorry. I’ll make it up to you.

I think of trips as an investment. They make us better, happier, and enriched people if we’re lucky. And luxury travel, even on the cheap, is a big investment. So a HUGE pet peeve of mine is spending thousands of dollars on a vacation and then getting to your destination and wasting the little time you have there figuring out what to do. You wouldn’t buy a washer/dryer or plasma TV without doing some level of research, would you?

I’m all for being flexible – we’ve had great experiences by being willing to get great advice and changing our plans as we go along. I also try not to be TOO structured or over plan and to give everyone in my group choices, but I REALLY need to know my options before I hit my destination.

Some trips require more planning than others. All a beach trip requires for me is deciding what swimsuit to wear and where to eat dinner. But I’ve learned that we have the best time for more involved trips when we’ve done a bit of research ahead of time. Places like Walt Disney World (especially during peak crowd seasons) require a decent of amount of planning and structure, but that time is paid back ten-fold in terms of less time spent in long, hot lines with tired cranky people we don’t know, lol. And it allows us to come back from what could be a very tiring vacation very happy and relatively rested and relaxed.

Here are three things you can easily research online that make a BIG difference on a trip:

Dining –as I have family and friends who are vegetarian, considering where and how we eat is always a biggie for me. Do we always stick to the plan – NO! We quite often change our plans. But I have a good handle on which fish are kosher and can ask about vegetarian dining in 3 languages.

Tours – are you going to do a lot of walking? Will you need different clothing and most importantly good SHOES? How much are tours going to cost? I must be the only person in the universe who didn’t know when I went on my first cruise that excursions and SODA were extra. I thought once you got to the boat everything was pretty much free. I was disabused of that notion minutes after boarding.

Weather – have you checked the forecast preceding you trip and considered indoor and outdoor activities based on weather? Nothing’s worse than getting stuck outside in inclement weather. I learned last Fall that packing flip flops (my shoes of choice on vacation) can work against you in 50 degree weather! I now own the most amazing pair of flat shoes EVER made (God bless Clarks) that are cute enough and kept my feet covered and VERY comfortable this Spring in Barcelona.

My TripTip":
A good plan goes a long way in saving you time and money on trips. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Google is your friend. Lonely Planet, guide books, unofficial guides, online forums and articles are abundant for most destinations – so whatever it is, wherever you go, spend time making sure your time is well spent.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Vive La France!

Okay so it’s taken me forever to write about my trip to France here. Partly because I’ve been this weird combo of lazy and busy. But mostly because it was too cool a trip to put into words. So I’ve decided to type up a few observations as they come to me.

I heart France. Maybe not as much as Spain, but still quite a bit. The language barrier wasn’t so difficult (thanks to earworms learning, podcasts, and a dictionary) and it turned out to be a just like any other major city in terms of getting around. (I even have a great stuck in Paris when the Metro was closing story.) People were nice enough (hey, I’m a NY’er) the food was great and it was beautiful! I can’t wait to go back.

Get out on the open road! I didn’t drive in Paris, but did throughout the countryside. Thank God for countries that drive on the same side for the road as us and universal signs. I also used a European car rental company to get a GREAT deal on an automatic.

Hot bread! I honestly don’t know how I survived this long without a neighborhood patisserie in my life. It was so great to start my day with a REAL croissant and pick up a baguette on the way home. And it should be against the law to pass off the crap some places call croissants in this country.

Make new friends! We met an American who worked at our resort and he was a HUGE help to us. We made way better day trip choices due to his quick and easy insight and saved time and money with his advice. He also helped us navigate a customer service issue during our stay to our best advantage.

Speaking of our issue I am reminded again to ALWAYS speak to a manager when you have a problem and keep at until you’re properly recompensed. My friend got 90,000 hotel points because our hotel couldn’t remember to replace our towels every day. Sound trivial but when it’s 9pm and you’ve returned from a cold, wet and dirty city and all you want is a hot meal and shower as you stumble into your place but there are no towels (AGAIN) and the lid to the trash can is on the counter where you prepare food…. you get the picture. BTW, 90,000 points with Marriott amounts to almost a week’s stay and it can be used worldwide.

Why am I still dreaming of and going on trips in the midst of these harsh economic times? Opportunity is knocking. Airline fares are the lowest they’ve been in YEARS. I just spent a third of what I did two years ago on airfare to Spain. Hotels & restaurants want your business and are offering sweet deals to get it. Pay your bills, save some money (for now and later) and if you can – go travel! I doesn’t have to be for weeks at a time, it doesn’t have to be to Europe, but go!

My “TripTip”:
Use your miles/awards points. Never spend a dollar without seeing how you can get the most out of it. We stayed at a $400/night Sheraton in Paris for $20 using Starwood points. I used credit card rewards points to stay at a Ritz Carlton in New Orleans last summer.
Renting cars from local companies can save $$$ overseas. Especially if you’re the typical American who doesn’t drive a manual (like me, LOL). Make sure to compare the prices on their local sites to the us versions.
Sign up for weekly airline and travel discount emails. Between a cheap flight and using points you can have a quick and fun getaway for a lot less money than you think.