Travel tips: Planning for that big trip

AS she prepares to jet off to Europe, Juliana Mare has some travel tips and advice on what to do (and don’t do) when booking a holiday.

My "European Inspiration" Contiki tour.

My “European Inspiration” Contiki tour.

In October last year, I sat across from the travel agent and paid the deposit for return flights to Europe and a 19-day Contiki tour for my brother and myself. But it was only this week, almost four and a half months later that with a great sigh of relief, we finally finished booking everything for our trip.

Suffice to say, I’ve learnt a thing or two about planning a holiday, so I thought I would share some tips.

Tip 1: Double check what your travel agent tells you

Never take your travel agent’s word as gospel. Don’t forget they work on commission. I learnt this the hard way when I booked travel insurance through the travel agent’s default insurance company only to hear a friend of mine booked online through another agency and got a better rate.

If you’re confident enough to book accommodation or tours yourself, you may find a cheaper quote online. Just triple check you’ve found a trusted, secure website before handing over your credit card details.

Tip 2: Research all other price options to get the cheapest rate

The importance of checking different company prices cannot be underestimated, especially when it comes to booking accommodation. There are hundreds of booking websites out there. A word of caution though, if you use non-Australian websites, the international currency exchange fees aren’t included in the initial quote, so it’s best to stick to Aussie sites like Agoda or Expedia.

My travel agent quoted $1,200 for a hotel in Dubai. I did my own research and found quotes online for around half that price. I emailed the hotel and asked them to match the online quote and they happily did. It was a bit fiddly to organise and pay via email, but the extra $600 in my bank account made it worth it.

Tip 3: You won’t have the same expectations as everyone else

TripAdvisor is a pretty handy website for researching accommodation, but don’t be fooled into dismissing a potential hotel/hostel purely because of its user ratings. With a ranking system between ‘terrible’ and ‘excellent’, odds are any accommodation that’s not five stars will have received mixed reviews.

If you’re concerned about the ‘terrible’ reviews, be sure to actually read them all, don’t just take the users’ word for it. People are generally a bit nit-picky online. Just because you found one stray hair on the bathroom floor doesn’t mean the hotel deserves a one-star rating. And it’s not the hotel’s fault you booked a basement room and then complained there were no windows.

Photo: Juliana Mare

Photo: Juliana Mare

Tip 4: Don’t book the first tour you stumble across, shop around for something unique.  

The glossy brochures from travel agents are useful to get ideas of where to stay and which tours to book, but don’t rely on them completely. If you can, talk to people who’ve travelled to that city and see if they recommend any good tours or places to stay.

I booked a tour in Ireland through Paddywagon Tours purely because my friends vouched for the company and had a fantastic experience with them in 2012. I’d rather take their word for it than some stranger’s review online.

Tip 5: Always try to connect to free Wi-Fi. Global roaming costs will bleed your data usage dry!

The internet is your best friend when it comes to navigating and deciding what sights and activities to cram into your limited time abroad. There are plenty of websites available that act as digital guidebooks to different cities.

Use-it is a travel website set up by young people for young tourists and has information overload on most major European cities. Whether you want to know which restaurants to avoid, which tourist attractions are worth the admission price or just generally how to get around, the Use-it maps are extremely thorough and their no-nonsense guides are great.

There are also a handful of travel apps for smart phones that can be used to navigate foreign cities. Triposo lists more than 8,000 destinations and without needing an internet connection, will tell you the best sightseeing, restaurants, bars and ways to commute.

Tip 6: Download a blank calendar of the months you’ll be away and fill in your itinerary. 

For your own peace of mind and to ease the concerns of your anxious parents while you’re away, be meticulously organised. Aside from basic things like keeping booking confirmations and receipts and showing up at the airport with time to spare, here are some not-so-obvious,  but important things to remember:

  • Bring the correct travel adapters to charge your electronics
  • Check that your electronic products have dual voltage
  • If travelling with different airlines, be aware of their luggage weight restrictions
  • Pay attention to the dress code of the countries you visit
  • Make sure your mobile is unlocked to accommodate a foreign SIM card

Lastly, install a desktop widget on your computer so you can eagerly watch the number of days count down until you’re en route to the airport!

Got any tips from your latest travels? Share them with us in the comments box below!

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