How to Plan an Independent Trip Abroad: Part 1 – Where & When
We are often asked how we plan our trips, commenting that we make it look easy. In reality, it is very time consuming but we enjoy the planning part almost as much as the trip itself. In this series, we will show you how to optimize your planning process and make your independent planning and traveling easier. Remember, with independent traveling, there is no tour company guiding you along. You ARE the TOUR GUIDE and thus you are responsible for all the planning, research, and reservations. We wouldn’t have it any other way because this allows flexibility and freedom to make changes at any time.
The three basic questions to getting started on your next adventure – where, when, and how much is airfare? Let’s break down these questions further:
1.Where do you want to go?
- What region?
- What countries?
- What cities?
2. When is the best time to go?
- What month?
- How long?
- Check potential destinations for holidays & events. We were once in a country that had a 4 day holiday and EVERYTHING was closed. Knowing this ahead of time allows you to plan accordingly and avoid potential surprises.
- Research the weather for the dates you want. Look at the seasons: rain, monsoon, snow, cold, hot. What kind of weather do you want to be in?
- Remember that climate can drastically vary even within one destination. On the Big Island of Hawaii, you can go from snow in the mountains to the beach within an hour drive.
By researching the best time to go, you may decide to adjust your location or dates.
3. How much is airfare to the starting point?
- We travel only one-way because one-way tickets are not as expensive as they used to be. We don’t know where we will end up when it’s time to return home so flexibility is the key. We’ll provide helpful step-by-step information on how to research for best airfares in a separate post as it’s a beast of its own.
- A preliminary search of airfares will give you an idea. Be sure to look at the airfare date windows (flexible vs exact dates). Many booking sites and airlines provide charts with fares for each day and these can fluctuate by hundreds of dollars from one departure date to the next.
- Check to see if the city has multiple airports and other nearby arrival options. Say you want to travel to Paris: there are 3 airport choices. Or, could it be cheaper to fly into Brussels or Amsterdam and take a high-speed train to Paris? This option would also allow you to see the countryside and ride on a train. For us, that is a win-win.
- We once looked at flying to the Maldives from Denver but the price was over $5,000 per person. An option and possible budget-saving idea would be to visit the Maldives as a side trip if you already are in the area. For example fly from Malaysia, Thailand or Sri Lanka. From Colombo, Sri Lanka to the Maldives it’s approximately $193 round trip. Much better than paying $5000+ as a stand alone destination. In another example, the Galapagos Islands would be best visited as a side trip on one of Ecuador’s budget friendly regional airlines. These are just a couple of ideas in creative airfare savings.
Research! Once you decide the where, when and how, the extensive research begins.
- You now know where and when you are traveling. GREAT!
- Head to the library and check out every book you can find on the destination(s). This is where you discover nearby towns and sightseeing options to add to your itinerary.
- How will you get from one location to another: train, plane, bus, ferry?
- Decide the length of stay in each place. We average about 4 nights per location.
- What about safety? To check for political unrest or protests, go to STEP (Smart Traveler Enrollment Program) for country-specific information. Remember EVERY country has issues including our own.
You have now selected where you are going and when you are traveling based on the weather, holidays and events. You’ve got a general idea of airfare costs to the starting point of your adventure and have determined it is within your budget. You have read about where you are going and learned about the local culture and customs, to be a thoughtful and courteous traveler.
Part 2 will be making airline reservations. Stay tuned as we explain how to easily find your best, lowest cost airfares. Sorry, we have to save some stuff for the next blog post.
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