I am a planner. I always have been and to some extent, probably always will be. And I’m not the only one – from one friend who lists of each days activity to its matching outfit, coordinating jewellery, shoes and hairstyle to another who has mastered the art of the ‘practice pack’. Everyone travels differently.
I like to know what’s going on and what there is to see and do in my proposed destination. Some tours and events only run on certain days and if you don’t plan ahead you can miss something awesome, like a 2am fire walking ceremony for the Indian celebration of Timiti or tickets to watch Motley Crue minus the crushing metalhead crowds in Singapore. I spend a lot of time trying to look for something a bit different that gives me a glimpse into why the country and its people are they way they are.
Until you start digging, all you find are the usual array of tours and sightseeing that EVERYBODY ELSE sees! If you persevere though, you can find some really great alternative tours that help you get a different view of the city you are visiting. It all depends on what you like and what you think a holiday should consist of, but for me – if I can do it at home, there’s no point leaving home (ie. lying by the pool all day sounds incredibly boring to me).
I spend hours reading and scouring the internet, but I generally look at a couple of sites in particular when trying to find something to do. Time Out is always a good website to have a look at, and is available for a lot of locations around the world – Singapore and KL’s versions are particularly good. Time Out will tell you what exhibitions, gigs, restaurants, shops, hotels and other events to check out.
The BBC’s news website has a travel section, which often highlights interesting items of news and great photos of world events and festivals, such as Kumbh Melah, Holi and La Tomatina.
Then I also look for a tourism website – because they do generally give you a calendar of events of what’s on – and a local news site, just to see what makes the place tick.
I do a budget – I don’t always stick to it, but it gives me a rough guide of what to save. It helps me to book all the ‘locked in’ things on my itinerary, flights, accommodation, transfers, tours etc first, then I know that whatever I can save from that point until my trip departure date, is what I have left to spend. Usually never enough.
Unless I’m going to Japan or Singapore, I usually always book a transfer to and from the airport. It’s the easiest and safest way to get from the airport to your hotel (and back). And let’s face it, the last thing you want after a long flight is to deal with hagglers for a taxi at an airport or worse, get ripped off. Of course, I am a cautious traveller as well, and for me, sometimes peace of mind doesn’t have a price.
Choosing hotels, I do a location search first just to check out who I can stalk and where all the shops are, then narrow it down by price and Trip Advisor reviews. Some people are really, really fussy. At the end of the day, you just want somewhere safe and clean to stay – you don’t need a palace. Get an overall opinion of the feedback – I generally ignore any comments about how small the room is – look at the area in proximity to the stuff you want to see (you don’t want to spend all your time travelling back and forth across the city), look at the traveller photos and then make your decision. I have seen countless reviews on hotels in red light areas, from people who seem to be absolutely disgusted with their stay in a questionable neighbourhood – but I’ve stayed in a few of them, and have had no problems whatsoever – you are obviously going to see a different side of town, but if you keep to yourself, you shouldn’t have any problems. Having said that, I don’t like the thought of staying in hostels (though my wallet wishes I did!). And when I’m travelling by myself, I do like to go for something a bit quirky. And of course, some countries are more expensive for a solo traveller than others – Japan is great, the US not so much!
Then I look out for the deal and book. Sometimes you can get a better deal direct through the hotel website, other times you get a great deal on Agoda or Expedia. Luck of the draw. Some hotels have chain discounts if you stay in them across a country or around the world. Japan has some awsome Best Western Hotels, so I got myself a card a have used it to book a Best Western hotel in San Francisco. Hopefully the points will help me towards some free accommodation for a return trip to Japan in the future. Some hotels also give you mileage points on your frequent flyer cards for your stay (ie. I can use my stay at the Traders Hotel in Kuala Lumpur to earn miles on my Singapore Airlines Krisflyer card). Because I intend to do a fair bit of travelling over the next few years, I’m trying to set myself up with a few different point earning options so that I can get some freebies or upgrades down the track. My Velocity Rewards card has already landed me a free flight from New York to Seattle!
I also do a bit of research to find out what restaurants, cafes and convenience stores are located around my hotel area. It doesn’t mean I only eat at those, I just like to know where they are. It makes a difference when you arrive late, or have to leave early in the morning, and if you are cautious about going out by yourself for dinner at night. And let’s face it, it’s a dream of mine to eat at the Hard Rock Cafe in every available city in the world, so I need to know where they are.
This all probably seems a bit over the top at times, but my aim at the end of the day is to create for myself the best possible experience I can have in a limited time space and being organised helps me to achieve that. It’s not to say that I’m inflexible or that I’ll throw a hissy fit if something doesn’t go as planned, but as a single girl travelling, I just think it can’t hurt to be a bit prepared.