After two failed attempts from our travel agent to get our summer vacation organised, I'm sitting online working out our holiday. It's taking hours!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I know that sounds spoilt and indulged, and appreciate we are very fortunate to be in a position to have an annual summer holiday.
It's sort of enjoyable.
It's definitely time consuming.
Imagine the sense of achievement when it's done!
After several hours online last night, I can see the merit in having a dedicated travel agent to work with, tho numerous friends who travel a lot more than we do, with larger families reckon DIY-online bookings is by far the best way to plan a holiday. Some of the reasons being:
- Greater choice - isn't that obvious said one friend.
- You retain control over every aspect.
- Because you spend hours online, you get to know the destination/s really well.
- It's usually less expensive.
- You can email or call the tour guide or hotel and ask specific questions rather than going thru a 3rd party.
- You can delay payments, there by spreading out expenses.
- There's more opportunity to 'do a deal'
- Easier to go with friends recommendations, than the agents pushing you in the direction where they receive the larger commission.
- Depending on where you are (location) and where you are staying (type of accommodation) and who you are traveling with (age of kids/parents, grandparents), having the freedom to eat when/where you want is better than having food included as part of tariff. Some breakfasts in hotels are ridiculously priced!
- Agents don't often recommend apartments, or family rooms in hostels
Fortunately I don't mind Googling and researching. Several friends have shared their recommendations with me, which has made getting started easier. According to a travel industry survey , 80% of people agree that DIY Holiday Planning is the way to go. (As I have a friends who are travel agents, I do know and appreciate their skills in creating brilliant bespoke holidays, or securing that illusive room or tour deal)
After attaching a very large piece of MissM's art paper onto the very large glass wall in the kitchen to be used as a mind mapping kinda note pad thingy, (find that easier than flicking between pages on the laptop) the work began.
First there's looking on expedia.com (or similar) to look for hotels for the cities/dates we want. Think I also had trivago open at one stage.
Then cross referencing with TripAdvisor to check out reviews. Some people are so mean with their reviews! It's curious to see which properties offer a reply to reviews regardless of their comments.
Once happy with the reviews, it's off to compare prices/availability with VRBO (Vacation Rentals By Owners) a brilliant site that MrsA highly recommended. MrsH found this sort of accommodation very attractive when traveling with her family of 5 adults + her MIL. Another MrsA said that she always finds it difficult to get a large enough room for her family (2 adults + 2 teenagers), and getting two double rooms with interlocking doors isn't always an option, and spending the entire holidays sharing a twin share with her daughter, while hubby is with their son isn't fun either.
The 2 MrsA and Mrs H also said that apartments are a great option when you take into account you can shop'n'cook meals at your leisure, and do laundry - both expensive sundry expenses, or just kick back in comfort of an apartment rather than a hotel room after a long day out.
We're only travelling the 3 of us, and the thought of shopping and cooking and doing laundry isn't my idea of a holiday; tho it would be nice to eat when you want to, and spread out after being out all day rather than being couped up in a hotel room; paying Euro20+ for MissM to eat breakfast makes a mockery out of toast'n'jam and a glass of juice. A morning Starbucks would do us fine! Tho, a hearty breakfast can mean a very light lunch (if at all) for us, and something for MissM - we've become very good at sneaking a few pastries in a serviette into my bag.
But I digress.
Quick look on Google Maps to see where exactly the hotel/apartment is located in relation to key tourist sites - walking distance vs public transport.
This is when the research becomes interesting heheheheh. With choices made, comparisons done, what next ......................
(a) find another hotel just in case your first choice one is booked by the time you come to book it, or
(b) choose another hotel cos the one you thought you liked isn't in a great location or
(c) it blows the budget, or isn't available on the dates you need and you can't move the trip or
(d) someone in the group doesn't like it.
Back to TripAdvisor, double check against Google Maps .... add to saved list of www addresses in a folder called SUMMER VACATION Option B (really hoping there's no Option C cos that'll get super confusing)
Stress levels increase as you see hotels you like with 'Last Room of This Type Left' or 'Only 2 Rooms left at this price' or 'There have been 9 bookings made at this hotel in the last 48 Hours'. Knowing there's still much to discuss before you can book the room - tho there are hotels that allow you to reserve the room with early cancellation deadlines and no fee.
Once the wish list of your itinerary is planned out in this fashion, you hold your breath while adding up accommodation, transport between cities, and return airfares .... are you within budget? Please be within budget. The thought of re-doing any aspect is not attractive.
Ok so far .... back online to Google and start sourcing pre-ticketed tours to key tourist things you want to do ..... there's so many to choose from! Who's the best? Who's reliable? Who's professional? How do prices compare to itineraries being offered?
Add these costs in to the equation.
Planning a holiday makes one NEED a holiday.
The only remaining question is, do we do 7 cities in the one country we're planning on visiting for the first time or do we do less cities, staying longer in each one and doing them well at a leisurely pace vs 2-3 night stays and running ourselves ragged and not doing justice to anything?
Admittedly this is a pretty naff problem to have, as there are many people who would love to be able to just get away for a weekend up the road, let alone consider a 3 week trip. I definitely appreciate the situation we are in, especially being a one income family not-thru-choice.
My visa is stamped Dependent and words to the effect that the holder of the visa shall not earn an income or use State funds.
When we talk of weekends away, or summer vacations the guilt and anger swells inside ..... if only I could contribute financially!
So many expat wives feel the same way.
Some expat families vacation allowances in their contracts (we don't). One friend explained the reason is 'a happy and well traveled spouse means a happy and content employee'. Wish G's employer thought about my contentment hehehehehe
One friend receives massively discounted air fares (hubby is in the airline industry but not working for one particular airline), another confided in me when I was asked her in the strictest of confidence to explain to me what we were doing wrong in terms of holidays as we both have one child and they are 'always' away (see what impression you leave when constantly posting pics on FB) and she smiled and said 'oh honey, we don't pay for any of it! How rich do you think we are? The company pays - we have a travel allowance which we can use any way we want' DOH!
One of the first friends to expat, years before we ever thought of it told us to ensure we were given cash travel allowance to be used as we wanted, rather than tickets - yeah right! What company did he work for again??????????????????????????
A rather wealthy uncle of mine said 'one should cut their cloth accordingly to get the best fit from the initial amount of fabric' and he's right.
So, G and I will cut our cloth this evening and plan the very best sumer vacation we can within our means and it will be wonderful cos it'll be ours and by the time we're done planning it, we'll definitely need it.
Where ever you are headed this summer (northern hemisphere chatters of course), have FUN!
How do you go about planning your families holiday?
Do you prefer DIY or travel agent?
Any planning tips to share?
How far in advance do you start planning?
Which would you do - Top 5 Things to See/Do in several cities, or less cities in more depth?