A few people were surprised when they found out I planned my most recent European vacation without the help of a travel agent.
Well part of it is that I enjoy planning a trip, it is a hobby for me. The other half is I like having full control over my trip and enjoy choosing the hotels we stay at.
Having said that, I do believe if you are traveling to Western Europe, Australia, Hong Kong, and other stable countries, you can plan a vacation on your own. If, however, you are traveling to countries that aren’t particularly as stable, you should book thru an agent/tour.
Here are the steps I took in planning my European Vacation along the Mediterranean Sea. I'll be the first to admit that it was pretty stressful since there were multiple destinations involved, however with the wonderful world of the internet it is entirely possible to do so.
Shall we begin?
Decide on a budget. I typically estimate as follows, of course it will be more or less depending on where you are traveling:
Air (from the USA):
to USA/Canada/Caribbean - $500 per person (more or less depending on distance)
to Europe/South America - $1000 per person
to Asia/Australia/Africa - $1500 per person
Hotel - $200 a night on average (more or less depending on where you are going)
Transportation/Cabs/Trains/Bus - $500 (again, could be more or less depending on how often you are changing locations)
Food - $100 a day for 2 people
2. Destination. Decide where you want to go - countries and cities you want to visit. Does this trip fit in your budget?
3. Research the City. I love TripAdvisor, Frommers, Fodors, and VirtualTourist. All of them have been a great help to me, especially TripAdvisor. Don't be shy to use the forums, I use them a lot to find out how to get to and from a certain city. People on TripAdvisor are super nice and so willing to help.
Are you changing destinations every couple days? By doing so you aren't experiencing the city to its fullest.
I typically like staying in a city for 3-4 nights to at least get a feel for it. Some people enjoy spending more time and that is a personal choice. Try and organize your trip so you can stay in one place and do day trips before heading over to your next destination. For example, you wouldn't stay in San Francisco and then stay in San Jose. Instead pick a city as a base and then do day trips if possible.
5. Air/Transport Bookings.
Start with the air bookings. Fly into 1 city and out of another to maximize your savings. You can add more
excursions in between. Also, opt for a train journey on a scenic route, such as, along the coastline of the Mediterranean Sea. The breathtaking beauty and the long train ride is priceless in comparison to an hour flight where you won't have a view, but you'll save time. The choice is yours.
6. Hotel Bookings.
To select a hotel I refer to TripAdvisor, Orbitz, Bookings.com, Hotels.com and Google to get an idea of what neighborhoods to consider. Location is everything! I repeat, Location is everything. If you have to spend on metros/cabs to get to the prime location, it isn't worth it. In addition, you want to avoid “tourist traps.” For example, Times Square is the most popular district in New York City, but it is also a tourist trap and very expensive...
in my mind, stay away from these areas. Instead consider a neighborhood within walking distance from Times Square and you'll end up saving on food and hotel.
Once I'm done planning the trip, I like to scope out the restaurants I want to check out. For example, if you are visiting New York City, you better make a trip to the famous Magnolia Bakery. I research the city and figure out what I want to do and what sites I want to visit. Know the region you are traveling to, understand the culture, and find out where the locals eat. For me, the food is the most exciting part of a trip. It helps me understand the culture and the people.
8. Excel. If you are a nutcase and organized like I am, I go through the effort of creating an Excel Spreadsheet for all my trips. I did this on my most recent trip to Las Vegas and handed out spreadsheets to my friends. Of course, they thought I was a loser, but it helped us stay on track and focused on each day's agenda. Being organized ensures you to do all the things you want to do. On this spreadsheet I mention our activities, restaurants, the hotels, and how to get to and from an area. Click here to view and download .
Print out all your bookings - air, hotel, train tickets, bus tickets, show tickets, passes, whatever you need to. Make extra copies of your passport.
10. Bon Voyage! And off you go… just remember to take your passport!
And that's it!
I agree, it is a lot of work, but if you wanna have full control over your trip, save some on travel agent fees, it is wise to plan ahead, stay organized, and have a stress-free vacation.