If you don’t want to buy a package deal blindly, as many people do not, you have to do some of your travel planning on your own. The problem with this for many people is that they do not know what they want before they start looking for deals, and they feel that everything they find is too expensive. You have to learn to be flexible about your vacation and also know how to choose the right place when you see big discounts in front of you. You want to have a great vacation, but you can’t go on that trip if you can’t afford it. Plan carefully and have the time of your life.
Rule number one in saving money with your own travel planning is to be flexible. This means that even though you may think it best to leave on a Friday night and get home on the following Sunday night so that you can squeeze as much time out of a week as you can, this is not the way to save money. Typically, flights are far more expensive on weekends (which includes Friday) than any other day of the week. If you can work it so that you are flying out on a Wednesday and coming back in eight days on a Thursday, you can save quite a bit of money in your travel planning through just your plane tickets alone.
The same can be said about hotel rooms. They cost more on holidays, weekends, and when special events are in town. If you can keep most of your stay on the weekdays, and cut out a few weekend nights by traveling at odd times, you can knock a few hundred dollars or more off a long hotel stay. If your travel planning is about a weekend trip only, this tip won’t help much, but planning ahead can. A hotel may give you a discount for booking very early as opposed to the last minute.
If you want to drive, you have a few issues in your travel planning. If you travel on weekends, you could add hours to your trip by hitting rush hour traffic in major cities. You have a few options. One is that you could travel a day early. The other is to get really comfortable with your GPS or an online map service so that you can set a course that may seem out of the way, but that will actually save you time by taking you around heavily congested areas in most cities. These online map services can make travel planning when driving so much easier in many ways.
Travel planning on your own may be as easy as going to one of the many travel sites that you can find online and looking for great deals. You can name your own price without knowing the name of the hotel, or you can know the hotel and hope for a deal. Whatever the case, most people end up saving quite a bit when doing travel planning online through these sites. Just take your time and plan early and you can save on your vacation while still getting to do the things that you want to do the most.
Travel planning has been gradually shifting from the domain of experts to the domain of an ever-growing amount of travelers’ experiences, and it will continue to grow in that respect in the years to come.
With the advent of the Internet, most travel bookings and travel research have moved into the online space. Guidebooks are excellent resources on the road, but they quickly become outdated when the Internet is constantly updated with newer and more accurate information. User-generated sites such as wikitravel.org are updated by locals and travelers as soon as new restaurants, hotels, and bars open, and these people also are able to “vote” with the information they put online. Other booking sites now rely on the reviews of other travelers, and services like Twitter allow instant broadcasts of what travelers’ are experiencing. With all of these resources available, online travel planning is the best method. Here are some of the best sites to use:
o Wikitravel.org is one of the best travel sites on the web. Modeled after Wikipedia.org and easily searchable by location, and offers the most up to date information available.
o The Thorn Tree travel forums moderated by Lonely Planet are legendary. Tens of thousands of travelers that have almost certainly seen and done whatever trip you are planning are more than happy to lend a helping hand.
o Kayak.com is an airfare search aggregator, covering most of the world’s major airlines. It will find the best prices based on your travel preferences, then take you to the site of the carrier to easily book your flight.
o Hostelworld.com is the king of cheap accommodations. With over 10,000 network hostels, the website has budget locations all over the planet, all searchable and ready to book online.
o Couchsurfing.org is a fantastic website both for connecting with locals while traveling and securing free accommodation. The website allows people to host travelers all over the world for free, and they often serve as tour guides and the perfect local guidebook for a place.
A lot of the above websites have the common factor of user-generated content. This is increasingly becoming the determining factor for travelers. The reasoning is that most magazine and guidebook reviews are paid, so reviews posted by other travelers are inherently more trustworthy. Taking a look at a guidebook published 6 months ago on a city like Buenos Aires and comparing it to the Wikitravel.org page is like night and day. The old methods of travel planning have been replaced by the immediacy of the Internet and the amassed knowledge of other travelers. As more and more people gain Internet access, even remote places will have locals that can dispel myths and misconceptions about travel in their hometowns and areas.
This spread of information will make travel planning easier and easier, and also more accurate. I have planned all of my trips abroad using solely the Internet, and it is by far the most efficient method.