SO what?s so scary about traveling the world? Amazingly, some people cower at the mere thought of leaving home. Fear of flying, the mounting expenses, the prospect of getting lost, sick or mugged in a strange land, the exotic food, the foreign language. If you?ve ever been on a trip and wished you were home watching TV in your own bed instead, perhaps this is for you.
SIM asked seasoned travelers to share their favorite travel tips, websites, guidebooks and personal experiences to help others plan their best vacation ever. Here are eight tips to start you packing up:
1. Decide ASAP on the date. Fixing your travel date early enough allows you time to explore and score the best travel deals, often by going online to check out promo rates and travel tips from websites and blogs. Kayak.com provides comparative rates of hotels, flights, car rentals etc., based on popular budget websites (e.g. Orbitz, Travelocity, Expedia, etc.).
Margaret Salazar, who organized a fabulous 24-day destination wedding/honeymoon with 24 nitpicky family members on ?almost a shoestring? budget says it?s best to go directly to the airline and hotel websites to find out what deals are available on your selected dates. You can also register with some sites (e.g. Yahoo Hotel deals in New York, London or Paris) for their deal alerts. The deals are usually hefty discounts for advance bookings on specific travel dates.
2. Find out all you can about your destination. Going online helps a lot. Look for official government and tourism sites to find deals on public transportation, museums, etc. Tricia, who lives in New York and travels for business six months a year, says a traveler should never leave home without first surfing the Net to learn more about the country or city to be visited.
3. Find a travel blogger whose taste matches your own. Malu Gamboa regularly consults Travelswithagourmet.com, written by good friend Roselyn Sugay-Helbling who is married to a hotelier and travels the world on her taste buds. Roselyn cites these websites/bloggers as her inspiration: George@ My Hotel Life, Chichajo@80 Breakfasts, Kerrin @My Kugelhopf, Bea@La Tartine Gourmande and Nicky@Delicious Days. If you enjoy Roselyn?s mouthwatering blogs and spot-on recommendations, you should add these sites to your favorites pronto and you can be assured of never having a bad meal on your trips ever again.
4. Take along a guidebook. You may have limited luggage space but a handy guidebook is always worth its weight. So borrow, steal or buy a travel book or guide to your destination, advises Mireya Green who works for a leading search engine in the US and is constantly on the move. The Luxe Guide is slim and sleek and takes up very little space. This uber cool and in-the-know city guide is best for travelers with ?4-star and up standards,? and armed with intentions to seriously splurge. For the more adventurous budget-hunters, there?s Frommers (packed with info), DK Eyewitness Travel Guides (with pictures to identify sights and pull out maps) and Lonely Planet. You might also want to check out Zagat and Fodors.
5. Find a local connection in your destination. The only thing that beats a guidebook is this ?local connection.? Having generous relatives or friends (with a spare bedroom or even just a pullout-bed) in major destination cities makes a vast difference in travel expenses. If you can?t find a friend, read local websites. For instance, San Francisco and most USA cities have a YELP site -- a community website which talks about neighborhood establishments and generally helps you get around.
6. Buy a local newspaper or magazine. This, of course, presumes that you speak the local language, if no English language publications are available. Malu Gamboa, who constantly takes short trips everywhere from Africa to Buenos Aires in search of food and interior design inspirations for their family-owned restaurants (Azu Thai, Cirkulo, Tsukiji and Milky Way Café) says it?s still the best way to get to know the city and to check out the latest local events, such as museum openings, exhibits, sales, fairs, etc.
7. Make the most of your mileage. Whether you get the mileage from using your credit card for all your purchases, or whether it?s hotel/airline/car rental mileage, make sure you are a member of a travel club to get the best perks your money can buy. For maximum flexibility, Starwood earns you points you can use in any airline or hotel. As points in some of these travel clubs expire, keep yourself updated and spend them wisely.
8. Have a travel agent who is eternally patient. This one is my personal favorite. As travel plans always change, your agent should always be one step ahead of you in thinking of the fastest, most comfortable way of getting you from A-to-Z in the smartest, most value-for-money way possible. She/he must remain cool under pressure, even when you call at 4 a.m. from Russia, after having lost your passport. Moreover your agent should already know what to do in such cases because this is what they do for a living. It may cost you 10 to 15 percent more, but excellent service is always well-worth the price.
Finally, always have your travel documents updated and ready, as you never know when that once in a lifetime trip is coming up. In most cases, it?s best to presume it?s just around the corner? ?