Travelling on a holiday is surely one of life’s little perks. It is always something that we look forward to—always relaxing, enjoyable and comes with a myriad of interesting finds, discoveries and self-learning. Travelling does not have to break your bank; you can always travel in style and yet be still cheerful with the limited budget you can spend.
I’m sharing some tips on how we plan our travels:
1. Check your passport
Check your passport. Travelling internationally requires that your passport is valid for at least six months on your last day of travel. If your passport is expiring, you should renew it before making travel arrangements. For example, when renewing Irish passports, the Department of Foreign Affairs requires at least four weeks or twenty working days. For Philippine passports, it can take as long as ten weeks.
2. Know where you can travel
I came across a website called Project Visa, which lists the VISA requirements of many countries. Check whether you need a pre-approved VISA or if you’re eligible for VISA on arrival. Be sure to contact the embassy of your destination to ensure you have the latest information.
After working in Singapore for three years, I moved to Ireland with a job relocation offer. I had a two-hour stopover at London Heathrow (UK) with a connecting flight to Dublin, Ireland. I got stopped at Immigration and the officer asked me: “Do you know that I can send you back to Singapore?” I did not realize that I needed a pre-approved VISA for my stopover. After few minutes of talking it through, the officer allowed me to go to a holding area until my flight to Dublin was ready for boarding. It scared me out of my wits, so definitely don’t let something like this happen to you!
3. Spread the map and do the math!
We have a world map pinned in a wall of our house, and I’d suggest you do the same! It just gives us a better view of which cities or countries we want to visit. When you’ve sorted out which city/country you want to go to, do quick research on that destination. What are the surrounding cities? Is train travel feasible, or an overnight cruise an option?
The Travel Math website helps you check the distance between two cities, whether you’re traveling by air or by land (typically via train). It also lists the major airports, cities and countries near your entered location. For example, if your main destination is Bratislava in Slovakia, enter ‘Bratislava’ in the field and it will give you a list of nearby areas. It will list Vienna, Austria which is just 56 km (34.7 miles) away.
4. Are you insured?
Before you start buying air tickets, booking accommodations, etc., make sure you have travel insurance. Like any other insurance, when you don’t need it, it’s OK. But when you do need it, you will be more than happy that you have it!
Trust me, been there, done that! Our flight from Venice was canceled due to an airport employees strike. So, we were forced to stay another night in Venice (an expensive city to stay!) and made alternate travel arrangements. Luckily, our travel insurance covered our costs. Shop the website for the right coverage for your travel. There are several insurance comparison sites like GoCompare or Confused.com that you can use. Here in Ireland, banks may also be able to provide travel insurance. There are insurance plans that cover both health and travel such as canceled flights, loss of luggage or personal effects.
5. Airfare is the game changer
When it comes to flights, I like Skyscanner because it has the “Multi-City” feature, which enables you to depart and return from another city. Ebookers and Expedia have recently created this feature as well. It is one way to get the most of your trip. In our first trip to Italy, we arrived in Rome, then travelled by train to Pisa, then onwards to Milan. We flew back from Milan. In our second trip, we flew to Rome and flew back from Venice, breaking our trips into different cities in between: Rome, Verona, Padua, Trieste, and Venice. We also saw Paris and Brussels in one trip.
Play around with the flight combinations. Before booking, check the airlines’ websites so you can compare if you’re getting a better deal or not. I notice that it is cheapest to book flights on a Monday; it’s probably the day when they have refreshed their system.
I’ve read on some websites that it is recommended to always search for flights in a private browsing mode or ‘incognito’ to see the lowest price. Some search engines or airline booking sites have their own ‘tracker’ to monitor the number of searches for specific route. Using the concept of supply and demand, when the demand is high, flight fares may increase as the number of clicks and searches increase. I do not have concrete facts to prove it, but there is no harm trying it. In Google Chrome or Safari, incognito is activated by pressing 'Control + Shift + N’. For Internet Explorer, press, 'Control + Shift = P’.
6. Accommodation: splurge or budget
When looking for accommodation, it’s CDS for me: Clean, Decent and Safe. Occasionally, it’s nice to go to 5-star hotels and pay for the experience. But if you’re travelling on a budget, who cares? If you can have a good night’s sleep, that’s all that matters. You can always visit the fancy-starred hotel on one evening, buy a drink or two and still get the experience.
I use different booking engines, such as Booking.com, Homeaway and Airbnb, to find great deals. I signed up at their websites for notifications on hotel deals and coupons. From time to time, I also get insider prices (special prices for members only). I always book hotels with Free Cancellation offers so I can easily change my reservation without any penalty in case other hotels offer last minute deals or my travel plans change. With Booking.com, don’t forget to share your referral link to your friends. Under their ‘Refer a Friend’ program, your friend gets 10% back on their hotel booking and you earn 20 EUR (~23 USD). I shared the link a number of times and I got my reward straight to the credit card specified in my Booking.com profile.
I also use TripAdvisor to see actual photos and guest reviews of the hotel. I also do a quick check with Google Map to view its surroundings. I don’t usually go for “Flight + Hotel” deals because I find the hotel choices limited. Also, I find it more expensive. I have always booked flights and hotels separately.
7. Know your way around
For train travel, I always book in advance because European Trains mostly offer good deals for advance booking. When you’re lucky, you can get a high-speed train from Paris to Brussels for less than 20 EUR. For transportation within a city, do you need to use the bus, subway/tubes/metro? Major cities usually have tourist travel cards that you can put money on and then use on any public transport.
In London, Oyster is not just an appetizer, it is also a transport card. For Lisbon, it has Siete Colinas & Viva Viagem cards, while the ACTV card is used in Venice. Sometimes, you can buy a card online and have it delivered to your hotel, or a better option is to buy a at the airport arrival hall so you can use it immediately. This is more convenient compared to shelling out coins or queuing at the ticket machines every time you board.
There are many ways to enjoy your travel destination. Nowadays, there is ample information and booking platforms for activities over the Internet. Just be resourceful and always be on the lookout!
- For activities, the easiest way is to check Viator. Simply enter your travel destination and viola... you will get a load of tours to choose from. What I particularly like is that Viator also lists all the attractions and you can have a good read of it before you decide. Join their mailing list and scoop a 10% discount on your first purchase.
- Getyourguide is another site that is becoming more popular these days. It comes with a fresh and easy-to-navigate format. The website also suggests other accessible attractions even if they are in a different country. For example, entering 'Ireland' will also show 'Giant's Causeway' in Northern Ireland (part of the United Kingdom) since the attraction is reachable by land in as little as three hours. There is also a listing of preferred tour language so you can get the best out of your tour.
- You can also sometimes join free guided tours that are offered in difference cities. Technically, these tours are free, but it is courteous to tip the guide.
- If no free tours are available, you can also check for podcasts or self-guided tours online or even find bus tour companies that offer deals and discounts.
- Keep your airline boarding passes (especially for long haul flights) for offers. I know Singapore Airlines offers free city tours and discounts in shops in Singapore. Philippine Airlines also offers a 10% discount when you shop at SM City malls in the Philippines.
- Find instant gems at the back of the city maps. There may be discounted attraction tickets.
- If you're traveling by train to London, you may avail a 2For1 London Attractions Ticket. Please visit DaysOutGuide UK to get a two for one entry to over 150 top London attractions, restaurants, theatres, exhibitions and more!
- Visit the websites of museums or attractions; some offer free entrance at certain times or certain days of the week/month.
9. Satisfy your palate
Skip astronomically-priced boulangeries. Enjoy food where the locals go. A bread in Paris is still French even if it’s baked in a mom and pop shop or an artisan shop. It’s as authentic as you can get. Dine alfresco and enjoy the scenery. In some parts of Europe, restaurants charge extra for eat-ins. Hence, some people opt to take their food to go and and sit public parks. Know the staple of the destination you’re visiting and immerse yourself.
10. Finally, blend with the locals
When visiting a new country, it is best to do a bit of research into the etiquette and the do’s and don’ts. Keep an open mind, and surely you will have an awesome holiday!
Enjoy a perfect holiday
Travelling is one of those special moments that we want to relish. It’s our ‘me’ time. For some travellers, what could have been a perfect holiday could easily turn into a disappointment. For me, the starting point of every trip is the planning stage. For the few years that I have been wandering around Europe, seldom have I been unhappy with my selections. Although there is really no magic pill to get rid of unpleasantries during a holiday, careful planning can be essential to avoid any major hiccups.
Get Trip101 in your inbox