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Saturday, August 5, 2017

Building a Holiday - Perfection Not Guaranteed

I used to do the trip, really, I did. I was the one comfortable with technology and had more time to burn, but now things have changed. (Perhaps it was the "incident" where I'd transposed Ron's first and middle name on a plane ticket...a costly mistake, as we had to buy a whole new ticket.) So, now Ron has lifted the mantle of planning vacations.

He's good at it, if a little obsessive. His weakness, of course, is the temptation of things nearby. (This is a loose definition of nearness - "But, it's only an 8 hour flight!") We tend to have slightly different ideas about what to do and where to go, but that's pretty normal, I would think. The biggest challenge is deciding where. Let's be honest, the world is HUGE and there are so many places to see and so many things to do! How does a person narrow it down. Participating in home exchange helps. We get offers from all over the world. (Terribly exciting, I know!) 

Our newest adventure involves friends who've invited us to trek with them. Now we like this idea. Hiking is our new thing. In the first place, it's a challenge and tests our bodies, minds and souls. Secondly, it's a lot cheaper than going to luxury hotels. (Yes, we've arrived at the economizing phase of our lives! What else can we do, when neither of us is working?) On a personal note, choose your travel buddies wisely. They can make or break your experience. Make sure they like what you like or are okay with going separate ways sometimes. Just because they're awesome co-workers/cousins doesn't mean you should travel with them.
So, step one: choose a destination. Sure, I know, that sounds easy, but you have to base it on many things like: funds available (pre-budgeting...don't hate me), time available, time of year etc.
          I do have a (loose) rule of thumb: flights up to 10 hours require me to stay at least the equivalent number of days. Once you get into the big numbers I double the day requirement. (Our flight to Australia was supposed to take 35 hours, so we planned to stay at least 70 days, then stretched it out a bit more.) I know we can't all do this, but think about travel time versus actual holiday time, taking in jet lag, time to and from airports etc. Those folks who fly to Paris (from North America) for the weekend are admirably mad, if you ask me.

Step two: research research research! (Ron probably wants me to add in four or five more of those! The man is very thorough.) There are tons of sites/aps that offer comparison prices, price projections and other services We price shop, but try and book through the actual company website if we can find near equivalent pricing. (Makes trouble shooting so much easier!)
          This includes talking to friends who've been to your destination, surfing the web and (maybe) chatting with a travel agent. You may want to check with your country's travel advisories on your destination as well. (Keep in mind, they are erring (heavily) on the side.of caution and the disclaimers can sound scary.)

Step three: create a wish list of places to go, things to do and (in my opinion) a realistic budget. (As standard wisdom dictates, double the budget you set and half the stuff you plan to take.) Then edit to fit into your budget.. Don't forget travel'll likely not need it, but what if you did? Customize to your tastes. Don't plan to go to museums if history bores you, even though everyone tells you to!
           Here's a thing to keep in mind: will you go back? Is the thing you just cut off the "must do list" something that you'll regret in the future, if you don't go (never make it) back? Example: we went to Australia and I wanted to see Uluru (Ayer's Rock) and Ron thought I was mad. We're not likely getting back there (it's a long, long, long way) and I insisted. He loved it and it was worth every extra penny.

Step four: start booking. (How and when you do this will depend on your destination, you're personality and how long you've procrastinated about planning your trip. Try not to leave it until the last minute.)
          You'll likely hear all sorts of advice about when is best to book plane tickets, how to score a cheap price on a hotel or book through a home vacation rental (AirBnB, VRBO) etc. Our advice is to book when you see a price that you're willing to pay. This means that you've had a look around (we get an idea about how airfares fluctuate through the week, do a bit of "what if" scenarios - meaning if we left 6 weeks from today, what are the airfares? If we leave next week? etc) Keep a file off all your arrangements (I also keep an old school version, on paper, with booking codes, times, dates etc, just in case my computer has a melt down. We load up our itineraries onto the cloud for the same reason.)

Step four and a half: I also plan out my packing. City travel and trekking require different stuff, so you have to figure how to manage that without exceeding baggage limits.
What I packed for 3 months of travel
Step five: enjoy your trip. There are things to keep in mind. Many things won't go right. Flights are delayed/cancelled/over booked, there are holidays in countries that you don't know about where everything shuts down. Things you've waited your whole life to see aren't as impressive in real life. (I'm talking to you Mona Lisa!) Your bags could get lost, you could be pick pocketed/robbed, contract food poisoning, break nails, trip on something...well, you get my drift. 
Sunset after a 12 hour delay (we saw the sunrise here, too)
That shouldn't deter you, because (besides being half the point...surviving the challenges): something you never imagined, will blow your mind. You'll taste things you never knew existed. You'll meet amazing people and be introduced to ideas and cultures that delight, confuse and amaze you. You'll get lost in a city and likely have the best experience in your life. You'll see history come to life, feel the ghosts of the past as you walk on sites that you've only read about before. You'll have a smug satisfaction of seeing a picture of [fill in the blank] and knowing that that [thing/place] is just around the corner. You'll learn that it sucks to haul around a 22kg bag and determine that next time you'll pack light, that travellers cheques really are a thing of the past and not worth the hassle, no matter what your parents/grandparents tell you. Most of all, you'll get a whole new perspective on the world. That's worth almost any price.

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