PHOTO: You'll be jumping for joy when savvy vacation planning pays off. (photo via Flickr/Global Panorama)
So, you’ve decided this is the year you’ll take that trip you’ve been dreaming about.
Where to? The Amalfi Coast? Exploring Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way? Letting the good times roll in New Orleans? Maybe you’re looking for destination-inspiration.
However, before you do, or if choosing to plan your own vacation, check out the wealth of information available.
Cruise the Web:
Every country, state and city has a tourism site. If you’re yearning to see more of America, visit the new official travel site VisittheUSA.com. Are you a Game of Thrones fan? Check out Spain’s site on how you can incorporate some of the filming locations into your trip.
Drill down for listings of special events in individual cities and states using MassVacation.com (How does a summer evening at Tanglewood sound?). What about a wine tasting in Provence? Do you fancy London? The point is, no matter your interest, there's a probably a vacation destination for that. Some are pre-made, others are easy to get creative with as detail-laden as these websites are.
You can also glean some objective intel on your destination from well-known guide books. Most have a digital presence. Lonely Planet—once the Backpackers’ Bible now includes high-end hotels and restaurants, while Frommers and Fodors remain reputable resources. Websites like Afar provide you with planning tools and booking capabilities if you want to go DIY.
And if not, you’ll be able to give your travel consultant something solid to work with.
Finding a Travel Advisor:
If you don’t know a good advisor, ask a well-traveled friend or neighbor for a recommendation. However, there are also other options to make that key connection.
Travel magazines curate lists of top-notch agents by their expertise in specific destinations or types of travel, be it culinary, soft adventure, small-ship cruising, etc. Check them out online at Travel + Leisure and Condé Nast Traveller. Consumer travel guru Wendy Perrin posts her annual, well-vetted Wendy’s WOW List of specialists and travel providers.
Take a peek at Zicasso, a sort of Match.com for vacationers: You let them know where-and-what you have in mind, and they’ll pair you up with two or three pre-qualified specialists. They’ll “bid for your business” by submitting an itinerary for your consideration. Once the match is made, they’ll book everything and guarantee 24/7 support throughout your trip.
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Choosing a Hotel: Grand Dame, Boutique, or Budget:
The world is generally divided into two types of travelers when it comes to hotels: The “as long as it’s clean” camp and those who looks for ambiance, a high level of service and loads of amenities.
A travel advisor with an in-depth knowledge of a destination can give you some recommendations based on your criteria. And in some instances, can score you an upgrade or other perks. Is Trip Advisor a good resource? Sure. Just bear in mind that some reviewers are easily pleased (There were little bottles of free shampoo!!!) while others base a scathing review on a perceived slight by a desk clerk.
Check the posting dates and look for a current Certificate of Excellence.
Good deals can be had through hotel aggregators while Trivago.com provides a convenient, see-at-a-glance comparison. However, before you book, visit the hotel’s website. Many will match an online travel agency’s (OTA) rate. Also, booking direct lets you accrue loyalty points, position yourself for an upgrade and the hotel may sweeten the pot with free Wi-Fi.
What to do, what to do:
There’s no end of Top 10 Things to See & Do lists for every destination. Subjective? Yup, but give them a scan. They include iconic sites you would not want to miss.
The New York Times' "36 hours in (name that city)" series is available online with some in a video version on YouTube. You’ll arrive knowing the hippest bars and their signature cocktails, where to get your retail therapy on, some cool mini-adventures and usually a great brunch suggestion.
Double your pleasure and include an interesting side trip. Most cities have at least a couple. Most cities offer a narrated bus tour option, which is ideal for a quick orientation. Museum buffs should pre-visit the websites for opening and closing times. No one wants to arrive on the day after that exhibit they’ve been hankering to see closes.
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Skip Yelp and seek suggestions at Eater.com. They regularly update their Essential 38 restaurant listings—now in 24 cities—ranging from haute cuisine to the best burger joints. Foodies’ favorite mag Saveur dishes up restaurant recommendations often with a fascinating backstory. Type Saveur and your destination into your favorite search engine and see what yummy things pop-up. Bon Appétit’s produces an annual list of the 10 best new restaurants in the country (culled from 50). It makes for delicious reading and myriad choices.
Book a culinary walking tour on day one or two, and you’ll not only get to visit landmark venues and sample some fabulous food, but your guide is sure to have some great recommendations for you to eat, drink and be merry.
Make your short list and figure a ballpark budget—that’s critical. Consider consulting a travel advisor—always an excellent idea.
Print out a blank calendar page that covers your travel dates; Pencil in what you want to do and when you want to do it. Don’t forget to leave some time to linger longer in that special café and to do something spontaneous.
Off you go. Enjoy!