Monday, 15 June 2015

Travel Planning Tips

In less than a week’s time I will be heading to the USA for 3 weeks of travelling, so I thought I would share some of the things I’ve learnt during the planning, booking and preparation stages. I’m by no means an experienced traveller; I’ve booked a few smaller holidays in the past, but this is the first time I’ve booked something on this scale (and this is still quite a small scale).




Whilst in America, we’re visiting Washington D.C., Nashville, New Orleans, Las Vegas, Zion National Park, the Grand Canyon and Los Angeles. We’re travelling from place to place via a combination of coaches, domestic flights and driving, and our accommodation is primarily through Airbnb.

As we’re only there for a limited amount of time and have a lot to fit in, we’ve planned each step in advance quite thoroughly, rather than go for the spontaneous, book-as-you-go approach.

We started planning this trip about a year ago, booked the flights seven months before departure and left the accommodation and internal travel until about two months before, but these tips should be relevant regardless of how far in advance you are booking things!

Budget and Timescale

I’ve put budget and timescale together because the two are intrinsically linked and heavily influence the other. You can’t decide how long to travel for without having some kind of awareness of your budget, and your budget will help shape your timescale and what’s achievable within this period.

Often it’s hard to grasp how far your budget will stretch until you start planning, so we drafted up a few possible itineraries before we understood what we would realistically get for our money. Even then our initial budget was too low, and has had to be extended, so it’s a better to aim slightly lower than you can afford to begin with. Once you start adding booking fees, tax, and things like insurance, the costs quickly add up!

We didn’t have much choice with dates or timescale, as we’re squeezing the trip into the three weeks between my end of uni celebrations and graduation week, so that decision was easy.




Flights

Once we had planned our rough route, the first thing we did was book our flights there and back. You don’t even need to have your whole route planned out, as long as you have decided on your start and end points and know that you have allowed yourself a reasonable amount of time to get between the two. Of course it’s not essential to book your return flight, particularly if you want to plan your route as you go along or are going out with no planned return date.

I’ll be honest, I had very little to do with booking our flights, as my boyfriend is a self-confessed plane geek and so contesting his opinion would be a dangerous and possibly life-threatening move (except for saying no to flying business class, repeatedly, about 5 times a day).

Skyscanner is a good site for comparing flight prices and options across various airlines, although it doesn’t include every airline, so it’s also worth shopping around. In addition to direct flights, Skyscanner shows options with connecting flights, which can often be a cheaper alternative. It’s worth noting if you’re flying in and out from the same airports that if you search for a return journey on Skyscanner it will only give you options to fly out and return with the same airline, so for even cheaper possibilities enter your outward and return flights in separate searches.

Accommodation

For this trip we are mostly using Airbnb, except for a week we are spending in a campervan to do the national parks and hotels in New Orleans and Las Vegas. We decided against Airbnb in New Orleans as we wanted to stay within the French Quarter and Airbnb didn’t have much to offer. As for Vegas, the hotels are completely part of the experience and are comparatively so cheap that it would be silly not to.

If you haven’t come across Airbnb before, it’s basically a website on which people rent out their apartments or spare rooms in their houses. Not only does this make your trip so much cheaper than staying in hotels or even some hostels, but you get the added bonus of getting to experience parts of the area that you might not have seen otherwise.

Airbnb is ridiculously easy and secure to use, from searching for properties, to reading reviews, requesting a booking, making payments and contacting your hosts.

If you’ve got an upcoming trip and want to try out Airbnb, you can get £16 off your first booking by following my recommendation.




Internal Transport

We’re using a combination of coaches and flights to travel around once we’re there. We did initially consider driving for the whole trip, but given our time restrictions and the huge distance between New Orleans and Las Vegas for example, it made more sense to use coaches and flights. Coaches in America are super cheap; if you book far enough in advance you can get 20-hour journeys for as low as $20. Flights aren’t quite as reasonable, but when you’ve only got three weeks you don’t want to be wasting a 24 hours plus on a coach when you could catch a flight for 3 hours instead!

When we first started planning, we were going to hire a car for the national parks section of the trip, and stay in B&Bs along the way, but we soon realised that hiring a campervan was a much more economical way of doing it, as the campervan hire was basically cheaper than the car hire alone. Escape Campervan Rental is a really great company, especially for young people, as there is no extra charge for extra drivers or under 25s. Plus, go and take a look at how cool the designs are!

Insurance

Travel insurance is so so important, for both protecting yourself and your belongings. It can be tempting to go for the cheapest option, but don’t underestimate the cost of getting yourself home if you are seriously injured, which can cost tens of thousands of pounds. I always use comparison sites such as Money Supermarket to select the best and most reasonable protection.

We also opted for the highest level of insurance offered by Escape – it’s so worth the small fee to completely cover yourself against any kind of accident.



Packing

My biggest decision with packing for this trip was whether to take a suitcase or a rucksack. In the end I decided on a rucksack, seeing as we are travelling in coaches, staying on campsites for a week, and will be using public transport to get from airports and coach stations to our accommodation. This does mean, though, that I’ll have to pack more lightly than usual, as I need to be able to hold the weight on my back for long periods of time – wish me luck!

Packing essentials for this trip include: a portable charger, travel adaptors, camping towel, travel pillow, sun cream, a bumbag (gonna look super cool) and of course passport!!


I will be writing up posts on each of the places we visit once I get back, but be sure to follow me on Instagram, where I will be posting updates throughout the trip!


Are you going away anywhere this summer? What are your top travel tips and essentials?
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