Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Basics of Travel - our way

We travel more than most people & it seemed like a good idea to start keeping a record in one place.  I thought that the best place to start is with how we start planning for a trip, what sites we use, what elements we include with every trip & anything else I can think of.

Up to 1 year before we travel we start planning.  Here are some of the steps we take ~>
  1. Determine where we want to go (either because we've found a good price on a flight, need to use timeshare points, want to check off another destination on our list, or because we're attending a meeting). 
  2. Determine dates of travel (using as broad of a time period as possible & keep in mind what time off I'll have accrued at work)
  3. Set up flight alerts using and using multiple departure cities (typically Hartford, Boston & Providence).  We also expand for multiple arrival cities (since we don't mind driving).  Having a range of dates and airports is helpful.  Note that SouthWest Airlines has to be checked separately.  We've found that the best fares are usually 42 - 90 days before the date of departure & Tuesdays/Wednesdays are our preferred travel days (both in terms of cost & returning with a few days before having to return to work).  Additionally, we really don't want to pay for luggage so that does factor into what airline we use. 
  4. Begin building itinerary.  I actually create a table in Word that I put the dates of our vacation & then start filling in the details as soon as I have them [including any confirmation numbers that I receive, complete addresses, local telephone numbers].  This itinerary sits in the very front of either a binder with page protector sleeves or a large envelope [depending on trip].  It stays in my bag throughout our entire trip.  I sometimes add notes if we take a detour or do something different.
  5. Check rates for rental cars.  Recently we've been utilizing as we're AAA members & their rental car rates have been the best.  We have a credit card that covers the insurance for rental cars so we always pass on the extra insurance.
  6. Determine route.  This is a little complicated as we often have 2 laptops working at the same time.  We use & move the route according to what we want to see/where we want to go.  We do print out the route & we bring our GPS, but I also ALWAYS bring AAA maps and/or an atlas if we're out of the country.  If (for any reason) the GPS doesn't have a signal (or the phone doesn't have a signal), or we want to expand our trip (since we often get an early start) I bring physical maps.  I bring highlighters & have been charting our trips the past couple of times.  It's fun to look back.  If I'm looking for ideas on what to see I've used
  7. Work on where we're going to stay.  I like to know that there's a bed waiting for me every night.  We are part of a timeshare group that allows us to stay in resorts that are part of the participating network.  Sometimes there isn't availability or a resort where we want to go.  We've used since after 10 days we earn a free stay.  Additionally, I've found deals via social media (,, etc).  I always check the online reviews of hotels and restaurants via & it's a good idea to call the hotel directly to see if they'll match the rate or if there are specific questions re: the room.  Always read the fine print.  Our grown children have used in both the U.S. and in Europe with great success, but we haven't tried it yet.
  8. Once we have an idea of where we're going & where we're staying I look into what we're going to eat.  I have utilized  You can often find coupon codes for  Again - I check as well as one of my favorite sites is a great place to get advice on "where to eat".  If we're staying in a timeshare condo we always make a stop as soon as we arrive in town at the local grocery store (we try to support local stores vs large chains).  We get a member card at the courtesy booth in order to get the sale prices.  In order to save on our food costs we usually eat 1 meal out & 1 meal in (either breakfast included in our hotel or cooked if we're staying somewhere with cooking facilities).  We'll have a late lunch & then either have dessert in or something light later in the day.  Our family likes to graze so we usually have the following in our car (stopping at a grocery store when we pick up our rental car is an early stop):  bottled water [we bring a collapsible 6-pack style cooler that folds flat], packets of CountryTime lemonade [I can't drink anything with artificial sweeteners), mixed nuts, peanut butter & crackers, tortilla chips & salsa [our "go to" condiment], dried fruit [we picked up dried apples from a local vendor on this trip] & any fresh fruit from local farm stands. 
  9. Determine where we're going to leave our car.  We have used Park n Fly options when we've taken an early a.m. flight from Boston.  This has been a good solution for us as we're in the city ahead of time & the rate to leave our car at the hotel & take the hotel shuttle to Logan is cost effective.  If breakfast is included - even better.  If we are taking a later flight we have been leaving our car at Pre-Flight.  They have a frequent flier program that earns 1 free day of car parking [on a future stay] for every 4 days.  Additionally - they have a 15% off discount coupon online.  When we go out of Bradley we use Z Airport Parking.   Their rates are very good & they have our car started & waiting for us when we return.  We haven't travelled out of TF Green Airport in a while, but I think we've just looked online for a good price.
  10. Here are some additional things that I wanted to include. 
  • Take the time to find the best credit card for your use.  We have a card that doesn't charge a fee for foreign transactions (important when we're out of the U.S.).  Additionally, this card earns points which can be used for gift cards (which we've used for gas cards & restaurants) or cash back (which we use to pay for some of the travel costs). 
  • Note that Cracker Barrel restaurants have a program where you can pick up an audio book at one restaurant & return at another.  The fee wasn't much (less than $5) & can make a long trip very interesting.  Alternately - borrow some from the library or download onto a reader/iPad.
  • It's fun to prepare a travel playlist.  Either burn onto a CD or create for the iPod & bring the adapter for the car. 
  • Travel books - my favorites are the DK Eyewitness series, but there are some other good ones.  Make photocopies of applicable pages if you don't want to bring the entire book.
  • I save up magazines that I subscribe to for a few weeks before we travel.  They're a treat when I don't have time to sit & read quietly.
  • Coordinate clothing around 3 colors (this trip was teal, white & khaki).  We do check the weather for where we're going & if it's more than 1 week I do laundry.  My goal is to travel with 1 carry-on per person & 1 piece of checked luggage.  I don't want more than I can carry if I have to go up stairs.  We always pack a complete change of clothes in our carry-on in case the luggage goes somewhere else.  Try to not over-pack.  You want room for purchases.
  • Bring a deck of cards & a card game.  Our favorite card game (right now) is Five Crowns.  It's a good way to pass the time at the airport.
  • Carry the travel documents (including the itinerary) in a large Ziploc bag. 
  • Check with the hotel at check-in re: any discounts they have for local attractions/restaurants.
  • Pick up business cards from places as you go along.  It's easy to forget the names of good restaurants/vendors & you might want to go back (or recommend them to a friend). 
  • I've seen the idea of sending yourself postcards as you travel.  It seems like a good idea, but we haven't done it yet.  We recently saw someone in Glacier National Park stamping her postcards with the date/location stamp that can be found in the Visitor Centers. 
  • Bring your own shopping bag (folded up in your luggage).  I can almost guarantee that you'll use it.
  • Bring an empty water bottle and/or a travel mug for coffee. 
  • From one of my closest friends (Mary C) - Start each day by asking each other, "what is the one thing that you'd like to see/do today".  If everyone has a chance to weigh in on what's going to happen there's less chance of disappointment.  This simple idea has changed the way we travel.
  • Look at purchasing an Entertainment book if you're going to be staying in 1 area for a length of time.
I'll add to this as I think of things, but this is a good start.  I'd love to hear comments/suggestions.

  • Add 7/26/13:  I bring along space saver bags that you can squeeze the air out of (not the kind that require a vacuum) to bring back dirty clothes (or even clean clothes) so that I have room for more purchases.  It's amazing how much room you can save.
  • Sign up for TravelZoo for weekly deals.  We've traveled using their specials to Europe & you can find some great savings, but you have to act quickly.

No comments:

Post a Comment