I love to plan our trips myself, wether they are just a weekend break or as is the case with the trip I am currently planning - 16 days away.
I haven't used a travel agent for years, and in fact the last time we did quite a few things went wrong and they always happened when the travel agency was closed so we had to deal with it ourself.... I vowed never to use them again... and to be honest when it is so easy to do everything online myself I can't see a reason to use them again.
Also, in my experience, if a flight is delayed or cancelled it is a lot easier to get re-booked onto another flight if you are the person with the credit card and the reservation number.
First things to do is of course book the flights..... I always do this directly with the airline. I've rarely seen a better deal online and as we have good status with Swiss - Senator (Star Alliance) and British Airways - Gold (One World) I think booking direct is better. Whenever I've missed a connection because of a delayed flight I've been taken care of and put on the next available flight, often before I have disembarked the flight that we delayed. Also, I like to be able to see easily if I can upgrade with miles, which I often find is often the best use of them.
So flights booked, whats next....
For the particular trip I am currently planning we will fly in and out of Stockholm and drive a big loop taking in all the towns and cities in the image above. I used Google Maps as a tool to help me decide where we would spend the evening... I tried to keep the number of driving hours down to under 4 hours as hubby will do all the driving and although he enjoys it, I want him to relax too.
I've also used the Trip Advisor forum to ask questions and to read about other peoples experiences of the cities and towns we want to visit. There is nothing like local knowledge to help plan a trip. You have to take into account that people have differing taste and expectations but the info I got from TA was invaluable in the planning stages.
After deciding where we would be stopping overnight I started the process of finding hotels, B&B's and Air B&B's.
If there is a Starwood hotel in a city I want to stay in then I check their rates first. We are lifetime platinum members and so we quite often get a good upgrade and more often than not lounge access and breakfast as a perk. As long as the rate isn't a HUGE difference from the other places in town then I book it... the perks often make up for the price difference...and lets not forget the loyalty points you can earn that all add up to free nights too....
Next, with my city map on my screen I have a little read through Trip advisor reviews, only really paying attention to reviewers who have at least 20 reviews under their belt. I also read a few of the other reviews people have written too.... If someone rates a Premier Inn as luxury I have to seriously question wether they are on the same page as I am. Likewise if someone complains that the Ritz Carlton was basic I'm not sure I trust their opinion either.... This logic extends to reading restaurant reviews too.... I'm sorry but in my opinion anyone who writes a review saying Olive Garden is a great Italian Restaurant can not be trusted.
When I have decided on a few places I'd like to stay I then have a look at Booking.com or Trivago.com and also the hotels own website to see what the best rates available are.
The rates on some of the hotel booking sites are not always the best available.
Alongside this I have a look at Air B&B to see if there is something available in the same area at a competitive rate. Since using Air B&B for the first time this April in Amsterdam, I plan to use them more especially for long trips as the accommodation often gives the convenience of being able to do some laundry half way through the trip.
OK, so accommodation booked now its on to major attractions and restaurants.
I have a good network of friends who travel extensively for work and pleasure and it almost never happens that I am visiting somewhere that none of my friends have already been to.
This is where I turn to Facebook. I post an outline of my trip and ask for suggestions from the people who know me. Anyone who knows me is never going to suggest Pizza Hut as somewhere I might like to go for dinner....
I also google newspaper articles on new restaurants and if Time Out have information I have a read of that too.
I'm happy to stumble upon restaurants, but often some of the best restaurants with hot new chefs or recent Michelin stars need to be booked weeks in advance - especially in the big cities. Also at this stage I buy online timed tickets for major attractions to save any queuing when we arrive. I HATE to have to stand in a queue for tickets for an attraction and then queue to get in... I'm an early morning person so like to have big gallery visits over with before lunch so I can relax over lunch and enjoy a city on foot if possible.
I think when you break a trip down into small sections like this it becomes manageable. I don't do all the planning at the same time, that would feel too much like a chore, and I often save links to newspaper or magazine articles so I can read them at a more leisurely pace when I am on the train into Zurich or relaxing in the bath for example.
Planning doesn't cost anything and I get a good idea of the lay out of a city centre just from a few hours preparation beforehand.
If you normally use a travel agent, why not try planning a small trip yourself. Its not nearly as scary as some people think, and who knows what interests you better than you yourself??
Do you already book all your own trips? Do you have anything to add to this?
I'd love to hear about it.
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