International travel planning is for us where the journey begins; let us share some tips on how we plan and book our travel.
We love to travel (I know, I keep telling you that don’t I), and for us the journey begins long before we board a flight or hop in the car or on a bus or a train. But the excitement starts right when we begin the planning and researching. Somehow for us travel planning extends the enjoyment of the journey.
How we start our international travel planning
Of course our international travel planning begins with choosing a destination or destinations. Usually we start with too many and have to cull our choices during the process, this can be the most painful part of the process. There is always so much more to see and do than our budget and other time demands can allow. Thus the planning is even more important, to allow us to squeeze every last bit of pleasure out of the journey without exhausting ourselves or breaking the bank.
The early stages of our planning are about seeking inspiration and we do that through reading guides – Lonely Planet is our favourite for hard copy – reading blogs, and following and creating Pinterest pages for likely destinations. Of course we also talk to friends who have recently visited our chosen destinations. Next comes booking air fares.
We are currently in the final stages of planning a trip of just over 6 weeks to Europe via Singapore. We knew from the beginning that we wanted to transit through Singapore, so that we could break our journey with a stopover on both our outwards and return legs. We also knew we wanted to visit Paris (always) Portugal and Spain, but not necessarily in that order.
We researched international air fares and considered whether we could fly in to Paris and out of say, Barcelona. Well yes we could, but at considerable extra expense and not easily via Singapore – there were too many legs on the return journey. As we looked at all the options, it became obvious that to meet our objectives we would be best served by returning to Paris, and flying home from there. We did all this research using Jetabroad.
We then looked at dates and flight options for our preferred destinations, again using Jetabroad. This site allows you to enter a flight search and then deselect airlines you are not prepared to fly with. In our case, our preferences were Singapore Airlines, Qantas and Emirates. We quickly found a flight route using a Qantas/Emirates combo which would allow us our stopovers in Singapore and very short layovers at Dubai (less than 90 minutes each way). Happy dance. It is possible to book using Jetabroad (and we do in some instances) but as Qantas Frequent Flyers we proceeded to book these flights via the Qantas website.
Tightening up our international travel planning
With our bookend flights in place, it was time to take our planning to the next stage. We looked at all sorts of alternatives to get from Paris to either Spain or Portugal. We have in the past driven in Europe, but this time we wanted to travel by train as much as possible. We used a number of resources to check the options and found the information on The Man in Seat Sixty-One to be invaluable. This was a resource we visited over and over again as we made rail bookings. However, to travel from Paris to Portugal, the most suitable option was to fly from Paris to Porto, and so it was back to Jetabroad to research and book our fares.
At this stage we also put together a rough itinerary of the places we wanted to visit in Portugal and Spain, and in the South of France as we transited back to Paris to commence our journey home. We use a spreadsheet for that process, and as we make bookings we note locations, transport and accommodation. We also have the option to manage our budget through the spreadsheet, by recording costs for accommodation, transport, tours and a daily estimate of food etc.
Making rail bookings
One of the most challenging parts of our planning was to make bookings for train travel. We weren’t too concerned about the inter-city hops within Portugal, but the inter country travel from Portugal to Spain and from Spain back into France were more problematic, as were the long hop journeys within Spain where a change of train is required. It was back to the Man in Seat Sixty-One, where the services of Loco2 were recommended – a site where the booking system is all in English and backed by a great support team. Suddenly it all became easy.
Researching and booking accommodation
We have used a variety of tools over the years for this purpose. TripAdvisor used to be our ‘guru’ for accommodation recommendations, but in recent years we have found it to be less reliable and more focussed on selling accommodation rather than providing review services. We have also found more of the reviews to be dubious. We have booked a mix of hotels and Airbnb accommodation this trip. On the positive side we love Airbnb because we get to meet locals and stay in their homes, and because it is generally less expensive than hotel stays. There is also a great offering of apartments which means we can keep costs down through self-catering. On the downside, you pay upfront and it appears that Airbnb the Company does not pay tax in Australia, (although Australian hosts do). That is disappointing. I was horrified to find that Booking.com, a service we have often used, also does not pay tax here – not good enough!
So our cheeky little secret is this; by and large we have used Booking.com to research non Airbnb accommodation options and then booked direct with the hotel wherever possible. This has worked really well for us.
Well might you ask, why don’t you use a travel agent?
And that is a fair question. International travel planning is no doubt much less time consuming if left in the hands of an agent, and yes our bricks and mortar businesses do pay tax in Australia. Unfortunately our closest travel agent is about an hour and a half away which makes things difficult, and we also enjoy doing the research ourselves. However, I can see a time where we use a travel agent for all or part of our international travel planning, but right now we are having too much fun.
And finally do make sure you have the legalities sorted out, including having at least 6 months left on your passport and being aware of any laws in countries you are planning to visit or transit via. Here are some tips on transiting the UAE if you are carrying medications. Do check before you fly.
How do you plan your international travel? What tips do you have to share with us and our readers?