These days, booking a trip yourself has become infinitely easier with the Internet. However, people often say that they prefer to use travel agents because they are afraid to plan a trip themselves – afraid of doing something wrong, afraid of booking the wrong flights, afraid of booking accommodation in the wrong area etc. It can be more comforting to have someone else take care of the details for you and all you have to do is fork out the money - but when you think about how much money you could save by doing it yourself then the idea of booking your own trip becomes more appealing. I was also afraid in the beginning but with practice I became more comfortable, and now I would rather customise my trip to my requirements instead of purchasing a ready-made package -unless it suits my requirements and is much cheaper than what I can do myself.
These are the things you need to consider. Bear in mind that a lot of them are interdependent.
Living at the bottom of Africa means that flights to most destinations are expensive. This is often the biggest cost of your trip. I always check these websites for the cheapest flights on my chosen dates: Tripadvisor, Travelstart and Skyscanner. They usually show you whether flying a few days earlier or later will get you a better rate.
As we are Discovery Vitality Diamond members, I also check their website for discounted flights, although they only partner with a few airlines, and you need to book well in advance.
Once I have identified the cheapest airline, and the flight times are bearable, I will check the airline’s website to see if it will be better to book with them directly. Factors such as cancellation policies make a difference, if your visa application gets denied or if you can’t travel for any other reason. If prices and flight times are the same, I am more likely to go with an airline which is affiliated to one of my frequent flier memberships. For example, I can earn SAA Voyager miles by flying on Emirates, as they are both Star Alliance members.
I am more likely to visit a country where visas are not required for South Africans or they are easy to obtain, but sometimes the desire to visit a country which is not visa-free triumphs. In that case, find out what the visa requirements are for your destination and apply in advance if you can. Some countries, like UAE, do not allow you to apply more than 30 days beforehand.
Work out a broad itinerary if you are not planning to stay in one place for the entire duration of your stay. Our trips usually involve moving a lot. For example, when we went to Italy, we chose to stay in Venice, Rome and Florence , which means that I had to find accommodation in all three.
The finer details of the itinerary, such as when to visit which attractions, can be worked out later.
Tripadvisor compares prices across different websites for you, so it is a good idea to check their website first. I usually end up booking with Booking.com , as most of their accommodation can be cancelled free until just before your trip, if the need arises. I’m paranoid like that! You also don't have to pay until you get to the hotel, for most bookings.
If you don’t know which area of a city to book in, Google is your friend. So you would Google something like “ Best areas to stay in Istanbul”. Read multiple articles, not just one.
Tip: Take these factors into account: child-friendliness, proximity to transport hubs and attractions, price, whether breakfast is included or not, cancellation options as well as Tripadvisor reviews.
You can now work out the finer details of the itinerary. I use Tripadvisor and blog posts to research the top activities and attractions in each city as well as the best method of booking for them. Then I book those that are necessary to book beforehand. For example, when we visited Italy, we had to book tickets for Vatican City and the Uffizi Gallery before we went. This saved us from having to wait in long lines. When we visited Walt Disney World, we also had to book our tickets before we went, in order to get the best prices.
If you need transfers to your hotel from the airport, then book these. If Uber is available, I don’t worry about this though.
I like using the City Sightseeing Bus wherever it's available as it gives a good overview of the city and you can learn quite a bit from the commentary.
Tip: Download offline Google maps for your destination as well as travel guides.
Find out whether you need vaccinations for your destination, get the vaccination and carry your card with you when travelling.
Tip: Yellow Fever Vaccinations used to be valid for only 10 years, now you only need to take them once in your lifetime.
A lot of things can go wrong when traveling, and medical care can be quite expensive. Therefore travel insurance is not a bad idea. See if your credit card company and/ or medical aid company offers free travel insurance and take advantage if it does. Ours do, so we don’t pay separately for this. If it doesn't, then I recommend World Nomads. They offer travel insurance for independent travellers from more than 130+ countries and are trusted by big names like Lonely Planet. You can buy, extend & claim insurance online and get 24 hour worldwide assistance.
People have different packing requirements differ, but everyone should carry these essentials:
A travel agent can help you with points 2-8, as well as 11, above. If all this seems like too much hard work, then maybe that would be the best option for you.
Do you have any tips to share? Or anything else you would like advice or tips on? Please let me know.
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