Sometimes the most perplexing part of planning a trip is deciding where to go. Should I relax at the beach, or hit the road in an RV? Should I tour Bombay or Paris? What about visiting the grandkids? As you consider possible destinations, here are some things to keep in mind.
Where Should I Go?
If you’re traveling by yourself, you call the shots. It will be easy to narrow down your choices and choose a destination or tour group. There are many travel packages available for solo travelers.
When you travel with your spouse or with friends, everyone’s interests come into play. One way to narrow down vacation options is to have each person in the group make a list of travel preferences. This list could include transportation methods – perhaps someone in your group gets airsick – as well as destinations and activities. Then, meet with your travel group and compare lists. Write down the list items and determine which activities are most popular and which should be ruled out. The resulting discussion will help you focus on a few possibilities.
Honest, open discussion is the key to successful travel planning. It’s not enough to vote on destinations or activities. Each person should have a say, and the final itinerary should reflect everyone’s interests rather than the interests of the majority.
Once you’ve selected your destination, it’s time to think about details.
Factors to Consider
Length of Trip. If you’re retired, you can choose the length of your trip. If you work, you’ll need to check with your employer and schedule your vacation accordingly. Pet owners should also consider the needs of their animal companions, whether they’re traveling or staying at a boarding facility.
Pace of Travel. Are you energetic, or do you need extra time to get from one place to another? Independent travelers can set their own pace, but tours may move too quickly or slowly for your group. Consider adding a day or two to your trip to recover from jet lag if you are flying a great distance.
Cost. For many travelers, cost is the most important aspect of the trip. Distant locations are more expensive, of course, due to higher transportation costs. Guided tours and cruises cost more than trips you plan yourself. Set a budget for hotel costs, meals and extra expenses. Do some research online or in guidebooks to determine which sights are “must-see” spots, and include their admission and local transportation costs in your plan.
Tour Group vs. Independent Travel. Some travelers prefer to make all of their trip arrangements themselves. Others enjoy leaving the details to someone else, usually a tour operator or travel agent.
Health Concerns. Chronic health conditions and disability issues aren’t roadblocks to travel, but they do require advance planning. If you use a wheelchair or scooter, for example, you’ll need to contact hotels in advance to reserve accessible rooms. Plan to visit your doctor before you travel in order to discuss your trip with him/her. Make sure all of your prescriptions are up to date and filled.
The Fine Print. Read the itinerary details and cancellation clauses for your tour or cruise before you commit to a travel plan. Don’t expect your travel agent or tour operator to explain every detail to you; read the brochures and ask questions.
- Online Research
Many travelers turn to the Internet for information, hotel and restaurant reviews and tour itineraries. You can also post messages on travelers’ bulletin boards, such as AARP’s travelers’ message boards, and ask for information. You’ll find that most of your fellow travelers are honest and helpful. Familiarize yourself with the types of questions and responses on each bulletin board. This will help you “read between the lines” of the comments and reviews.
- Tourist Information Offices
Tourist Information offices, or TI’s, are information goldmines. They usually offer maps, brochures (often in several languages), up-to-date opening and closing hours and insider tips. Look online or call the TI in your destination city to get information that only locals can provide.
If you travel, there’s a guidebook series out there for you. AAA members can get free TourBooks at their local office. Your library may have guidebooks in its collection; even if they’re outdated, they’re free. You can review several books in detail and purchase the newest edition of the most helpful guidebook. Plan ahead; you may need to special order the guidebooks you want.
- Family and Friends
Most people truly enjoy sharing the details of their latest trip. Ask your friends and family about their travels. Did they like their tour guide? How many preschoolers were on the cruise ship? Details like these can make or break a trip. Write down helpful recommendations and use them as you plan your own vacation.
Once you begin collecting information, you may discover that you need to change your original plan. Your ideal trip may be too expensive, or your wife’s wheelchair might not fit on a steam-powered train. Keep an open mind and adjust your plans. You’ll probably find that your new travel arrangements are even better than your initial ideas.