Planning your own trip could be exhausting and time-consuming. However, all the effort you invest in planning ahead will pay off when you travel. One thing that people always ask me about travel is how to save money and get the best deals. Well, there isn’t one magical formula as to how to find the cheapest flights or hotels, but there are steps you can take to enjoy a magnificent trip. In all cases, I urge you not to rush into paying a lot of money to a travel agency to plan your trip on your behalf.
First of all you need to set your target destination. Are you traveling within borders or abroad? What’s your planned budget? Do you have fixed dates on which you must travel or are you flexible with your travel schedule? All these questions you need to ask yourself before planning. (For this post, I will suppose you are not restricted to a certain date and that you are traveling abroad).
Now that your destination is set, you need to find a flight, a place to stay and plan things to do while you’re there.
We all know that the flight is usually the most expensive part of a trip. That’s just the way it is. Finding a cheap flight is very tricky and sometimes just not possible. Nevertheless, you might be able to get great prices if you follow these steps:
1) Forget about face-to-face booking. Go online! Most airlines offer special and exclusive rates for bookings made through their official websites.
2) Try to book your flight as early as possible. One to two months before your travel date is ideal. This way you can search for the dates on which to find the cheapest flight on your chosen airline.
3) Subscribe to the newsletter of as many airlines as possible. These periodic newsletters will keep you updated with any offers or special deals.
4) If you travel frequently, consider subscribing to the frequent flyer program of the airlines you fly with most of the time. This way you get free miles every time you book a flight as well as members-only deals. I recommend Turkish Airlines’ Miles and Smiles. Turkish Airlines have amazing on-board service and cover so many destinations worldwide, plus they are cheaper than most airlines.
This might be the easiest and most fun part of the planning. Cheap hotels are available everywhere, even in the most expensive cities. You just need to look carefully. Online booking websites are a very useful tool. There you can find a huge listing of hotels, hostels and stay-ins with photos, reviews (by other travelers) and every detail you need to know about a hotel. My personal favorite websites are Booking, Trip Advisor and Hotels.
The best thing about it is that many hotels do not charge you online, but rather use your credit card to confirm your seriousness and to make any penalties in case you cancel your booking without prior notice.
What I normally do whenever I travel, is to spend quite some time looking at my target destination through those websites, looking for hotels with cheap rates and special offers. You can find hotels that offer free pickup from the airport, or other sort of offer when you book a certain number of nights.
Then, when I have short listed 3 or 4 hotels, I start thoroughly comparing them across the three websites, looking for the common complaints from other travelers and reading some of the reviews to know what exactly to expect. This gives you a real-time expectation of what the hotel is really about. Booking.com for instance only posts reviews from travelers who have booked through their website, which ensures that all reviews are legitimate and were written by actual travelers.
TripAdvisor on the other hand allows anyone to post a review. The good thing about it though, is that it is not restricted to hotels only, but also covers places to go, tourist attractions, restaurants…etc which will be of use in the next step.
Things to do:
Well, let’s face it; you want to enjoy your trip to the max. Go to TripAdvisor, search for your destination and check out the huge listing of tourist attractions, restaurants, cafes and museums that your city of choice has to offer. You can find similar reviews by other travelers on all of these places. You can even find a forum for every city where you can ask any question and have expert travelers or locals reply to you with their advice. For example, how to move around the city, or the best places to buy souvenirs…etc.
It is also a great idea to check out travel blogs or blogs about the city you are about to visit. These blogs usually have great and unique ideas about places to go and restaurants to eat at. One of the blogs I follow is On The Luce, where the writer blogs about her travel experiences and the long list of the places she’s been to. Check it out.
A final piece of advice: When you’re done with your trip, write about it. Remember when you were checking other people’s words about hotels and restaurants and how much it helped you plan your travel? It’s only fair that you do the same. Of course, you are in no way obligated to do so, but it’s nice to be able to help others plan their next trip. Plus, it occasionally pays off to write reviews. Check out my review of The Peak hotel in Istanbul to see what I got as a reward!
With the issue of planning your next trip in your hands, you have unlimited choices. Just remember, it will take time and effort but will eventually pay off and result in a wonderful time and money saving.