Hubbie and I both started independent travelling when we were 18 and still at school. He went trekking in the Indian Himalayas, whilst I found myself on a train to St Petersburg in the middle of winter without enough clothes or food to see me through. Neither of us really knew what we were doing, and we’d certainly not formed any travel habits yet. We just wanted to get out there and see the big wide world. A hunger for travel is in fact the reason we first met a couple of years later, and we haven’t looked back.
Having spent much of the last 2 decades exploring the world together, we like to think we have this travel thing down to a fine art. We’re often asked for our top travel tips and advice on how to actually plan a trip abroad, so when Barceló Hotels and Resorts asked us about our travel habits, we decided to spill the beans about just how we go about organising our adventures.
Hopefully our suggestions will make your own holiday planning a little easier.
Our top 10 travel tips for organising a holiday like a boss
1. Always plan well ahead
Don’t listen to all those globe trotters who harp on about spontaneous travel being the key to a wonderful holiday. It’s a load of tosh! I’ve always been a planner, and Hubbie is happy to just let me get on with it which suits us both. Our trips are usually planned months (and sometimes years!) in advance, with a level of military precision that probably verges on unhealthy. You see, I like to know where we’re going, what we’ll be doing, and even what we’ll be eating. I’m not keen on surprises, and like to be in control. The amount of research that goes into our adventures is staggering, but as a result we never miss out on anything through ignorance or lack of knowledge. I don’t want to return home and realise there was something amazing just around the corner, if only we’d known about it beforehand.
Sure, plans do sometimes change on the road, and we’re still flexible enough to adapt to whatever situation is thrown at us. Like the time in Guatemala when we were both as sick as dogs, and had to cut short our time volunteering with rescue animals in the jungle. Instead we found a cute little guest house with toucan topiary and a couple of hammocks, stumbled across some Mayan ruins, and ended up getting engaged.
As you do.
In the interests of fairness, we did try a spontaneous trip last year to Brazil. The whole trip had been conceived, booked and taken within just a few short weeks. It didn’t go particularly well, and a lot of that was down to a lack of planning.
Read this: Brazil, it’s not us, it’s you!
2. Bookmark holiday ideas for future trips
Hubbie often wonders why I have shelves full of old travel magazine clippings, and a favourites folder on my laptop bursting with websites that haven’t seen the light of day for years. Yet if I see something that makes me think ‘one day I’m going to stay there’, then it’s worth keeping. Because you just never know! Without my stash of inspiration, we wouldn’t have gone to Kenya earlier this year! About 4 years ago I’d come across a photo of what has to be the most stunning bedroom in the world, and when Africa was mooted in March, I decided it was time we went to check it out for ourselves.
It turned out to be one of our best trips ever!
Read this: the most romantic room in all of Africa
Having pre-bookmarked inspiration makes your life much easier down the line when planning trips, so start doing it today!
3. It’s okay if your travel habits change over time
I never thought I’d say this, but it’s totally acceptable for you to change your mind about your preferred travel style. During our 20’s (and indeed our early 30’s) we were fiercely independent travellers who did everything ourselves (even if it was more hassle and ended up costing more), simply because we knew exactly what we wanted and needed to retain control over every aspect of our trips. Yet we’ve recently discovered that there’s really no shame in embracing a different way of travelling, after all, there’s no ‘correct’ way to travel.
Which is why this year we went on our first package holiday together! Unbelievable, right?
Okay, so maybe it wasn’t quite an all-inclusive Ibiza extravaganza, or sun lounger wars at dawn on the Costa Brava. Instead I’m talking about our Kenya trip to Samburu and Mara North national reserves with Saruni.
Read this: An out of this world safari with Saruni Mara
It was an all-inclusive package from start to finish, and we loved every minute. Sure, you can’t really experience luxury safari lodges any other way, and there aren’t too many other restaurants you can just ‘pop’ along to when you’re miles from anywhere out in the bush, but still it was a new departure for us. Initially I stressed a bit because I wasn’t in control. All the organisation and logistics had been taken out of my hands and we were for the first time relying on an unknown third party to make all the arrangements. Of course, they probably did a far better job of sorting out our bush flights, flying doctor membership and safari transfers than we would have done. And to be honest, once I got used to the idea, it was actually quite a relaxing way to go about taking a holiday!
In fact it all worked so well and we enjoyed it so much that I’m seriously questioning the appeal of continuing with our DIY trips in the future. We’re just back from an epic month in South America (posts coming soon!), and whilst it was an incredible experience, it was also really stressful, frustrating and definitely not always relaxing, just because we had to co-ordinate everything ourselves.
So watch this space. Maybe package holidays are the way forwards after all?
4. You don’t need a reason to travel to a specific destination
People always ask “why are you going there?”. Many might visit for the food, for the culture, or for the ease of transportation. We often just say, “well why not?”. There’s a whole world out there waiting to be explored, and everywhere is interesting in it’s own right, so we’re slowly working our way through countries in a fairly random order. Sometimes we flick though an atlas or guide book and choose our location depending on which page we land on, sometimes we just follow the cheap flight trail. Often we book a flight before fully researching the location, there’s a certain thrill to that!
However our favourite method of choosing a destination is by Google photo image searches. Yes really. I picture myself somewhere exotic, type in some relevant search terms, and see what comes up. This is how we ended up in Laos a couple of years ago. I’d found a photo of a natural plunge pool surrounded by jungle and waterfalls, and decided there and then that we’d be going. I’d been searching for infinity pools, and wasn’t expecting anything like this! A few months later, we were in Luang Prabang and loving every minute.
5. Remember that cheap doesn’t necessarily mean best
We’ve never made a secret of the fact we’re luxury travellers, and so you won’t find money saving tips or penny pinching ideas here on the blog. Of course price plays a huge part in determining the course of everyone’s adventures, and we’re no different, but rather than looking for cheap deals, we tend to focus on finding experiences which we feel offer the best value. That’s very different from not costing much!
This month we spent some time staying at a couple of luxury lodges in the Amazon Rainforest in Peru. Whilst these were in fact the most expensive options in the area, the experiences they were able to offer as a result far surpassed those of their cheaper rivals. We had a truly ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ stay and believe it was worth every penny. Had we been staying elsewhere I think we would have come away better off, but probably a little disappointed.
6. Don’t always follow the good weather
Inevitably, good weather usually runs side by side with peak season, which of course means higher prices and having to share the destination with everyone else. We suggest travelling during the ‘green’ season, or shoulder season instead. Often the weather isn’t that much worse, and prices can be much cheaper. In fact, thanks to global warming and shifting world weather patterns, many of the traditional ‘peak’ weather periods are actually now not as good as they used to be. Take the UK for example. When we were youngsters, July and August (the school holidays) were always the best weather months. Sunny, dry and wonderful. These days, April – June is our warm summer period, whilst the following months tend to be quite wet, so travelling prior to the school holidays is not only cheaper, but also sunnier!
Weather is unpredictable, so don’t let it rule your holiday!
7. Never believe everything you see on flashy websites
Anyone can set up an impressive website with lots of bells and whistles to entice customers, but it’s important to realise that sometimes appearances can be deceiving. Flashy sites lead to high expectations, and if the hotel or tour company doesn’t deliver on those visual promises, then the stay, and the relationship is doomed. We’ve experienced this disappointment on many occasions, and have learned to see through the posh fonts and photo-shopped images. Our first port of call when poking about behind the scenes is always Trip Advisor. No, you shouldn’t believe everything you read on there either, but it’s easy to spot the fake reviews (like super critical comments from people who have only ever left a couple) and get a good feel for what the place is really like. We also trawl the internet for any mentions of the hotel or tour. Try typing in “review” after your search term. That simple trick has saved us a lot of misery over the years.
8. Hotels aren’t the be all and end all
We love our luxury hotels, and have been known to base entire trips around a single establishment that we just have to experience. Yet as we get older, we’ve realised that privacy and space to chill out is just as important as being waited on hand and foot. Hotels aren’t always relaxing. There’s the regimented breakfast times, having to be out of your room to allow the housekeeping team in, and the constant necessity to act as a guest. Sometimes you just want to slob around in your comfy pants! This year we’ve discovered the joy of serviced villas and apartments. They retain a level of service that means guests are still looked after, whilst also giving an extra level of privacy and independence. It’s the best of both worlds. We love the ‘home from home’ feeling, and the exclusivity.
9. Remember it’s quality, not quantity
There was a time when we saved up all our annual leave for one mega trip each year. We’d be away for nearly a month, have a fantastic time, but come home absolutely exhausted and needing a holiday. The rest of the year we’d be sitting around at home, wishing we’d saved just a few days for a mini break somewhere with a bit of sun. We used to say that there was no point travelling long haul for less than 3 weeks due to the distance.
Then there was our trip to Laos. Door to door we were only away for 10 days, but it opened up a whole new world of travel, and made us realise that a lot can be experienced in a short space of time. The best bit however is coming away wanting more, rather than feeling guiltily relieved at finally going home. Our recent trip to South America was incredible, but it was our first long trip in quite a while, and we are a little ashamed to admit we were ready to come home by the third week. Shorter trips are definitely the way forward. They keep our love of travel alive and allow us to visit several destinations each year. What’s not to love?
10. Always choose your travelling companion carefully
I’m lucky. I have a Hubbie who takes care of everything on the road, from room security and time keeping, to luggage hauling and door opening. He’s the ultimate travel multi-tool, and can be used in all manner of sticky situations. All I have to do is plan the entire trip, take care of every single foreign language conversation (unless it involves asking where the train station is in French) and remind him which country we’re going to tomorrow. In all seriousness, it’s so important to pick the right travelling companion who is going to enjoy the same things you do, and share the same outlook on adventuring abroad. Get it wrong and that life long friendship could be down the proverbial spout in the blink of an eye. This is the reason we rarely travel with family or friends. We don’t want to put the relationships at stake. Indeed, Hubbie and I travelled together for several years before deciding to get married. We thought if we could survive those trips without killing each other then marriage would be a doddle.
And it is!