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Picking Vacation Destinations

When you’re thinking about a vacation destination, you can never start planning too early.  Starting early allows you plenty of time to do your research and plan the perfect vacation at the perfect destination.  It also gives you time to change your mind.  As you do your destination research, you may find that you’d rather visit a different place than what you had originally planned on.  We usually plan most of our longer trips one to two years in advance.  Do we change our mind sometimes? Sure.  That’s part of the fun of planning.  For us, the biggest advantage of planning early allows us to keep costs down by buying airfare and accommodation while demand is low.

When we start looking for our next destinations, we want to stay in the best hotels,  eat the best food and have the best experience we can for the least amount of money.  There’s a lot that goes into selecting a destination.  Here’s some things you can consider to help you make the right choice.

Narrow your list of destinations.
We keep a running list at all times of 6-8 places we want to go.  That way, we have plenty of time to research each one and be able to decide quickly if the right travel deals comes along.  Your list of potential destinations should take into account what type of trio you want to take (active, passivel what they weather will be like at your destination for the time you’re going to be traveling;  how long you plan on staying and how much your budget is.

Do your friends want to go?
Traveling with friends can have a couple of benefits.  One, it can reduce your costs.  Two, it can enable you to “trade up” and stay in better places and do more things for less than what it would cost you to travel alone.  Key elements are being able to get along with one another, be able to travel at the same time and all want to go to the same destination.

Know your budget.
How much do you want to spend?  That’s the next key piece of information you’ll need before going much further.  It’s good to be somewhat flexible, so having a range is much better than landing on a specific number.  Know what is and isn’t part of your travel budget.  Are you including just the basics of your trip (airfare, hotel, transportation, tours) or does it go beyond that to include souvenirs, food, events, etc.  Always count on overages and unexpected expenses.  Even with the best planning, there will always be something you didn’t think of.  You can find more about budgeting here.

Consider the weather.
Find out what the weather is at your destination.  If you can go when the weather is less than ideal, you can usually save a ton of money,  but you need to go beyond just temperature.  For example, many people wouldn’t even consider part of Thailand during the “rainy season”.  Little do they know, that in some cases, “rainy” means a chance of showers for about 2 hours each afternoon.  In this case, what really is “rainy”?

[box type=”info” ]Some hotels discount rates as much as 50-60% during extended periods of “weather”. You’ll usually find that restaurants, attractions and other things are usually cheaper as well. And you’ll have the benefit of fewer other tourists as well.[/box]

Airlines and airfare.
Look beyond just the airlines you know.  If you belong to a frequent flier program of a particular airline, look at other airlines that belong to their network.   You can probably accumulate miles while you travel (good for saving money on future vacations) as well as receive other perks like redeeming frequest flyer miles, reduced baggage fees, seat upgrades, etc.  For example, since we mainly fly United, we always look for partner airlines in the Star Alliance.  We can go almost any place in the world with the Star Alliance.

[box type=”error” ]Beware of some ticket consolidators that offer airfares that are “too good to be true”. Sometimes they are. Make sure you check out the airline. What’s their safety record? How much room is there between seats in the cabin? How much luggage can I take without extra fees? Will I earn Frequent Flyer miles?[/box]

Where to stay.
Hotels offer deals almost all the time., even during prime season.  The key is knowing where to look.  Don’t rely on just the hotel website for the lowest rate.  Check multiple sources on the internet.  Sometimes you can lower rates for extended stays or even “package” rates that give you extra perks or extra discounts.

[box type=”error” ]Just like with airfare, beware of hotel offers that are “too good to be true”. Always make sure you check rate rules and cancellation clauses before booking a stay.[/box]

Open for Business?
You should always check to make sure that attractions or locations are going to be open at your destination while you’re there.  Don’t take for granted that everything operates the same year round.  Want to go see the beach along the North Sea in early May?  Well, you’ll see the sea, but most of the surrounding restaurants and stores will be closed until at least late May/early June.  Want to go to your favorite pizza place in NYC in April?  Well, it may be closed because they’re on vacation before tourist season starts.

Special Events.
Check to see if there are any special events at your selected destination before booking your trip, but beware it could be a double edged sword.  Rates may be higher because of it.  But then again, you may not be thrilled to learn that if you were there one week later, you could participate in a local festival.

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