Finding a hotel could be the easiest part – Part 1

Niall sleeping in a suitcase

See that guy? He’s a famous singer. Really. Really famous. If he can get stuck at the airport without a hotel… well… you’re screwed.

Well. Probably not. And it doesn’t mean that you’re at the mercy of the major hotel chains or hostels? Nope. And that’s great news!

Let me just say, staying at a chain hotel or a big, shiny, glitzy hotel while on vacation can be a wonderful, necessary, healing thing. Lovely large beds and spacious bathrooms will do wonders to revive a weary body and soul after too long in rickety singles and train seats. (Yes, that’s the voice of experience.) And it’s even possible on a budget. If you’re careful.

Take Portugal, for example. Pre-recession, pre-Euro, my stay in Portugal was made all the better by a wonderfully large hotel room. At the time the exchange was 19/1 in my favor! Arriving in Lisbon from London, this was a welcome change.Without exception, London has the smallest, most expensive rooms of any city I’ve ever been to.

If you’re up for a bit of adventure, the train stations in every major European city I have been in are repleat with resources to make your stay the best possible. Inside the station, you can find a very helpful, English-speaking, attendant at the Hotel office. This office, so aptly named, will find you a hotel. For free. (Well, the service is free, the hotel costs what it costs.) You tell them what part of the city you want to stay, how long you’re staying, and your rough budget, and minutes later, you have a map with a circled location and directions. Boom! You’re off to drop your bags and begin your journey.

On my five city tour of Europe, in the pre-smartphone days of 1999, the hotels in four cities were acquired with this service. And when we had to switch hotels after the first night in Lisbon, the departing hotel found us the new place. Again, free service. Two nights in the museum section of Barcelona? Done. Three nights in the shopping district of Paris? Sure. Yes, you can find answers on the internet… but do you want to spend your time trying to find free wifi and poking around the internet or BEING in that great city? Exactly.

Asking questions is free, so before you run off and assume you understand how things work in a city or country you’ve never been to, ask some questions.

A second bag is HOW MUCH?!

Airfare, by in large, is expensive. Adding a bag? On an international flight? Yeah… Here are some tips to getting the most out of your suitcase.

Know the rules.

Every airline has a size restriction for carry on bags. Know it. As difficult as it may seem, stick to it. If you wind up having to gate check your bag, you may save a few bucks but you’re increasing your risk of never seeing that bag (or some of its contents) again.

Be realistic.

If you’re going on a four country, five city vacation using the train, hauling a large suitcase is going to be a pain no matter how many wheels are on that thing. You don’t need fifteen outfits for a five day trip. You don’t need six pair of shoes. Really. But if you do, budget for extra bags and plan on lost bags. While statistically rare, 26 million — MILLION — bags are “misdirected” each year. Of those bags, 1 million are never located and the rest take an average of 2 days to locate and return to the rightful owner. (More info here.) Are you only going to be at your hotel 2 days then moving on? Perhaps checking isn’t for you. Be sure to give the airline your full itinerary; if they ‘misdirect’ your stuff, you’re going to want them to get it to you when they find it.

How to pack.

There are a lot of philosophies on how to best pack a suitcase. Perhaps you’re a ‘roller,’ neatly rolling every piece of clothing into a tube to stack inside your back. Maybe your a ‘toss and stuff,’ just hoping all of your necessities make it inside the zipper. I have come to rely on 3 different types of packing apparati. The first is packing cubes. They have zippers, are soft-sided, and come in a variety of sizes. These allow you to keep like items (like socks) or entire outfits together. Zippered compression bags are especially handy with cold weather wear. Insert your clothing, seal the bag, roll the air out. I have found that both of these can result in wrinkles, however. For a more polished look, I use packing folders. These are great, and I have 3 sizes. I can put several days worth of clothes together in outfits — and they stay next to each other! I can be weird to neatly fold your dirty clothes for the trip home, but it’s worth it.

Choose a family.

The best piece of advice I’ve ever received about packing for travel was to only pack items in the same color family. Black. Navy. White. Brown. Whatever color tones you choose, keep them all the same. Think Geranimals. If everything goes well with and compliments everything else, you’ll be able to mix and match for more outfit choices and less boredom.

What to bring, what to leave

I’ve never regretted having comfortable walking shoes, no matter how “American” they are. I rarely use my workout clothes, despite a fairly serious routine at home. When I went to Hawaii in 2010, I  wore less than half of the clothes I brought. The issue was that the other clothes smelled of mildew when I returned home from all the humidity. Sure, a pile of tank tops and skirts don’t take up a lot of room, but I didn’t need to haul them around the world only to return them to my wash pile. Take the clothes you know you’ll wear, not the ones you hope to wear.

Planning for lost luggage

No one wants to lose their luggage. Fact. But someone will, and it could be you.  Whether it’s a sundress or a pair of shorts, have two outfits in your carry on. Whatever you can’t replace reasonably at a local pharmacy or hotel gift shop should not be in your checked bag. If you can’t afford to lose it, and you can’t carry it on… just leave it at home.

Let’s get real for a minute

Bad things can happen on your dream vacation. There. I said it. It’s ok, you’ll get through it.

 

If you plan. It’s easier to plan and prepare in advance than it is to react and recover outside of your comfort zone.

When we went to Europe in ’99, Trisha and I did a lot of planning. As a professional photographer, she was incredibly concerned about her camera. And rightfully so. Because it got stolen.

Not kidding.

We know it was taken from under our noses in the McDonald’s inside the Barcelona train station. We don’t know who took it, or exactly when it was taken. What we do know is that anything someone wants to take, they will. (We also know that if you get robbed at 11:45 pm in the Barcelona train station, you will spend the first 25 minutes at the police station getting yelled at for being at the train station so late. Sigh.)

Before we left the States, Trisha got extra insurance on her camera. Extra? Exactly. Many insurance policies don’t cover international travel. So if you are traveling with costly items you don’t want to pay to replace, investigate your insurance well in advance. And if something happens, be sure to get a copy of the police report. Even if it’s in Spanish.

When you start your packing list, ask yourself: will I really use it? Can I afford to lose it? Is it worth the risk?

While you’re meeting with your insurance agent about your property, you may also want to explore supplemental life insurance for your vacation. I’ve never gotten travel life insurance, but it may be right for you. Any number of factors could make it the right choice in the future.

In addition to insurance, there are a few things which you should get together in preparation for mayhem. Domestic travel requires less planning, which isn’t surprising. Here are a few items which you should consider gathering to leave with someone trustworthy (and whose name and number can be found in your baggage and in your cell phone)

Domestic
– A list of your credit card numbers, with expiration dates, and their billing/contact numbers.
– A copy of your itinerary, with flights, hotel and transportation. If you know it, someone else should know it. If you don’t, try to give realistic estimates.

International
– Everything mentioned above.
– A photocopy of the inside of your passport. (If you have extra photos, good on ya. Leave those too!)
– Copies of all the prescriptions you’re taking with you AND any you’re leaving at home which you may need in an emergency or delay (including glasses/contacts).
– A copy of your homeowners/supplemental property insurance.
– A copy of your medical insurance cards.

I don’t wanna!

a couple argues over a map pointing in opposite directionsThe best decision Trisha and I ever made concerning travel decisions was to do whatever the other person wanted: I’ll see whatever you want, and you’ll see whatever I want. Done. I can only assume this saved multiple arguments.

When we went to Europe in 1999, we visited 5 cities in 12 days. It was aggressive. Our game plan was to see the ‘must see’ sites of each, checking off as many boxes as possible.

Agreeing to see what Trisha wanted was easy. The only time I honestly thought about not going was the botanical garden in Barcelona. I had no interest in that — I’m not a gardener. Not even a little. But I had made a deal, and I went. It was one of the most memorable parts of the trip. Perhaps due to my low expectations, or sheer lack of knowledge before hand, but that is something I never would have experienced under my own planning.

When you’re planning your trip, don’t limit your itinerary to only things everyone will like. Take the opportunity to explore the interests of your companions. You may just be surprised how much you enjoy it too.

Only pay once

paying eurosThe best advice I can give for minding your budget while on vacation is to only pay for things once. I know that sounds like ridiculous advice, but it happens.

Here’s how I know this can be a problem: I paid twice to take the train through Europe in 1999. It was clear Trisha and I had two strikes against us: we were very excited; we had no idea what we were doing.

We had established a strategy early on, which we thought would save us both time and money. In the end, I still believe it did. I’m also aware that we probably through away something in the neighborhood of $250.

Our plan was to spend every-other night at a hotel, and to spend the alternate nights on the train relocating us to a new destination. These were our general guidelines, but we didn’t want to waste the day sitting on the train. Though not the most comfortable for sleeping, we were able to save both time and money by being a little put out. It was a sacrifice we were willing to make.

Key to this plan was the Eurorail Student Pass. I believe in 1999 we paid $250 or $275 USD for each student pass. Eurorail, the amazing train system of Europe, define a student as anyone under 26.

Here’s where we went wrong.

I think the pass is meant to allow you to just get on any train you want. Present your pass as method of payment when reserving your ticket. Our first train ride was Lisbon, Portugal to Barcelona, Spain. It turned out to be the perfect storm of ignorance and confusion. The ticket agent in Lisbon told us we would have to pay for our tickets despite having the student passes. I’m not sure if we did something wrong, or if there was a language problem, if she was new or if we were just stupid enough to pay it… but we paid for that, and every other ticket on our trip. It didn’t feel like a hardship, but after the fact it certainly felt like the whole situation didn’t go as planned.

This lesson isn’t just about trains; it’s about asking questions and really understanding what is included in your package. Whether you’re taking a cruise or a road trip, don’t be afraid to ask questions (and ask again, if necessary). What is included, and more importantly, what is not. What do they mean when they say “all-inclusive” or “transportation optional”? If you aren’t sure, kindly ask someone from the hotel/resort/train/airline/etc. It is their job, after all, to assist.

A visit to my good friend, Dewey

The first lesson to getting an A vacation on a B (or C!) budget, is that you have to consider every expense as part of the vacation. Wasteful spending isn’t necessary. Ever.

I like to make my vacations last as long as possible, as I don’t get to travel nearly as much as I would like. So for me, planning the trip can be a juicy precursor to the actual trip. Beware: you can easily go over budget on travel research. I have two sections of my bookcase devoted to destination guides and local history, many for places I have never actually been. But it doesn’t have to be like that. Dreaming is free, and planning can be just as cost-effective.

The planning for the Great Italian Getaway (GIG) 2015 began at my local library.

Here’s the thing. There are hundreds – HUNDREDS! – of travel books for every country, region or city you could ever hope to visit. What are you going to do? Buy them all?! (If your answer to this is yes, I should kindly tell you that we are very different people and, regrettably, this blog is probably not for you.) I also don’t typically have a preference between the large guide publishers. Each will do, and inevitably about 85% of the content will be basically identical. I can’t settle the arguement, however, as to which really captures what I want with that remaining 15%.

And because I was at the library, and they are FREE, I got two. Frommers 2013 and Fodors 2012 Italy have found their way to my home.

Over Thanksgiving 1999, Trisha and I took our first European vacation. London, Lisbon, Barcelona, Madrid, Paris, London. In twelve days. (And no, I have still not seen “If it’s Tuesday, if must be Belgium.”) While that trip contained many stops, it did not actually require much research. The GIG. This one is going to require research.

Trisha will be making many of the choices on locations, but I can soundly say I know very little about Italy. Generally speaking, I would say there are three types of places I would like to see: cities, beaches, and wine country. Three places, three weeks. Seems straight forward. Maybe… Maybe not. That’s why we research.

Later. Much later. When we have locations more narrowed down, I will buy some books. (Since this post was originally published, I have purchased two newer editions.) Maybe I’ll buy some apps. If my technology will work in Italy, that is. For now, I’ll be working my way through the free books at the library.

Less go!

The first lesson to getting an A vacation on a B (or C!) budget, is that you have to consider every expense as part of the vacation. Wasteful spending isn’t necessary. Ever.

I like to make my vacations last as long as possible, as I don’t get to travel nearly as much as I would like. So for me, planning the trip can be a juicy precursor to the actual trip. Beware: you can easily go over budget on travel research. I have two sections of my bookcase devoted to destination guides and local history, many for places I have never actually been. But it doesn’t have to be like that. Dreaming is free, and planning can be just as cost-effective.

The planning for the Great Italian Getaway (GIG) 2015 began at my local library.

See, here’s the thing. There are hundreds – HUNDREDS! – of travel books for every country…

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How’d we get here?

I do believe its time for another adventureI have been on four really great vacations in my adult life . (It is what it is…)  My first whirlwind, 12-day tour of Europe (London, Lisbon, Barcelona, Madrid, Paris, London). Twelve days lounging on the beaches of Grand Caymen.  A week in Lodz, Poland. (Lodz means ‘boat’ in Polish. It is no where near water. There you go.) Five days in Kona, Hawaii.

While it may sound counter-intuitive, if you live on the east coast and someone asks you to go to Hawaii for five days, seriously consider not going. Five days is just enough time to get your time-zones completely screwed up for a month.

It’s painful.

Each of these vacations began with a question. What do you think about Thanksgiving in London? How would you feel about someplace hot for Christmas? Have you considered Hawaii? Why not come for a visit?

Be open to the adventure, and ask questions of your friends. Be open to having others join you. They bring new ideas, other skills, and options. Splitting a room may mean sacrificing a bit of privacy, but it might also mean a great dinner at a fancy restaurant or getting to stay an extra couple of days.

It begins with an idea

Just a note – the trip to Italy mentioned in this post has been postponed until 2016.

When you close your eyes and think about a great vacation, what do you think of? Does that picture change when you think about your reality? Maybe, but it doesn’t have to. In this blog, I’ll share some of my tricks and tips to getting the vacation of your dreams while I begin the process of planning the best, longest, most expensive trip I’ve taken. In 2015, I will be spending three glorious weeks in Italy. Where? Don’t know. Doing what? You’ll know as soon as I do!

Or, as soon as we do. This will be my fourth more-than-I-should-expect vacay with one of my best friends, Trisha. We’ve been friends since 7th grade. For those keeping score, that’s 24 years. (27 now!) Mind blowing. You’ll learn more about the lessons we’ve learned and watch our Italian celebration take shape in later posts.

First things first. Every vacation boils down to a few simple decisions, but the list doesn’t have to be big or scary. Everything is an option, and those options are what make a vacation attainable or out of reach.

Who’s going?
Some vacations are made for two, some for groups. Some are girl trips and sometimes you bring all the kids and grandparents. The exact answer to the question doesn’t matter, but you need an answer to determine other details. If you have to house 16 people, you might have to consider changing the timing of your vacation.

Where are you going?
Sometimes, this really matters. Sometimes, it doesn’t. Both are fine, and make the process easier and harder. If you want to go to Italy, the destination matters. If you want to go someplace hot, or a rain forest or a glacier, you’ll be able to shop around for deals.

What are you doing?
Trisha and I have have trips scheduled down to the day, and we’ve laid on the beach for a week. It’s good to have ideas and its good to be flexible.

When do you want to go?
You can go in vacation whenever you want: spring, summer, fall, or winter. Holiday or regular weekend. And you can get good deals any of those times… If you plan way in advance or get lucky at the last minute. It’s all possible.

How long are you going?
Long weekend? A month? Don’t care? It’s all ok.

What’s your budget?
Every. Person. Has. A. Budget. $600? $6,000? Whatever it is, just be honest with yourself. This is no time to freak out or throw in the towel. Be realistic, for better or worse. There are ways to go for less, calm down.

Six questions. I’ll help you answer them in the way which gives you the best vacation possible.

Less go!

When you close your eyes and think about a great vacation, what do you think of? Does that picture change when you think about your reality? Maybe, but it doesn’t have to. In this blog, I’ll share some of my tricks and tips to getting the vacation of your dreams while I begin the process of planning the best, longest, most expensive trip I’ve taken. In 2015, I will be spending three glorious weeks in Italy. Where? Don’t know. Doing what? You’ll know as soon as I do!

Or, as soon as we do. This will be my fourth more-than-I-should-expect vacay with one of my best friends, Trisha. We’ve been friends since 7th grade. For those keeping score, that’s 24 years. Mind blowing. You’ll learn more about the lessons we’ve learned and watch our Italian celebration take shape in later posts.

First things first. Every vacation boils down to a…

View original post 301 more words