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Friday, 20 March 2015

Top Tips For Planning A Trip Away...


Decided where you want to go but wondering what step to take next? Me and Si love to travel and try to get away as often as we can. I always find that we do the same things prior to a trip and we're going to Tallinn, Estonia soon, which inspired me to do this post. Here are my top tips for planning a trip away yourself, whether abroad or in your home country (bare in mind, this is what me and Si do, it's by no means the best way or the only way of planning a trip)...


How are you getting there?

- If you need to look at flying to your destination, Si recently discovered that Google now compares flights. If you search 'flights to ...' in Google, it should come up at the top of the page. We booked our flights to Tallinn, Estonia this way as it was the cheapest. Skyscanner is another company we have used in the past. When flying, we always have a quick look at what we can and can't take to our chosen destination, just in case you are going somewhere where they have specific policies. Airlines tend to have different allowances for the weight of your luggage, so consider how long you're going for, what you think you will bring back etc. You can of course buy extra allowance, but compare the price of flights with the luggage allowance/price to add extra and see what works out best for you.

- If you are travelling to your destination by road and don't have access to a car, I'd recommend taking a look at National Express. We used this company to organise our transport to the airport that we are travelling from to go to Estonia. When you enter your initial journey info, results will tell you the time it will take to get to your destination and prices. You can change the times there and then to see if there are any quicker or cheaper journeys.

- We also used The Trainline to see if it would be cheaper or whether there were more convenient times to get to the airport, but in our case, as we have an early morning flight, it was cheaper and more convenient in regards to time, to get a coach. The Trainline is a company that we often use, so it's definitely one to consider having a look at to compare prices.

- If applicable, you might want to think ahead to how you're going to get from the airport/coach/train station to your accommodation. If you arrive during the day and it's within walking distance, you might want to take in the first sights by walking, otherwise have a look at reputable taxi companies or the regularity of public transport at your destination and see what will be better for you. Planning beforehand will give you more confidence when you arrive in a place that you don't know that well and it will give you more of a heads up just in case there are people around trying to fool tourists with high taxi prices etc.


Where are you staying?

- Me and Si use Booking.com, Trivago and HotelsCombined to look for the best deals for accommodation. A lot of people use Booking.com, so there are a lot of reviews on the website where you can see how different forms of accommodation have been rated. Trivago and HotelsCombined are comparison websites, so you can make sure you're paying the smallest price for exactly what you want. If you require further help when choosing a place to stay, check out Tripadvisor as it has reviews and ratings for accommodation.

- When we've booked where we want to stay, we usually look at the direct website of where we've booked. Hotels, hostels, guest houses etc usually have their own website where you can find out a lot more in-depth info about the place you're going to be staying. I like to look at what facilities they have to offer, the food and drink they have available, if they have spa/beauty facilities, check in and check out times, what's included in the room, local transport links, how far it is away from the local airport, train/coach station etc. By doing this, you can often find out more than you initially knew when you first booked the accommodation and knowing more always makes me even more excited to go!

- In regards to flights and accommodation, it's rare that we use a travel agent, we usually just book it all ourselves. The majority of the time you'll get a better deal as you aren't having to pay commission. Also, if you're flexible in terms of the dates in which you can go away, do a couple of searches for different dates for both flights and hotels. Different factors can affect prices, such as weekends, special events in your chosen destination or holidays (in your current or go-to destination).


What To Do?

- I like to get our place of stay up on Google maps. You can often see what is around your accommodation, for example, supermarkets, places to eat and local attractions. You can then search for these places online and check them out in more detail. A supermarket is one of the first things we like to seek out when we arrive at our accommodation, to get essentials for our room.

- We use Tripadvisor and Google to find out more about places of interest in more detail. Using Tripadvisor allows you to see how such places are rated by people who have been there previously. I like searching for where we are going on Tripadvisor and looking at the separate categories, for example, restaurants, attractions and places of interest. I then research such places in more detail and make a note of places not to be missed so we have them as reference when we are there. You'll also be able to read about places that maybe aren't worth your money/time, especially if you have a limited amount of time to explore or are exploring by foot. You don't want to spend time walking somewhere for it to be a disappointment, so researching beforehand will make sure you don't waste your time/money. You might even get a better deal by buying tickets for such attractions/places of interest before you go or you might find vouchers online to use whilst you're there (Tallinn has a card that you can buy (designed to save you money), that allows free entry onto public transport, into many attractions and further discounts in restaurants - looking to see if your chosen destination has something like this, could save you a lot of money). Me and Si have already researched a lot of things to do in Tallinn, including a day trip to Helsinki. We are there for five nights, so planning beforehand has saved us time and we are going to Tallinn being a lot more informed than we were last month, before we'd booked this trip.

- Wherever you are going, type it into a search engine with the word 'visit' in front of it. I always do this and every time I get a tourism website come up for the place we are going to. Websites like this not only show you what your chosen destination is known for in terms of attractions, food, places of interest etc, but you will also learn a lot of important, valuable information. You will often find out facts about your chosen destination, weather info, what the currency is, any laws you should abide by as a tourist, entry requirements, the official language, things you should know before you travel, important telephone numbers, whether you need a visa, any vaccinations you should have etc. Every destination will be different and if you're going to a place within your home country then you might already be familiar with things, but this is a great tip if you're going abroad to somewhere that is a little different to what you're used to. Lonely Planet is also a great website to get destination information, expert advice and travel tips. Using these websites, you should also be able to find out or get links to important things such as a country/city discount or travel card, travel timetables, events that are being held, day trips you can take etc.


Things To Remember!

- Travel insurance is my number one tip of things not to forget. We have learned first-hand that travel insurance is something you need. You might think that everything will be okay and that nothing will go wrong, but don't take that for granted, something could happen and you need to make sure you're protected. We use Money Supermarket to compare travel insurance. You enter a small amount of info and a lot of results will come up, including brands that you might not of heard of before. If I'm honest, we go from the top and scroll down until we recognise a brand name, such as Virgin or Debenhams (which can still be inexpensive). The policy price, excess, amount covered for medical, cancellation, baggage etc will be stated and you can choose the travel insurance that's right for you. You can also add optional features, such as gadget cover, missed departure and wedding cover.

- We tend to make sure we have English money (mainly for the airports and the flights), foreign currency cash and our debit card with us when we go away. If you're looking for foreign currency, I recommend looking around. We don't tend to use any websites for our foreign currency, we just look around locally and check the rate in banks, supermarkets, the post office and travel agents. That way we know we're getting a good deal rather than just going to the first place we come across. We always get any foreign currency we need before we go and only use our debit card if we really have to.  If you are going to be using your debit/credit card whilst you're away, let your banks know. If you're staying within your home country, this isn't something you usually have to do, but if you're going abroad then it's good to let them know. This way, your cards won't be declined if they presume fraudulent activity. This is always on our to-do list before we go abroad.

- Save space in your luggage by getting miniatures when it comes to beauty products. If you're travelling somewhere and the weight of your luggage doesn't matter, then it's all good! If not, then getting miniatures is going to be a good shout, as packing your normal sized products can really take up a lot of your allowance. Asda and Boots are usually good options for miniatures and they usually have a wide range. Otherwise, you can get little decanter pots and bottles. Primark and Poundland are good for things like that.

- This is more applicable if you're going abroad, but if you want to keep in touch with people back home or even use the Internet whilst you're away, it's a good idea to see whether there are a lot of Wi-Fi hotspots where you're going to be (me and Si have looked into this and we're lucky that there are a lot of Wi-Fi hotspots all over Tallinn). If not, then you can contact your provider and work out how much it's going to cost you to make calls, text and use the Internet (if needed). They might even be able to do a deal for you during the time you're away. If you're on PAYG it's more controllable, but the last thing you need is being on a contract and using your phone wherever you are and coming back to a sky high bill.

- Photocopy important travel documents such as your passport, hotel/flight info, itinerary, your European Health Insurance Card (if you have one) and travel insurance documents, just in case you lose any of this info, have to prove anything or wish to leave some info back home with someone. Also, don't forget to fill in the emergency contact details on your passport!

- Make sure your passport is valid! Some destinations require that your passport be valid for 6 months after the date you travel. Me and Si got married (as you may know!) in September 2014 in Cyprus and we had to renew our passports when we returned as they were due to expire within a few months. So now we have new passports for our upcoming trip. The passport office tend to add any remaining months from your old passport onto your new one. If you need your passport for where you're travelling, it's worth checking that it is well in date and that you'll be able to travel with it if there isn't long left on it.

- Consider getting Tag&Track luggage labels. If any of your luggage happens to get lost, it can be easily located if you have these labels on. It might even be the case that whoever finds your luggage can locate you before you locate your luggage, this is because all of your details are linked to the pack of labels upon purchase. Me and Si got these when we booked our wedding last year and the good thing about them is that they last for a year! One pack should be enough for two to three people. You can read more about this pack and purchase it for £14.95 plus p&p on their website.


Lastly, enjoy your time away to its full potential. Don't be afraid to go somewhere a bit different and get involved in amazing experiences. Do your research beforehand, check it's safe to travel there, be open-minded and have a great time. Me and Si went on holiday to Tunisia in 2009 and we'd done our research and found out it was absolutely fine to go there. Some people we know weren't so sure and thought it'd be dodgy, not unsafe but probably not their kind of thing. However, we had one of the best experiences of our life, going on an overnight trip and taking part in some amazing activities such as riding camels over the Sahara dessert until the sun set! It was so surreal and something we will always remember. Do something you wouldn't ordinarily do if you can and make it a trip to remember!


What are your top travel tips?

Thanks so much for reading!
Gem XxOo
Images are courtesy of Pinterest, Imgarcade, Wild Junket, Backpacker Guide New Zealand, Be My Guest, Go Blue Tours and I Am Not The Babysitter.

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