By: Natalie Austin
This year, you’re probably planning an ultimate, life-altering, Instagram-worthy trip to somewhere out-of-the-ordinary. You may spend the next few months dreaming about soaking up the sun on a beach in Thailand. But while your journey may have been planned down to what drinks you’ll have with each meal, you may be making some huge mistakes even before booking your flight. Since booking travel is now done almost exclusively online, there are countless ways to get scammed or not get offered some of the best deals. Even if you’re not worried about spending a few extra hundred bucks, that cash could be put towards a shopping spree or trip extras. Here are sure-fire ways to guarantee your trip is a hit, even before you go through airport security.
Learn to Book like an Expert
With so many booking engines, it’s easy to get caught in a tornado of bad information. While we may think we’re getting the best deals available, online consumers are often aced out of not just the best deals, but correct prices of flights and hotels. The biggest mistake people often make is starting a search with booking engines like Expedia, Priceline and Hotels.com. These booking engines often work with larger hotel companies and can only offer their discounted prices. Also, it’s much harder to find charming, cleaner mom-and-pop hotels as big booking engines don’t seek out business with these types of accommodations. For better hotel prices, use sites like Hotels Combined, who show you smaller, more charming stays at your desired destination.
Booking flights at the right time and place is crucial to find the best deals. According to travel expert Reid Bramblett of ReidsGuides.com, “The secret to landing the least expensive plane tickets every time is to know where the deals are, search wisely, and never pay retail if you can avoid it.” To ensure that you get the best deals, never book flights more than four months in advance. Search for flights 8 to 12 weeks before you plan to go. Also, when you’re searching, compare flights leaving a few days before and after your outbound date to make sure you’re getting the lowest fare. For the best rates, use an aggregator like Momondo.com. Aggregators don’t work for the airlines, like Expedia or Priceline; they work for you, the consumer. That way you’re getting a comprehensive survey of airline prices, not just prices from popular commercial airlines.
While saving money may be at the forefront of your mind, it is important to remember when not to skimp on travel features. Many individuals get caught booking hotel rooms with seemingly too-good-to-be-true prices. Especially for American tourists heading to European destinations, travelers often don’t pay attention to hotel details that can put a huge damper on their vacation. When booking a hotel, it is often best to spend a little extra money in order to stay close to the city center. “Don’t be tempted by rock-bottom tourist-class hotels out on the edge of town. Anything 30 minutes or more by public transportation from the historic center is a mistake,” says Bramblett. Especially in destinations where the city center is the focal point of the trip, it will save you transportation costs and headaches if you book slightly pricier rooms closer to tall the action.
How to Pick Your Destination: Affordability and Adventure
Picking a destination is hard. People want adventure, but not one that’s going to break the bank. If you want to have an unforgettable experience, there are destinations to choose that are both out of the ordinary and still allow you to get the most for your money. It is important to be mindful of both the experience you’re seeking and your budget so you don’t have to spend any time stressing about money once you’re there.
For example, Canada is a travel hot spot this year for both its charm and affordability. Several destinations within its borders have been named the best places to visit for 2016. According to Travel & Leisure, the Okanagan Valley in British Columbia is a must-see spot for 2016 for both its gorgeous landscape and epicurean indulgences. “While the area’s stark beauty and hot, dry summers have always drawn outdoorsy types, there’s now an increasingly sophisticated scene revolving around food and local wine.” The New York Times also mentioned Squamish and Quebec City on their list of 52 Places to Go in the coming year. Both places are off the beaten path and offer unique experiences that are quintessentially Canadian. An added bonus to your Northern adventure? One U.S. dollar will get you $1.40 Canadian dollars.
In Japan, one U.S. dollar will get you ¥117, allowing you to fully indulge yourself in some of the most unique locations. If you’re looking for a tropical getaway, discover Okinawa Prefecture, a must-see destination for 2016 according to Conde Nast Traveler. The prefecture is at Japan’s southernmost point and comprised of hundreds of the Ryukyu Islands with a climate that rivals the Caribbean. “Okinawa and its islands aren’t just a scattered, reggae-sweetened necklace of islands closer to Taiwan than to Tokyo, but one that actively seeks to turn Japanese congestion, industry, and formality on their heads.” Of course you can never go wrong with the mainland either. With Japan’s bid for the 2020 olympics, new developments and advancements are underway as cities are already ramping up in preparation. With its world renowned technology and century-old structures, Japan provides captivating sites that are both ancient and the modern, cultivating a travel experience like no other.
Do Your Cultural Research
If you’re a frequent traveler, you’ve probably heard varying testimonies of different locations and cultures when talking to different people. A common belief is that the “French are unbearable,” and “Puerto Ricans are like long-lost friends.” The reality is that this was probably the attitude of the traveler that impacted the value of their experience. While many people research the best places to shop and eat, people often forget to learn about the culture of their vacation destination. Appreciating a culture before you’ve even visited can set you up for more interesting discoveries and authentic connections with locals. If you, “show a modicum of respect to people and their culture, and you’ll be blown away by what you get back,” according to Huffington Post Travel Writer Clayton B. Cornell. If you’re an American and you walk into a French patisserie using the words “Hello, how much does this cost?” you’re probably going to get a far different reaction than if you walk into a Puerto Rican cafe and say “Hola, cuanto cuesta?”.
Before you arrive at your destination, make sure to learn the most common phrases needed while abroad. Even though you may not be able to hold a legitimate conversation, locals will recognize your attempt at trying to connect and will appreciate your efforts to learn their culture. This shows you’re not just a tourist, but you actually care about their customs. Also, make sure to learn common courtesies of shopping, dining or drinking. This will ensure you and your travel companions won’t be lumped into the typical “tourist” category. Ultimately, you will enjoy yourself far more if you have learned and understand indigenous culture.