…to travel well.

You just need to be smart, or maybe plan smart. Image

John Keats’ House and Garden, Keats Grove, Hamstead, London, England. Summer, 2013

So here we go to the second half of planning and budgeting the HOUSING part of your trip. Last week we covered the pros and cons of resorts, hotels, motels, and B&Bs. If you missed it, check it out here. Now we’ll get into the less conventional travel lodgings: hostiles, rentals, and couch surfing. Again I’ve done most of these though not necessarily under regular circumstances.

HOSTILES

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Our favorite hostile, Edinburgh, Scotland. Summer, 2012.

I’ve recently become a huge fan of hostiles. For the majority of my last trip, my sister and I spent every night in them ranging from bigger chains to individually owned locations. In case someone doesn’t know, a hostel is a place where you can rent anywhere from a single bed to a whole room based on the rules of the specific location. There are usually different kinds of rooms ranging in size from singles up to 20 something beds. Some rooms are public—if you are staying in that room, strangers will be in there with you—while others are private—you pay for the whole room like a single but may cost more because may be for more than a single person. Some are set up in suites—you have your bed, bath, and kitchen all in one room—to dorm styles—you have a bunch of beds in one room and a kitchen and bathroom in other areas of the hostel. Some hostels have rooms separated by sex while others are coed. Some hostels take up whole buildings while others are in the lowest floor of brownstones and they can be out in the boonies or in the busiest parts of a city. Basically, there are a lot of types of hostels and you can find them almost anywhere.

The biggest perk of hostels is the price. You can work around your budget by looking at which kind of room you can afford at that point in your trip. They are generally the lowest priced transient living quarters while still having the security of locks and keys and other travelers in similar situations as you. We started out our trip getting a single so we could get use to being away before sharing a room with anyone else—this ended up being perfect since our luggage got lost including our PJs…but more on that later when we cover packing. Our room wasn’t overly large but large enough for two of us sharing a bed and a closet to place our bags and any valuables in. We had a key to our room and no one else could get in. It was located a few blocks from Kennedy/Eyre square (depending on who you ask) in Galway which was pretty central to most of the places we were there to see.

So beyond affordable prices, generally good locations, access to kitchens, and meeting other travelers like you to keep company with are some of the pros of choosing hostels. Some even have washers (clothes, usually not dishwashers) that you can use—some for free and others for a low cost. Each hostels website will list what amenities they offer and whether they are for hire (cost) or free.

On the front of meeting other travelers, this is something that really made our trip. We were able to meet people, go out to a pub or show with them, share stories about where we’ve been and where we all were from, and then go our separate ways with great memories. Some we ran into more than once and so you have more laughs to share on the antics you’ve been up to since you last met. It’s like creating a new group of friends who all have one thing in common—you’re traveling and exploring and experience a common space. Most people we met were great and we felt really safe with everyone. However, just like anywhere you could be, beware because there are creepers everywhere (doesn’t mean it should spoil your trip, though!).

While I really do recommend hostels, there are some cons one must take into account. These residences are designed for travelers on a budget, leaning more to student types in their late teens through there twenties or those who don’t mind less than ideal lodgings. Sometimes showers run cold, windows look a little worse for wear, mattresses aren’t plush, and so on. When you look up hostels on travel or their individual websites, you’ll probably read through the reviews. Look at who wrote them and compare them to you. When I saw travelers’ reviews who considered themselves novices and were in their 40s but still chose to stay in a hostel, I took their words and complains with a grain of salt.  Think about who these lodgings were made for before booking.

Unlike the other lodgings, you buy by the bed not the room (unless you are renting out a private suite or a single) so if there are a lot of people with you, splitting a hotel room may be cheaper, but you’d have to do the research and calculations on that to know for sure. In terms of cleaning, hostels are usually DIY (do it yourself). Some will have pre-made beds and others give you bedding to sort out yourself. After your stay, you gather your bedding and drop it in the laundry. If you cook, pots, pans, and utensils are supplied but you have to clean up after yourself. Basically, they supply the room, bed and things you’ll need in return for pulling your weight in personal chores.

Personally, I preferred non-chain hostels over chain ones. In our experience, because chains allow for larger hostels, staffs tend to be larger and that can cause cliques. Part of this comes from the ways people can be hired in this system. Unlike hotels or resorts, most workers in the hostel system aren’t there on a permanent basis or looking to get into the hospitality services. Many are also travelers who are pausing their travels to get some money during the travel season and then move on. This isn’t their profession so they aren’t necessarily all about careering to your every need.

The difference I found between the large and small systems is the difference my sister and I experience between Dublin, Ireland and Edinburgh, Scotland. In Dublin we stayed in a chain hostel—they had two locations in that single city—who seemed to have hired a whole group of people in their early twenties from Spain who seemed to only want to do their own thing. We enjoyed our stay there, but left feeling that we never really got to know many of the people who were also there; the longer term workers and residence didn’t interact with anyone who wasn’t in their group. In Edinburgh, we stayed in the Bus Station Backpackers hostile which is a small hostile in the middle of the city, an easy walk from the bus and train stations. The staff was small—I mean two people small—but right away, we felt like we were guests in a home; like family. Our first night we went out with Kiley and “Skippy” Jo as we lovingly refer to the young man who was just learning the ropes during our stay, and explored the city and a few of it’s pubs. It’s one of the places I would go back and visit to stay there again because I felt welcomed there.

Where you stay really shapes your trip, so picking the type of place you feel good about and in is a really important part of planning. This is the website

I recommend, but remember to read the terms of each hostile as some have requirements like a call or email the day before arriving to confirm.

RENTALS

Rentals are great for groups who are planning to stay in one place for longer than a few days. We stayed in a rented flat in London for a little over a week and have stayed in rented time shared in the US as well. When you have multiple people who don’t need the extra services manned lodgings have, this could be a cheap and easy choice. The definite pros are real independence and a real feel for the place your in. You are much less likely to run into your average touristy type or feel pressured to go out so a cleaning staff has a chance to get into your room. You will most likely spend less money on your food because you’ll be able to cook for yourself. These can equally be cons, however.

Just like with the hostels, you have to be willing to do a lot yourself, like cleaning up after yourself. You don’t see as many travelers so you are more or less on your own with the people you are rooming with. EVERYTHING is up to you; no left over guide books or brochures to plan with on the fly. Again, this is best for a long stay so if you’re passing through, I would pass on a rental as well. Just like everything else I’ve mentioned, you can find information on these for most anywhere by searching online.

COUCH SURFING

I haven’t actively participated in this trend but through another traveling program I took part in did have a home stay section that was similar. This trend basically comes down to individuals renting out individual rooms or couches for a night or two—pretty temporary it seems—to strangers to make some extra money. This is probably the most adventurous but cheapest form of housing. Again, this isn’t something I have really experienced but people I know who’ve tried it have enjoyed the experience. My fear, of course, would be in security. This seems largely for individual travelers and you aren’t likely to run into anyone else traveling this way, and your security rests pretty solely on the strangers whose homes you are staying in. My best bit of advice if you would like to try this trend out for yourself would be to really research your selection. Try contacting someone who has stayed there before and contacting the residence. If anyone wants me to research more, let me know and yes, information can be found through internet searches.

Now, like I said in my last post, location is just as important as pricing! You may be spending less money on one place over another, but is it a huge advantage if you have to trek miles to see any of the places you’ve already book marked?

When you have made your selections (like hostiles over hotels) based on your research, start putting the possible selections for each town into your “HOUSING” tab. (Don’t forget to save the pages of these selections into your internet favorites; I recommend making a “travel” folder). After final decisions you can calculate the total housing costs to subtract from the total. This will let you know if you are under, over or on track for your overall expenditures. If you are on track, nice job and keep it up! If you’re under, even better. Enjoy spending that extra bit on the trip. If it’s too much, don’t worry. Go back over your budget. Maybe you can down grade some of the time; choose one of the less costly lodgings for places you’ll only be at a small portion of your travels. Why spend big if you’re not going to be there for very long?

And remember, the amount of money you put into your lodging should reflect how much time you expect to spend at that location. So, if you are only sleeping at a high-end and high priced hotel while you sleep and are running around outside the rest of the time, do you need to spend the big bucks? Think economically but only to the point where you are comfortable. After all, if you can’t sleep due to lacking accommodations, saving money won’t help all that much any way. All things in moderation.

And, as always,

I’m leave-on-the-wind, helping you soar

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…to travel well.

You don’t have to be rich…

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“Bad Wolf Bay.” Southerndown Beach, Bristol Channel coast, Wales. Summer 2013.

…to travel well. –Eugene Fodor

If you look back at the questions we set out in our earlier posts, you’ll see the only one left is What is your budget? By now you should know roughly what amount you have for your trip and this amount may look large but in your preplanning the number can drop drastically depending on your first few choices. Be prepared.

This post probably going to be the biggest part of planning and will have a lot of information, so I’ll break it down for you. I’ll focus on the first half of housing part of the pre-trip budget here (the next will cover the less conventional lodgings) and the transportation budget tips in the one after that.

You’ll need to go to EXCEL (or some system like it), and be prepared to become really good friends.

Budget organizing and set up:

Page one: lable the tab “budget”

Write your budget in 1b next to “Total” in 1a. You may eventually want to convert this number into the main currency you will be working in a few columns down but you can usually leave this until after your pre-trip purchases. You can also decide if you’ll be dividing the budget per person while planning or just work with the whole. You can do both by putting the individual budget in 1b or another column or two down. For now, leave this part be.

Make new page tabs for “Travel” and “Housing” as these will be your main fixtures pre-trip. Later you may break these down by place or type but it’s not really necessary.

HOUSING:

Look at where you’re going, who with, and type of budget as these will determine the accommodations you’ll be looking at.

Now back to your research and lists.
What kind of accommodations are you looking at? There are resorts, hotels, motels, bed and breakfasts, hostels, rentals, and (a trend that is gaining steam) couch surfing in strangers’ homes (these last three will end up in the next post). I’ve done most of these, though the couch surfing wasn’t what the trend is today but set up through a school. I’ll walk you through these options, pros and cons, digging through the massive amounts of information to find the gems, and who I suggest doing them (or not).

RESORTS

Here are some questions: do you want a maid service/ someone else cleaning your room? Do you want breakfast supplied or a food vendor(s) on premises? Room service? Turn down service? Do you want entertainment like shows/pools/theme parks right outside your building? Then a resort package and accommodation is probably for you. These are usually the highest end cost wise as everything you could want is right at your fingertips. This can be great for those with small children, large family gatherings, or anyone who really doesn’t want much of a hassle in planning anything. There is always something going on and always someone around to help you with whatever you need. They are set up specifically so visitors can relax and not really worry about anything.

However, there are some cons that go along with this stress free environment—you may never leave the comfort of your resort. If you are on a trip to see the sites and really experience the culture and the authentic feel of the place(s) you are visiting, I would steer clear of these accommodations. If you think this is for you, there are sites you can visit and get deals, but more times than not, as stated above, the costs are high. You should really weigh the cost verses the ease and see where it gets you.

HOTELS

Hotels can have many of the luxuries one is afforded in a resort minus (generally) the direct access to entertainment. They are rarely as pricy as a resort (unless really famous for something) but tend to come with basic access to food, maid services, and the like. They can also be called Inns (usually when located in more rural or country areas) and have fun room or whole building themes. Basically, if you can afford it, will be around for multiple nights, and don’t feel like “roughing it,” a hotel might be exactly what you are looking for. Again there are plenty of websites that can give you the best rates (some even matching up better deals with flights and the like). These accommodations are great for any age or group as long as you consider the stars rewarded.

MOTELS

Motels are basically hotels for motorists. They were built as short time lodging for people who would be moving on quickly. If you are looking for a room for a night as you pass through, this could be it. Parking is usually free but there usually aren’t lobbies or any real interior gathering space. Your door faces a parking lot so you’ll have direct access to your vehicle. The prices for motels tend to be significantly cheaper than the others we’ve discussed, but (according to most who have visited them) you can tell you paid less. While there is a cleaning service, one is usually advised not to lie on the comforter and to never use a black light. There aren’t usually food services through the motel, but a chain restaurant tends to be located next door. So if you are on a budget and don’t need the pampering, just a place to lay your head, motels can be great.

BED AND BREAKFAST

This could have gone before motels but here we are anyway. Bed and breakfasts are a lot like a hotel, but more closely related to a country Inn; in fact the terms are sometimes used interchangeably. A bed and breakfasts have the features of those previously mentioned like food, maid services, and prices, but they are built to be a person’s home away from home. This makes them great for a week away were one doesn’t plan on going out much but is usually pretty far removed from places you would want if you are in town to see the sights. Unlike a hotel, however, B&Bs are usually single entities—not part of a chain. They usually have themes like an Inn and have organized events based on the area they are located in. Some people—anyone who has watch Gilmore Girls episode “The Road Trip to Harvard” can attest to this—find these to be slightly off putting or creepy, but for others who enjoy group events like bird watching, crafts and the like without going anywhere, a B&B may be for you!

These are the more conventional lodgings that one sees outside of horror stories and commercials for them and their deal sites are constantly flashing across all forms of media. Doing a bit of research will find you the best prices and deals while buying other travel purchases like airfare. If anyone wants more ideas of where to look, feel free to ask—I don’t mind helping out fellow travelers.

Finally, remember to look at locations as well as prices! You may be spending less money on one place over another, but is it a huge advantage if you have to trek miles to see any of the places you’ve already book marked?

When you have made a selection based on your research (if these ARE the lodgings you are looking for) start putting the possible selections for each town into your “HOUSING” tab. (Don’t forget to save the pages of these selections into your internet favorites; I recommend making a “travel” folder). After final decisions you can calculate the total housing costs to subtract from the total. This will let you know if you are under, over or on track for your overall expenditures. If you are on track, nice job and keep it up! If you’re under, even better. Enjoy spending that extra bit on the trip. If it’s too much, don’t worry. Go back over your budget. Maybe you can down grade some of the time; choose one of the less costly lodgings for places you’ll only be at a small portion of your travels. Why spend big if you’re not going to be there for very long?

And remember, the amount of money you put into your lodging should reflect how much time you expect to spend at that location. So, if you are only sleeping at a high-end and high priced hotel while you sleep and are running around outside the rest of the time, do you need to spend the big bucks? Think economically but only to the point where you are comfortable. After all, if you can’t sleep due to lacking accommodations, saving money won’t help all that much any way. All things in moderation.

So until we continue next time,

I’m leave on the wind, helping you soar.

You don’t have to be rich…

Oh, the Places…

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 Along the River Ness, Inverness, Scotland. Summer 2013.

“You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose.” —Dr. Suess, Oh, the Places You’ll Go!

So, on we go to part two in trip planning. Last time we covered pre-planning—setting up and work to do before looking onto research. If you missed it <here> and enjoy.

To refresh, the questions for planning we set out are:

Where are you going?

What is your time frame?

What is your budget? (we’ll focus on this one in the next post—it’s a bigger part)

What are your interests?

Do you want a theme/ objective?

What is your mode(s) of transportation?

We looked at the first two and will be leaving the third larger budgeting question for later.

Moving into research:

Think about your interests in your day to day life. What are you studying or think you will be studying? Are you an artist, a foodie, or a wine/beer/cider aficionado? Do you love books, television, and/or movies? Are you historically inclined? Musically? Architecturally? Have you thought about centering your trip on these interests? Like a theme to tie it all together.

For my sister’s graduation trip, she and my mom centered their travels on a very specific theme: locations based out of Jane Austen, from where she lived to book locations to filming locations. They sprinkled in other historical events and locations as a secondary theme. My mom likes castles, so when she travels here objective is to visit as many as possible—full audio tour and all. For my latest trip on the other hand, we worked more loosely with our list of interests. We had to list them in order of importance to us—literary, police and crime history, and film being our main thoroughfare.

This is part of the consideration: how many people are going on this trip? What do they want to see and experience? A family vacation with kids is going to be very different from a post graduation trip of late teen/early twenties.

And none of this is to say that jumping into traveling to travel and see what you see isn’t also a viable option. From spontaneity comes some of the best experiences. It’s the reason that you should leave room in your plans; stay flexible.

Here’s where you RESEARCH comes in. Online, look up the places your going on Google or your preferred search engine. Look for cities that seem interesting and the places to see in those cities. Bring in your list of interests in order of relevance and importance. Add them to your search criteria.

If you feel you need more that the internet to guide you along now is when you should consider travel books. You can buy one or—better yet if you are on a budget and don’t think you’ll need it again—go to the library. I recommend Rick Steves’ guide books which are printed through Avalon Travel. Family friends recommended these to me and they were really helpful planning and budgeting tools. For every country he covers, he moves through each area giving basic tourist info to ways of getting there and how to move around once you make it to tours, sleeping, eating, entertainment and approximate costs.

By this time you should have a list of places to see and have them marked down in your notebook. This accumulation will take time; don’t expect to be at it for a single afternoon and magically be done.

But how are you planning to get from place to place? There are trains and metros, taxis, buses and car rentals, as well as simply hoofing it. There’s also a growing trend of renting out city owned bikes. All of these have various time and money constraints to them that you should consider while planning. Look at Google maps and you’ll be able to judge how far each of the destinations are from each other and whether or not you’ll be able to manage that distance with the time and transportation open to you. I wanted to visit Hadrian’s Wall on my last trip, but with mostly a walking theme within the cities I was visiting I quickly discovered it wasn’t in the cards—this time.

Google Maps has changed some of its settings recently so one of your options is no longer walking (It’s automatic if the places are considered close enough together otherwise there is a choice of time based on buses, cars or bikes.). No matter what mode of transportation however, Google mapping from place to place within one destination allows you to do a few things. One, you see where you really can get to and where you can’t. Two, if it’s something you really want to do, what transportation arrangements should you plan for—like seeing if there is a day trip tour that will get you there and actually let you explore. And three, what order—based on parts of the cities they’re in—you should go about seeing those sites. You should also be able to save these maps with your ideal destinations on Google for later reference.

While we’ll come back to transportation next time when covering costs as well as the many other facets to research while budgeting your trip, we’ll look more specifically at your choices of vehicles and different packages you can buy pre-trip to save you time, worry, and money.

And, until next time,

I’m leave-on-the-wind, helping you soar.

Oh, the Places…

Let’s Start at the Very Beginning…

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Arthur’s Seat, Edinburgh, Scotland. Summer 2013.

…It’s a very good place to start.

So if I’m posting/you’re reading this at the beginning of March and your trip is during June and/or July, you’ve hopefully done some of the work I’ll be posting about already. If so, GREAT! This can be a checklist of what you’ve done, or ideas of what to add. If not, don’t fret! You still have time. You should, however, get the ball rolling—at least, if you are like the average American who needs a plan of where they’ll be staying and sleeping (at the very least) before they head off. So, here we go (keeping it relatively simple and stress free. The ABC’s if you will. After all, you don’t want to hate the planning so much, you never want to go anywhere ever again):

What you will need before sitting down:

A notebook

Pencil(s)—different colors if you’re getting fancy

A calendar and/or supplies to make one (poster board)

Computer/ internet access

Excel spreadsheet

Guide book(s)—optional and should really be bought after the first part of planning

And most importantly, an idea

 Making headway:

Start with your notebook—the best option is a small (dimensionally, not just thin) spiral bound that you can fit into a day bag or purse. You’ll be carrying this around with you before and during the trip so make it manageable but thick enough to have room for budgeting and journal notes throughout planning and traveling.

After writing your information—name, address, phone number, ect.—on the introduction or first page, go onto the first clean page and write down a few questions to guide your process such as:

Where are you going?

What is your time frame?

What is your budget? (we’ll focus on this one and those after more in a later post)

What are your interests?

Do you want a theme/ objective?

What is your mode(s) of transportation?

On the next page begin by answering WHERE you are planning to go. This can be the country/countries or state(s) or even city/cities depending on the breadth or the detail you know before you do any research. Leave some space to fill in specifics later, ie. cities or specific stop points. (Leave this as is for now. You’ll circle back when you begin your research)

Next question to consider—this will take place looking at a calendar (and, yes, I recommend an old school paper version), rather than your notebook— what is the TIME FRAME you’re looking at? The time frame you give yourself really dictates if you can hit all the places you jotted down for question one (even before you look further into specific events or not-to-be-missed destinations). For example, if you put 3 countries in the Europe—even relatively small ones—but give yourself two weeks (some of you may laugh but, trust me it’s been done), you may find yourself swarmed and in WAY over your head. I’ve done road trips a-plenty wherein 2 weeks have actually been plenty, while the last trip I took was 5 weeks through Ireland, Scotland, Wales, and England and I did not want to come back because there was still so much to do!

If your trip is contained within the span of a month, using the calendar as is should be fine. If not, like my five week trip, you may want to consider making a special trip calendar. This can also be helpful for shorter trips if you want to write your plans out on a larger surface than the average pre-made. You can set up a calendar on a large (to fit all the days and possibly details) piece of poster board. Set up your squares just like a calendar—7 days across, though it doesn’t matter what day of the week you start on (just start with the day you leave). This may pan out well later as the people at home can simply look through your calendar to see whereabouts you are.

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My trip/planning notebook and trip calendar.

The last trip I took—the five week, four country one I mentioned—was the first I planned all by my lonesome. I took the budget and the countries and did it all. I say to really start the process of planning now based on that trip planning experience. I was auditioning for a free lance editing job while planning so I can tell you, life knows exactly when to speed up on you; right when you need it to slow down. I put together one of the calendars I’ve described and, I’m telling you, it saved my life. Really simply, these are my foundational blocks—my ABC’s of trip planning… well at least part one of them.

Let’s Start at the Very Beginning…