Saturday, December 28, 2019

#GshnyTravelsGyan - Generic tips for planning a tour on your own

It is time for renewing your old new year resolutions which you most probably have not managed to fulfill in 2019. If travel is on your mind for 2020 then this post will help you with preparing yourself and keeping your plans realistic. I have written location specific posts about planning trips but I thought I would write a generic one too. 

Assuming you can go anywhere, the below filters will bring down your choices to just a handful. 
- Availability of people involved
- Best time to visit the place
- Budget
- Long weekends
- Type of trip - Adventure sports vs Sightseeing vs Leisure

If you do manage to get all the above sorted you wouldn’t know if you are getting a good deal on the travel sites or are paying a premium. Planning way in advance may not work out and same goes with planning too near to your travel date. So how do you handle this situation? 

Would you believe me if I say that planning a trip and determining a rough budget estimate can be done in under 30 mins? Well, let us try it. Select a place you want to go to and answer the following with the help of google.
- Best time to visit (seasons)
- Cities that can be covered along with <place in mind>
- Other activities to do at <place in mind>

Then open any of the travel sites and look up the following:
- Cost of flight ticket (cheapest/average/costliest) from your city over the next 3 months to the intended city and also the pattern as to which day is cheaper vs how far is the cheapest ticket date from the current date. That will give you an idea of how much you need to shell out if you need to travel at short notice and how early should you book to get the best price.
- Cost of rooms: This remains fairly constant except for peak seasons which you would be aware of from the above google searches
- Ideal number of days for the trip: Look up for package tours to the place and see how many days they are allocating. You usually will need lesser or the same number of days as you will get to choose which places you want to cover and which you don’t. Also package tours give sufficient rest which you could compromise if you have time constraints.
- Cost of package tours - The all inclusive price of package tours is max you will spend if you plan well on your own so that is the target budget of your trip. Also package tours have a lot of exclusions. Apart from basic sightseeing most of the activities would not be covered. The hotels included in package tours will be away from cities and include Indian meals and you may not necessarily have a say in hotel location and trying local food.

If you are traveling international then you will need the following information:
- Visa - How much is the fees and how long will it take you to get the visa?
- Currency - How much is the conversion rate and whether it is a cash dominant or digital payments are accepted?

Well that is it. Do not go into other details like how you will transport locally, whether you need to rent a car or public transport etc unless you have a lot of time or you have decided that you will travel to that place. 

You could create a table with rows for places/countries and columns can contain the information you looked up for the below fields
Cities to visit
Places of interest
Best time to visit (seasons)
Airline information (From your city)
Avg flight price (round trip)
Avg room price / night
Local Currency and Conversion
Unique Activities / Things to do
Visa Requirement and Fees
Total estimated price for two

When you decide to actually travel you have most information at your disposal. You can decide for a package tour or do things on your own. If you decide to plan things on your own then you can continue reading.

Credit cards play an important role to make your trips cheaper. Every card has instant discount or cashback offers on one or more travel sites on certain days of the week. Look up your cards offer section or the travel website offer section to see offer details. Combine this with the airline or wallet promotional offers and you have hit the jackpot. The best part of the credit card is that if you use the card within 15 days of bill generation, you will get a month to pay back the amount. Keep an eye out for flash sales so that you can save the maximum.

If you are doing multiple cities then try not to book round trip as you will waste considerable time traveling back to the city you started from. Check multi-city options when booking flights or two one-way tickets and you might find it cheaper/optimal than round trip. Sometimes prices do not include baggage which will be an expensive add on so keep that in mind while selecting the cheapest flight. When it comes to hotel bookings there are sites which let you reserve the rooms with or without credit cards and pay at a later date. And always book rooms with breakfast. It works out cheaper and you can go until evening with a good breakfast. This should sort out your major travel and stay. 

Now for local transport you can look up for city package tours or try sites like traveltriangle or pickyourtrail or just google with the place and tours to find options. For day trips or unique activities you can look up klook or expedia or cleartrip local or such sites. Mix and match to get the best deals for all your needs. You can also rent a self drive car or bike if you are confident enough. All the above applies to both domestic as well as International travel. Below are details specific to international travel.

For Visa, it is best to go for eVisa or Visa On Arrival if available. VFS is the next best bet as any travel agent you approach will ultimately get the visa done through them. But if you feel VFS does not provide you complete information you can choose any agent and they will charge a bit more than VFS. In most cases you will need to book flights and hotels in advance before applying for visa. 

Multi-Currency cards come in handy if you are going to countries which have strong currencies. You will save a lot of money in conversion charges provided you swipe your card everywhere. You will need to get rupees converted and carry cash in dollars for countries with weaker currencies. Using your debit or credit card is also an option but make a note of the markup charges (3.5% + 18% GST on the markup) and if you withdraw cash then expect additional charges (around $5) and also the local bank ATM charges (another $5). Airport currency conversions are expensive so plan to get currency converted in advance.

Every country has some sort of public transport pass for the locals which you can buy if you do not mind traveling like a local. If you do not want to go through that hassle then you can check out the tourist options such as hop-on-hop-off buses that will work cheaper than using cabs. The same applies to SIM cards. You can purchase SIM cards at the airport or book one online using the service providers in the country. It will be much better than activating roaming or taking an international SIM from here. And you mostly get free incoming SMS on your Indian number when you are in cities abroad so you should not face problems with OTP or receiving emergency texts. And free WiFi is provided at hotels and diners so if you decide not to get a SIM card then it is perfectly fine. 

Apart from that everything else is a standard practice. Planning on your own for trips works best if you have 2-4 people. Up to 6 people may also work if you can arrange a bigger car in advance. Beyond that would be a logistical nightmare unless you can handle it (let me give it a try sometime :P)

I hope this helped and has not swayed you away from planning a trip on your own. Please leave your comments and queries and I will try to address them and edit the post accordingly :) 

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