The dynamic of the internet (specifically Social Media) and traveling has allowed the end user to have more of a choice when it comes to their booking. If properly planned (in advance), you are afforded a choice of the type of holiday you would prefer.
Here is how I plan a trip. Your needs and requirements might differ greatly from mine (or you might have been doing the same thing all along).
4 to 5 months: Check airline websites for special fares. You might decide on a location just based on what discounted fares are available at that time.
3 months: Begin booking hotel rooms. The really popular hotels get booked out months in advance (especially if they are smaller, boutique hotels. Use my guide below as a start point.
1 month: Start applying for your Visa. You don’t want to apply too early because the Visa is valid from date of issue. If you have been rejected though you would still have some time to reapply or query the rejection.
1 month: Start looking at day trips, tours, excursions.
I sign up and register for alerts on airline sales on most of the carriers that we would frequently travel on. I don’t rely on any Loyalty program rewards (because we rarely fly the same airline often enough). All our tickets for trips this year were purchased in December 2018. We try to book our air tickets in advance just because the fare is so much better when it’s on sale. I always cross-reference the fare against other airlines doing the same/similiar route before confirming. Some people have an airline preference, but that is irrelevant to me as I want the best fare and quickest option. I prefer not to book via Skyscanner or any other third party flight website as I’m uncertain how reliable they are in terms of cancellations or re-routing. Something like air tickets is safer to purchase – even for slightly more- from an agent or directly online via the website.
Step 1: Sign up to Airline newsletters. If you are a frequent traveler, this also provides inspiration for where to travel – you might consider routes that you haven’t necessarily been exposed to before.
Step 2: If you are planning trips around your childrens holidays or when you are allocated annual leave, you have a better sense of the dates you are permitted to travel so planning can be much easier. Be sure to double-check religious holidays (Eid/Ramadaan/fasting periods/times of religious observations) before booking (we’ve made this oopsie before).
Step 3: If you are banking all your points when you travel or shop, look at whether they are redeemable for the period that you would like to travel.
In December 2017, we booked two return Business Class tickets to London on a Journey Blitz sale on SAA for R8ooo. We utilised some of our Voyager Miles and only paid in the taxes.
I upgraded my flight to Business Class when I traveled in April 2018 on Emirates by using the Skywards Miles that I earned on previous flights (and Miles that my husband gifted to me).
Be conscious and aware of your points. You might not be able to spend it all on an airticket (they might not be enough), but you might be able to upgrade your seat if available.
Step 4: Consider comparing fares with travel agents. I often use the services of Ridwaan or Laura at Royal Travel. If I am booking an Umrah, I look to getting in touch with Ashraf from TTW. They have, on separate instances, been able to provide a better fare compared to what was quoted online.
When an airline releases it’s sale dates, you should have a clear indication of your preferred travel dates. These tickets often sell out quickly, so be prepared to book them within a few days (f not hours).
Do you book tickets dependant on the destination or book the ticket and then figure out where you’re going?
Your choice of destination can allow for some flexibility when you travel provided that you have the required Visa to travel. For example, Mohamed and I were planning to spend a few days in Paris and travel to Spain thereafter. I didn’t book or make any arrangements for internal flights/transfers so I could be fairly flexible in our routing. We opted to return to Morocco and only booked those internal flights a few weeks ago.
How do you decide where to travel to?
I always look to these personal preferences before planning where we would like to travel to:
- Weather: I don’t particularly like traveling to colder countries (snow, excessive rain or dropping temperatures are a no for me)
- Visa requirements: Can I travel within Visa specific areas to maximise the Visa spend.
- Travel time/flight time between countries: Depending on how long you plan on traveling for, you really don’t want to waste a full day/days traveling. Flights might be a quicker (albeit slightly more costly than traveling by train/bus) and if you aren’t comfortable exploring, this might be a safer option for older travelers. If you are traveling with children, you will already be considering the quickest flight duration to your destination. In this instance, it makes sense to disregard sky miles/points/rewards programs and fly on airlines that offer a direct routing option.
- Does it satisfy all the travellers needs? Is there enough sight-seeing for my husband, physical activities or points of interest for our children and shopping and culture for me. People are looking more towards ‘bucket list’ destinations and traveling to destinations that offer alternate experiences.
Visa Application for South African residents.
Once you have decided on a destination, your next step would be to look towards applications for Visas. Some people prefer applying for Visas on their own. You can also consider enlisting the assistance of people who apply for visas on your behalf (often at times no real appearance needs to be made at the Embassy/consulate). These services come at a fee but it avoids you having to submit documents or appear before the officer.
Be prepared for the Visa cost! Where possible, try to plan your next trip within the space of when your Visa might expire (multiple entry expiring in 90 days) to maximise the Visa spend.
Try to correlate as much information that you’re able to and not forgetting finer points like having your Bank statement stamped at the counter as opposed to a print-out online as some Visa centers require an actual verification for your last 3-months statements.
Be sure to allocate sufficient time (but not apply too soon in advance) to apply online, receive an appointment date and make the appearance. Some Visa centers don’t even require you to apply online (the Moroccan embassy doesn’t require you to appear in person, and you may arrive without an appointment, for example). If you’re applying to travel to Turkey, this Visa may be applied for online for free.
Make certain your passport is valid (i.e not expired within the next 3 months of returning) and you have sufficient pages (6 if I’m not mistaken).
How to book hotels:
Your choice of hotel will likely be budget dependant. Your first point of call would be to check the average pricing of hotels on booking.com. I always use this as a start-point because it is easier to identify the main center and to see the hotels closest to the points of interest. You are also able to get a fairly good rate if booked in advance. Remember to make certain that you are booking a refundable rate so you can reserve the room, but also cancel it if you have found a cheaper alternative. You can also download the App on to your mobile making searching quicker and easier.
Once I get an estimate of the room rate, I always cross-reference on the rate on the hotels website. You will likely come across their online promos or packaged stays (breakfast, shopping experience, spa and stay rates, etc).
Remember to enrol in the hotels loyalty program if there is one to view reduced rates or sale dates.
How do I know how to plan tours?
I always start with a point-of-interest and work my way around the area for the day. Other options are to look at organised tour websites like Viator, where you could book shorter (or longer day trips) excursions which allow you still some free time (without the commitment of being restricted to a group). I like to use Viator as a basis for what each country offers. I get a sense of the cost and if I’m able to do the activity by myself for cheaper (Our tour was arranged through Viator in Istanbul and we could have easily done it ourselves and for cheaper.
I use Instagram to see the location tag first to get a better understanding of where people are traveling to. Most of the places that we have visited has been because I’ve seen it on Instagram.
Use Google maps to see what else is in the area or where the next closest attraction is. It’s also a great tool to find restaurants near to where you are.
What Apps do use when I travel:
Download from your App store. Free with in-app purchases (which I’ve never needed to use).
How does it work: Link to your email. It syncs automatically and inputs your travel arrangements in order of event, i.e flight schedules and hotel bookings. It saves reference numbers, boarding gates, terminals and layover details.
Why download: everything is in one accessible place. It works off wifi so you are able to view it even if not connected to data or wifi. Instead of going through screenshot or into emails, you can open the App and everything is displayed.
Check if your hotel is linked to an App.
I always use the Four Seasons app when I travel (and if I’m stayed at any of their properties). I am able to view our booking, make requests upon arrival, order room service or make requests for amenities to be delivered. I find this easier than making contact with the Concierge or reception staff.
Another App that I have linked to points is the Hilton App. It helps me check hotel rates and view sales, upgrades and advance purchase options. You are also able to check-in and utilize a digital card that is linked onto your smart phone.
Check if your airline has an App.
TripIt stores all flight information but you cannot make changes to bookings from there. I like to view my booking on my flight App. Selecting seats and booking your meal preferences can be done via the App.
I like to use this App at the initial planning phase of my trip. I cross reference hotel rates, location and proximity to major attractions. I might not use it to actually book rooms (because I feel that consulting with the hotel reservations directly gives you a better rate) but it’s a great tool to assist in planning a trip.
The weather widget
In addition to my local weather zone, I load the international location to my weather widget so I am able to plan accordingly. It provides a 6-day summary (that is updated automatically) to give you an idea of how to plan your trip.
I save this to my home page before I travel. I load the currencies on my list. It updates automatically with the day exchange rate so if I’m out shopping, I don’t guess the amount but get an almost accurate rate conversion. I find this especially helpful too when planning my trip as often hotel rates on their websites are in local currencies. On your App store search for XE Exchange.
Depending on where you’re traveling to, have a look at what their transportation service is like. I load Uber as a start point but also refer to advice from bloggers as to what other taxi service is operational in the city. Paris, for example uses Le Cab. It runs on the same principal as Uber and you can compare rates and arrival times plus cars against each other to assist in making an informed decision. With LeCab you can pre-book the transfer as you would with a car from the hotel.
I bring all these Apps to my homepage along with my photo editing Apps while I travel so they’re accessible from one convenient place.
On my next article I am going to discuss getting the best holiday photos out of your Huawei P30 Pro and the App that I use to edit them and create my Instagram stores.