Planning a trip: This is how we do it
As I’m planning my next trip (Bogota it is!), I thought I’d share how I go about it with you. I’m using “I”, but I really should say “we”. Hubby and I work together.
Hubby does everything airfare. He knows the sites, has apps on his phone, and has been blessed with the patience it requires to navigate through it all and come up with the best itineraries/prices. But more on that later… I take care of the geeky/nerdy and foodie stuff: sightseeing (which includes lots of museums), tours and restaurants. Together, we pick hotels/apartments. Basically, we divide and conquer!
Scheduling the trip
We both have a full-time jobs and a side gig. We also volunteer and have a rather active social life. We are pye poudre abroad and locally. All this to say that we have constraints: a set number of vacation days, busy periods at work, freelance/social/volunteering engagements. You name it! (For the record, we're not super heroes. Some people do the exact same things while being parents!)
Thank goodness for statutory holidays and “flex” days! Regarding “flex” days: I work on a compressed-work-week basis. Translation: I work longer hours and I get a day off every 3 weeks. For example, we’re travelling around Easter. Two statutory holidays and a “flex” day fall within my time off. Hence, during my trip I won’t be using up all my vacation days. The same calculations applied for my trip to PauP in December.
Choosing a destination
I’m not really selective when it comes to destinations. Sure, there are places I would like to visit more than others. But I don’t have a set list or rigid timeline.
We’re both avid readers, and this helps. A lot! Hubby sifts through the news and I read travel blogs. We also watch (way too much) TV. That’s where we get ideas and inspiration.
In the case of Bogotà, two things came at play: 1) I wanted to go back to South America; 2) airfare was cheap.
This is Hubby’s job. For example, I will randomly mention a destination and the first thing he’ll do is check his app for airfare. Dude knows more airport codes than normal. I know about 5, tops. 2 because I lived in these cities (PAP and YOW). The other 3 because I went through them often enough (YUL, FLL and… I should know the one for Kennedy in NYC). See, I only know 4!
He monitors airfare even before we schedule our vacation leave at work. From the moment we decide that we may want to go somewhere, he starts looking. He compares dates, time of day, airlines, etc. Did I mention that he was patient and thorough? The two qualities required to get the job done properly.
Keeping an eye on the news
While I choose not to listen to the news when I’m going to Haiti, I go above and beyond to get a sense of what’s going on when I’m traveling to a country I don't know well. In getting ready for this upcoming trip, I’m going as far as reading the news in Spanish.
If there isn’t an ongoing conflict or a declared war somewhere, I’ll go. I’m a firm believer that there’s always a risk factor in everything we do. I went to Paris a month after the November 2015 attacks. I actually booked that trip after the events. Security is often a matter of perception and probability—and sheer luck.
I’m fully aware of Bogotà’s violent past and ongoing issues with the former FARC members’ rehabilitation. As I mentioned to a colleague, I’m crossing my fingers (and my toes) and hoping that nothing bad happens to us while we’re there, like I do every time I travel. I’m not a bad-ass chick or a maverick. Tourists do go to Bogotà, much less than say Medellin and Cartagena, but they do go.
Finding a place to stay is actually one of our favorite things to do.
First, we read about the city’s various neighbourhoods. Wikipedia is actually a good place to start. We find Frommer's and TripAdvisor to be good references as well. There is a certain amount of reading involved. This initial legwork also provides a feel of the city. You immediately know where the party’s at, where the museums are and what to expect from certain neighbourhoods.
For example, in Buenos Aires, we opted for a B&B (bed and breakfast; photo on the right) in the Palermo neighbourhood, close to the Recoleta neighbourhood—we found it on TripAdvisor. We wanted to be as far as the touristy area as possible—without being in the boondocks—and to be able to move about like locals. And it worked! We were able to walk to some sites; we took public transportation (subway, bus and taxi). Plus, we ate like locals. How do I know? We were the only tourists in most of the cafés and restaurants in the neighbourhood.
Second, we choose a place. We’re big fans of AirBnB. By the time we get to the website, we kind of already know in which part of town we’d like to be. Our criteria: location, cost, accessibility, security and what we’re planning on doing—I should probably say what we think we’ll be doing; plans can, and do, change when you get on the ground. We pay really close attention to the reviews, especially the bad ones. It’s good to know what people complain about. It’s also good to know how responsive a host is.
In Bogotà, we’ve opted for the La Candelaria neighbourhood. Our expectations: old city, lots of sightseeing, one of the city’s safer neighbourhoods. We've got a few apartments on our list. I’ll let you know if we’ve hit the jackpot or not.
One thing we always keep in mind: it’s best to pay a little bit more to be closer to everything than spending the amount saved on transportation AND time. In some cities, taxis (even Uber) are expensive. Why would I even consider taking a cab then? Because after a full day you may not have the patience to wait for a bus or the energy to walk the 2 blocks from the bus stop to your hotel/apartment. Trust me, I’ve been there. Also, early in the morning and late at night, a cab (or Uber) may be the most dependable way to circulate.
Sightseeing and tours
Frommer's has those really neat Paris-in-7-days type of itineraries. TripAdvisor has very interesting travel guides based on interest. Starting from there, you can build your own itinerary.
I've often said that planning a trip can be as exciting as going on the trip. And I'm not exaggerating.
By the time you're planning this portion of the trip, you've most likely booked your flight and read quite a lot about the city/country. The trip feels more real. Reading about the attractions, looking at photos, learning about activities you didn't know existed will increase your level of excitement tenfold.
Depending on the amount of time we're spending on location AND the amount of homework we've done, we may decide to skip the tour bus. 1) We often find that it's a little bit on the pricey side. 2) We end up bumping into the bus everywhere we go; no need to actually be on it. We've also realized that if we really want to be like locals, we have to avoid the typical tourist stuff.
This time around, we're really curious about a walking tour about graffiti and a food tour. We haven't decided yet. We're traveling on a budget, and every dollar counts.
Since I'm the one taking care of this aspect, there's already half a dozen museums on the list.