March 14, 2014

Creating Travel Magic

So you've got a great idea for a weekend getaway just a few hours drive away... your bags are half-packed, you can't wait to get there, but you haven't worked out any of the logistics yet.  Where does one start?!

Before you start panicking, take a deep breath, pour yourself a glass of wine and use the tips below to create some travel magic:

 1.  Establish a base-line budget.  How much do you have available for your weekend trip?  Instead of going on the first weekend in May, should you wait a few more weeks to have a little bit more cash on hand?  Once you know how much you can comfortably spend, start opening those internet browser tabs!

This photo of Candlewood Suites Harrisonburg (VA)
is courtesy of TripAdvisor. Photo taken by SvenskaSvea1987
in February 2014.
2.  Book your hotel.  Other than airfare, lodging will most likely be your biggest expense whether it's a domestic or international trip.  Finding the perfect balance between the cost of a hotel and its quality is truly an art form.  Typically, I use Orbitz to scope out the options for my destination and then compile a "Top Five" list of lodging preferences, or simply search for hotels on Google Maps for that location.  Depending on where you're going, a hotel, motel, campground, hostel, or even a bed and breakfast may be your most cost effective choice of accommodations.  Take your Top Five list and check out the guest reviews on a site like TripAdvisor to gain a unique look into  other travelers' experience with those particular businesses (*see note at bottom of post regarding guest review sites).  For a more unconventional approach, but potentially cheaper, check out Airbnb.  You could rent a room in someone's house or flat, stay in a guest house on an estate, or a cabin out in the woods for an one-of-a-kind experience.  I've had many friends and relatives book rooms through this site for trips at home and abroad.  Once you've settled on a hotel, check out their website to see if you can get a deal by booking directly.  Otherwise, I've had great experiences booking through third-party sites.

3.  Arrange the events and entertainment for your trip.  If you're going to a popular attraction, see if you can make entrance reservations in advance so that you can skip long queues.  Research fees and other costs for your planned activities.  If there are any dress codes or banned items, take note of it so that you won't be turned away when you arrive.  Be sure to budget enough time for each activity so that you don't end up feeling rushed.  Again, you can glean a wealth of information from sites like TripAdvisor regarding other travelers' recommendations for how much time you'll need for any particular attraction.

Enjoying a street vendor's gyro in the Old Town
Square, Prague, 2012
©Thrifty Gypsy
4.  Decide on a meal "itinerary."  What will your budget allow for food?  Will you be eating out for every meal, and if so, where?  Again, use Google Maps to scout out local eateries.  If you're in a region renown for, say, their seafood, you might want to splurge a little and enjoy the local cuisine.  Otherwise you might be better off saving your money for other expenses and just grabbing a quick bite at a small diner, chain restaurant, or even from a street vendor.  Or you could plan to eat picnic style in a nearby park.  This can save you a lot of money and can add to your overall experience.  While visiting places like Gettysburg National Battlefield and Prague in the Czech Republic, my husband and I have often packed our own meals and or bought a cheap sandwich from a street vendor to enjoy on the go.  We saved time and money!

5.  Make back-up plans for your back-up plans.  "The best-laid plans of mice and men oft go awry," as Robert Burn's poem is so famously paraphrased.  You might arrive at your destination and discover that the hotel has caught on fire.  Or you show up at the Smithsonian and the one exhibit that you just had to see is closed for renovations.  What are you going to do instead?  If you've made a back-up plan or two, you can ensure a successful weekend no matter what curve-balls are thrown at you!

I've found that these five simple steps result in travel magic.  Practice due diligence in your research in every step of your planning, and you will be rewarded with fantastic experiences.  


~ Just a Thrifty Gypsy

Paulaner Weiβbier enjoyed in Füssen, Germany,
July 2010.© Thrifty Gypsy

* End note: Remember that all reviews found on TripAdvisor  and similar websites are the sole opinion of the user and may not necessarily reflect the actual conditions of the attraction or lodging.  What one person may find absolutely intolerable, may be perfect for your budget, purposes, and/or traveling style.  Take all reviews with a grain of salt.  Don't expect the Motel 6 in Virginia Beach to meet the same standards as the Ritz in New York City.  But in general I have found the reviews helpful in determining what may or may not work for my trips.  If you're interested in reading any of my reviews on TripAdvisor, my user name is SvenskaSvea1987.

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