Author Topic: How to Plan a Vacation  (Read 4847 times)

daymare

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How to Plan a Vacation
« on: October 10, 2014, 09:47:15 AM »
Hey everyone!

My husband and I want to take a belated honeymoon in January for ~8 days.  Our vague idea was to go somewhere in Latin America or South America - have never been, and it would be great to take in beaches/jungles/historic sites/food.  We actually started with a really ambitious plan to amass a bunch of CC points, but turns out that when you don't spend a ton, this takes a long while.  I have 56K reward points through my Chase Sapphire, and my husband has about 50K through his and we'd like to put those to good use if possible.

I've been spoiled as far as vacation planning goes - most of our vacations in the recent years have been group trips (sailing around Greece, Iceland, camping in Yellowstone) that some amazing friends took the reigns on planning.  Our wishes are pretty flexible: some beach/relaxing and nature/hiking with food & culture mixed in.  General googling has led to some crazy expensive suggestions, so I don't think that's the right approach.

So my questions for all of you: How did you plan your last vacations (pick a place, housing, day-to-day plans)?  What are your favorite travel resources?  What kind of CC travel hacking have you done?  How did you keep the trip enjoyable and the costs low?  Any recommendations for travel in Latin America?

daymare

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Re: How to Plan a Vacation
« Reply #1 on: October 10, 2014, 10:02:40 AM »
On a personal level, I think I've actually found somewhere to go that looks amazing (Belize) where we can definitely pay for the flights fully with points, and some really promising beautiful places on AirBnB to stay and relax.  That said, I really want to hear about people's experiences with how they plan vacations!

mrsggrowsveg

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Re: How to Plan a Vacation
« Reply #2 on: October 10, 2014, 10:14:04 AM »
We also have the Chase Sapphire and we are using our points for a cheap trip this December.  When I plan a trip, I usually start by looking at some of the places I am interested in and checking out plane prices/points needed.  I also look to see if it is their high season when I plan on going.  We try to avoid high season.  I also try to avoid hurricane season.  I try to find my lodging using Trip Advisor.  I type in my dates and then look at the B & B and alternate lodging.  This has the hostels and B & B's that cost much less and provide a less touristy experience.  I have also found that people in the B & B's tend to make the best tour guides.  Belize would be awesome.  The only Central American place I have been to is Costa Rica.  We honeymooned there.  We flew into the capital, San Jose.  From there we took a small airplane for about $40 to the pacific side.  We spent about 5 days in Manuel Antonio.  There is a lovely national park there.  Then we took a bus (not recommended) to Arenal for 5 days to see the Volcano and waterfalls.  Finally, we took another bus to Puerto Viejo on the Caribbean side.  It was an amazing trip.

Schnurr

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Re: How to Plan a Vacation
« Reply #3 on: October 10, 2014, 11:27:36 AM »
We usually check out a bunch of travel guides (Lonely Planet, Frommer's, Rough Guide, etc.) from the library for a variety of places we are interested in. Then we skim the "Best of", "Top 10", or "Suggested Itineraries" in the front of the guides to narrow down where we'd like to go.

To keep costs low on flights, be flexible! Check out round-trip tickets, open jaw tickets, and two one-ways purchased separately. Look at a variety of departure and arrival airports. http://matrix.itasoftware.com/ is great for this, because you can combine multiple airports and dates into one search.

For lodging, I use www.hostelworld.com in the larger cities (many hostels have private rooms with or without a private bathroom; getting a little too old for the dormitories). I've never had a bad experience with a hostel that was rated at least 85% on Hostel World (although less than 85% might be fine as well). In smaller towns and developing countries, it's often much easier to just show up. Check out two or three places, always asking to see the room, and negotiate for price. Then go with the best one.

I've never been to South America, but for Central America I would highly recommend Nicaragua! We spent an absolutely amazing two weeks there. Nothing against Costa Rica, but Nicaragua feels much more authentic (less commercialized and touristy) and is much cheaper. Very mustachian-friendly (if air travel can be considered Mustachian at all): lodging $30 for a double room (could go cheaper if you do dorms or slum it), dinner with drinks $5, beer $1, excellent public transport (chicken buses) covers most of the country. It's also very safe (at least outside Managua, which we avoided completely). You do need to speak some Spanish, or be comfortable making a fool out of yourself using a phrasebook and gestures (we did the latter and it was fine). If you go, definitely check out Quetzaltrekkers in Leon. We did a two-day/one-night trek to the top of Telica with them, spending the night in tents just below the volcano's caldera. If you crawl to the edge at night, you can see the magma glowing. I think it was less than $50 per person for the guides, any gear you needed to borrow (tent, backpack, etc.), and food. And we met some really cool people in our group, which consisted of 8 people plus two English-speaking guides.

JoJo

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Re: How to Plan a Vacation
« Reply #4 on: October 10, 2014, 12:49:33 PM »
Like the prior poster said, get your hands on some good travel guides.  I often use Lonely Planet because lots of the american published guides gear to upscale ($200+ night hotels).

Then use my secret trick:  I look at tours on the websites of various adventure tour companies (Intrepid travel, G Adventures, Exodus) and that gives you some good itinerary ideas (for example, how much time is good at locales, how much time to travel between places, etc).  Then I use my trusty travel guide to plan out my own itinerary for 30-50% of the cost of those tours.


boarder42

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Re: How to Plan a Vacation
« Reply #5 on: October 10, 2014, 12:57:40 PM »
Our next trip will most likely be Costa Rica.

Albert

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Re: How to Plan a Vacation
« Reply #6 on: October 10, 2014, 02:52:07 PM »
I'm not sure myself how I settle on destination, a bit random I guess. I research the chosen destination online carefully, for some more exotic places I'd buy Lonely Planet guide as well. I try to travel a bit before or a bit after peak season. During the peak everything is more crowded and expensive, off-peak in many destinations exists for a very good reason (think winter in Sweden, monsoon season in India or July in Emirates).

By the way if anyone is looking for a cool destinations I can suggest Georgia (country) and Armenia. Air tickets from US won't be cheap, but once there everything is very affordable and both countries are fascinating both culturally and nature wise. Very safe too, I wouldn't hesitate to take kids there.

Zikoris

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Re: How to Plan a Vacation
« Reply #7 on: October 10, 2014, 04:21:27 PM »
We don't really care where we go as long as it's cool, so we just keep an eye out for good prices on flights. AirBnB or budget hotels deal with the rest no problem.

Rosbif

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Re: How to Plan a Vacation
« Reply #8 on: October 11, 2014, 12:02:09 AM »
 Hey, I don't have a huge amount of great travel advice in afraid, but just noticed that the add at the bottom of this page that I got served was for "luxury travel". Ha!

NinetyFour

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Re: How to Plan a Vacation
« Reply #9 on: October 11, 2014, 06:26:00 AM »
Posting so I can follow this thread.

daymare

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Re: How to Plan a Vacation
« Reply #10 on: October 11, 2014, 10:51:08 AM »
Great responses, everyone! What definitely sucks is that I just really want to take a looong trip and can't take so much time off (well, being in grad school I could, but my working husband can't).  But I'm excited for our first trip as a couple in a long while.  Big difference in what's efficient/reasonable vs. group trips.  With group trips, cars are generally a good idea when you want to cover a lot of ground, whereas with two of us I want to avoid them!  I will say, one of my (surprisingly) most affordable trips was sailing around the Greek Islands.  The boat (which fit the 8 of us) came with a captain who did most of the work, and it was our transportation/housing/entertainment all in one!  We would go out at the different islands for dinner and to explore, but it was surprisingly affordable (if travel is something you value).

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We also have the Chase Sapphire and we are using our points for a cheap trip this December.
Awesome!  This is actually my first time using CC points to book travel - before this, I pretty much exclusively used CC points for Amazon purchases. According to a friend who is majorly into this travel hacking (several trips US > China every year on points) that's pretty inefficient and a no-no! :P

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To keep costs low on flights, be flexible! Check out round-trip tickets, open jaw tickets, and two one-ways purchased separately. Look at a variety of departure and arrival airports. http://matrix.itasoftware.com/ is great for this, because you can combine multiple airports and dates into one search.
Oh man, when I worked as a consultant and flew a lot, that website was a life-saver!  So many trips where I only took the first leg, with it being cheaper to book the 2-parter than a direct flight.

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Like the prior poster said, get your hands on some good travel guides.  I often use Lonely Planet because lots of the american published guides gear to upscale ($200+ night hotels).
I'll try and pick up some Lonely Planet guides at the library - I noticed that on my group trips, people would usually bring LP guides, so that's another endorsement.

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We don't really care where we go as long as it's cool, so we just keep an eye out for good prices on flights. AirBnB or budget hotels deal with the rest no problem.
I have to agree with you on this!  I've traveled pretty extensively (though in my opinion, not nearly enough) but there are SO many places I still want to visit.

gnomemom

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Re: How to Plan a Vacation
« Reply #11 on: October 11, 2014, 12:29:04 PM »
I plan all my trips on Trip Advisor and Fodors.  I highly recommend the Fodors message boards ;) 

backandforth

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Re: How to Plan a Vacation
« Reply #12 on: October 12, 2014, 02:41:43 PM »
For 8 days I would say either Costa Rica, Guatemala, or Belize. The first one has amazing jungle tours, second one has wonderful beaches, the third has beautiful old colonial and Mayan villages surrounding Lake Atitlan.They all have other elements, but more prominent for above IMHO. If you do all planning on your own, you can get a decent vacation for 2-2.5k for about 8 days, with air fair, hotel(we always stay in local hostels at~$50/nt with private bath and mostly also include breakfast), all food, and some short excursions, and a few gifts. If you can get air with miles/point that will free you another 1-1.2k. If you dont like move around a lot during vacation, then do one country, otherwise you can also do half Guatemala and then go north to Belize for a few days on the beach