In the newest Where’s Wilson 2-Part Series, our ICLEF travel expert, John Wilson explains how to plan for vacations.
Planning Your Summer Vacation, Part 1
By John Wilson
For me, there are three distinct parts to every vacation: planning, the event itself and for lack of a more discreet term, the afterglow. The afterglow is when you consolidate your memories, enjoy your pictures and souvenirs, and take the stories that were interesting and embellish them to amazing. Not many people enjoy planning a trip as much as I do. There are no travel agents who have the time or inclination to work with me in the detail that I enjoy. In this article, I will give you a number of techniques I use working on my own to make a trip more fun, more convenient and less costly. If you incorporate one or two in your planning process, I will consider this writing a success. If you like all of the ideas, we need to have lunch with an atlas….You buy.
How to Decide Where to Go:
Sometimes you decide on the vacation or location and other times it decides for you. I have a piece of paper with about twenty or thirty destinations that I have not been to, but would like to visit. I created it five years ago while sitting in front of a peat fire on a chilly, foggy night in Northern Ireland. My wife and I were visiting our daughter who was in Belfast for a year. I had been traveling a lot to interesting locations and thought I might be running out of places to visit. The exercise proved me wrong. I kept coming up with new places to get excited about in both the U.S. and elsewhere. Since then, I have visited a number of the places on the list, but not as many as I would have expected. Other places keep calling me in addition to those on the list.
On occasion, a family member or I have just wanted some R&R. To us, that usually means a beach vacation. If you need some R&R and beach vacations are the answer for you, take a look at my Where’s Wilson blog article, My Favorite & Least Favorite Beach Vacations.
Don’t have a specific vacation in mind, but want to start the dreaming process? Take a look at these websites which primarily have guided tours. I will discuss the pros and cons of guided tours later. For now look at the trips to see what interests you. These companies are able to offer these tours continuously because they go to some of the most popular destinations world wide. The tours they offer span the gamut from easy, both physically and culturally, to way out there, literally and figuratively. I tend to travel economically both for the obvious reason and because I find the people that travel this way interesting. Sites I look at (and sign up for e-mails on trips and specials) include: G Adventures, Gate 1 Travel & Intrepid
Grand Circle Cruise Line and Viking Cruises have some great itineraries for river and other cruises. A little more upscale with mostly Americans over sixty with great itineraries is Overseas Adventure Travel (OATS). These sites consistently discount tour prices if you can travel on short notice. My twenty something daughter and I went on a short notice OATs trip to Croatia, Montenegro, Albania and Greece. The price and itinerary were great. Forty-nine of the fifty people on the tour were over sixty years old. This was not ideal for my daughter who was the fiftieth person. The fact that our tour guide sounded exactly like Natasha from Rocky and Bullwinkle (and the young international staff of the ship) made up for it. In the category I consider expensive is National Geographic Expeditions. For the purpose of the dreaming exercise, look at all. They all have trips that can stimulate thought.
I was on fire to go to Mongolia. By looking at popular tour company itineraries, I realized that Mongolia would have amazing sights and experiences, but would require much more time riding buses than I wanted. I also wanted to go to Morocco. Looking at organized tours on G Adventure’s website, I was able to determine feasible routes, places to visit, and that it was economically within my range.
South East Asia is on my mind now. Reviewing the sites above, I was able to determine there are more areas of interest and itineraries than I could experience on one or more vacations. India, Nepal for trekking, Thailand, Laos, Viet Nam and Cambodia for culture, and some beach time. Then down to Malaysia and Indonesia, Bali and Java. Borneo? Who knows? Reviewing the cost of the trips on the sites, allowed me to extrapolate that the costs in the area were within my budget, whether I traveled independently, on a tour, or did a mix of both.
Next I studied airfare to South East Asia and time of travel. It’s a long way. Distance will not put a quietus on a trip for me, but cost will. Even though many tours include airfare (and my have the best price), I check air fare separately and on multiple sites. For international travel, I like Yapta, Skyscanner, and Kayak. I also use Orbitz, Travelocity, and Expedia, more for the US, Caribbean and Central America. Yapta is good because it can track the change of prices for specific flights going forward and alert you to those changes. Southwest Airlines does not show on most sites and should be checked separately.
If you are planning late for a trip and having trouble finding a reasonably priced room and/or flight, look at packaged vacations on Orbitz, Travelocity and Expedia. They may have inventory that you cannot get to separately.
Be creative in checking flights. For example, even if you want to start your trip in Hanoi, also check the flight to Bangkok, because it’s a hub. It may be cheaper to fly to Bangkok and get a regional flight to Hanoi. On my recent trip to Sochi, flights on the above sites were all showing around $2500. By breaking up my search to be Indy to Moscow, $950, and Moscow to Sochi, $300, the flight came within my means. (I did also check reviews for the Russian airline I was using, S7, which turned out to be on time, with new planes and flight attendants right out of the 50’s of U.S. air history.) For trips from Indy, I also check flights out of Chicago. Recently, a flight to Quito, Ecuador from Indy was around $1200. From Chicago, it was $750.
I have airports that I like and others that I avoid. I do not fly to Chicago from Indy. In my unproven, but strongly experienced opinion, because Indy is so close to Chicago, when backups occur in Chicago, Indy is one of the first airports from which flights are delayed. The weather can be fine here, you can be on the plane and still not get to Chicago for hours. I do not want to risk missing the only connecting flight to Kathmandu because I can’t get to Chicago. If Chicago flights are too good to pass up, I drive there. I will consider returning through Chicago because the long distance flights into Chicago will not be cancelled. However, flights to Indy, even though there are a bunch of them, can be frustratingly delayed also. If you fly through Newark, I will not respect you in the morning. – And that will be the morning you are still in Newark because your flight-in was delayed and you missed your connection.
My favorite airport is Charlotte which is relatively small, convenient to navigate, and from which you can catch a surprising number of connections to Europe and the Caribbean. For connections, I also like Detroit (you don’t have to go into the city), Minneapolis (in the winter, they know how to handle snow), and Cleveland. Atlanta and Houston are larger airports, hence I plan a little more time between connections, but I have had good luck there. I have had a lot of burgers in the Friday’s at Hartsfield International in Atlanta after coming off a week of great seafood in the islands. Others may disagree, but I will also travel out of Boston and Philly. The New York and Miami airports are not my favorites, but I will fly out of them when other options are not working.
Join us next week for Part 2: Where to Go and Accommodations and Things to Do
This is one of an ongoing series of travel discussions by John Wilson, retired lawyer and trust banker. John was motivated to start this series when he realized that his travel bio was more extensive and interesting than his legal credentials for doing ICLEF talks. He has traveled to forty-five states, over sixty countries and all continents except Antarctica.
If you have travel questions or tips of your own that you would like to suggest please contact ICLEF’s travel expert, John Wilson, by Clicking Here.
ICLEF • Indiana Continuing Legal Education Forum, Indianapolis, IN