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 2
By John Wilson
To read Part 1, Click Here.
When to Go?:
Some companies will only tour in the prime season, but others go year round. While I check their sites for when they say is the prime time to travel, (higher cost can be, but is not always an indicator), I also Google the weather for the locations and look to travel guides that I usually get from the public library. I also like to look for the “shoulder season,” when trips may be cheaper but weather and other factors are still good. It is a lot less expensive to fly to Europe in late September or October than in summer. But there will be smaller crowds and the weather may be better than summer. Frommer’s is my favorite travel guide based both on quality of information and how it is organized. I also use Fodor’s and Lonely Planet. For now South East Asia is on hold. I wanted to go around May. For Thailand and countries close to there, it turned out to be uncomfortably close to the monsoon season. New Delhi has an average high of one hundred degrees that time of year and Nepal has haze in the mountains. January and February work for all. More to come on South East Asia next year.
Accommodations and Things to Do:
If you decide to travel independently, use the websites and guide books mentioned in Part 1 to help with lodging choices, locations, and sights that you want to see. For lodging, also look at TripAdvisor. Take some of the reviews, particularly the best and worst with a grain of salt, but generally it is possible to find a number of suitable alternatives. Don’t forget to look at the B&B and specialty lodging sections. Unless I find a small hotel I like, I usually get accommodations from the B&B and specialty lodging areas. While on TripAdvisor for your room, check out the “Things to Do” section including the “Attractions.” I like to do things that are a little out of the main stream. This is a great place to find them. TripAdvisor can be more current than guide books. For lodging, you can also look at Airbnb and VRBO. I have used both successfully. I have never stayed at a place that did not have a number of positive reviews by users on these sites. For the more adventurous/economical, look at Hostels.com and Couchsurfing.org. I have used Hostels.com and been satisfied. I feel the user reviews are critical to my being comfortable staying in a “hostel environment.” Once again, give very close scrutiny to the user reviews. In hostels, I have always stayed in private rooms, which most hostels have in addition to multishare rooms. I have not used, but have met people who have and who have enjoyed Couchsurfing.org. Generally you stay for free, sometimes on a couch but other times in better quarters.
All Frommer’s guidebooks have a “The best of ….” section and suggested itineraries. I pick and chose from them. Not all will be right for you. All the guide books and websites ranked the Russian banyans (baths) as a don’t miss. My daughter rated it a definite do miss and we did not make that site.
Tours or Independent Travel?:
I usually look at both ways and may “mix and match” on the same vacation. Factors in favor of independent travel include: a vacation in one location, i.e. beach, London, or Rio de Janeiro; locations where English is spoken, Sydney, the US, South Africa and most of Europe where English may not be the first language, but it is widely spoken; “safer” countries, i.e., US vs. Canada. Just kidding. The least safe thing that could happen to you in Canada would be to be eaten by a polar bear or get caught up in a hockey riot. But some of the Central American countries might be a little iffy in some areas. I am more likely to travel independently if I am traveling with friends and family rather than traveling solo.
No generalization works in all cases. I went to China and Rio solo. Beijing was for the Olympics. My research helped me find a hostel where English was spoken and a friend correctly advised me that taxis were inexpensive and a simple way to get around. I met some Aussies who I hung out with for the entire trip. I went to Rio alone, which in retrospect I would not do again, because English was not widely spoken. While Portuguese is similar to Spanish when written, it is not at all like Spanish when spoken. My Spanish which is sufficient in Spanish speaking countries failed me in Rio and I was not able to enjoy meeting and conversing with local folks.
As we have gotten comfortable with solo travel outside the U.S., we have added an element. If we are planning on traveling about a country or region, we usually get reservations for lodging for the first day or so. After that, we only get accommodations as we go, either a day or so ahead or as we get to the new town. In 2012, we spent over three weeks in South Africa, starting in Cape Town. We had reservations for Cape Town. While we were there, we talked to as many local folks as we could about where they would recommend we go on the Garden Route along the south west coast and where to stay. The result was a much better vacation than I could have planned from home. We did have occasions where we arrived in town with our prospective lodging full. Our standard approach then was to find the local tourist office or, and this is usually more fun, a bar with internet. It was not unusual that before we got online, a bartender or patron had a recommendation. In the town of Prince Albert, SA, we needed a room and were on a sidewalk on Main Street looking for a bar. The owner of a shop where we were standing asked us if we needed help. We never made it to the bar. He called Esme a block down the street to see if she had a room at her B&B, the Bougain-Villa. She did. We rented it. An hour later we were invited to join her and her husband, John, and some friends for dinner on the Braai (grill).
Sometimes traveling solo is a viable option, but taking a tour can be more fun, equally or more economical and more efficient. In Peru, I had a package that included, hiking the Inca Trail, traversing Lake Titicaca (including an Amantani Island home stay) and a stay in the Amazon Basin. The tour included so many minor added sights and events that the company’s marketers couldn’t get them all in the marketing materials. The tour director was great and my fifteen new travel buddies from all over the world were so much fun that we hung together even during our free time. My new friends and travel companions graciously overlooked the fact that I was thirty years older than the next oldest person on our tour.
For the now postponed South East Asia trip, where I may or may not travel alone for all or part of the trip, I was looking at a tour from New Delhi to Kathmandu, Nepal, trekking in Nepal and a tour from Bankok to Hanoi. Organizing independent travel with all the transportation, lodging, and sightseeing would be more complex than I wanted to handle. On the other hand, I couldn’t find a set tour in Nepal that met my needs. I will set up my own lodging and hiking there. I am anticipating that I will get a lot of info from fellow travelers on the way there, and maybe hook up with some of the India tour travelers when in Nepal.
If that does not happen, I have found through research that there are lots of good hiking companies out of Kathmandu that I can hire when I get there. If none of the above works for you, wait for some of my future blogs. I plan to cover Favorite Cities of the World and Favorite Hikes and Adventures next.
P.S. When your friends and family tell you they are going on a great trip, don’t forget to ask them if you can go along.
Thanks; Greg Shelley, -Witches’ Rock Surf Camp; Bruce, – Canada Golf and The Anchor Bar, home of the original Buffalo Wing; John and Karen, -London, Phoenix & the Grand Canyon, Santiago, Chile, Roatan, Honduras (Jeff & Michelle, too), Seabrook Island, and next up, Seattle; Llyod & Wendy -Italy, (try to find Montisi in Tuscany); Martin and Bjorn, – Norway; Mike and Kris,- Mt. LeConte; David and Mary Ann, – Sandbridge, Va.; Mo, – Belfast; David & Walt, – The Masters; Bob and Jan, -Pebble Beach; Bridget, -Barbados; Mike (Captain Mike) and Trish, Nick (of the infamous Columbus Day Regatta) and Libby – the British Virgin Islands; Tara & Sasha, – the British Virgin Islands when your friends forget to show up; Margaret, Dover & the Phantom Ranch at the bottom of the Grand Canyon; and the man who started it all, Jack O’Bryan – Freeport, Kamloops, and all of Europe.
P.P.S. Don’t say, “I’ll go next time.”
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.
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