The process of creating a trip is a complex one, but rather than shunning it, try to embrace the whole idea of it, says The National's travel editor
On the move: how to book a holiday
What makes a good trip? Not to ruin the romance of it, but mostly, it’s down to planning. A holiday decision has multiple moving parts – the destination, who we travel with, flights, accommodation, tours, time of year, and time available. A well-planned trip means that you do most of the working-out beforehand, so that once you depart, experiences and adventures simply unfold as you follow your itinerary from place to place, going from one thing to another.
Unless you’re spending months backpacking, you don’t want to spend too much time figuring out basic logistics on the go; neither do you want to have to rearrange the entire programme because you or your companions hadn’t realised what you wanted to see or do in advance, or hadn't checked the salient schedules. This isn’t to say that you should be a slave to it: the best itineraries leave some room for spontaneous adventure.
But it’s the initial process of decision-making which is key. Some perhaps less-experienced travellers tend to compartmentalise their holiday planning. They might book flights before they’ve researched what there is to do in a country, while others will start with the hotels. One couple I know split the job between them – once they have decided on a destination, one takes care of the flights and accommodation while the other looks into activities and sightseeing.
While this may work, something is lost in this way of thinking. If you find cheap flights and book them on impulse, you may then discover it's impossible to arrange the visas in time. You might book the flights but then find that accommodation is booked out, or that you can’t fit everything into the time available because your flights leave a day too early. You might book the accommodation but find that this is not matched by optimum flight schedules. Opportunities are missed because all of the moving parts are not kept in mind at the same time.
This is difficult and takes practice, but you get better at it with time. I advise people to start the process as early as possible and to think broadly and then narrow things down. First consider the destination: have perhaps three places in mind, and consider how you would like to travel. Look at maps and read guidebooks. Think about how long you are willing to sit on a flight, and how much time you have. Consider the seasons – do I really want to take the train across Russia as soon as possible, or would it be better to wait a few months when there are more daylight hours and warmer temperatures? While I may have time off in July, is this really the best time to go to Italy? Then, think again about which destinations fit with the amount of time you have available. A guidebook can help give realistic travel times.
Check flight prices on websites by putting in multiple date options to find the base price, and do the same with hotels. Both can fluctuate depending on demand, so do your research. Having researched previously which tours are available in a place, book these last, but aim to have everything sorted a month before you go.
Yes, it’s harder having all of these multiple options open in your head at once. But not only will you get a better trip, you'll have the satisfaction of knowing that you created it.