There is no moment of delight in any pilgrimage like the beginning of it.Charles Dudley Warner Plane
I am a compulsive planner. I scour the web for months in advance and make sure I know a fair bit about the history and culture of a destination well before I depart. For me, that slow ‘discovery’ of a place, when random foreign names on a map begin to take shape and form, is as satisfying as the journey itself.
Our travel style is mid range to luxury and we generally like to have time to breathe in each destination and usually stay longer in a place than a standard itinerary demands. I will highlight where it is technically possible to cut itineraries short in the individual guide pages for those short on time.
The ability to mingle with locals and get a true feel for the place – in whatever limited capacity in the short time at hand – is the true advantage of independent travel. I could never go back to being isolated on a tour bus and marched from site to site for that singular reason.
While I include plenty of road-trip suggestions in the guide sections, high insurance costs (at our respective ages) and the non availability of comprehensive insurance packages in India, skew our preferred itinerary choices towards those using a mix of public and private transport over self drive. It requires a bit more pre-planning, but it has worked brilliantly for us so far.
This pre-planning section is a collection of pages that cover the nitty gritty of international travel planning from flight and accommodation booking to vaccinations and visas. Click on the link to the RESOURCE page for every favourite online App and resource that I use for planning and during my travels. The Guide pages will direct you to comprehensive destination tips and itineraries. Dedicated links to pre=planning child pages at the end include: Visas (for Indians), Travel gear, Photography tips (from experts!) and some Solo Travel tips.
Disclaimer: Travel is as personal as anything else in life. I have aimed to set out below what works best for us. The Urge To Wander is part of the affiliate programs of some of the resources mentioned on these pages including Amazon and will earn tiny commissions from qualifying purchases without any extra cost to you. Disclosure policy.
LET’S GET PLANNING
Choose your destination. How do I do it? I save ideas from Instagram hashtags, Pinterest and interesting blogs.
With an Indian passport, my choice is also determined by visa regulations. I lucked out with a twelve month Germany Schengen visa last October so I shelved my Indonesia plans and concentrated on the Schengen region and countries that will let me in on one.
Affordability, tallying best times to visit with the free dates, minimum time required to do a place justice and flight deals are other factors.
Vaccination requirements for some destinations might be a limiting factor if you have health issues. I will be including relevant details in individual guides.
Draft initial itinerary. I start out with a skeleton borrowed from standard tour company/travel magazine itineraries online. They are usually to short and touristy for my liking so I then scour travel forums and blogs for any hidden gems I can include that might be of interest to me. Best to gather time and patience for this step.
Finalise Dates And Accommodation. With all that information in hand I have figured out roughly how long I need in each place and am ready to check out accommodation. Of late, where we stay hugely influences our enjoyment of a destination. So we try to find little charming home stays and boutique hotels that we reserve well in advance. Always refundable to begin with and changed to non-refundable deals closer to the date.
I shortlist based on location, price and reviews cross-tallied between Trip Advisor and Booking.com. I juggle my dates at this point if I find a particularly attractive property. A central but quiet location that is walkable to most sights is worth a bit extra for us if we are short of time. Or one close to a well connected metro/tram/ bus station.
I always write to the property to check if they offer better rates. If not, I use Booking.com to easily manage all bookings in one user friendly spot.
I have worked with Airbnb and have had some great experiences, but I’ve also had unscrupulous (super!) hosts cancel on me last minute. I still use it when I need to balance cost and space in pricey destinations.
Flesh Out The Itinerary. I am inclined to walk miles when I am exploring a city but I rarely include more than two major experiences/sights per day. It’s far better to experience fewer things well than to rush through more just to tick them off a list. Been there, done that, and am conscious of how much more we enjoy travel the way we do it now.
My itinerary is just a guide that gets majorly culled when I find I’d rather spend more time people watching in an atmospheric market rather than visit another monument or museum for example.
Book Flights. When I am certain about of the number of days I need (It’s never enough really,) It’s time to book international flights. Roughly 60 – 90 days ahead for the best fares. You might need to book more in advance if you choose to travel during peak season. I check out the best connection/price combos on Sky scanner and Kayak, but almost always book directly with the airline.
Two things to keep in mind:
# It helps to have flexible dates.
# Always check fares from an incognito window (from the options at top right of your browser) until you are ready to book. It is suspected that cheaper fares do not show up for those displaying what appears to be serious intent!
On rare occasions I have blocked a great discounted airline offer before finalising destination or dates. Airlines frequently go on sale and it makes sense to be subscribed to their newsletters.
Buy Insurance. Insurance in India is nearly as much a pain point as the visa application process. I have done some detailed comparisons and have had to settle for the best of the worst with TATA AIG. Medical and repatriation coverage by most is pretty decent, but trip delay and cancellation clauses are pathetic.
Be aware that Euro laws governing European airlines do not apply on codeshare flights. I learnt it the hard way earlier this year when Air France washed it’s hands off a five hour delay by Jet Airways that messed up my connection to Iceland.
I hear World Nomads being spoken of by Indian travellers but as far as I know, it’s not available for Indian citizens, yet.
Apply For Visas . The bane of every Indian traveller! Countries like Belgium and Germany process visas within a week. Others like Portugal take nearly a month. Remember, you need to buy insurance and have confirmed hotel bookings before you can apply for a visa. This dedicated Visa Guide (for Indian nationals) has more details.
Fine Tune. Now it’s time to finalise activities based on personal interests. Perhaps reserve local transport or tickets to some shows/attractions ahead of time.
European trains offer amazing early discounts between 90-120 days in advance that get sold out pretty fast. Some hugely popular attractions – like the Last Supper in Milan that our host managed to get us tickets for – require some ingenuity to procure. I’ll be including more details in the individual guide sections.
I sometimes use local guides/ drivers for some excursions and reserve their services at least a month ahead. I have also had my hosts reserve fancier restaurants on occasion.
I use custom colour coded icons in Google MyMaps (from my laptop) to mark places of interest. This gives me access to a personalised map on the go on my synched iPhone.
Read Up. I like reading a book or watching movies based on the destination. whenever I can. Also practicing a few basic phrases in the local language helps break the ice on the word go.
Pre-Departure Workflow. I normally follow a pre-departure wok flow so I don’t forget anything last minute. I’ve compiled all of it, including the tips above into a concise checklist specially for email subscribers. Get yours now.
Get Your Travel Planning Checklist Now!
So that’s how I plan my trips. It’s an ongoing process where I bookmark whatever I find interesting online to collate later.
Do explore the GUIDE and RESOURCES and subsidiary pages (below). If you have any suggestions to improve these pages please feel free to drop me a line or shout out on social media.
Happy travels…no matter where life takes you.
PS: Revamping this site (single-handedly incidentally, apart from some help with the logo) has been a mega project. Some of the subsidiary pages and destination guide pages are still under construction but they should all be ready to go in a few more weeks. Do check back here often. Or better still, subscribe to be notified every time I upload new tips or guides.
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