Since this is primarily a travel blog, and with a bit of experience of flight juggling and researching places under my belt, I thought I would jot down some travel tips that I have learnt along the way, and January seems the perfect time to start thinking about booking those trips for the rest of the year!
I really go to town on research, mainly because I enjoy it so much and it makes me feel the holiday has already started by planning where we will go, what we will see and possibile enticing eateries.I use a combination of travel blogs, Instagram and Pinterest and when travelling somewhere so culturally different such as Japan, I buy Lonely Planet guides to riffle through to absorb more information. I reguarly get inspired by posts on blogs that I read (my favourite being Haarkon), and tend to make a note in my phone of which blog and which place so I can revert back when I eventually make the trip!I love the 'Saved' section on Instagram, and make a number of folders for different countries I intend to visit, adding research as I go and making note of any hidden gems. If I find a particular cafe or shop I want to visit, I see who they follow to find more local independent businesses to visit. I also use Pinterest to create boards, scrolling through to see what catches my eye to visit.I tend to write down research I make in a notepad and then transfer my findings onto my CityMaps2go app. This is an amazing app for travelling as you can download the maps for offline use, and pin where you are planning to go with a star. As you visit each place, you can then tick off where you have been, thus ticking off your 'to do' list.Sometimes I don't find too much research on a particular place, finding that just exploring and going with the flow is the best approach, such as the maze of Old Town in Dubrovnik and little cities such as Bruges.
2. Don't be a perfectionist
Though I am a research nut, I take it all with a pinch of salt. I don't worry if plans change, go wrong or can't be done. Sometimes in life being a perfectionist is great, but on holidays it can be the worst. Putting too much pressure on the holiday can make it a disappointment if it doesn't quite live up to your high expectations and falls slightly short of what you pictured. Accept that though you are well prepared, the trip may not go 100% as you planned and that is more than OK. You are there, you are on holiday and so enjoy it come rain or shine with a healthy dose of optimism and enjoy your trip for whatever it throws at you.When I planned my other half's 30th trip to Barcelona, I planned it to an inch of its life, and little did I know I had booked our first day on a bank holiday and therefore all the places I had planned to go were closed! Did we wallow? No we didn't, we enjoyed looking at all the artwork on the closed shutters, enjoyed the quiet beautiful streets as opposed to the expected hoards of people, walked for miles and were excited when we did find the odd cafe open!My mum and I tend to book our annual Ibiza trip around September/October time and we expect rain and thunderstorms but continue to do whatever we plan to do, knowing there will probably be sunny intervals, but if not then thats ok.We all want to cram as much as possible into our holiday time (me in particular) but it's also a time to enjoy, rest, reset and not get too overwhelmed with what you have to do.
3. It's Ok to do nothing
We live busy lives, and its OK to holiday and do nothing. I personally love exploring and walking, but I'm also partial to some sun worshipping (with regular factor 30 top ups!). Don't feel guilty if you're holidaying and you want to just chill out. You're entitled to a rest, listen to what your body and mind is telling you - whether that's a complete zone out, or an adventure.
4. Think outside the box with accommodation
Think exactly what you want from the holiday. If your planning to barely be in your accommodation, is it worth forking out for a 5* room when a basic clean BnB would do just fine? If your planning to be hotel bound for the majority of your trip then look whether all-inclusive is the way to go. If the area your staying in has a plethora of wonderful restaurants to sample, do you really want to pay half board? But on the other hand, my mum and I stayed at a hotel in Ibiza many times half board as it was included in the extremely reasonable room price and then we would just decide on the night whether to eat out or stick with the hotel menu.Airbnbs are my personal favourite to book as I like living a bit more like a local and you can find somewhere a little bit different as opposed to a standard hotel room. There may not always be a good selection available in every country and place but its always worth a look. Also smething to think about is flight times and luggage storage. I booked a hotel in Barcelona as opposed to an Airbnb as we had a very late flight home and you are not always able to store your luggage in someone's apartment all day whereas hotels you are pretty much guaranteed to be able to store your bags for the day. Always check these details when looking into accommodation if your flights are at odd times, as Airbnbs are run by the owners, they sometimes have particularly unusual check in and out times.
5. Take Tripadvisor with a pinch of salt
We all do it, we find the perfect place, then get it all ruined by Tripadvisor's reviews. I try to not look too much into the reviews, sometimes people can mark down a place for something that I find trivial. One person's trash may be another person's treasure after all! I find Airbnb's reviews much more realistic and honest which is another reason I opt more for them in terms of accommodation.
6. Compare Flights
Skyscanner is such a wonderful website to use when shopping around for flights. You can look for the cheapest dates if you use the 'whole month' tool if your flexible in terms of when you go. It comes up with all the airlines from no-thrills Ryanair to the more luxurious options. When planning our Japan trip, we looked in the January sales (amazing for deals post Christmas!), and found if we flew from London via Turkish Airlines with one stop in Turkey, we could save hundreds and hundreds of pounds. It is always worth looking, especially if you dont mind the stop with long haul flights, as this can save you a lot of money, but you also don't want it to be a large amount of extended time and run into your holiday. Weigh up your different options and research before you commit. Double check prices for different airports too, when I flew to New York years ago, it worked out a lot cheaper to fly to Newark than JFK.
7. If possible, avoid high-season
I know this isn't always possible if you're a teacher, or have children in school. But if you have no holidaying constraints, think outside the typical high season times. I find going earlier or later in the year means it is a lot quieter for exploring and photo taking. Yes the weather may not be as hot as peak times, but I actually find I prefer a slightly cooler temperature when walking a lot and exploring. As mentioned above, I go to Ibiza yearly with my mum and we tend to go September/October and find it a perfect temperature. I visited Croatia in early May and bar a very thundery but amusing experience in Krka National Park, we had the perfect weather.
This is an important one for full enjoyment on your holiday, make comprises with your holiday partner, whether that be your partner, friend or family.I always tend to be the one doing the research, as I said, I enjoy it. But I always go through my plans with whomever I plan on travelling with as I want them to have an equally good holiday that isn't full of my own preferences. If one of you is more the adventurer but the other wants to just relax by the pool, make a compromise - maybe half a day relaxing and the other half exploring. Or alternatively have your own separate time and meet back later.On my last trip to Ibiza, I really wanted to go to a yoga class whilst on the island, so I checked if my mum minded and of course she didn't. She took her book and sat relaxing whilst I did my class and we both enjoyed our mornings.
It's your holiday and you can make your own rules.
Now I adore clothes. I plan my outfits meticulously and always pack far too much because I like options. But I have begun to really think more about my packing this year and whether the options fit the plans and the weather and the type of place.For example, Seville was sooo hot when we visited that I couldn't bare to put on the majority of my clothes, opting for shorts and a strappy top daily. When I went to Thailand, I got fully immersed in the traveller style and opted for a pair of loose pants bought at a market stall and a strappy. I also think whether I get a lot of wear out of a particular outfit at home, and if so, leave it out of the suitcase.I am trying to be more conscious with my purchases and be more sustainable in my choices these days, and it showed in my packing this year compared to previous years.Think realistically on what you would wear for those temperatures and the activities you have planned and don't get carried away in the 'holiday wardrobe' mindset. Also remember to check the evening weather, as sometimes you can be caught out by seeing the 30 degrees in the daytime, and then the cool night breeze can make you wish you had brought a few layers with you.In terms of must-haves, a first-aid selection never goes amiss; painkillers, plasters, immodium (you never know!) and antiseptic wipes. If travelling somewhere exotic, then check what vaccinations you may need before travelling and check well in advance as some require various courses in advance. Remember your E111 card if you're from the UK and visiting the other countries within the EU (this beauty saved me from a large bill in Ibiza when I was bitten by some tropical insect and my head ballooned!) and travel insurance.I always travel with my bank card, a bit of local money and also my Revolut card. Revolut is a wonderful secure current account that allows you to hold, exchange and transfer without fees in 25 different currencies. I tend to use this now as opposed to getting out lots of cash. It's always worth checking online with regards to what the country you're visiting prefers too. We found in Japan that they mainly exchanged cash transactions as opposed to card, and in Morocco you cannot exchange your cash until you are in Morocco and then it has to be in perfect condition or is not accepted for exchanging. You also cannot leave the country with the local currency, so either keep the receipt to exchange back or spend up!A great tip is to take an adapter, but also an extension lead - no more panic when you find the lack of plugs to charge your camera, phones and various electronics! And also remember to take the right chargers for your items and take spare batteries and memory cards if like me, your taking many many photos!A good sun-cream doesn't need to be extortionate. I actually found the Aldi suncream brilliant this year and it was under £2.00!
10. Make a bucket list for the year
I love planning holidays for the following year, but sometimes it can start becoming unrealistic in terms of budget. Make a list of the places you want to visit and work how to do it. Some places you can get very cheap flights to and spend a long weekend at your destination of choice as opposed to a whole week and still be able to book a longer holiday at a different time in the year. Get a bit of a plan on the go and see where you can tick off in your year ahead!I hope these tips are useful and feel free to add anymore in the comments :)