The holiday that now seems like a memory has me scrolling back through the photos on my phone just to double check that it really did happen.
IT DID, RIGHT?
I mean, look at this …
While we were away and since we’ve arrived home, lots of people have asked me for tips on how to plan an overseas holiday. I’m far from an expert here, I’m not a travel agent and, up until five years ago, it had been a long time between trips overseas.
What I am is a planner. I look at that super-precious annual leave away from my business and become determined to make the most of it.
The 15 tips below are things that I’ve either picked up along the way or I’ve used on this trip – or previous overseas trips – and they’ve helped make a difference to our time on the ground.
The way I see it, every day needs to count – especially when you are travelling half way around the world. You won’t be able to control everything that happens each day, but with a little pre-planning you’ll create good memories that will carry with you long after the jet lag has subsided.
15 tips for how to plan an overseas holiday
1. Work out a budget. This is a biggie, yes? This will not only frame where you can plan to travel but also how long you’ll be away and how you want to spend your days at your destination. What can work in your travel budgeting and savings favour is that you can spread out the expenditure if planning in advance. You can book your airfares on the “earlybird” deals that typically get rolled out in September/October each year for travel in the following year. This means you can not only possibly secure a better price but you’ll split up the payments for the holiday. You’ll have to pay for your flights when you book but can then hold off booking accommodation until later. Talk to your travel agent so they can let you know when the deals are published – or sign up to your preferred airline’s email list.
2. Book annual leave. I run my own business and there are two times during the year when it is quieter than others (mid-year and end of year). If I don’t take time off at those times, I don’t get a holiday. This was a tough lesson to learn in the early days of Styling You. Mr SY has four weeks’ annual leave and our youngest is at a school where taking time out of the school term is frowned upon (he also doesn’t want to miss any days of his own volition), so we have to work within limited times and within school holidays. This means booking holidays in advance to secure annual leave and checking the school holiday calendar in advance. Our son gets almost three weeks in the middle of the year, so it’s ideal for a northern hemisphere summer break.
3. Decide on a destination. This is tied in with the budget and when you can book your annual leave but it also comes down to what you prefer doing when on holidays. If it’s warm we like there to be beaches for at least some of our trip. Then it came down to a matter of deciding which country’s beaches. On this particular trip, we wanted to visit another part of Italy after falling in love with the country and the Puglia region two years ago.
Mr SY and I had our first holiday together on Santorini 15 years ago, so we also toyed with the idea of going back there … until I checked out the peak-season accommodation costs on offer. For similar accommodation/views/pool in Croatia, we paid about a quarter of the price. We’ll go back to Greece once school is done and we can travel early September. Croatia came up for us as a consideration because two families, who we are friends with (and have travelled with), have been there in recent years and raved about it. We trusted their raving and have now joined them in their collective love for this country.
Once I’ve decided on the destination country, I go down the rabbit hole that is Google and Instagram, looking for recommended places to stay in those countries. I look to blogs over the bigger travel sites. TripAdvisor can be great but I also find that it can be more critical than constructive. I look at it but don’t take all the travellers’ comments as gospel.
I found the island of Vis by starting with a map and searching for “islands in Croatia”. This island repeatedly came up as the “prettiest” and the quietest – hugely appealing for a planned week of relaxation in one spot. It was after deciding on Vis that we discovered our good friends had stayed there for a month two years ago. That confirmed we were on the right track.
When I started searching about places to stay on the Amalfi Coast, Praiano came up time and again because it was close to Positano (you can even see it from Praiano) but quieter and less touristy that its flashy big sister. That was exactly what we found and fell in love with. In a nutshell, talk to your friends, stalk Instagram and devote quality time to Google. A good travel agent is also gold in helping you decide a destination based on the time of year you want to travel and your budget.
4. Book long-haul flights. I’ve mentioned this above but this is crucial to the planning process because until you have these in place, you can’t book anything else. If travelling at peak or popular times of the year, the earlier you book everything the more choices you’ll have. What we do and I suggest you do this too, particularly if one member of your family travels a lot for work, is stick to one airline loyalty program and have points pooled to that person who does the most travel. We do this and it means that I’m usually travelling at Gold or Platinum status and we can then all access priority boarding, seating and airline lounges while travelling. Mostly, I can take one guest in with me and on our last trip we were able to pay for our son to access the lounge. This very much helps if you have a layover during a long-haul trip. You can refresh a little, there may be showers and you can recharge in relative peace. Check your loyalty program’s conditions and also what any codeshare arrangements there might be when booking international flights with a partner airline.
5. Take out travel insurance. I’ve talked about this a lot – it’s as essential as your passport. I take mine out when I book our flights. A lot can happen between booking those flights and taking off for your holiday. See below for my travel insurance of choice.
6. Determine what you can realistically see in the time you have on the ground at your destination. We are more the type of travellers who like to immerse themselves a bit and not feel that we’ve got to tick off a hundred things in a country or continent – just because we are there. That annual leave is precious and we need to build in relaxation time to re-charge. You may be different and that’s very OK. You need to build an itinerary that fits in with your travel personality.
I’ll map out our full days and nights in each destination. The advantage of northern hemisphere summer travel is that it’s light until 9-10pm. We find that gives us permission to siesta (it’s so hot from early afternoon anyway) and then come out early evening again. Breaking down each day like this gives chunks of time to which you can allocate a beach morning, a tour, a restaurant booking etc.
I don’t fill each and every chunk of time before arriving at our destination but once there we sit down together and work out how we can best make the most of our location. Being there and getting your bearings helps to be realistic about distances and local transport too.
7. Work out how you are going to get from city to city or country to country. This can be some of the trickier things to work out. I found the Rome2rio website and app invaluable for getting my head around this. You just put in your departure point and arrival destination and the app brings up all the available options from car, to train and plane (or combinations of all three). I used it even before booking our long-haul flights as I was able to work out that Rome would the best Italian city to land in from Australia and for jumping over to Split. I love how the app gave approximate times and prices for the travel too as that helped me to decided whether we’d be better off booking private drivers for different transfers and tours. In many cases it was just as expensive for three people to catch a combo of trains and buses as it was to book a driver to take us from door to door. I found out how to book the ferries between Split and the Island of Vis via an online search. My travel agent booked our Rome to Split flights.
8. Research and book accommodation. At the core of our holiday was a week spent on the Island of Vis so this was the first thing we booked and secured after booking our flights. Then about about five months before travelling, I spent a day searching online for accommodation for the Amalfi Coast, Split and Rome.
We were travelling at a peak time for Europe, so knew not to leave this until the last minute. I started looking at hotel options but quickly moved to apartments as the cost at this time of year was beyond our budget because we needed more than one room. Two years ago our son was younger and we did book hotels for that trip through Last Minute.
I had been burned five years ago by an airbnb experience in New York, so it was with a lot of research that I jumped back in. Before diving down the airbnb search rabbit hole, I searched for ideas on the best areas to stay in in each of our destinations. My girlfriend Simone also taught me to look for accommodation in the “old town” areas of European towns or cities, so that was a starting point for us as well. With airbnb, search with your requirements within the areas you’d like to stay. Get your head around maps of those cities and towns, so you know where the accommodation sits in relation to where the action is. And look through all the reviews. Don’t be afraid to ask hosts questions. How they respond will be a good indication about how things will go once you’re on the ground. We were stoked with all our booked accommodation.
9. Research and book any tours you might like to take. We only booked two tours before arriving – one a private day out on a boat on the Amalfi Coast; the other a private day tour to Dubrovnik (from Split). In hindsight, we should have booked Vatican and Colosseum tours for Rome. We paid more on the day to skip the line because time was at a premium and the crowds were ridiculous. Other than that, in Split, it was easy to book a walking tour of the Palace, and on Vis, there were tourist agencies on the ground and even our taxi driver was available to organise a boat tour for us.
10. Research and book any restaurants you don’t want to miss. We love dining out when on holidays. Apart from the “no cook” factor, it’s always fabulous to seek out different dining and food experiences. I searched online, looked to Tripadvisor (a bit but with a grain of salt) and asked friends for recommendations. Then, when on the ground, I was always on the lookout for different options. The great thing that also happened was that Facebook friends posted recommendations on my holiday photos while we were there. At a bar in Positano (that we found via Instagram), a couple we got talking to told us about a restaurant in Split that we couldn’t miss. And so on, it flowed. While on Vis, another friend gave us two recommendations for the island. In Rome, I got a message from another friend. All those recommendations turned into some of our most memorable dining experiences. In a nutshell, let friends (and Facebook) know where you’re going and you’ll get true word-of-mouth recommendations. And don’t expect to rock up to a restaurant and get a table. Book at least one or two nights ahead.
12. Map out plans for each day but leave breathing space in your itinerary to do something you hadn’t thought of when you arrive at the destination. This is so crucial, I think. Planning is good but not if you end up filling all the chunks of time and not allowing yourself to settle into that holiday feeling.
13. Create a folder in Dropbox (or Evernote or Google Drive) to save all your tickets and documents for travel. We printed everything off but this was always our backup and accessible on our smartphones. In an open Word document, I kept links to all recommended restaurants, activities and tours, adding more as recommendations came in.
14. Think about planning your travel wardrobe a season in advance if you’re travelling to the opposite hemisphere. It’s tricky to shop for a summer travel wardrobe when the only clothes in store are winter ones. I had lost weight since our summer, so a few weeks before leaving I put together my capsule wardrobe to see what I had that still worked. I then had enough time to get some favourite pieces altered. I’d also bought some smaller sizes in my favourite denim shorts a couple of months beforehand. If I’d left all that until the last minute, I’d have been caught short. (For more travel capsule wardrobe tips, check out my e-book).
15. Have fun with your planning. For me, this is so much a part of the excitement and build up to heading away. Embrace it at every step, knowing you’re creating some amazing future memories.
So tell me, what holiday planning tips can you share with us?
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