Holiday planning is a subject close to my heart, and I think it’s worth considering carefully.
Now, I’ve never really been into package holidays. I’ve got nothing against them, they have their place and actually suit a lot of people down to the ground. But hey, you package holidayers have life EASY. Seriously. On one trip to Greece I went on way back when, there were people from the holiday company both before and after passport control to help you with the intricacies. Wow.
In some ways us independent travellers have never had it so good. The advent of the Internet opens up the previously mysterious green-screened terminals of travel agents to Joe Public, and screenscraper sites conjure up exotic and cunning routes across the world for the lowest possible price.
Unfortunately for someone like me, with more than a hint of Rain Man to his personality, I really struggle with the infinite choice of sites such as Kayak, poring for ages over the flights trying to get the best possible deal in terms of flight time, cost and various other intangible qualities that I couldn’t hope to explain to a third party but are just important.. I also go back and re-check things I’ve booked. Seriously, NEVER do this. It only ends in pain and the realisation that you’ve overpaid that last flight sector by a tenner.
What this boils down to is the possibility to over-plan, destroying some of the delicious spontaneity of world travel. Sometimes that place that looked great in the guide book is actually really boring, and your next flight isn’t for a week. Or on the flipside, you’ve just met a gorgeous New Zealander who still thinks you’re really interesting but you have a flight the next morning to a beach resort filled with tossers… I’m not bitter though.
So there’s a balance to be found.
Length of holiday is a pretty key factor. If you’ve only got a couple of weeks and know you want to see some far-flung sights then actually you’d be just as well to book at least a ‘skeleton’ of internal flights to make sure you can make it. There’s always the option of ditching them if plans change and they are sufficiently cheap. If you’ve got loads of time though, maybe the joy of waking up in the morning with an open canvas is worth the risk of having to wait a few days for a connection.
Destination, too, is everything. Here, Lonely Planet is your friend. Everywhere in the world differs and you need to do the research. In Japan for instance, most of the trains on the Tohoku Shinkansen run several times an hour and are rarely full so prior planning is most definitely redundant. On the flipside, India has a labyrinthine railway booking system which, whilst easily accessible through the Internet, has very limited availability on some routes so actually, if you want to travel IN the train rather than hanging off it, you need to get booked (Before any Internet pedants interject, yes, I know it’s only commuter trains that are overcrowded to that extent, but my point stands!)
Price is worth taking into consideration too. How far in advance to book flights is worthy of a book of its own however broadly prices tend to go up when you’re flying last minute. Strangely, this doesn’t seem to be the case when I look at NZ-Chile flights although seasonal variations do come into play to a certain extent too… Beware of the Southern Hemisphere summer!
I’ve not quite made my mind about my forthcoming trip. I have a rough idea of where and when I want to go, but I have the luxury of time so current thinking is just to see what happens and book as I go, from China onwards. This might end up biting me on the arse when I end up paying £1500 to get to Chile but we’ll see. I am booking the train section in advance, for the most part, as the Trans-Mongolian journey needs a lot of planning and visas, etc which are also dated.
The same with the European rail. I know where I need to get to and when, and I don’t want to burn up all of my savings spending too much time hanging around Europe! So far I’ve found some cracking deals though- €109 first class (including food and beer on Eurostar) London to Hamburg with an overnight stop in Brussels. That’s a long way! In addition I have booked the cruise ferry from Stockholm-Riga-St. Petersburg for a slightly suspiciously cheap 155 euros (or 9123 roubles, ish…) including a cabin.
It’s started… Next stop Trans-Mongolian tickets and Russian/Chinese visas. Once my passport arrives back. Eek