Wednesday, February 11, 2015
Travel Talk: What's Your Travel Planning Style?
Last weekend, we booked a trip to Sri Lanka over Easter Break and it was, like, the hardest work ever. At one point, I tweeted, "Does anyone else plan their holidays with thirteen tabs open across two computers and a spreadsheet? No? Just us, then."
As I've alluded to before, I'm terrible at travel planning, which is especially ironic since I've been shortlisted for the travel category in this year's UK Blog Awards and I travel quite a bit. Sometimes - shamefully - deep down, I know that we probably wouldn't take as many trips as we do if it wasn't for John's handiwork and Zen-like state-of-mind.
And I'm not the only one. Recently, a friend admitted to taking the escalator straight up to John Lewis, plonking herself down in front of Kuoni travel specialists, and letting them plan her trip to Thailand. Another confided to me over a bowl of pho about how her upcoming trip to Burma was being "handled" by a group of travel agents. "It's just so much easier," she said, with a sigh of relief, and I was a little envious at that weight that looked to be actually visibly lifted from her shoulders.
But I think my travel planning style says more about my personality than anything else, i.e. anxious, anxious, anxious. Two weeks before our trip, I print out every single hotel confirmation, flight confirmation, rental car booking confirmation and carefully tuck and fold them into a (tabbed and labelled) plastic document holder, which also holds my travel insurance information.
I also travel with a near-complete medicine cabinet with me at all times (this is one habit of mine that I've never regretted).
You see, my first instinct when planning a trip is to panic. I'll look at a map of whatever destination we're going to and go, gulp. Whereas John ... John moves through five, distinct phases of travel planning. It's fascinating to observe.
Phase 1: Gathering information. "We're thinking of going to Vietnam," he'll mention casually to friends and colleagues at work. "Have you ever been? What did you think?" This is the informal stage of planning conception (I'm sorry to relate it to childbirth, but seriously. It's that's painful to me).
Phase 2: Study the guidebook. One of my favorite parts of travel planning is taking a trip to Waterstone's together (mostly because I spend ages looking at cards in the stationery section before getting distracted by a ghostwritten D-list celeb memoir) to buy a Lonely Planet. John will go home and flip through it thoughtfully for ages: before bed, on weekends ... and dog-ear pages of interest. I will point to pictures of beaches and say helpful things like, "I want to go there."
Phase 3: Browse accommodation. Are we the only ones who book trips around accommodation? That might be a slight exaggeration, but if there's a hotel we're dying to stay at (Sala Samui in Koh Samui was the best thing that's ever happened to me), we'll consider structuring a trip around where we'll lay our heads at night. This is also where the multiple tabs start happening ... from i-escape to Mr. and Mrs. Smith to Tripadvisor, we meticulously comb through reviews, pros and cons, and transport considerations. This is the lengthiest phase and one that I give up on easily.
Phase 4: The Spreadsheet. To help organize our trip, as well as to keep track of costs, John creates an Excel spreadsheet that magically calculates the cost of a 3-night stay in a luxury resort with a few clacking of the keys. Since I get a serious case of #smugface when I manage to merely sort and filter columns in Excel, I stay away from this phase, except to occasional tap John on the shoulder while he's working away to whisper things like, "I want to stay in the chocolate hotel. Okay? The one with the chocolate. Facing the mountain." (It's this one in St. Lucia, in case you're wondering.)
Phase 5: The Commitment. This phase involves a credit card and is the one that I fear the most ... heck, even buying flights back to Seattle freaks me out. But what if I got the wrong date? What if I change my mind? What if something happens and I can't go? What if this hotel has roaches and no one bothered to mention it? What if we missed that one Tripadvisor review that said the food gave them dysentery? WHAT IF? This is the point where, I run into the bedroom, pull the covers over my head, until John comes over with the laptop and goes, "Hello? Are you in there? Should I book it?" and I manage to squeak in agreement.
Please tell me that you do better than this. How do you plan your trips? Do you enjoy it? Do you use Excel? Do you research chocolate hotels?
(And, also: Sri Lanka. YAY!!!)