Sometimes, without any warning, the need for a vacation — or the chance to take one — comes along, offering not only an opportunity but also a challenge. The world is your oyster, but where to go, how to get there, whom to travel with and how much will it cost?
I’m currently in the midst of an exciting bout of wanderlust with a short-on-time dilemma, and am finding that a palate for anywhere in the world is hindering my ability to actually get there.
If you don’t have the luxury of time to plan the vacation of your life, then use this checklist (derived from some personal trial and error) to narrow down your choices.
1. What’s Your Budget?
C’mon, really … what’s your budget? If you truly don’t have a spending limit, feel free to peruse luxury vacation-planning sites such as Jetsetter or Luxury Link. These sites will give some shape to your ideas with bundled accommodations and tours, and oftentimes they have last-minute deals. Otherwise — and this probably goes for most of us — we do have a budget, and we should be realistic about it. Write down a number; I finally had to.
All-inclusive packages can be a good way to stick to your budget, but you will still want to factor in extra for gratuities, meals not covered, souvenirs, etc. Also, depending on how last-minute your departure is, most vetted tours may be sold out well in advance. (For my own trip, cycling in Tuscany will have to wait until another year.) LastMinuteTravel.com is a good place to search for packages; big booking sites like Expedia, Orbitz and Priceline also have last-minute travel sections.
If you’re going it independently, take your magic number and begin to subtract estimated transportation costs, accommodations, meals — the essentials. If you’re zeroing out quickly, you may want to re-examine your hypothetical plans. On a tight budget? You may want to skip directly to number five below: a travel agent. This person will be vital in helping you get the most bang for your buck — and also in talking sense into you when you’re planning a safari with only three figures.
2. Who’s Around, and Are You Comfortable Going Solo?
If you’re not entirely sold on the idea of traveling alone and no one is available during the time you want to go, then you may already want to reconsider; that’s not to say you should, but you have to be honest with yourself about your own comfort level. Guided tours may be an alternative, traveling within a group yet by yourself — but frequently, this will come with the penalty of a single supplement and could run over your budget.
If your usual go-to travel companion just can’t get away, comb your list of contacts for a ready-and-willing sidekick. My partner just began a new job and can’t take a vacation yet, so I convinced my mom — with ample time off and a similar adventurous spirit — to request the days and dive in. (Note: Make sure those vacation days are approved before booking. With both of my mother’s managers out and nothing on the office calendar, we hastily booked our flights only to discover that it was not a good week to take off, and ended up paying the price in airline change fees.)
3. Where Is “Nice” This Time of Year?
You finally have the time to visit your dream destination, but is now the right time? Factors such as weather and seasonality will help to determine any potential catches before they have the chance to disappoint. The Caribbean may be cheap, but is it hurricane season? You’ve always wanted to see Paris in spring, but hotels are more expensive and you haven’t had the time to budget properly.
Saying no to bucket list trips doesn’t mean you’ll never get the chance to go on one; it just means it may not be the best time right now. I had my eye on Barcelona, and even though the weather would be pleasant during my intended timeframe, the last-minute airfare was a little too high.
4. Any Hoops to Jump Through?
You’ve found the perfect exotic locale with reasonable flights, well-rated accommodations and availability — you’ve even secured a guide (go you!) — but do you need a visa? Are there any recommended immunizations you need to get? Is your passport up to date?
Keeping in mind all the red tape is vital when planning something with time constraints. Depending on any number of factors, a visa could take months to obtain — and you’ll need to add that to your budget too. Getting an appointment at a travel clinic for a typhoid vaccine or a prescription for malaria pills is another consideration; you’ll be dipping into both time and money wells that may be near-dry. A few places piqued my interest, but visa requirements or warnings of rampant yellow fever changed my tune.
5. Call a Travel Agent — Pronto
This could honestly be a first step, but I know many of you, like me, are proud of being independent travelers and crafting a unique experience on your own. There’s something to be said for self-planning, but even the most seasoned travelers among us can agree that without very much time, throwing together a trip without any research could be irresponsible.
There are many good travel agents out there that can create a trip that’s specific not only to your budget but also to your travel style. Ask around and find someone who specializes in experiential travel;can help you narrow down our search. My mom elicited the help of a travel agency provided through her employer to provide tips and suggestions for a mother/daughter excursion within certain dates and with an estimated budget.
6. Do You Have Friends or Family Abroad?
You may have your eye on a closer-to-home boutique hotel, or have settled for hostel-like conditions in a major metropolitan area, but don’t forget the homes of your own friends, family and even past travel acquaintances. Having friends in high places is nothing compared to having friends in a lot of places; that is, if they don’t mind the last-minute notice.
Within your own limits of respect, inquire if someone you know in a foreign place might be available during the time you’re looking to travel. Either they’ll open their doors and you can check accommodations off your list of concerns, or they might have a great suggestion for where to stay on the cheap (and they might be able to meet up on a free day!). This might be something to think of first — it was what we thought of last. A coworker and friend of my mother’s owns a house in her native Grenada, and freely offered it to us for the week. After barely two weeks of scrambled planning, it was pure good fortune that’s begun to move everything into place.
–written by Brittany Chrusciel
Editor’s Note: IndependentTraveler.com is published by The Independent Traveler, Inc., a subsidiary of TripAdvisor, Inc., which also owns Jetsetter.