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Planning That Upcoming Trip: Where to Go?

It’s never too early to start planning for a major spring-summer trip. In this and a few of the next columns, I’ll explore some of the tools and resources available to you that will help you get the most out of your trip—and the best value. And although many of you know exactly where you want to travel, others may be looking for ideas.

For many, the first question is, “What kind of trip do I want?” The possibilities are endless. Beyond ordinary sightseeing, options range from adventure to zoology. The following are among the better search tools and options:

  • Educational Travel: If you want to combine learning with a local experience, you can’t beat RoadScholar. The former Elderhostel changed its name to reflect less of a senior orientation, and it offers about the broadest range of learning/travel options you’ll find anywhere. All-inclusive rates (learning, lodging, and most meals) start at around $500 for some one-week courses in the United States; overseas courses span a wide range of times and costs.

Don’t get off to a bad start by following “trends.” PR types continue to bombard me with releases about the year’s “hot” destinations and “trends on travel” to various destinations. To me, going where other people do—either in large numbers or to places they consider “hot” or “trendy” (whatever those terms mean to you)—is a lousy reason to select a destination. You want to go to places that interest you, not someone else. And if you really wanted to follow the crowds, you’ll never go anywhere beyond Las Vegas or Orlando.

Cost is always an important factor in travel planning. But you have to be careful about how you use cost information. Obviously, a week in Buffalo costs a lot less than a week in New York City. But if you want a theater vacation, Buffalo doesn’t work. You can, however, OD on theater for less than you’d spend for New York: Local programs from Ashland, Oregon, to Stratford, Ontario, provide more than enough to keep you busy for a week.

Similarly, if you’re interested in Europe, you don’t have to pay the sky-high prices in London or Paris for an interesting European experience. Good-value cities this year include Berlin, Budapest, Istanbul, Kiev, Lisbon, Madrid, Naples, Prague, Riga, Sofia, and Vilnius. Beyond Europe, Bangkok continues to offer some of the world’s lowest rates for four- and five-star hotels; Buenos Aires remains a steak eater’s paradise, and Ecuador is touted as one of the world’s best retirement centers. Of course, before you go outside the country, you’ll want to check the State Department’s travel site both for alerts and warnings about places you really should avoid and the more general nuts and bolts of visa requirements, money, and such.

If you need more prodding, a website I covered a few years ago, TravelMuse, posts a “Get Inspired” option where you enter your home airport, time of year, trip duration, accommodation class, a per-person maximum budget, and a maximum nonstop flying time; pick from a list of about 50 vacation “themes,” ranging from “amusement parks” to “zip lining”; and the website then returns a list of options that conform to the criteria you select.

And if all this online stuff isn’t your strength, don’t forget how much help you can get from a good travel agent.

You can also try what a priest I knew did many years ago when air travel was simpler. He packed his bag, went to the Pan American counter at San Francisco Airport, and asked the agent, “When is the next flight?” The agent replied, “Next flight where?” The priest responded, “Wherever the next flight goes.”

To figure out the best time to visit a destination, check the TripStarter feature on Hotwire. Enter your home and a major destination, and the site shows more than a year of history of both airfares and hotel costs.

Ed Perkins Seniors on the Go is copyright (c) 2012 Tribune Media Services, Inc.

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