2012 is definitely a major milestone in my life. I have been wanting to go on Europe ala backpacking tour with my better half and I finally got to do it this year. But, to be honest, the planning started 2 years ahead. And one thing about holiday that I love is when I am planning for it.
When I came back from the tour, many asked me how do I plan for this in between other things I do in life. Actually, it's not that hard but you really need to enjoy doing it.
How To Get There?
First thing first, find the best way to arrive at your destination. Is it by flight, train, bus or driving on your own. If you are traveling with just adults, the choices are much more simpler and flexible. When it involves kids, that's when you need to choose the best way to travel. For the Europe tour, I start to hunt for cheap flight tickets as early as September 2011. I wanted to do it sooner but with flights, you can't plan too early. We ended up booking tickets in March during MATTA Fair. We scouted almost all airlines, MAS, Qatar, Emirates, Etijad and others. Since it's long haul flight, we were quite fussy in terms of halal food served on flight. Our experience with Singapore Airlines was not that pleasant when we were on our way to Sydney, they forgot our halal food. Kesian the kids....
We finally settled with Qatar, the cheapest rate of all. Another way to see cheapest flight rates is via http://www.cheapflights.com/. We used this website to get our connecting flights from London to Dublin, Dublin to Rome and Rome to Barcelona. It gives the best rates for all available airlines to your desired destination. As for ground travel, I surveyed based on recommendations from those who have been there, either among my circle of friends or via the net. We used various methods ; train, buses or cabs to travel. Our priority are safety and cost. All this bookings were done while we are still in Malaysia. It is much cheaper that way.
Where To Stay?
This is the part I love the most! Choosing where to stay. As much as we wanted to be adventurous and stay in hostels, we decided not to since it's difficult to pray. Hostels usually have very limited space and you have to share toilets with the rest. We ended up either staying in B&B or 3 star hotels. I went to various websites ; booking.com, Agoda, Expedia, Ratestogo, HotWire.Com and many more. This is how I made comparison. I also counterchecked against review in TripAdvisor to see comments from those who have stayed there. There will be time we arrived late at the city of destination due to choosing the cheapest flight, so we slept either at the airport or bus/trainstation. This is when I checked against TripAdvisor and http://www.sleepinginairports.net/ to see the conduciveness of sleeping at such places. Yes, I took the trouble to do all that and I enjoyed it! Apart from that, the accommodation we chose must be walking distance to places we plan to visit as well as accessibility to halal food. That way, we don't have to pay extra to get to where we wanna go.
Another aspect I paid much attention to is where to eat. This is made easy by doing research at zabiha.com. And I also downloaded this apps on my Android device in case I need to get direction to go to the makan place. We also stocked some instant noodles and 3-1 drinks if we are too tired to go out and hunt for food. Normally, before we go back to where we are spending the night, we will buy food for dinner.
I also downloaded apps for prayers time as well as qiblat direction. Easy peasy lah. And in case if the location is a shopping heaven for certain stuff, this will also be included in the planning
I prepared a master spreadsheet to reflect all of the above 3 items. Planning is very important. When you plan, you can cut costs in many many items. Also, it will make your trip more effective. No need to worry about things since it has been pre-planned. You just need to enjoy the trip, with very minimal worry.
So, using the same method, I am now planning our 2013 holiday plans. Where to? Medan, UK, Paris, Lucerne, Korea, Bali and Hong Kong. And planning will still be one of the best part of the vacation!
Watch this space to see how Liza put her footprint on other countries on the map!