Recently, a self-proclaimed, severely “un-tech savvy” friend of mine asked me for help on booking a trip. I am no guru but I’ve picked up some skills along the way. I do love the planning and researching part of booking a holiday as I feel you learn so much more about your destination that way and it’s a good way to save a few bucks. DIY travel is definitely the future.
How to plan your own trip!
(1) Plan way in advance
An ideal time to start planning an overseas trip on a budget is at least six months in advance. It increases your chances of picking up an early bird special as well as cashing in on flight sales.
(2) Choose a Time Period and Destination
This might seem like a silly point, but going to the destination you want at the best time for the type of holiday you want is essential. No one can predict the weather but simply googling “the best time to go to …” can save you a lot of grief. For example, many people aren’t aware that December is the rainy season in Mauritius. In Thailand, the different coasts experience monsoon seasons at different times of the year. So if you plan on going to Koh Samui in December, you might have a wet beach holiday. In Cape Town, the wind starts dying down in late January so January and February are great times to visit. You’re going to be disappointed if you try to go for a European skiing holiday in June.
(3) Get a few professional quotes
Sometimes you might receive a great deal from the travel agent that is unbeatable compared to trying to do it yourself, so keep an eye out for sales. Travel agents usually know the best areas to stay and if you are a newbie traveler, then you may be more comfortable having everything sorted out for you. Travel agents are generally more expensive than DIY, especially where flights are concerned because they tend not to be contracted with low-cost airways. They also need to put on their markup. Everyone has got to make a living. I would never accept a quote without doing some research first (lesson learned).
(4) Subscribe to airline newsletters
This is the best way to catch a deal on a flight. Airlines have sales fairly often, granted international flights are rarely cheap from South Africa. But catching the sales on the newsletter or getting promo codes may allow you to save substantially on your trip. Saving on a flight is ideal as your money is definitely better spent elsewhere (unless you fly business class- then good for you). The UAE airlines (Emirates, Qatar, Etihad) often have the best rates but beware of long transits.
There are some African airlines which are popping up at the moment which are offering ridiculously good rates. These include TAAG and Ethiopian Airlines. I haven’t tried them but I am keen to hear your experiences if you have.
(5) Make friends with trip planning websites
Skyscanner and Travelstart are fantastic websites which I often use to compare international flight prices. You can view the prices of flights over an entire year on easy to read graphs on Skyscanner. This is great for a budget-conscious traveler because it eliminates the need for going to each airline website individually and repeatedly.
(Travelstart have also introduced a mobile app recently.)
(6) Booking Hotels
Gone are the days of phoning hotels to compare prices and make bookings. Things are much easier now. Type in the destination, date and budget and you’ll receive a long list of all available accommodation with ratings and recommendations. Many people have a preference of which website they prefer and there are plenty! Booking.com; Agoda; Expedia; the list is long. Then there are the hotel website aggregators such as DirectRooms and HotelsCombined.
What I usually do is to check out the hotel aggregators as they show most of the booking websites. However, be careful to only use reputable websites. There are loads of sites with very bad reputations, that I would never consider trusting my money with just to save a few rands. With most things- if it’s too good to be true, it usually is.
Before I book with a certain hotel, I always check the official hotel website. Sometimes they have a best price guarantee or include incentives like free transfers if you book directly through them.
(7) Try Airbnb
Airbnb is an amazing addition for those traveling on a budget, especially to expensive countries in Europe. You can stay in apartments or rent villas. You will very likely find something to suit your budget.
Check out our post on how to use Airbnb here.
(8) The internet’s gift to travelers
TripAdvisor is an absolute godsend when planning a trip. They have hotel reviews, destination guides and forums which allow you to ask experts all the little questions you can’t find anywhere else. TripAdvisor is always my first stop when I’m planning a local or international trip. Lonely planet, Frommer’s and Fodors are also alternatives. Beware of people/ hotels which post fake reviews. It seems to be a common practice. I’ve also heard of hotels incentivising guests for good reviews which defeats the purpose.
Blogs are a great way to get first-hand information and opinions. Here’s a list of some of my favourites:
Feel free to add your favourite travel blogs in the comment section.
(10) Have fun!
No matter what you use or how you plan your trip, the most important thing is that you enjoy it. If it stresses you out, ask for help. Traveling should be enjoyed and not a pain! Making new memories and lifelong experiences is what travel’s about.
Please let us know about your favourite tools and tips for DIY trips in the Comments Section.
See Other posts on DIY travel: