I recently met a 22-year-old woman who traveled with a friend to West Africa for several months with no plans and even less money. The ground (and I’m not talking camping here) substituted for a hotel room, street food for restaurant cuisine and a rickety second-hand motorcycle for luxury transportation. She loved every minute of the stripped-down trip and undoubtedly it will be the memory of a lifetime.
Her free spirit reminded me of the first trip a girlfriend and I took to Europe when we were 24. We each had one backpack and no reservations. At each destination we got off the train and our first agenda was to figure out where we would sleep that night. The spontaneity of the experience made us feel like we were quite the adventurers. The trip was perfect. Tom still can’t believe we traveled with only our backpacks and sometimes when I look at my luggage I can’t either.
Nearly a million air miles later, I still enjoy spontaneous moments in my life, but spontaneous travel is not one of them. In fact, spontaneous travel can suck. It can suck the money out of your wallet, the pleasure out of your palate and the life out of the opportunities you missed because you didn’t plan ahead. To get around this, a little pre-planning will go a long way and no, it won’t rob you of your agility and spontaneity – I promise.
- Book Your Travel In Advance. Okay this is the obvious one. Whether it’s airline tickets, rental car or hotel, you can use online tools or a travel agent and often get the best rates by booking further out. If it’s a vacation, consider nonrefundable tickets with firm dates. If you’re traveling for your CLNC® business, purchase a refundable ticket (which you can expense to the attorney-client). Be sure to join your airline’s frequent flyer plan and sign up for a credit card that gives you airline or hotel points for every purchase. You can then cash in on free tickets or other perks like upgrades, free checked bags or free hotel nights. There’s nothing like flying first class internationally for free (and spending the money you saved on food and hotel).
- Plan Your Meals. I grew up in New Orleans where it’s all about the food, so eating my way through a country, state or city is my favorite hobby. I’ve been the victim of too much bad food and fast food simply because I failed to plan ahead. Missing out on a coveted restaurant in a country I was not likely to ever return to cured me of that bad habit. Because food is such a hobby of mine, I research my food options as zealously as I do sightseeing destinations. Zagat.com and OpenTable.com are two fantastic online tools to help you find good food and book ahead. As a bonus, Open Table gives you points for each reservation and you can turn those points into gift certificates (i.e., free meals).
Having reservations in advance doesn’t mean you have to forfeit spontaneity altogether. I’ll gladly change or cancel dinner plans when a local foodie refers me to a new hip place not yet written up. Or when I’m in Paris and a bottle of Bordeaux, a baguette and some stinky French cheese call me to a local farmers’ market.
- Research and Reserve Special Tours and Itineraries. When Tom and I last visited Rome we were able to arrange a private tour of the Sistine Chapel. I had been to the Sistine Chapel once before and it was literally standing room only. It was like being at a Mardi Gras parade without the floats, beads or doubloons. When one of my travel magazines mentioned a company that had “private access tours” I jumped all over that. Planning paid off big time when Tom and I were standing together in the Sistine Chapel at night with only our guide. We probably would never have had that once-in-a-lifetime experience if we had waited until we got to Rome to book it.
- Confirm, Confirm and Confirm Again. Always confirm dates, times and reservations a couple of weeks out and then again at least 24 hours before you leave town. This simple strategy could save time and money and prevent frustration caused by changes or cancellations. Hotel reservation systems and flight schedules change and the earlier you know about them the better. Many airlines offer email and text alerts so sign up for them and you’ll never have another reason to miss a flight. Confirm your ground transportation as well as your hotel, and always note the name of the person you spoke with. We’ve been turned away from a restaurant or two because we didn’t have the name of the person who booked (or even confirmed) the reservation.
- Carry Food and a Full Charge. Whether I’m traveling to Austin by car or New York City or overseas by plane, I always carry food. Raw nuts are my preferred choice because they fit in my purse, help me avoid really bad food choices and can get me through just about any delay. Keep a bottle of water handy too.
Make sure your phone and Bluetooth® headset are fully charged. Carry a mobile charger in your carry-on bag, one that plugs into the cigarette lighter socket of rental cars so you can be charging your “dead” phone before you’re even out of the rental lot (and keep a regular wall charger in your check-in luggage).
Following these simple tips free you to create spontaneous moments in your travels, whether you’re 22 or 52.
Success Is Inside!
P.S. Comment and share your favorite travel tips as a Certified Legal Nurse Consultant.