One of my favorite authors and podcasters is Gretchen Rubin who talks about the importance of knowing yourself better. I believe it is true in every aspect of life – including travel. Just a few reasons:
- It will help prioritize your budget. Just like other areas of life (shopping or eating come to mind) it is easy to get caught up in the moment. An aisle seat is just $50 more. A deluxe room is just $30 more…oh, do I want a view of the garden or the ocean? For just another $100 ….
- It can help set expectations with family and friends. This is especially important if you haven’t traveled together before. Do you expect to be on the go from 6 am until 11 pm? Do they expect to not roll out of bed until 10?
- It can help you decide where to go and what to do while you are there. If I know I am happiest seeing as much as possible, I won’t let someone convince me that it is “too much.” On the other hand, if I want to relax, it can help me protect my time and energy to remember to be selective with my plans.
To help you determine your own travel style, here are a few categories to think about:
Flights: How important are convenient flight times to you? How important is a particular airport or airline? How important is travel time or a non-stop flight? Is this a place you can save some money by choosing a less convenient route or do you need to maximize your time? These are all things to have an idea about before starting your search. A few examples:
I have to have an aisle seat and won’t compromise on anything else for a flight that is over an hour. But I have never felt it was worth the cost to upgrade to first class or business class. But as I get older, I have paid extra for economy plus or extra leg room on a long flight. I usually divide the cost by the number of flight hours to decide if it is worth the “per hour” cost or not.
I don’t care about a particular airline and I get points on all of them. But if it’s a long overseas flight, I usually find a foreign carrier is a nicer experience and will choose them if the cost is comparable. If it is a short flight, I will take the cheapest option, even if it is with a painful budget airline.
I prefer to fly out of the airport closest to my house and will pay a little more to do so. But often flights are several hundred dollars cheaper if I fly out of the airport that is about 40 minutes away. It’s usually a quick cost-benefit analysis to make sure it is worth the extra time and cost to get there.
I usually won’t pay to check a bag. This is both on principle and because I like to be mobile while traveling and don’t want too much luggage to slow me down.
I almost always pick the earliest flight in the morning. It helps that I am a morning person but this is for several practical reasons as well. It is usually the cheapest flight. It is also usually the least subject to delays and cancelations. Cancelations and delays will compound later in the day. The airlines usually have a chance to reset overnight from whatever happened the day prior. You have the best chance of leaving on time first thing in the morning. This also helps maximize your time. Flights in the middle of the day eat up too much time!
Transportation: The transportation category can cover a lot. For me the most important aspect of transportation is freedom and convenience. This will mean different things in different places.
From the airport, it truly depends on where I am and the time I arrive. If there is public transportation, and I remembered to do a little preparation before I left home, I am likely to opt for that. If it is late at night in a place known for crime, I will book a car ahead of time. If it is a standard city, I’ll just jump in a taxi.
To get around a city – almost any city – in order of preference I want to walk, take public transportation, take an uber/taxi. This is the most controversial aspect of most trips between me and travel companions. For me, the ability to walk to my destination is part of the trip. I feel like I experience more. I like to see/touch/smell the city. I like to pop into a shop. I like to be outside. And frankly I can walk for hours and not even notice.
But like everything else, this is not true for all people. I have traveled with many people who prefer to have a rental car no matter what. Or people who hate to walk and would prefer to take a taxi. This is a huge deal to me and I feel I loose something in a trip by not walking around from place to place.
Hotels: Hotels are the least cut and dry area for me. I will stay in a wide range or types of places and it often depends on where I am and what I am doing. On about 80% of my trips I am up with the sun and back after dinner. In this case, I want to be fairly central but don’t care about fancy or amenities. I prefer smaller hotels with personality. If it is a situation when I will be spending more time in the hotel or the hotel is part of the trip, then I will spend more for something amazing. Some examples of this were a room with a rooftop patio in Cinque Terra and safari in South Africa. But on the same trip, in Johannesburg I just needed something functional and central. This past summer I spent as little as 25E for a room and as much as $400 a night. For me it depends…
Activities and Experiences: How busy do you want to be? Are you willing to spend a little more effort to make your own arrangements or do you want that all done for you? Do you want to just see a city or do you want to do everything it has to offer? For me – I like to be busy and see as much as possible. If the place is known for something – I want to do it. But I prefer to take the effort to make my own arrangements because it usually (not always) costs less and I can do exactly what I want to do.
Plans / Reservations: Finally, how much do you want to plan ahead of time? My time is the most precious commodity I have and I hate to waste any of it. That doesn’t mean I don’t take any down time to relax while traveling. It just means it is purposeful and planned. I have at least a general plan for every day and a list of things I want to do. I know where they are and when they are open. And for big activities and high priority items, I have tickets and arrangements made well in advance. For me there is nothing more disappointing than spending time and money on a trip and not being able to do what I wanted to do while there. If that happens due to circumstances and fate – that is fine. But I am not ok if it happens because of poor planning on my part.
I am sure there are other categories to consider. These are some of the more important that come to mind for me that are worth considering to help you plan your own trips, know where to invest your time and money and to talk about trips with others!