24 Oct + How to Plan for Travel: Choose Your Transportation
This is Part 4 in my How to Plan for Travel countdown series with one blog post per month containing travel tips to get my family, friends, clients and you ready to go for your next vacation overseas. From August 1 through June 30, I’ll be counting down the tips by how far in advance it’s optimal to plan. If you stumble across this blog post in February, and you’re planning a trip in May, you’re not too late. You’ll just have to do things a little more quickly.
How can I get organized for travel: 7-9 months before
How to Plan for Travel: Choose your transportation.
If you have all the time in the world, you’d probably have the room in your schedule to take a slow boat to China. But in all reality, if you’re going overseas, you are most likely going to fly.
When you choose which airline to fly, there are a variety of factors to consider:
1. Price – This is pretty self-explanatory. It’s always great to find the lowest price. You can use comparison websites like Expedia, Orbitz and Kayak to price flights and watch fluctuations. Many travel experts say that the optimal time to purchase an overseas ticket is 3 months before the trip. When we get to five months out, I start watching the price and paying more attention to oil prices in the news. If a long-term issue in the Middle East starts to brew, I sometimes don’t wait until the three month mark to purchase, especially if I see prices starting to creep up.
2. Frequent flier programs – I am a fairly loyal person in certain relationships (like my frequent flier program with Southwest for domestic flights), but not in frequent flier programs for overseas flights. I know folks who can navigate around this system and score great deals, but when they begin to tell me what all they have to do to manage it, my brain shuts down. It’s not how I want to spend my time. But if you figure out a way to make frequent flier programs work for you, go for it!
3. Length of travel time (flight time + layover) – I am willing to pay a little more for a ticket if I can get to a destination in fourteen hours instead of twenty. That’s six fewer hours of being cramped in a plane or not sight-seeing while waiting at an airport. However, we can’t always choose the absolutely shortest flight because of our normal security snag. My husband has the name of a known felon, so he always gets flagged at passport control in U.S. cities to go to the secret room. I make sure our layover is a minimum of two hours in the airport in which we have to clear customs. I learned this timing lesson the hard way, when we had to clear customs in Mexico City. I only allowed 90 minutes, and they didn’t give a hoot what time anyone’s next flight was. We had to use a combination of begging to move up in line and running at top speed to make our flight on time. U.S. courtesy of waiting on “checked-through” passengers to arrive at the gate is not necessarily followed in other countries.
4. Number of stops – The more stops you have, the more you increase your risk of delays at an airport.
5. Location of stops – We do our best to avoid flying through Dallas and Atlanta in summer months because of the storms delays they often have. During the winter, we try to fly through airports that don’t usually suffer from ice storms. (Yes, I know there are de-icing agents, but I’m actually afraid of flying, so I prefer to not add to my anxiety.)
6. Airline service – We love non-U.S. based airlines. I’m sorry, but I have to say it. I do my best to support America and American products in any way I can, but not in this case. We have found that the foreign airlines have superior service, the food is usually better, and the drinks are more plentiful. We have encountered some of the rudest, condescending flight attendants on U.S. based airlines. They acted as if it was an inconvenience that we were boarding their aircraft. On the foreign airlines, especially British Air and Air France, we were welcomed into their “home in the air.”
Once you arrive at your destination, you’ll need to figure out your mode of transportation. We’ve found that public transportation in larger European cities is outstanding, so if we need to travel far from our hotel, we’ll use the bus or metro. If we’re staying in a city for multiple days, we look into combo bus-metro passes because they usually are a better deal.
If you plan to travel in between cities, you’ll need to decide if you want to go by plane, train, bus or rental car. We usually travel by train since it’s faster and cheaper than flying once you’re on that continent. (See my brief video on traveling by train in Europe.) But if we want to visit small villages in the countryside – as in Provence or Tuscany or Ireland – we look into renting a car.
If you plan to travel by plane, bus or train, you can secure your tickets two to three months before your trip. But if you’re planning to rent a car, and you want air conditioning, and you want an automatic, you need to get crankin’ now on your rental reservation! While those features are standard on American rentals, they are special options in Europe, and they are not plentifully stocked. If you’re traveling with a family and need a larger vehicle, you need to get started yesterday!! Minivans and SUVS aren’t commonplace, so you won’t have much selection. Rental vehicles are also pricier than taking a train, which is why we limit car rentals to places we can’t reach by public transportation, and rentals of at least one week, since the weekly price is usually less expensive than the daily rental fee.
Hopefully this will help you as you begin your transportation research. If you have questions, feel free to post them below.
How to Plan for Travel series:
Part 1: Budget
Part 2: Set your travel goals
Part 4: How to choose your transportation
Next time: How to develop your daily itinerary