For many Minnesotans, the idea of traveling pops up around January, when the car stops starting, and you curse everything in sight, acquiring a reputation as the foul-mouthed neighbor. But that’s Minnesota for you. If you hate it so much, move.
Summer is our time. It’s when the lakes look beautiful, and the weather is actually enjoyable. But that doesn’t mean it’s not a great time for a vacation. With spirits high, and winter feeling a long way off, summer is perhaps the best time to get a bunch of people together, and plan for a weekend getaway or even a weeklong trip.
But let’s be smart about this. It takes some planning to have a great, stress-free vacation. And no, I don’t mean plan out every hour of every day to get the most out of it. Generally speaking, your friends are more likely to ditch you at breakfast when you go to the restroom than praise you for your organizational skills.
Step 1: Picking Dates
No, this does not mean finding a guy who will look hot in a Speedo next to you. A trip to Australia may sound absolutely amazing—and it does—but if you only have three days for the excursion, something a little closer to home will be better for everyone involved. However, if the high point of the trip is sitting in an overcrowded plane with people who clearly do not understand the concept of personal space or deodorant, then by all means…Australia, here you come.
Step 2: Budget
Here’s where most people screw up. The obvious expenses such as food, gas/airfare, and hotel easily can be adjusted for. But what about taxi rides, alcohol, shopping, cover charges, gratuity, or unexpected activities? Even a cheap weekend getaway can turn into an expensive one if not planned for properly. Everyone who is going needs to take into account. Your trip quickly can go from a blast to very boring if you plan to spend a lot, but have a frugal friend who can’t or won’t cough up the money needed to do all the things you want to do.
Step 3: Location
Now that you all have come to an agreement on when and how long, you can start with the idea of where. Usually, most people already have a notion of where long before the planning even gets under way. So, let’s move on.
Step 4: Details
With a quick Internet research, you can find some great deals for hotels, car rentals, and airfare. Don’t just go to Orbitz or Travelocity, then take the first deal you find. Many such websites differ greatly on prices. Look around. Don’t just assume you’re going to get the best deal because you all book together. That’s a huge myth.
Many hotels and airlines have started their own websites that offer deals directly. Even if they don’t list a deal on their website, it doesn’t mean you can’t get one. Ask! What’s the harm in inquiring if they currently are offering any deals, or if they can lower the price? You’ll be surprised at how far a company is willing to go get you as a customer, especially with the economy the way it is.
If you plan to take part in a lot of extra activities, and you know what they are, getting a travel agent could help you save money. He or she will know about price breaks on activities if booked with other items, or certain times that are cheaper.
Remember: Sometimes, things are too good to be true! If you find a great deal that seems too incredible to pass up, check third-party websites for reviews. Find out if that deal comes with cockroaches in the shower, or drug addicts knocking on your door at 2 AM looking for their next hit. Now, if that sounds like a unique experience, well….
Step 5: Book Early
Unless your trip is a spontaneous adventure, try to plan it as far in advance as possible. Airfare really is cheaper when arranged early. Tickets can change hourly for those who check, but the general rule is that it’s just going to go up as the date gets closer. Planes overbook on purpose, hoping for last-minute cancellations. They don’t underbook, looking for Johnny-come-lately travelers who want to save a buck. The same rule goes for everything else. You may be very disappointed if you start late, only to find that great vacation in the Outback is booked solid for the next month.
Step 6: Have Fun
Well, duh! Find the friend who has a habit of taking photos of you at your worst, and smash his or her camera once you arrive. It’s important that you do so at the last possible moment, so your friend doesn’t have a chance to get a replacement camera. You know those sneaky gays!