Tips for Vacation Planning in the Fast Lane

Can't wait to see these guys! Photo by Luca5

With all of the sadness and emotional energy spent on my grandmother’s passing, I obviously haven’t given a thought to planning any of our 1-year anniversary vacation to Costa Rica.  Who could think of booking fun activities at a time like that?  Well, its rather inevitable though, and unless we want to land in Costa Rica and literally have no idea what to see or do (which could be fun in its own right…), I really need to plan this trip!  We only have 2 days on the ground, so we have to make the most of it.  Fast trip planning ahead!

1.  Big things first:  This goes without saying.  Book all the flights and all the hotels as soon as you can.  If you get stranded without either, your vacation won’t be much of a vacation.  Waiting until the last minute to book can certainly save you money, but if you book a hotel without a flight, or vice versa, you risk wasting all the money you saved in the first place.  Of course be especially aware of events that may be happening in your destination that could limit hotel room availability and cause you to pay a hefty premium for not booking 10 months in advance (ie Carnival in Brazil, New Year’s Eve anywhere).

We booked Costa Rica 4 months ago and got a great rate, but we booked New Years in Rio, Brazil 8 months in advance and got totally screwed on hotel rates.  Like everything, it all depends!

2.  Ground transportation: How will you get from point A to point B?  Even if you’re not leaving the city, how will you get from the airport to your hotel?  Often times this will not require any advance booking, but once you know how things work, you’ll feel a lot more confident when you land.  The hotel shuttle may seem to be the best option, but often times taking a local bus can be a fraction of the cost.

In San Jose, Costa Rica, it appears that buses are plentiful from the airport to the city, as are taxis.  Using Wikitravel is smart, and will usually give an overview of your options and their costs.  I’m not going to book the hotel shuttle for $30, as it appears that a taxi is less than that at $25 and a bus is even cheaper at less than $1.  A few minutes of googling later, it appears that the bus runs down the central road in the city, Paseo Colon.  I plotted my hotel in relation to that road, and know that if I take the bus, I must keep an eye out for the Calle 7 street stop.

3.  Activities: Unlike bookings made for the US or Western Europe, you can usually book same-day for activities in the rest of the world.  This has been my experience in Asia, Australia, South America and Central America. You’d never want to assume this is the case, so try to get a sense of the types of activities that are offered and how many providers seem to be offering them.  If it appears there are lots of options, you may be better off waiting until you arrive to book.

The hotel we are staying at by the Arenal Volcano offers TONS of activities, and my feeling is that I can probably also reserve things once I arrive in the town and not through the hotel.  That said, we are dying to do the zipline and I’d hate for that to be sold out during our limited time there.  So, even though I could have found it for cheaper once on the ground, I contacted the hotel via web chat (increasingly common – love it!!) and booked a 2:15pm zipline tour in a matter of minutes.

4.  Food: Let’s get down to business – activities and food are really the only things that matter while traveling.  Travel boards like BootsnAll or Afar Connect can really help you out, as can frantic googling or a guidebook.  I’m pretty leery of guidebooks in this department though, as I’ve definitely found that even the most up-to-date guidebook is out-of-date when it comes to restaurants.

5. Quick Facts: For all trips, its a great idea to research quick facts about the country or city.  My quick list of facts is:

Hopefully if your destination has a visa requirement, you’ve looked this up when first booking the trip!  Even if you don’t need a visa though, that doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re not going to have to pay an entry or exit fee.  Look to the entry and exit requirements on the State Department Website for all requirements for US citizens.  For Costa Rica, there is a $26 departure fee for visitors – best to make sure you still have that cash on you by the time your vacation comes to an end.

Well, that’s pretty much the bare minimum amount of research you can do to book a trip.  Are there any key aspects I’ve missed?  Please share below!

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2 Responses to “Tips for Vacation Planning in the Fast Lane”

  1. October 20, 2011 at 12:26 pm #

    Could be helpful to see if your bank is available and/or where the best places for currency exchange are. Some places will totally charge you an arm and a leg in fees!

    • chandradigregorio
      October 20, 2011 at 5:35 pm #

      Yes! Always a good idea…HSBC is usually great for Europe and Asia especially, as they have locations everywhere. Bank of America has many partners outside the US, meaning you can use their ATMs with no fees — usually this is for Europe, Australia or the Caribbean islands.