Friday, February 21, 2014

Planning a Big Trip With Little Time

I'm back after giving myself a long weekend off from blogging to do some other important things like cheer on my country and the Jamaican bobsled team in the olympics and work on planning my next adventure. This one is coming sooner than I thought, but I try to live by my advice to grab opportunities when they present themselves. That said, I'm going to Thailand in less that two weeks. Yes, you read that right, less than two weeks, and I just found out. So I thought I would take this opportunity to bring you on this journey with me from start to finish.

How do you begin planning for a trip of this magnitude with very little time?
In my opinion, it's best to start with the most expensive part of the trip and work backwards. In this case, and in most cases, it is the flight. Since I had no idea what I wanted to see or do in Thailand I began pricing every major international airport in the country from Seattle (where I have to depart). I checked several travel comparison sites first to get a feel for the ranges trying different date and time combinations. My usual go- to sites are Cheapoair, Cheaptickets and Kayak to start. From there I look at individual airlines. I also look at partner airlines to my frequent flyer accounts with the most miles. It's worth taking the time though because it could mean the difference of hundreds of dollars. I did this over several days and checked at different times of day because sometimes airlines adjust their prices by hundreds over the course of a day as well.

During this booking, however, I was faced with a decision I know my fellow travelers have to make all the time. Do I choose the airline where I have a healthy frequent flyer account and pay a bit more, or do I go with the cheaper option? After seeking some advice and crunching numbers galore, I decided to bite the bullet and go with the miles. Turns out that by the time I am finished with this trip I will have more than enough built up to fly pretty much anywhere in the world for free and possibly be upgraded. Win!

So the flights are booked, now what?
I went into traveler mode reaching out to my sources for Southeast Asian travel and started plotting out sample itineraries, looking at in-country transportation options and overall budget calls. I'm lucky I don't have a full time job right now because this stuff takes time. I scanned the tourism websites, but really focused on the reviews and blogs that people have written. You gotta go to the experts when you are out of your element, and Asia is out of my element. This will be my first foray into this region, and I want to do it right.

But wait! I forgot a really important piece of information that determined why I am going to Thailand in the first place.

Visa requirements and health concerns?
Originally Vietnam was the front runner for this trip, but after a little research I found that there are visa requirements that I just didn't think I had the time to navigate. Not wanting a repeat of my Tanzanian visa issues (see prior blog post) I opted for a country that didn't have a prearranged visa requirement if you are staying less than a month. It's also pretty important to check the CDC website and additional info on the State Dept. site to make sure all the little duckies are in a row and ready for travel. Sometimes countries have vaccination requirements, so checking on those things really come before booking a flight.

Simultaneous Planning
The bulk of my budget has been spent on flights (7 to be exact), and I have found out that there are no health or visa requirements. There are also no warnings from the State Dept. either despite ongoing riots in Bangkok. On to the fun stuff.

I only have about eight days in the country, so a lot of my initial ideas about what I wanted to do had to be cut. You just can't do it all, and the elephant sanctuary in Chiang Mai had to go. But going island hopping was definitely in. Complete itinerary will follow shortly as more pieces come together.

One of the biggest differences with planning a big trip in a little time is that everything has to happen simultaneously. Planning, booking, communicating with travel partners, prep (like shopping for random travel items) and actually traveling.  I don't have a car right now, so when I was visiting Tim's parents this weekend, I made sure to grab a couple things like bug spray, travel sized febreeze and a mini first aid kit while we were out. That's all the shopping I'm planning on doing though.

It's a whirlwind kind of a trip, but I know it will be worth it.

Why am I going to Thailand? Why not?