When you plan a trip, you want it to be wonderful. But sometimes that desire for your vacation to be wonderful can cloud your senses a bit, turning a very practical person into a dreamer who imagines themselves doing all sorts of magical things in a foreign land.
Don’t be that dreamer. It’s really important that you manage your expectations when you plan a trip. Don’t assume everything will be great just because you want it to be. You are paying good money for your trip and you’re taking precious time to enjoy it. So do your due diligence ahead of time, as if you are preparing your taxes and you’re really, really scared of being audited and ask the right questions of the company you’re buying the trip from.
Here are a few specific queries to get you started when you’re looking at a brochure or a website that’s promising you all sorts of goodies on your journey.
- “Airfare included:” Buyer beware. What does that really mean? Will you only get your flights confirmed at the last minute or will it be way ahead of time so you can plan accordingly? Will you have to change planes three times? Can you select your own seats ahead of time or will you find out at the airport that you’re stuck in a middle seat for 11 hours that doesn’t recline? You may be better off buying your own flights if you’re going to suffer terribly because you’re getting a heavy, so-called discount.
- While you’re at it, watch the transfer times if you are connecting flights. Is there just 20 minutes to hop on the next jet, meaning you have to run like the devil to get to it, or will it be eight hours until the next plane leaves, causing you to miss an entire day of vacation?
- “Luxury hotel stay:” The most abused word in travel is “luxury.” Some proprietors feel comfortable using it if their guestrooms have a bed and a private bath in them. Ask how big your room will be and where the hotel is located in town. Are you going to be on the outskirts where you can’t access any of the main attractions or thoroughfares without crossing a highway? Or is it in such a seedy area you end up piling your suitcases against the door and sitting awake all night ready to defend yourself when a drunken gang decides to break into your room? Just saying.
- In some countries, the phrase “five star” is used as freely as “luxury.” There might not even be a hotel rating in that country and so five-star is in the mind of the hotel owner who just wants to sell you a room. Another pointer? In Europe, hotel rooms can run pretty small. The culture there for a long time has been that the room is not that important for travelers who plan to be out and about, touring around. And often the buildings hotels are housed in are older and don’t allow for heavy-duty expansion. For this reason, you might want to upgrade to a suite if you can if you plan on spending a fair amount of time there.
- “Transfers included.” This is usually a good thing because you don’t want to be stuck trying to get a cab in a strange land where you don’t know the language or the monetary system. But what type of vehicle is included in your transfer? Is it, perhaps a private car or is it a van with broken seats that has to be filled up with eight other people coming in from flights that are landing hours after yours? Not a good way to get to that luxury hotel that’s described above.
- “Ocean view.” If you learn just one thing from this column, it should be that “ocean view” at a hotel does not mean “ocean front.” You might want it to and you might be imagining yourself staring directly at the water from your room when you wake up each morning. Not so fast. Ocean view means you can see water somehow, some way when you are in your room. This might mean you’re overlooking a parking lot and turning your head very far to the right and leaning out the window a little before get even a glimpse of the blue stuff.
- “Resort view” at a hotel can mean anything. It could be that parking lot, it could be the building next door. It could be a really nice view of the gardens or it might not be. “Run of house” means you’re going to get whatever is available at the time. Again, this could be good, or it could be bad. Just don’t dazzle yourself into thinking it’s going to be amazing until you know for sure what you’ve been assigned. (P.S.: Don’t be afraid upon check-in to ask the front desk manager if they can give you a room that’s special somehow, maybe something high up or with a great view. If you’re polite, smiling and sincere, you might catch the person at the right moment and end up with something slightly beyond the ordinary offerings).
- “All-inclusive:” Another abused phrase in travel land, this can mean that the bed is included in your hotel stay or it could mean that all three meals are included. Are drinks a part of the deal? You must read the fine print to know what you’re paying for or else you may find yourself nickel and dimed for your entire journey that you thought you’d totally prepaid.
- Be aware of hidden fees: Watch small print that says, “resort fees not included.” This is a charge that tricky hoteliers have learned to add on that is just money to their bottom line. If you’re not careful, you might find yourself paying upwards of $20 a day for the use of lounge chairs and towels at the pool. I once had a resort charge on a hotel bill that included use of the guestroom telephone. This wasn’t for calls, mind you, just the fact that there was a phone in my room. We straightened that out at check out straight away.
- A final word to the wise: Any time you ask yourself, “How bad can it be?” as an excuse to not do heavy-duty research for your vacation, remember, it can be very, very bad in ways you can’t even imagine until you’re there. Be savvy and street smart and protect yourself so that your precious time and money are well spent.
For more travel tips, subscribe to The Informed Traveler, available on Kindle for 99 cents an issue. You can also visit the blog section of Luxury Travel Advisor for great insights and follow me at www.twitter.com/RuthanneTerrero