Easy peasy, stress free travel planning – Part 4 (the finale)

 

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So it’s been so long since the Part 3 post, AGMA forgot where I was…

I think I was lecturing everybody about not sleeping with bed bugs.

Not a hard sell (I hope…)

The lodging piece is such a very important part of your travel experience.  It can make or break a trip.  And of course, you want it to make the trip…

…absolutely fabulous, darling!

For our upcoming trip to France (coming up really fast for an unprepared AGMA), we have booked a combination of small hotels and AirB&B’s.  It just all depends on the location, the cost and the parking situation as to what I booked.

We’re going to be traveling with another couple, so getting a two bedroom apartment through AirB&B in several cases was MUCH cheaper than booking two hotel rooms.

AGMA has had wonderful AirB&B experiences and would not hesitate to recommend using them if they make sense for your trip.  I truly believe that 99.9% of AirB&B hosts are NOT going to have a hidden camera in your room.  And if they do, they will be horribly disappointed with AGMA staying there.

Like watching paint dry…

IMPORTANT: ALWAYS read the reviews on any AirB&B’s you are considering.  A-L-W-A-Y-S.  And stay with a Super Host if you can.  These are folks who are…Super Hosts. Very smilier to Super Heros (can you tell I spent last weekend with the grands?), they give you a fantastic, heroic AirB&B exprience.

Our AirB&B host in Epernay, France last year had our fridge stocked with her own brand of champagne!

Eddie and Patsy, com’on over!

AGMA is a “thrifty” traveler. And I generally don’t like to pay for 100% of my lodging up front, which is how AirB&B used to work.  Booking with AirB&B all depended on the host’s cancellation policy (which you need to read and understand.).  With a flexible    policy, you can generally cancel several days before your trip and get a full refund minus the service fee.  Those are the ones AGMA liked to book.

Now, AirB&B has an option to pay 50% of the cost at the time of booking.  Yes please!  The balance is due something like 7 to 10 days before your stay.  Again, you need to pay attention to the date you will be charged for the balance.  It’ll automatically be put on your credit card.

But you still need to be aware of the host’s cancellation policy.  And AGMA still wants to only book the flexible ones!

Check in procedures for AirB&Bs can vary widely.  They will be posted by the host on your reservation which is why you need to have the AirB&B app on your phone so you can refer to them when you’re driving into town!

If you booked an entire apartment or studio, some hosts want to meet you to see how many tattoos and piercings you have (just kidding…sort of) and show you around the property.  This can make coordinating schedules a bit tricky between your travel and their schedule.   But we’ve always been able to make it work and actually enjoy meeting our hosts.

Other hosts give you a code and you get the key out of a lockbox so you can arrive at any time.

If you are renting a room in a home (which I have done on numerous occasions), you will always have to coordinate your schedule with your hosts.

On rare occasions, I have also booked lodging through Priceline or Hotwire.  If you haven’t used these two booking sites yet, they can offer incredibly cheap lodging at your destination, however you don’t know exactly where you’ll be staying until after you pay 100% in advance and book.  And the booking is non-refundable if you cancel.

Ugh.

With Priceline, you can “name your own price” for hotel.  If they accept your bid, again, you don’t know where you’ll be staying until AFTER you pay for your non-refundable booking.  There are bidding strategies to use in order to increase your chances of getting your bid accepted, but that is out of scope for this post.  Sorry…

Google “How to bid on Priceline” and you will get bidding strategies out the wazoo…

Clearly, this is a risky venture if you want to stay in a specific location at your destination or in a certain class of hotel.  Or both.  Both sites show you a radius of the area their hotels are located in, but it’s usually a pretty big radius.  And I’ve also found out that their hotel rating system doesn’t exactly agree with AGMA’s rating system.  Their 3 star hotel might be my 2 star hotel.  Bummer.

There’s a “helper” website called Betterbidding.com that can give you insights from other travelers on they hotels that Priceline and Hotwire are using in specific cities. Many times Better Bidding also has discount coupons for both sites.

AGMA used the Better Bidding site for researching bidding on a hotel in New Orleans because it’s such as walkable/scooterable city.  We got a killer deal at the Royal Sonesta  Hotel on Bourbon Street which would normally be waaaayyyy out of our price range.  It was a gorgeous hotel and we had a spectacular time!

I know that there are many more options for budget travel lodging like house swapping, house sitting, hospitality clubs, friends of friends of friends, Couchsurfing.com, but AGMA hasn’t done any of those so you don’t get to hear about them.

Sorry.

But if you’ve had any experiences with any of those, please comment – we’d love to hear about your adventures!

Every day’s a school day.

Happy travel ya’ll!!

P.S.  Can’t sign off without mentioning the devestating fire in Notre Dame.  I still can’t believe it.  USA tax deductible donations for her restoration can be made at www.notredamedeparis.fr or just Google “Friends of Notre Dame”.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Easy peasy, stress free travel planning – part 3 (where to ZZZzzz)

versaillesbedroom

You’re adventurous. You’re an explorer.  You’re daring.

You’re following AGMA’s travel advice which makes you VERY daring!

With your incredibly inexpensive Scotts Cheap Flights airline ticket tightly clutched in your sweaty palm, your itinerary set and your transport lined up, now it’s time to figure out where you will spend each night of your adventure.

Some people are totally ok with finding a place to stay each night on the fly.

On one hand, it allows for more travel spontaneity.  You aren’t tied down to a set schedule or list of destinations.

This is not AGMA.

While the idea of total travel freedom is indeed intoxicating,  I’m more concerned about knowing I’ll have a comfy place to lay my head at night that isn’t hosting a bed bug flash mob.

Being very left-brained, AGMA needs to plan.  And plan.  And plan.

Although as I’m getting older, I’m more willing to just sort of go with the flow EXCEPT where lodging is concerned.

IMPORTANT:  Start shopping for your lodging as soon as you figure out your itinerary.  You will have the best selection at the lowest prices if you do!

If you’re not on an escorted tour or a package tour (airfare/hotel/car provided), finding a place to stay each night is a big deal.

It’s a big deal because:

  1.  Location is important!  If you know you want to spend 90% of your time in central Paris walking around smelling croissants baking, you don’t want to stay 20 miles outside of the city.  You don’t want to have to take a 40 minute train ride into the city (and back) everyday with those yellow vest guys.
  2. Hospitality, comfort and cleanliness (HCC) is important!  Hosts who speak English.  No bed bugs. Not 4 floors up with no elevator.  No shared bathroom. Heat in the winter.  However you define hospitality, comfort and cleanliness…
  3. Cost is important!  If you travel on a budget like AGMA and Hubs, this is a big deal.  Lodging costs can quickly add up and bust your budget.  Very quickly.

As is true in every aspect of life, no one hotel/B&B will be perfect, fulfilling all of your criteria.

Damn…I hate it when that happens.

IMPORTANT:  Start shopping for your lodging as soon as you figure out your itinerary.  You will have the best selection at the lowest prices if you do!

As you research, you’ll find you’ll be constantly flip flopping between the importance/priority of location, HCC and cost.

For example, you might want to always stay in the core city.  But if you have a rental car, you might also want lodging with free parking (parking can be very $$ in central city areas) so might be willing to be a bit out of the city.  If you won’t have a car, you may be willing to pay a bit more for a centrally located hotel because you don’t want to have to take taxis, Ubers or public transit.

Years ago, Hubs and I wouldn’t blink to stay on the 3rd floor of a hotel with no elevator.  Now that he’s mobility impaired, we might do one flight of stairs, otherwise we need an elevator.  And because public transit is difficult for him, we tend to spend a bit more for lodging than in the past so we can be more central.  And we take more Ubers and taxis.

And again, your best friend in your lodging search will be Ms. Google.  Specifically Trip Advisor, AirB&B (or VRBO, etc), and Google Maps.

You’ll probably have a lodging budget (the “cost” component) unless you won the MegaMillions a few months ago.  If you did, please email me…

AGMA’s goal is always to average less than $100 per night for lodging (for 2) for a trip while meeting my HCC and location “goals” (give or take a bit).

I ALWAYS start out with TripAdvisor.

TA is sort of a clearing house for travel booking sites and gives you a general idea of hotel costs at your destination.  TA lists the costs of each hotel on Expedia and Orbitz and Agoda and lots of other sites. Clicking on one of those sites will take you out of TA and onto that travel booking site.  TA will also give you each hotel’s website and a map with the hotel’s location.

TA has a star “quality” ranking of hotels based on traveler reviews.  I estimate 80% of them are legit and I DO take time to read many of them if I’m interested in a specific hotel.  Also, you want to make sure there are recent reviews and they don’t all date back to 2017.  That’s suspicious…

And I’m always impressed when the hotels take the time to respond to reviewers.

So if I find a hotel in the general location I want, that is sort of in my price range, and has good reviews, I click on a few of the travel booking sites (like Booking.com or Expedia) to see how much it would cost to book with them.

BEWARE!!!  The cheapest prices are often “pay up front” deals meaning you pay when you book.  Some are non-refundable.  Some are refundable with advanced notice.  Read the fine print and cancellation policy before you book!

Often, you can get almost the same deal through the hotel website without paying in advance.  But not always.  Again, know when payment is required and read the cancellation policy.  I always prefer to book directly with the hotel, but will book through a travel booking site if it’s substantially cheaper (sometimes it is) and the reservation is cancellable with no penalty.

IMPORTANT:  Start shopping for your lodging as soon as you figure out your itinerary.  You will have the best selection at the lowest prices if you do!

Am I repeating myself…?

So what was supposed to be a single, helpful travel planning post has expanded to 3 very wordy posts.  And lucky you – AGMA still has more to say!

Part 4.  Soon.

Be there.

 

 

Keeping my day job

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AGMA loves to travel; ya’ll know that.

At some point last year, I declared on AGMA that I was done traveling for a spell.  I’d lost the joy of the planning to the stress of the planning.

Bummer…

Hubs and I used to take overseas tours that didn’t involve any planning with a value tour company.   They were normally no brainer, whirlwind tours with mornings often staring at 6 AM, but you got to see a whole lot of wherever you were.  And while the tour groups were larger (38 to 42 people), 98% of the folks were delightful and fun to be around.  The hotels were lovely and we found the tour guides excellent.  And we ALWAYS bought the tours when they were “on sale”.

Interesting factoid…did you know that travel goes on sale on Black Friday like everything else?  Sometimes you can snag an amazing travel bargain.

But alas…we can go on these types of value tours no longer.  Hubs genetic condition in his legs is slowly progressing and, although he can still walk slowly with a cane, he’s at the point where he needs a wheelchair or scooter to go any distance.

Bummer…

We have this awesome portable electric scooter (Ralph) that Hubs uses to get from here to there when we travel.  The seat comes off and the handle folds down to make it incredibly easy to stow and gate check.  And at 39 pounds, even a weakling like AGMA can lift and carry it.

It turns out that Ralph or a portable wheelchair are not welcome on traditional tour company tours.  WTF??

They say it’s because there isn’t room on the tour bus for mobility devices, but with a portable wheel chair that folds up flat and our offer to only take one suitcase between the two of us, we kinda figured out that “room” wasn’t the issue.

And tour companies that cater to those with mobility issues are priced way out of our price range.

Sooooooo…..

Most of our trips since 2016 have been AGMA planned and executed.

And they have been good.  Real good.

Because AGMA is an excellent travel planner.

Yeah – I said it.

I’m a left brained, ADHD, OCD detail oriented person who, despite having no Scottish ancestry, is as thrifty as they come.

So of course I plan fabulous trips that won’t break the bank!

But it is precisely because I’m a left brained, ADHD, OCD, detail oriented person who LOVES a great bargain that it takes many, many days to plan a 2 week trip.  Which is fine if you have nothing else to do…

That isn’t normally the case in my or most everybody’s life, so sometimes – most of the time – trip planning ends up being kinda stressful.

Total first world problem.

AGMA’s become a bit famous with her family, friends and acquaintances for her travel planning acumen.

I’ve had quite a few offers to “come along” on trips with friends/acquaintances to destinations I’ve already visited.  Seriously?

AGMA didn’t fall off the cotton truck yesterday…

I know the “come along” offer translates to “we expect you do all the planning and then be our tour guide when we get there.”  In the case of folks who are normally delightful, but would be absolute nightmares to travel with, I politely decline and offer to give some ideas for their trip.

With a smile.

They say you never really know anybody until you travel with them.  But with some people, AGMA knows absolutely for sure, for certain, even before setting one foot on a plane, that we would NOT be good travel companions.  Like oil and water.

Or more like gasoline and a flame thrower.

Some have suggested that I should hang a shingle out and help others plan their travel for a fee.

But honestly, AGMA can’t think if anything more nightmarish than travel planning for paying clients.  Well – I probably can, but this would be a close second.

It’s one thing to give friends and family pointers and tips on planning the perfect trip, and even some booking help now and then.  But when $$ gets involved, people tend to get a little cray cray.  They become unreasonable, demanding and just plain nuts.

Honestly, they couldn’t pay me enough.

With today’s technology, I’m sure I could figure out some way to leverage what I’ve learned so far about travel planning into some sort of business in the future.  That doesn’t involve dealing with the general public.

(shivers run down AGMA’s spine)

Right now, I think I’ll be keeping my day job.

There are 4 international jaunts AGMA’s trip hopper for 2019.  My head is spinning like the pea soup girl in The Exorcist.

So much for not traveling…

Two trips are easy peasy – short, and hotel/airfare/car pre-booked through an independent trip package.  These are packages booked through a travel operator but are not tours – the book your airfare, hotel and car (if you need one), but you are on your own for day to day activities.  And both are revisits to familiar places so we pretty much know what we’re going to be doing.

The other two trips are more challenging.

So while AGMA is in the throes of planning these two trips, I thought it might be fun to give you a view into the convoluted, demented and intensely OCD time consuming process I go through to end up with a fantabulous travel experience.

Not sure fun is really the word.

Tune in next week…