The year is nearly at an end, and that typically means thinking about the year ahead. I don’t have any concrete travel plans, aside from a trip to Scotland to watch the Open in July. I ask myself what do I want do, where do I want to go, even what type of holiday would I like.
My friend has asked me to accompany her to South Africa for three weeks which would leave little money for other trips, amazing as it would be. Costa Rica has been on my wish list for a while, on the other hand I am considering moving jobs this year and it would be more convenient to take shorter more impromptu trips. A friend I met travelling many years ago is visiting the Greek islands in the summer; it would be nice to catch up for a week.
The short answer is that I really don’t know where my travels will take me next year. It’s all quite exciting and the reality is I really enjoy planning holidays, even if I don’t follow them all through. I have book shelves lined with Lonely Planet guide books, too many for places I planned to but still haven’t visited.
It has made me think about how I plan my holidays, and how this has changed in the past 15 years, for many reasons.
I am more structured now, I like to plan more than my 18 year old self would have done. I will always have my accommodation planned before leaving home, research easily identifies what is popular, whether there are any activities I need to book before I travel or can I book on the day. I am still easy going, but gone are the days of rocking up in a place with only a few nights booked and working everything else out as I go along. What was once the excitement of the unknown now feels akin to arriving at a hotel and finding out your week long booking has only been booked for two nights in error and everywhere else is full.
I spend more time learning about potential destinations, this in itself is enjoyable and informative.
I recall a four night trip to Tallinn in January many years ago. I arrived having booked a hotel and return flight, not really giving much thought to anything else (I’d bought a Lonely Planet guide book). So it turned out that Tallinn, while very pretty, is not the best winter destination for four nights. Even with a day trip to Helsinki, it was very poorly planned and I spent the last day in the pubs as soon as they opened. I have learnt the hard way the benefits of spending time learning as much as possible about a place.
Choosing my accommodation now means looking at the higher rated hotels on TripAdvisor, eventually making a choice based on the location, rating and cost. It can be quite time consuming, but the benefit is definitely worth the extra effort. It has been a gradual transition, but this is a far cry from opening up Hostelworld, looking at the price, making sure the rating was ‘alright’ and checking a few reviews without really being all that bothered. Do not get me wrong, many of my favourite stories are from hostels and I would do it all over again – very few exciting stories start with “I was sitting in a hotel bar on my own, reading my Kindle…”. It is a simple fact that my tastes have changed.
I actually research pubs and restaurants. Okay, I have always found the decent pubs and bars, but restaurants, nope. This is two fold. First, I increasingly enjoy dining as I get older, not that I don’t still love a greasy pizza or takeaway kebab but I don’t visit Budapest to eat in Burger King. Second, learning that local cuisine is not usually ‘authentic street food’ geared towards tourists, it is the restaurants or food markets where you will find local people going out for dinner. ‘Street food’ really needs to be dropped from the travellers vocabulary, it is not synonymous with authenticity or local cuisine.
I think I have changed for the better. While my plans may not be as flexible as they once were, knowing more about a destination gives me more enjoyment and I don’t run the risk of missing out because I didn’t take the time or effort to find out. I am not sure whether anybody else has found how they approach holidays has changed over time, but I think it comes with age, wisdom and experience (and less willing to take risks).