Welcome to a new series on SilverSpoon London on luxury travel tips and planning for amazing adventures. Regular readers will know that meticulous planning goes into our big luxury travel adventures and I thought I’d start off my new series with a post sharing the process that I use to plan our trips from the initial idea to planning the finer details.
1. Choosing where to go
There are several ways that we choose where to go:
- I just really want to go there – Generally I will get fixated on visiting a particular destination (remember I’m a type A) and when it comes to our longer trips such as South Africa, Australia and our ill-fated upcoming trip to Brazil and Peru I’ll be determined to go there and see the destination as throughly as possible. Basically ticking things off the bucket list gets priority.
- Air miles and flight availability – Mr S and I purchase most of our flights using British Airways Avios or air miles. To get the best value out of our air miles we almost always use them to buy business or first class flights for our long haul journeys. Though due to the availability of seats, you need to be flexible with dates but flying with air miles has enabled us to get low-cost business class flights to Singapore, Thailand, the USA and St Lucia for example. When I see an air miles flight that is of interest to me I often buy it and figure out the details later.
- For an event or family trip – Over the last few years Mr S and I have combined holidays with special events abroad such as Israel for Mr S’s sister’s wedding, Cannes for my father-in-law’s birthday and our upcoming trip to Florence for my best friend’s wedding. These group trips have been wonderful opportunities to spend an extended period of time with our friends and family and generally I do less planning as I know (as hard as it can be for a Type-A like me) I need to be more flexible.
For this post I’ll be focussing more on our bigger trips which include multiple cities and stopovers and writing about how I put them together.
2. How long shall I go for?
Depending on the availability of air miles sometimes the duration of our trip is already preset and I work around that but if we’re paying for the flights outright there’s a bit more flexibility.
When planning a longer trip I generally try to incorporate a visit to the city, the countryside or mountains and the beach so Mr S can have a bit of relaxation time. First I begin to research whereabouts I might want to visit within that location, what we want to see and do and how much time we should dedicate to spending there. This is when the spreadsheet creation starts! Here’s an example of how I set out my spreadsheet:I begin by putting some arbitrary dates into a spread sheet and figuring out how I can make the most of the time in a particular location and getting a balance between seeing everything that we want to see but not spreading ourselves too thinly. At this point I usually check internal flights to see if they’re regular and I can make them fit in with our itinerary; for example when planning our Brazil and Peru trip I had to juggle the dates quite carefully as some flights or trains didn’t go everyday.
Once I have an idea of dates and timings, I begin working on costs. I will look at my favourite luxury travel websites (which I’ll write about it detail in my next travel tips post) to choose the very best hotels and exactly where we want to stay. Choosing a hotel is really important to me as I think it can totally effect the overall experience of the trip – I haven’t always got it right but thorough research means I usually do! I then work out how much these will cost for the amount of time that we want to stay there and input that into the spreadsheet. I also put in other details that I know for sure such as flights and major excursions into the spreadsheet to get an overall idea of cost. I then present this to Mr S and await the go-ahead…
Once I have a schedule and budget it’s time to book! Some of the very special hotels that we’ve stayed in such as Singita Boulders, Longitude 131 and The Four Seasons Golden Triangle have very limited availability – some only 12 rooms – so I make sure I book those very far in advance. Otherwise I have several different ways of booking:
- I book straight through the hotel website – I quite like doing this as it gives me full control over our stay with no fears that something might have been booked wrongly.
- I book hotels individually through an advisor or concierge – I’ve recently starting using Virtuoso agents to book hotels for me as this can give you extra perks. For example an agent booked The Viceroy in Bali for myself and Mr S and we got an upgrade to the best room in the hotel. I’ve booked our Florence hotel through a different Virtuoso agent and the booking includes an upgrade if available, a welcome amenity, breakfast and spa credit. I also like booking this way as I trust the agents that I work with and it’s great to get the extras.
- Going through a travel agent – I very rarely use a travel agent, mostly because I’m controlling but also because I think they include hidden costs. However, sometimes where flight schedules are complicated or the hotel only takes bookings through agents, I have gone ahead and used one. We used an agent to book Bora Bora for our honeymoon and I used an agent to help me with South Africa as the trip was quite complex. Where I have used an agent I try to choose a specialist who knows the destination inside out – for South Africa I found the agent through one of our hotels and I checked their background on Tripadvisor reviews.
- Working with PR companies – Full disclosure: as a blogger from time to time I have complimentary stays or media rates in hotels. I’m very meticulous in how I organise this as I want to work on a mutually beneficial basis to give the hotel blog coverage and social media that equals the cost of the stay. I am always honest in these reviews and I always disclose when a stay is complimentary.
Once something is booked whether it’s a hotel or a flight, I highlight it in a different colour on my spreadsheet and add in any extra information such as timings.
5. Working out the finer details
Once all the major specifics are in place I start to think about finer details such as tours and excursions and restaurants. Very special restaurants such as The Test Kitchen in South Africa and The French Laundry in Napa Valley need to be booked far in advance and I make sure I do this as soon as possible to avoid disappointment. Generally I will look through my trusted sources, websites and blogs as well as personal recommendations and the hotel concierge to find out the best restaurants in the area and I nearly always book in advance. It might seem a bit OTT but you can always cancel as restaurant if you can’t make – but it can be very frustrating to not get a booking if you leave it to the last-minute. Once a restaurant or excursion is booked, I enter it into my spreadsheet and highlight it to show it’s confirmed.
I know I seem super-organised and a little militant but this is what works for me and allows me to see the very best of a particular destination. I also make sure I print out my spreadsheet and every ticket and keep them in a travel wallet so that everything is keep together as we move along on our trip.
For my next luxury travel tips post I’ll cover research and websites and resources that I use to find the very best hotels, restaurants and excursions. If there’s anything in particular you’d like to see in this series let me know in the comments below.
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