I am glad that you asked. I’ve received quite a few inquires over time about the process for planning my trips. So here is a sneak peek.
I have a million apps on my phone that support my travel addiction. My go to are Hopper, Booking, Viator and Trip Advisor. Hopper is an application that I can search flights and in my experience they are cheaper than the airline websites. What I love about Hopper is I can input the dates of my trip and it will tell me if I should purchase or wait for a better price. One of the things that I do when it tells me to purchase….is purchase. But I keep the search set up after purchase to monitor if the fight drops. This is just my way of reinforcing my choice, sort of a check and balance. Even if I don’t know where I am going initially, I can set up trip alerts to all the places I want to go and as soon as a ticket seems reasonable I will purchase. I don’t think Google Flights has an app yet, but they have feature called explore map. Within explore you don’t have to set your destination. However, you can select price range, dates, stops, and flight duration. I actually used this for my trip this upcoming weekend. Then I went to Hopper and purchased the trip lower than advertised on Google Flights and airline website.
Once I have secured a ticket, my next step is to peruse the Booking app for hotels. Now listen, I have tried hostels here and there but I am always mad at myself when I do that. In fact, I have checked out a hostel before. Like, I couldn’t bring myself to sit on the bed. I just knew I would walk away with bedbugs. Simply put, I am hotel girl. I need a four walls with a door, windows, bathroom, shower, bed… a room to my damn self. Also, if you want a single room at a hostel the rates are always higher than hotels. I grew up as an only child so I might have loner characteristics. I feel like hostels are for people who need other people around them.
Here are a couple of my mandatory filters on Booking:
- 8+ rating
- Breakfast Included (optional as I struggle to eat breakfast)
- Lift (Elevator)
- Property Type (Hotel)
- Airport Shuttle Free (optional)
- Only show available properties
Once I set up my filters then I am ready see what properties are available. As I scroll through, the ones that seem to stand out are Today’s Value Deal, no prepayment needed and free cancellation. Also, when the taxes and charges are included in the price listed, that’s a winner. My next step is to look at the map and determine the distance from airport, center city, main attractions and public transportation. The best feature is the detailed reviews from travelers. For most of my travels I am filtering what other solo travelers had to about their stay. My main questions are as follows: Is it clean?, Is it in a safe neighborhood?, Is it convenient? I can usually narrow it down to about 4-5 properties that meet my standards based on the reviews. The next step is to go to the official website of the properties and determine if the Booking price is similar to their published price. The official website gives you a really good glimpse or feel for the hotel. If the price is cheaper on the hotel website, then that is where I will reserve instead of Booking.
At this point I have a flight (or multiple depending on trip) and hotel(s). The next step is to determine transport from airport to hotel. The time that I am arriving does impact my final choice. If it’s night I do not use public transportation as a safety precaution. I don’t really care how safe the place is considered. Application based transportation is great because I can typically share my trip with my dad. He can see the route and when I arrive at the hotel. I first look to see if there is a bus, subway or sky train and the closest stop to the my hotel. If that does not make sense, I will check out other options such as Uber, Welcome (which I love!), Taxi Beat, It Taxi or Pick Me which are all app based. My last choice is the local taxis. Honestly they tend to over charge. Speaking of that, while I was in Athens I used Beat (dirt cheap). I was about to get into my car and a yellow taxi, which was in an area where you would hail a taxi, rolled up on my driver and straight cussed him out about picking me up. My driver was trying to explain that I was a Beat customer. I was just standing in the middle of the two cars like WTF! My driver was like get in the car! Just know there are many options for transportation. Additionally, I download any mass transportation apps for offline use (this is valuable).
Itinerary and Travel Inspiration
Over the next few days I will try to build my itinerary. This is where the real work and research happens. I’ve found that there are many travel groups on Facebook. With the search feature within a group it is very easy to locate your travel destinations. People are out here traveling and sharing their knowledge of do’s and dont’s, where to go, what to eat, how to pack, etc. I really appreciate that and I reciprocate it much as I can. So here are my favorite travel groups and where I draw inspiration for my itinerary:
- Black Travel Movement
- Sisters Traveling Solo
- Up In the Air Life
- Melanin Globe
- Girls Love Travel
- Curvy (Girls Love Travel)
- Black Americans Living Abroad
People in these groups share their drivers, tour operators, hotels, sights, excursions and Amazon links to their outfits. Yep, that’s how I am going to find the perfect dress for a special vacation this summer. You can plan a whole trip based off the suggestions listed in those groups for free! When I tell you that one of my trips this summer was solely planned based off the numerous recommendations of a driver people used and how he scheduled everyday for pennies on the dollar….You can’t beat that.
As far as Instagram, I follow quite a few travelers, bloggers, and influencers. They always have dope content with great places to visit. So here are few people to follow:
- @thecatchmeifyoucan (by the way she has almost completed her journey to visiting every country in the world)
I know that’s a lot but they all bring a valuable perspectives to travel. Some are for location, others hotels, solo travel, photography and so many other factors. Without them I wouldn’t even think of or know about some places to visit. Once I have itinerary ideas from Facebook and Instagram, I go to Viator and Trip Advisor to look for tours, day trips, wine tastings, cooking classes etc. Most recently I’ve started to look for in home dining through EatWith. If you want authentic food and conversation, check out the website or app. Also, believe it or not doing a pub crawl on your first night in a new city is the best way to get acquainted with your surroundings. The Hop on Hop Off tour is a mandatory for me if it is offered. That’s the easiest way to see major sights.
I have a travel notebook and this is where I write out each day that I will be in a location. I start to write in what I may want to do based on the research and recommendations. I need to know how long it would take to get to a location, suggested time to visit and number of hours needed. There is a lot of back and forth during this time because I really trying to build the best trip experience. After I feel like it is a solid itinerary, I transfer it to a Google document and share it with my dad. He likes to keep up with me! If you are a solo traveler, please share your itinerary with someone. If you don’t have an itinerary, let someone know the general area.
I tend to overpack, but I am doing a lot better. I have four options:
- A rolling suitcase (that has to be checked)
- A rolling carryon suitcase
- A carryon backpack (Osprey Porter 30 – just purchased and so excited to use it)
- A backpack (Eagle Creek -that has to be checked)
The option I select is based on the number of days I will be gone and the cost of checked baggage. I go back and forth because sometimes I just don’t want to be bothered with luggage while sitting in the airport. Other times I just want to get off the airplane and go to my transportation. But, since moving abroad I have found that many airlines give two free checked bags off the top. Budget airlines will always nickle and dime you. I probably start to pack about three weeks before my trip. This gives me time to put items in, remove and then put them back again. It’s a process. I look at the the forecast during my trip. I also add the location to weather on my phone.
In Flight Entertainment, Snacks and other Necessities
Here is my checklist of items needed for a smooth flight:
Ipad (with plenty of games, music, podcasts and e-magazines)
Portable Charger (20,000 mah, 10 hours with two USB plugs)
Current Book (ebooks do not work for me)
Gum, Mints, Crackers and other goodies
Stainless Steel Insulated Water Bottle
Melatonin (overnight flights longer than 3 hours)
Neck pillow and eye mask
Personal Seatbelt extension (Airlines cut damaged seatbelts, so there is not a standard size.)
I am intentionally not talking about budget. When it comes to money, I think that is personal to each of us. All of us have different means to travel. What I can do you may not be able to and what the next person can, I may not be able to do. So travel the way you can afford to travel. I would say the one area that I really lack in planning is travel insurance. Recently I have been looking into Travel Nomads and Allianz or using my credit card to book trips since it will cover emergencies or cancellations. Speaking of credit cards… I don’t use my credit card to pay for flights, hotels, tours, etc. Maybe I’m old school, but if I don’t have the cash in my checking account, then the trip is not for me. With that being said, moving abroad supports my habit. I am much closer to many destinations…. and well I no longer have a mortgage (or pay for housing) and a transport and coaching stipend on top of my salary makes it much easier.
Final thoughts about travel
The last three apps that I love are Countdown, FlightView and XE Currency. Countdown is a neat way to keep track of how many days left to my next voyage. Within the FlightView app I can keep all my flights in one place. XE Currency allows you to get the most up to date currency conversion rates.
Additionally, don’t forget your international plugs. I have one that covers every country and USB slots (ahhhmazzing).
I have included as many links as possible for you to access the resources I use. My hope is that this will help those of you who really want to get out there and see the world, but have no idea where to start.
In case you stumble across my blog, feel free to follow me on Instagram @jetsetmelanin2018. I try to my best to keep the content travel related, but you will catch glimpses of my life and thoughts as well.
Cheers (because that what you say as an expat),