Image taken from Wikitravel.com
The weekend is already on its last day. Man, they go by too quickly, even when I’m spending most of it chilling on the couch — either with friends or my laptop.
There’s a whole lot of fun we do on our off time, but the one thing most expat teachers (at least in the UAE) have in common is we spend a lot of time planning our next trips. Check out our internet history and you’ll see an ungodly amount of flight-deal searches. It’s almost pornographic how much we voyeur into potential voyages.
As soon as I know I have days off coming up, I’m on it (hahaha sometimes a year in advance). Since most of my trips are long weekend trips, I usually start off planning by scanning for a deal — groupon (yes they have great travel deals, although I have yet to buy one), Cobone (a local version of Groupon), Kayak, Skyscanner, Googleflights (although I’ve only used this for ideas), etc. Then I chat with friends who’ve been there, check for visa requirements and costs, book it, and go. Easy, peasy.
The longer vacations take a bit more work. Currently, I’m in the midst of booking the bits and bobs of Joe’s and my future trip to Iceland (in 10 more weeks, but whose counting). Iceland has been a bit more of a challenge for me because of its cost and unpredictable weather (hello Arctic winds!). There’s so much we want to see, but within our timeframe (12 days) and limited wallet, we’ve got to narrow it down. So, what I do in a case like this is I google the hell out of other people’s blogs, and I cross check their experiences with sites like TripAdvisor and Lonely Planet, and then I write the list of “holy shit we gotta do this!” and, then, logical me takes over and says, “bitch, let’s be real, are you really gonna be able to do all this?”
This time around other people’s blogs have played an integral role, and one of the things that has helped me most is their advice on how to plan, which of course made me realize that hey maybe I should share some of how I do this as well. Because I do this so much it feels like I’m writing the obvious, but if it’s helpful to anyone — yee haw! If not, hang in there folk, I’m sure I’ll have something new to write about next week (or I could tell you how we go about voting from overseas — in a nutshell we pay to mail our vote or drive to drop it off at the embassy — but this year’s election hurts too much to talk about, so probably not).
- Once I’ve (in my case it’s usually we) settled on a location (and this is after we checked out visa requirements, potential costs, etc.), I scan all the flight sites for the best flight deal. Experience has taught me best is not always the cheapest (and if you can get a good deal nab that higher-end airline flight — woo hoo I nabbed an Etihad one for my return flight). Kayak tends to be the one that lands me the best flight deals, but beware. Kayak sometimes takes you to other travel sites, which are not all created equally. Google those sites before you book and check their fees (some charge you extra for everything, including booking with a credit card!). I’ve had issues with some, and great experiences with others.
- Google travel blogs, if you’re old school and like something bigger than a phone in your hands buy guide books (although, in my case, I just bought the book to send to Joe), check out travel sites and WikiTravel, create your dream list. Then wake up the logical bitch and map out what you can afford (and what your body can handle). For the Iceland trip our must-dos: an ice cave hike (we shall see how I walk with crampons on), Glacier Lagoon area, Golden Circle, some of their famous waterfalls, Vik and black sand beach area, Christmas in a cabin in a remote area (InshAllah which includes a successful Northern Lights hunt), New Years Eve in the heart of Reykjavik, soaking in an outdoor thermal bath (Blue Lagoon is on the list for our last day, but we’re hoping to do another one somewhere else), and since we are a couple that spends too many months apart, one night in one of Iceland’s luxury hotels (we chose Ion Luxury Adventure; it was available and seemed more our style) and whatever else happens along the way.
- Book the tours, extra things you want to do. At first there were all sorts of tours I wanted to sign us up for, but logical bitch put me in my place. We decided renting a car and doing a lot of this on our own was our best bet. That said we weren’t going to go to Iceland in winter and NOT attempt an ice cave hike, so I googled the hell out of that and booked the one that we think works best for us. Mama is getting her fat ass on (and in) a glacier — much more doable than getting it in a dry suit and scuba diving between tectonic plates (seriously you can do this in the winter! alas it is no longer on my list).
- Map out journey and begin the lodging, rental car search. We’re exploring the south east coast, Reykjavik area, and a little bit of the west. We would love to do more of the west and northern parts, but it’s winter and we can only afford so much. Joe and I are rustic souls (that said I can also be a diva), so we’re good with lower-end accommodations (although lower-end price isn’t really a thing here). If it were summer time, we’d probably rent a camper, but it’s not, and we haven’t seen each other in quite a few months, so we went with a mix of apartments, cottages and hotel rooms that included our own bathrooms. It would’ve been cheaper had we included hostels or guest houses with shared bathrooms. So, for us we’ll have some nights out for dinner and some where we’re nuking leftovers, but we’re good with it — it’s what works for us. We’re also using a week to do what most people would probably do in about two or three days because we know we like to sit, stare and sigh at nature. But, we’ll be busy checking things out during those few hours when the sun is awake!
- Research nuances of where you’re going. For me the best part of travel is the stuff you don’t plan, unless it’s effing up by ignorantly violating a cultural norm. Then it’s just awkward or painful. Well, it’s sometimes awkward doing the local stuff as well, but that’s part of the deal. For example: I now know that we’ll get naked and shower with strangers before going into a thermal bath, and there’s something about not wearing your shoes in the locker room (will just watch and do what everyone else does). I also need to get the pin number for my credit card since we might need it to gas up, but I also read there’s these prepaid gas cards (we’ll figure it out, but I’ll have the pin in case). Joe is reading up on driving their winter roads since we both know it’s best I don’t drive narrow, icy roads (not that I couldn’t do it — I’d just rather take pics and not pollute the vehicle with loud profanity). Basically, get a taste of what you’re in for, so you can enjoy it versus being a bad tourist stereotype. We’ll learn how to say please and thank you in their language, but something tells me they’d rather we not mangle their words so badly (Amen! their English is probably better than ours).
- And last, but not least, research the basic stuff: what to wear, food and bevie costs (um, we’ll be doing a lot of pre-gaming before going out), etc.
And that’s pretty much how I spend my free time when I’m not whooping it up with friends, binge watching t.v. shows or reading a book on my chaise lounge. Okay and every once in a while my free time is also spent grading, but shhh we’re not talking work right now. Come on December, get here already!
Image taken from Wikipedia — oh Iceland how I’m dreaming of you (and, of course, my man).