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How Do You Execute on DIY Travel?
Old 08-17-2014, 11:02 AM   #1
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How Do You Execute on DIY Travel?

After having seen quite a posts here about how someone has planned to go to a certain location and get from place to place and do this list of things, that got me wondering how these plans first came about and how they were solidified.

There are probably some experienced travelers that might just say "I knew I wanted to do this, so I simply booked it". But let's take previous experience out of the picture. Let's just say all you had was a desire to do some interesting travel that lasts about 3 weeks and doesn't cost too horribly much.

So I imagine it starts as an idea (i.e. I'd like to experience Oktoberfest). So now you have a range of dates and a location. Booking air transportation seems straight forward, so let's say you fly right to Munich.

You "do" Oktoberfest and Munich in a few days, so you'll need ground transportation, hotel, plans for which beer garden to attend, tickets for events, other things to do while there, etc. Of course I could book air and hotel in 15 minutes, but would it be the right day? Would it be the right hotel? What would someone who went there before say I did wrong already, after only booking air and hotel?

Now that I've recovered from the beer, I want to take in some other sights, and figure I'd like the freedom that driving a rental car would afford. How do I know that I can even rent a car over there with my US drivers license? Or is a rental car a really dumb thing to attempt to do?

Maybe it would be nice to see the sights from a train (maybe there was a gotcha in the rental car agreement saying certain distance or countries were out of bounds). How do you find out what the interesting train routes would be?

These are just hypothetical questions; I don't want an answer to any of them specifically, but how would these questions be answered when one is planning a trip? A book? Find someone who's itinerary looks good and copy it? It just seems like there are so many variables and not many constraints.

My travel planning background has been limited: short and sweet trips (due to having been chained to megacorp's stingy vacation policies); fly in and out of the same place and stay in one hotel...simple. And cruises, which also don't really count, since planning them is also simple.

My travel style when doing road trips in the US is to NOT do hotel pre-booking, but usually we have a single destination (to stay with family) and don't do much of anything along the way. I'm not very good at improptu things (tend to shy away from spending time and money on something I haven't got at least a little background on).

That was more of a wandering question than I intended, but the core question is in the thread title. What, besides your own experience, are the tools, resources and processes one would use to put together a longish trip that will get you a reasonable bang for you buck and get you some travel memories worth having.
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Old 08-17-2014, 11:43 AM   #2
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The internet has so much data related to travel that if anything you could get overwhelmed.

My approach is that I start with a rough idea of what I want to do and for how long and then I google away. One site I tend to like is tripadvisor. You can get others opinions on the best things to do in each city and see pics. You can also get hotel and B&B recommendations.

Sometimes I will have a particular question, like best way to get from point A to point B (should I drive or train) and if you google the question - chances are that someone else asked the same question on some forum (like fodor's or lonely planet or rick steves). If not, you can post your own question to any forum and people are always willing to give advice. Even posting on FIRE gives travel advice. I will also google others itineraries to see what other people do.

Once I am done researching I will typically book the end points (like where I am flying in , where I am departing back home, and 1 night hotel stay at each book end. I will often use sites like Kayak that searches many sites to find the best airline deal. Then I will map out a tentative plan for where I want to go and in what order, what I want to do at each stop, and sometimes I will include a couple options for places to stay. I will also ask locals for recommendations as I travel.

I try and keep my plans as flexible as possible in case I choose a different route based on talking with locals or if I like or dislike a location more than I expected. Also, if weather is not cooperating then you can stay an additional day.

If I am traveling in the US I like to use hotwire to find last minute deals on nice hotels and I use sites like hotels which I can search from my mobile as I travel. If I am traveling abroad I have used other sites like lastminute or wotif.

My wife does not like searching the internet, so while I am doing that, she will often go to the library and check out books (like lonely planet or fodor's) on the locations we plan to visit. We combine our ideas from the research.

If you plan to stay for a while somewhere - there are sites like VRBO and homeaway to find rentals (as opposed to hotel hopping). That saves you money but then you need to plan more since often you need to book in advance. I also love B&Bs since you get to meet locals who are often keen to give you advice and get more immersed in the culture. Often for the same price of a hotel you get breakfast. So, I will google B&Bs either before I go or as I go. Many locations in the world also have centers in town that will help you with plans.

Hopefully some of these tips help ...
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Old 08-17-2014, 12:32 PM   #3
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If you are unfamiliar with the countries involved, I'd go to the library and pick up a couple of different travel guides to review. Usually the first few chapters are an overview and give you the details on things like feasibility/issues with rental cars, other transport options, etc. There are lots of different flavors of guides - Lonely Planet is into budget and adventure, Fodors and Frommers are more traditional. Rick Steves is great for Europe. Find the ones that fit your style and use them as background resources before hitting the internet.

Have fun!
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Old 08-17-2014, 12:59 PM   #4
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Watch episodes of Rick Steves for free on Hulu or online for areas you are interested in. He's pretty good at covering some of the practical aspects as well as what "not to miss" in a given area. http://www.ricksteves.com/watch-read.../video/tv-show

I spent a lot of time browsing Tripadvisor. You often run across people's trip reports and ideas. You'll discover what things kind of go together - if you are going to X location, what else in the area is worth doing.

I worked out a general itinerary of where we wanted to go, and what to see in order to establish how many days we needed in each place, and only then did I look at the travel to and from US.

We also looked at weather issues at the destinations to decide which months might be best.

Another good source of ideas is reading itineraries from various tour companies.
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Old 08-17-2014, 01:01 PM   #5
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My imagination is often sparked by something I have read or heard about in the news. Google is your friend. Trip Advisor is also a great resource.

Of course there is the time honoured method of talking to people who have been there. My visit to South America was sparked partly because I was working with several South Americans. Of course they had great suggestions.

Another source of ideas is to Google tours to the region of interest. The itineraries will often showcase locations and activities that you were not previously aware of. You can then look for alternative ways to do those things.

When planning a trip to a new country I also check the government travel advisories.
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Old 08-17-2014, 01:09 PM   #6
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I think you need to watch this episode. Somehow I missed this one:
Munich and the Foothills of the Alps – Rick Steves' Europe TV Show Episode | ricksteves.com
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Old 08-17-2014, 01:25 PM   #7
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Google is your friend. Trip Advisor is also a great resource.

Another source of ideas is to Google tours to the region of interest. The itineraries will often showcase locations and activities that you were not previously aware of. You can then look for alternative ways to do those things.

When planning a trip to a new country I also check the government travel advisories.
+1

I just do a crapton of googling. Sure, it can take HOURS of research - but by DIY, not only do you get to see a lot more of things than you would otherwise, but you're saving tons of money, which works out to a decent $/hour in savings.

Many people don't have the patience to spend hours comparing a handful of car rental places or hotels or reading reviews, or seeing what there is to do, etc.. Others simply want others to plan it out (and take a pre-arranged tour to hit the highlights).

I'm inclined to get exactly what I want to see and do, and am willing to suffer through a bit of research to find out what there is to see and do, when it's available, and to find out the price ranges.

Just using Google there are tons of resources (Trip Advisor, Hotwire, Priceline, various random blogs with comments). Because it's a lot more efficient to me to use Google and read summaries, I prefer that over using a resource like Rick Steve's or Lonely Planet or another book, just because it takes a bit of time to read each of those, versus a quick scan of dozens of sites w/ Google.

However, with some huge cities like Rome, NY, etc., I might try a resource like Rick Steve's, just because Google could be more than overwhelming in trying to sift through the millions of hits for a giant mega city, and a few good resources like RS could help greatly narrow your focus to fun things that might be off the beaten path a little, and still give you a great experience.
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Old 08-17-2014, 01:35 PM   #8
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These are great questions!
I guess now with the Internet offering so much information, the biggest problem is the sheer volume of info available, which makes analysis paralysis a really big issue.

What sparks my interest can be something really random, like hearing a story about Mongolia on NPR led me to plan a trip there in 2008, then reading a favorite blogger talk about the Mongol Rally led me to to the Mototaxi Junket in Peru and eventually our own rally run last year.
Inspiration comes from everywhere.

As for planning, that is almost the best part of a trip, at least for me. I start with books, reading on various blogs, and trying to find other folks who have done what I want to do. These interactions have sometimes wound up being the start of some enduring friendships. Adventure travelers are a small subset of travelers, and so can be super helpful for those who solicit their advice and suggestions.

And the advice to stay flexible, not worrying about picking the wrong place or hotel or whatever, is good--sometimes the best stories come from the unexpected or most trying parts of travel. Our best story from the rally was the nightmare of a time we had at the Kazakhstan border--what at the time seemed terrifying but became the most memorable of or experiences.

I admire you for stepping out of your comfort zone and trying new ways to travel. Whatever you do, pack your patience first, followed closely by a desire to let the trip unfold as it will.

Or you could just travel with us and put your life in my hands. I promise there's always room for you!
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Old 08-17-2014, 02:04 PM   #9
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I can also recommend the fodors.com message boards - tons of advice from experienced travelers that can help with itineraries and suggestions.
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Old 08-17-2014, 02:27 PM   #10
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Our trips to Europe is my vacation from driving as Ido all the driving in the US. We both love trains, and the busses and trams are usual great in Europe. So I look forward to that part of it and not having to worry about parking (which can also be expensive) or one way streets, confusing highway signs, directions, etc., that can often be a problem in European city old town areas. Europe is not as car friendly as the US, and short-term tourists really don't need one unless they are going way off the beaten path. Yes, you can rent a car with a US license, just make sure that you get full (liability) insurance coverage for Europe when you rent.

On booking hotels: Some people just go to the tourist office of the town when they arrive, and have them help locate a room. This scheme worked great for us in England decades ago when we stayed B&Bs (England has lots of B&Bs). You can also look at hotels a few days ahead online and book and even pre-pay for a discount. I did this on our last trip because we had some family events that made it impossible to reserve ahead. But I found trying to find a hotel a couple of days in advance online way too hectic and time consuming when I could have been out playing tourist or sleeping. So for this trip I have booked ahead (usually refundable) and I found that some of the hotels I wanted to stay at were already booked 4 months in advance!!! I always book directly with a hotel if I can rather than through booking.com or hotels.com because you usually get the same or better rate, but more importantly, if there is any kind of dispute or "lost" reservation, there is no go-between to blame.

I almost never make hotel reservations in the US. It totally depends on the destination and season. Europe is very popular with tourists so at some key destinations you want to visit you want to at least get an idea how heavily booked a given city is for a particular time period. This might help you refine your timing. Booking.com reports % reserved a city is for a given time period. But ignore their hyper "warnings" - they warn even when a given city is less than 25% booked - ridiculous! 78% booked? that suggests to make a reservation if you can or choose a different week to visit.

If you're trying travel for less in Europe - well that is a little difficult in Europe. It's a popular and expensive destination. People save money by staying at B&Bs and Inns instead of hotels, or even at hostels. B&Bs often operate on a cash basis. And they book up quickly in the larger cities because they are less expensive. Good luck finding one not already reserved in Amsterdam - there aren't just that many. Budget visitors also seem to stick to public transportation, as far as I have noticed.

Munich is really packed during Octoberfest. You may have to stay in the outskirts if you don't reserve ahead. But even if so, public transportation will make it easy to get downtown so that should be a non-issue.

Helpful advice from fellow travelers: Oktoberfest Hotels - Read reviews of 22 Hotels for Oktoberfest in Munich - TripAdvisor
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Old 08-17-2014, 02:29 PM   #11
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I can also recommend the fodors.com message boards - tons of advice from experienced travelers that can help with itineraries and suggestions.
Some of my question searches link to there. The Rick Steve's forum often pops up when I search on a topic. I've found some great tips on those forums.

Example of a topic of interest to you https://community.ricksteves.com/tra...um/budget-tips
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Old 08-17-2014, 02:30 PM   #12
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I second reading guidebooks. DW and I refquently buy a copy of the Rick Steve's guide for areas we visit. I also agree that Trip Advisor often has useful info.
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Old 08-17-2014, 02:39 PM   #13
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I just watched that Rick Steve's episode I linked about. It's a meaty one and has lots of great ideas. I might have to add a couple more things to my list....

One thing I would add if we were staying one more day in Munich is a day trip to the Andechs monastery and brewery on the outskirts of Munich Kloster Andechs
Reviews of Andechs Monastery - TripAdvisor

The site below has been a great reference for breweries and beer in Munich, and other cities we are visiting in Europe. The beer styles are a bit different and you might want to have an idea of what you want to try before you arrive.
Munich Breweries: a guide to the beers brewed in and around Munich
Munich Pub and Beerhall Guide: the best Munich Pubs, Bars, Beer Halls, Brewpubs and Beer Gardens

Other things like searching for online articles about Oktoberfest in Munich will probably give some very helpful advice.
Munich Madness: Oktoberfest and Beer Halls by Rick Steves
Oktoberfest: the ultimate guide to Munich's beer festival - Lonely Planet

We made sure we didn't visit Munich during Oktoberfest to avoid the fest crowd. Munich has lovely beer gardens open all year around. We are particularly looking forward to visiting the Hirschgarten near the Nympenburg Palace (seems like a good combo). Hirsch means deer, and they serve some venison dishes. Beers featured are Augustiner Brewery, King Ludwig and Kahltenberger beers.
Koeniglicher Hirschgarten Munich | restaurant - beer garden
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Old 08-17-2014, 03:20 PM   #14
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As mentioned - trip advisor and fodors.com are great resources. I'm also a HUGE fan of Slowtrav.com and it's message board: slowtalk.com

For me - I usually start planning/researching up to a year in advance. Since I still travel with kids - I greatly prefer staying in apartments (more space for less money) - so I start looking at vacation rentals on vrbo/homeaway as well as other sights. Once I've nailed it down to a few choices for an area - I scour for reviews of that site - and see if they're listed on more than one agency - sometimes you can save money by booking from their own website than through a vacation rental agency...

Like Audrey - I prefer limiting my driving when in Europe - but some places require it. I try to keep my rentals local and short term.

As far as what to see - tripadvisor, fodors, guide books, slowtalk, etc all give me ideas. For example, it used to be hard to get into the vatican without long lines - but if you booked an official vatican tour - you bypassed the lines - and could ditch the tour. We were travelling with a four year old and six year old - so it was worth the extra money to do that. (Lines have greatly improved, as has the booking process, which at the time had to be done by fax.) I learned about that on slowtalk.com.

I love the prep/planning phase. I don't tend to have rigid plans that morning A I'll do activity #1 and afternoon A do activity #2... but I have a list of activities for the area - and we flex when (or if) we do the various sightseeing activities. By having a list and figured out logistics, I can offer the family options and we can play by ear.

I'm in the early stages of planning for next year's all summer trip. I've barely started looking at vacation rentals and figuring out what cities, and the transportation. I don't even know what city we're leaving from. (We'll fly into Catania, Sicily to see family at the beginning because that fits the 2nd cousins' schedule.)
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Old 08-17-2014, 03:25 PM   #15
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Speaking of Bavarian beer, I highly recommend a visit to Weltenburg Abbey.

Klosterschenke Weltenburg

The most scenic approach is by boat from Kelheim up the Danube Gorge. There is a spectacular high baroque church, a museum, the brewery (established 1050!), a guesthouse (I peeked inside, looks very nice) and a Biergarten with wonderful dark beer. I actually recognize one of the barmaids from the website, Gabi!
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Old 08-17-2014, 04:03 PM   #16
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We try to strke a balance between planning and spontaneity. Too little research and planning and we invariably miss things we would have enjoyed. Too much and we might as well be back at work checking our calendars and keeping to tight schedules.

Being FIRE'd helps. We allow more time for trips and therefore can have a series of planned destinations and activities but with generous additional time for spontaneous discoveries.
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Old 08-17-2014, 04:14 PM   #17
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Europe is not as car friendly as the US, and short-term tourists really don't need one unless they are going way off the beaten path. Yes, you can rent a car with a US license, just make sure that you get full (liability) insurance coverage for Europe when you rent.
I wouldn't be afraid of a car trip in Europe at all. If you familiarize yourself with the traffic laws and especially the signs you should be in good shape. Some roads are smaller, but then most of the cars are smaller too.

England has the language advantage, but they drive on the wrong side of the road - this takes some getting used to!

Some countries allow you to drive using your US license, others requires an international driving permit. It's really just a translation of your license so the local constabulary can read it. No extra tests or anything.

I've covered some of the same areas by train and by car and it's a totally different trip. You see a different side of the area each way. By train you'll focus on the central cities and by car you get to see the beautiful countryside and little towns that no train goes to. Both are worth doing!

And if you like to drive fast, rural autobahns are a unique experience!

Quote:
Munich is really packed during Octoberfest. You may have to stay in the outskirts if you don't reserve ahead. But even if so, public transportation will make it easy to get downtown so that should be a non-issue.
We went to Octoberfest last year and yes, if you don't have hotel reservations now you may well not be able to get any anywhere near town. Also, hotel rates are roughly double during Octoberfest. They have no problem filling all rooms even at the high rates.

If it's your kind of thing - it's like a big state fair (lots of rides and such) but mainly focused on drinking and music - you will have a blast. If not, it's still worth a quick peek IMHO. My DW kinda hated the crowds and loud music and crowds and revelers, so we only spent an afternoon there. Still, I'm glad to have seen it.
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Old 08-17-2014, 04:15 PM   #18
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The best resource I found was Trip Advisor to get ideas of what to do and how to do them. What was invaluable was getting very specific information from people actually living in the area.

For example, we did a day trip from London to Paris. We didn't speak French and had no tour and I learned everything about what to do (down to which Metro to take and where to turn in the station) from people on Trip Advisor.

I bought a couple of Kindle books for reference but really it was mostly Trip Advisor.

We booked hotel and air through Expedia (cheaper to do as a package).
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Old 08-17-2014, 04:48 PM   #19
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Another Trip Advisor fan here. After a lot of research, I ended up basically copying another poster's itinerary for a trip to Peru, with a few modifications. It worked out great. As a minimum, I knew it was doable.
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Old 08-17-2014, 05:09 PM   #20
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Sengsational, I use TripAdvisor for travel in the US. We have not done any travel outside the US on our own, so I just wanted to thank you for starting this thread. I am learning quite a bit!
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