Vacation planning is a time-consuming endeavor. Finding the right place, at the right price, for the right amount of time is a tough mission. Some people don’t do any research, they just book and go. That can work, too, actually. It really depends on you as a traveler, but for the sake of overall advice, let’s look at general travel insight. If you’re a major planner, add a couple months to the below, and if you hate to plan too much, you can shave the timing down. It’s up to you!
The first thing to note is that booking isn’t the same as researching. Chances are you have your dates long before you know all the things you want to do on vacation. If you’re absolutely sure your dates won’t change, book your flight immediately. Rates tend to rise months in advance, so you should get in as quickly as possible. You also score the best timing this way, since options are still available. Conventional wisdom says that if you book air travel between seven and three weeks before departure, you’re probably in good shape.
The actual trip can come second, then. You should try to get your car rental in as soon as possible, because they, too, raise in rate the closer to rental you get, but those reservations can be adjusted or cancelled without fees. Hotel stays generally follow this rule of thumb, too, with a common 24-hour cancellation policy. But, if you have some nerve, you could get into a good room for little money if you wait it out to see if there are empty rooms very close to your dates. That means, if the hotel sells out, you may end up in a less than desirable accommodation. That’s your risk. Depending on where you’re going, this could be no issue. It could also be really bad!
Activities can be planned last. Tours, kayak rentals, cooking classes, whatever you want to do on vacation is going to have a consistent rate. Just make sure you get in before anything sells out.
International Travel Guidelines
If you want to go abroad, you need to plan much earlier than domestic travel. Many people start six months out, and that’s a good start, although if you wait a few months, you’re going to be okay. A month out is going to cause you problems – airfare skyrockets in price, flight options are not as good, and seating is slim. That means you could be on a red eye while sitting in a middle seat for ten hours, and paying twice as much as the guy slapped across the window and snoring.
The best rates for Asia and Europe are found at least six months out, sometimes more. Africa and central America can be obtained affordably all the way until a month and a half out. But you need to consider more than the ticket when traveling overseas. Make sure your passport’s expiration date is at least six months after your scheduled return. Also, you may need to get vaccinations. Some vaccines aren’t effective until a month or longer after the shot, so it’s important to do that early, too.
Finally, if you want to join a tour, those fill up early, so book that as soon as possible – six to four months is a good rule of thumb.
Before you do anything, the best thing to do is backtrack from the date you plan to travel, and make a timed account of what absolutely must happen before you depart. That gives you the latest possible date you can book. Beyond that date, it’s up to you!
Have you ever had success with a last-minute travel booking? Where did you go?