First Hand Travel Planning: Researching and Booking My New South Wales Trip
Not long ago I devoted a whole article to not making plans for a trip; now I’m about to tell you how I’ve gone about planning a trip for the end of the year. But before you object, it’s not a contradiction: I did say that some planning is necessary. Since people often ask me for advice on how to plan a trip, I thought it might be useful to take a close look at how I’m planning this one.
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First Steps: Getting the Idea and Making the Essential Bookings
I’m living in Perth right now, on the west coast of Australia, the most isolated city in the world — which means flights out of here are some of the most expensive you can find! Since I knew my husband and I both have 10 days off over the Christmas/New Year break, when our companies more or less close down, I’ve known all year I wanted to get away. I’m on all the email lists for budget carriers that operate out of Perth so whenever good deals come up, I’m ready to whip out my credit card. A couple of months ago Virgin Blue had some very reasonable flights from Perth to Sydney — reasonable as long as we left late on Christmas Day. That was fine by me and I booked.
Sydney was a good choice since we have several friends who’ve just moved to the Hunter Valley region north-west of the city, so I imagined we could combine some city sightseeing with some vineyard relaxation, and catching up with mates. Having booked the flights and told our friends approximately when we’d be on their doorstep, I put the holiday out of my mind until this past weekend.
Accommodation, and How I Hate Paying Lots of Money For A Small Room
I love traveling, but I don’t love spending money; of course, it’s not that easy to travel without spending any money at all. But for our few days in Sydney, I was keen to do it in an enjoyable way without spending too much money.
Plenty of people would tell me I need to spend $200 a night for a decent hotel in a big city like Sydney, but that’s far too much for me. Previously I’ve only ever stayed in backpacker hostels there, but I wanted to make this part of our vacation a bit more flashpacker in style. It’s the first real holiday my husband and I will have had on our own for two years, and since we’re staying with friends for two thirds of the trip, our costs are pretty low.
I have no idea what people did before the internet. Since I haven’t done much hotel booking in Australia in recent years, I quickly Googled “last minute hotels Australia” and compared the results of four different websites; lastminute.com.au came up best in terms of lower prices and bigger variety, and I recognized it as the same site a friend of mine used to book us a hotel when we visited Melbourne earlier this year.
What happened next is something like this: I jumped out of my chair, ran into the kitchen and back, obviously thumping like an elephant because my husband yelled out from the other room in concern. “I’m okay,” I answered, “I’m just making some bookings for Sydney and I needed my credit card!” When I sat down again I realized that I was perhaps a little overexcited, and it hit me how much I love planning trips.
What I’d done was find a four-star hotel right in the heart of Sydney, equidistant from Circular Quay and Darling Harbour so we could get around on foot our whole stay, and we could stay here for about the same price as a private double room in the nearby youth hostel. I used the “Mystery Room” deal where you don’t know which hotel it will be until you key in your credit card details, and was lucky again. So now we have relative luxury, great location and only $99 a night for accommodation costs — and all during the busy summer vacation period Down Under.
This is no world-wandering trip, and we have deadlines — a return flight, at the very least, plus friends who expect us to show up on particular dates. A month away from the trip, I haven’t booked anything besides the flights and the accommodation — and I’ve only booked the hotel because it’s a peak season — but I have done my research. Checking online and with one of the friends we’ll stay with, I know we can get a train up to their place for $15 a person — much cheaper than the original idea of hiring a car, which we won’t need since we’ll be hanging out with them.
The next steps for me will be a quick web review of what’s happening in Sydney at the moment. It’s a city I’ve visited many times — although the last time was eight years ago — but it’s my husband’s first trip. That means we’ll want to do a combination of “seeing the sights” — you can hardly go to Sydney and not check out the Opera House — and getting involved with the local stuff, which in our case probably means checking out some smaller art galleries and finding some interesting bars and restaurants. I won’t make any kind of exact plan, and still like to spontaneously find places to see while we’re there, but since the internet is full of great tips, I like to find a few bloggers who think like me but have insider knowledge of Sydney and jot down a couple of their tips.
I love this part of preparing for a trip, so it’s something I’ll be doing with pleasure over the next few weeks. And if any readers have some great tips for less well-known spots to visit or eat and drink at in Sydney, please share your wisdom in the comments below.