Know Before You Book and Go

Imagine you are all packed and ready to go to that place that you have been dreaming of the past few months. The goal of "vacation" has gotten you through so many rough days at work and now you are finally on you way to the airport. You wait in the check-in line with great patience because after all you did arrive 2 hours early like your e-ticket said. And when you finally arrive at the counter the airline representative let's you politely know your flight was rescheduled for an earlier take off, you have missed the plane, and the next available flight does not leave until the following morning.

Don't be disappointed...be prepared.
Don't be disappointed...be prepared.

OK, so most vacation scenarios do not end with that kind of disappointment, but the then again why would I be writing this hub if they all were smooth sailing. As a former travel agent, I want the best for anyone going on a vacation or even traveling for business. Since there are several people out there who prefer to book without an agent, I am hoping to get to those who don't know what they should research before they go.

Please keep in mind that this advice comes from lessons I have learned and experiences I have had or heard first hand. I am trying to share what I know but also am aware I do not know everything. Additionally I am not trying to discourage travel, it is my favorite hobby, I'm trying to share my opinions and knowledge so others can enjoy it as much as I do!

Airlines

Airline regulations are constantly changing. There are general requirements for all airlines given by the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) as well as each individual airline having its own set of guidelines. Always check the airlines' website to give you the most up-to-date rules you must follow. Most concerns deal with proper identification (making sure your government issued photo id matches what is on your e-ticket) and weight and size restrictions for checked and carry-on luggage. Additionally most airlines are starting to charge for assigned seats and checked baggage. So be sure to account for these charges when comparing flight prices as they are not in all fare quotes. Some flights may be cheaper through the airline's direct website or through a travel search engine, so look into both. Be careful of search engines that connect two different airlines, because if a problem should arise you maybe calling several airlines or walking to different terminals to get the solution you need. Be aware of change fees, most uninsured and even some insured flights are not forgiving of getting the flu or forgetting you need to be home that weekend for your cousins wedding. :) And call the day before your flight to confirm your itinerary has not changed. (Yes airlines will change flight times or cancel flights if it means a better $chedule for them. On a rare occasion it will seem they only promised you a flight somewhere at sometime for the money you paid.)

Hotels

There are so many hotel options, how do you know which is right for you? I use a popular travel search engine to find most hotels in the area I want to visit. Then I compare which are closest to what I want to do for the price I want to pay. Once narrowed down I visit TripAdvisor.com to get others opinions while also comparing the search engine price to the price on the hotel's direct website. Keep in mind every hotel is going to have a bad review here or there, but if overall the hotel has satisfied customers, most likely it will work out for you too. When pricing, see if the quote includes tax, hotel fees, and extra person charges. These can show a dramatic cost increase with some hotels (more so in major cities and near major attractions). Another option is calling the hotel to ask for a price, maybe there is a group rate if you need several rooms.  Calling also let's you check if the hotel knows of construction going on at the time you want to go.  For some, this can hinder how well their time away is enjoyed.  Once you have decided on the hotel and book a room remember to reconfirm the booking prior to arrival. Travel search engines will not always release your personal information to the hotel right away (depending upon your booking) since some actually hold a block of rooms for a period of time before releasing what they sold back to the hotel. But before you leave, do call the hotel directly if booking through a search engine because there are times when hotels do not receive the correct information. Also keep in mind any requests made for smoking, bedding, floor level, etc. preferences are REQUESTS. If you did not pay for 2 double beds but requested them, then do not think the person behind the counter is responsible for why you have to share a bed with your travel buddies. This also goes for connecting rooms. Some hotels do guarantee this if booking the rooms under the same reservation and some do not, so be aware of what your reservation includes. Then again some hotels, small motels and inns assign your room instantly. Overall, know what you are and are not paying for. Also do not assume your accomodations have an attached restaurant, a pool, a free airport shuttle, etc. even in some places, a private bathroom (most will say shared bathroom when booking, so don't worry.)

Destinations

Be sure you know enough about the place you are going, how you will get around, and what there is to do. Is there public transportation? Do you need a rental car? Is there enough activities to keep your children entertained? Especially when traveling abroad, know what type of documentation you need..passport, visa, proof of immunization shots, international driver's license...I relied heavily on travel.state.gov as a travel agent. You will not be allowed on the plane without the proper documentation. Other things to keep in mind are making sure there are enough places to eat around where you are staying. Should you even brush your teeth with the water from the faucet if your stomach is sensitive? Make sure your clothes are appropriate for where you will be visiting. Do you really want to be wearing your short shorts inside the Vatican? Check the weather. Get a map. Can you speak the language? Maybe get a common phrase guide. Do you need a electrical adapter to charge your cell phone? Does your cell-phone and plan work where you are traveling? Consider what you would like to use or have everyday and develop questions for what you will need from how you answer.

Remember to Research

Despite this lengthy list, there is always more to learn.  So use those search engines you love and see what you can find!

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