Vacation Planning Tips

I thought since I'm going on vacation, I should do at least one or two vacation themed posts! I'm lucky to have traveled a little in my life, and I have built up a little repertoire of hints and tips for traveling that may help you out, whether your next trip is camping down the road, or on a round-the-world adventure.
Honestly, I cannot stress this enough. You do NOT need 6 pairs of shoes on holiday. I promise. I'll be doing a post on what I pack soon, but let's just say, on my six week road trip through the USA, I had one carry-on suitcase and my handbag (which was my camera bag). That's all. There are a few reasons to pack light. Firstly, you are on holidays. Who wants to drag a massive suitcase through the airport, in and out of trains, buses, ferries, taxis, tuk-tuks.... you get my picture. You're often in crowded, small spaces and a suitcase is a pain in the butt. Airlines today generally charge an excess baggage fee for anything that you check in, so why not save that money for your trip?
image - Italian Vogue via: The Littlest Polly
* I came to these conclusions after carting a guitar, bass, keyboard, effects pedals, cables, laptops and clothes around the UK and USA while playing with my band. And the time the lady at a check-in counter, whose airline shall remain nameless, had the following facts presented:
1. Three people, each with 20 pounds checked baggage
2. Bag #1 weighs 14 pounds
3. Bag #2 weighs 18 pounds
4. Bag #3 weighs 22 pounds
5. That will be $80 excess baggage fee.
Me: "Can we transfer 2 pounds into one of the other bags?"
Friendly Check-In Lady: "No. They have already gone down the conveyor belt."
Me: "Can you 'theoretically' transfer the 2 pounds into one of the other bags?"
Friendly Check-In Lady: "No."
Me: "Give me a moment."
Cue me putting on top of what I was already wearing 2 more leather jackets and a hoodie. Not cool. Hot, actually. Excess baggage fee averted.

When I decide that I'm going away, I go a little overboard on researching my destination. It can lead to a bout of overplanning, which I hate, but I also like to feel like I know about the non-obvious, touristy things to do, and hopefully I'll get a real taste of somewhere. There are so many sites on the internet that will help you with your research, as well as the tried and tested method of asking a real person. For my Japan trip, I found out about so many places to visit from my work colleagues  friends of friends, and even one of my gym instructors who is Japanese (her husband, Yoshi, made me a fantastic list!) I now know where to get the best espresso in Tokyo, a nice day trip to hike on a mountain near Kyoto, and cheap ryokan accommodation that others have stayed in and can vouch for.
via: Neoretro
Of course, if you are going somewhere that nobody you know has been, there is a wealth of information on the internet. Aside from Trip Advisor (which is very USA tourist-centric) I have used Japan Guide extensively for this trip, the articles and forums have been invaluable. One example would be that I had planned a one night stay in Takayama. It happened to be on a Tuesday. While I was reading about places to visit there, someone in a forum mentioned that the stores are closed on Tuesdays. I was able to change my itinerary accordingly, and I'm so glad I spotted that little nugget of wisdom before I arrived to an empty town! Depending on your own plans, I suggest looking for blogs, websites like Roadside America (or the Weird America books) if you're after something fun/quirky, and travel forums dedicated to the area where you are headed.
You'll also need to figure out how you're going to get around. Are you road-tripping? Where can you get the best car-hire deal? Have you factored in fuel costs? If you're catching public transport, how reliable and regular is it? Can you purchase a pass for the duration of your trip? For Japan, we have a 21 day rail pass which allows us to catch the majority of Shinkansen (Bullet trains) and some ferries, regional trains and buses. It also includes the airport express train which saves us a supposedly $280 cab fare! It's MUCH cheaper than purchasing tickets while we are there.
Whether you are a 'plan-as-you-go' type person, or a 'Francis Whitman', complete with a laminated schedule of spiritual experiences to be had on your trip, you probably want some kind of itinerary, just to help you keep track of your bookings, what you have and haven't paid for, addresses of hotels etc. I keep track of things in my google calendar, but I also use a website/app called TripIt. I LOVE TripIt. Basically, you forward any flight itinerary emails, hotel bookings and the like to your TripIt account, and it autofills your itinerary, with estimated arrival times, average weather for the dates you are visiting certain locations, even maps on how to get there. It keeps addresses, contact names and numbers, websites, costs of items, confirmation numbers and more in one easy place. As long as you have a WiFi device, and WiFi, or access to an internet connection while you're travelling, it's all good. Perhaps a paper planner/diary would be handy if you're heading to somewhere more isolated, though I imagine that would be one of those 'plan-as-you-go' kind of trips. One other good thing about TripIt is that you can share your itinerary with people, so wave goodbye to panicked mothers calling every five minutes to find out where you are. (I don't have this problem, but it's nice for the folks to know where I am anyway!)
I love traveling without a strict plan, but sometimes you have to. If you're travelling during summer, lots of places book out early, and in Japan during the Cherry Blossom Festival, I'm finding a lot of places are full already, so I'm booking most of our accommodation before we arrive, so we aren't stuck in a roach motel or in a super-expensive hotel.
If you're travelling overseas, make sure you have a valid passport, AND you know where it is (like, check... don't assume you know where it is). I cannot begin to describe how stressful it is looking for your passport 1 hour before your flight is due to depart. Check if you need any special visa/visa waiver/entry criteria met before you go. I always purchase travel insurance. I've never needed it, so far. But if you are going somewhere where medical care can cost a lot, the United States for example, you will kick yourself if you end up with thousands of dollars in hospital/medical bills. It's boring, but read the fine print of any insurance policies and make sure you are covered properly! Whenever I travel, I leave a photocopy of my passport/visas etc with my parents, just in case it gets lost or stolen and I need a replacement. Oh, also, if you have to walk from Canada to America and get the complete jerk at immigration, it helps to have a print-out of your return fare to Australia, to reassure him that you are not, in fact, trying to become an illegal alien.
I think that might be enough advice for one day! Feel free to ask me any travel related questions in the comments, or share your experiences with Friendly Check-In Ladies.
Kitty
xo