Friday, May 31, 2013

Trip Planning 101... [part 2 of 4]

“One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.” 
-Henry Miller

Next up on the travel agenda...
[Find the other parts here: 1, 3, 4]
Airline tickets/hotels/rental cars.
Although I usually start the "grand plan" document as soon as we begin considering a vacation, I don't nail down any firm plans until we book a flight. Once we've bought tickets and determined our arrival and departure dates, next I need to define where we'll be each day and reserve hotels. Finally, if the destination requires a rental car, I can't forget to rent a car. I don't want to get stuck at the airport with no (or only really expensive) transportation options.
  • Use Kayak price alerts to get updates of the current prices of flights. I usually set up alerts for each of the local airports... Atlanta and Charlotte are usually much cheaper than Greenville/Spartanburg or Asheville.
Kayak trip alerts come to your inbox daily.
  • Before actually purchasing tickets, check the airlines sites themselves. I don't think we've ever purchased our tickets through an airline aggregator (like Kayak, Orbitz, etc); it seems we've always found the tickets for the same or cheaper price on the airline's website... Southwest Airlines had even more options for ATL to LAS, and they cost considerably less (especially after you count baggage fees).
  • Keep list of potential hotels, current prices, and web links in your "grand plan" document. I have found that it's best to even list the ones that have no vacancies or are out of your price range... When Ruby's Inn is recommended by another website, I want to remember that I've already ruled it out because there are no rooms available for our dates. 
  • Once you get to a short list of possible accommodations that meet your date and price requirements, search TripAdvisor for customer reviews and more importantly real photos of the rooms. It's eye-opening to see that rooms that guests photograph don't always match the professional photos highlighted on the hotel's own website. In my experience I have found TripAdvisor to be generally unbiased... you get both good and bad reviews. You just have to read through and decide whether it will bother you that you can hear through the walls or that the advertised breakfast is just cold cereal. 
TripAdvisor reviews
  • If you're looking for a hotel in a major city, be sure to check out Hotwire and Priceline. You can choose a hotel based on its location, discounted price, amenities, and star rating. On previous vacations, we have been ecstatic to find 4-star accommodations for less than $85 per night. [Also from experience, the time we booked a 1.5 star hotel from Hotwire, it was absolutely awful... so I'd recommend sticking to 2.5+!]
Hotwire hotel search
  • Reserve a rental car through Payless Car Rental as soon as your trip is booked. Their prices are usually as cheap as it gets, but you don't have to put any money down to reserve a vehicle... Which is totally awesome if we happen to score an even better price from somewhere else at the last minute and need to cancel this reservation. Fingers crossed...
  • Name your own price for a rental car at Priceline.  Take a guess at how low they'll rent you the car of your choice. Once you're rate is approved, you're locked into buying... but it's great for low-balling especially at the last minute (as mentioned above). Priceline advertises that you can save up to 40% on car rentals, but there are some good tips here on how to save even more.
  • Access all of your reservations numbers, flight information, check-in times, etc. in the ever-so-helpful TripIt app. When you receive a confirmation email from anywhere you book, simply forward it to, and it "magically" appears in your itinerary.
TripIt iPhone app

What tips do you have for finding a great flight, hotel, car, or even just a great deal?

Friday, May 24, 2013

Trip Planning 101... [part 1 of 4]

“A journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step.”
-Lao Tzu

[Find the other parts here: 2, 3, 4]

Rob and I are counting down until vacation!! Just less than a month away until we head out of town for a week out West hiking the trails of Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks.

While I admire my friends who can take spontaneous trips without a specific itinerary, that's not how I roll. Rob's and my vacation philosophy is to go, go, go and to see as much as we can because it may be the only time we're there. (a.k.a., we don't like to waste time looking for a hotel,  backtracking as we drive, or paying an arm and a leg for things that could be cheaper.) And, therefore we need a plan. Don't get me wrong... we're definitely flexible with our plan and are willing to make adjustments if something better comes up or if we're over our heads. But, we start with a plan.

I'd love to share some of my tried and true tips for trip planning... This will be the first of a four-part series. Even if you're an on-the-fly traveler, there may be a tip or two that you can use, too.

The grand plan (aka always a work in progress).
When we start really planning for a trip, I start an Evernote document (I've also used Google Docs in the past) to keep track of the ideas. I really like Evernote because I can access it and edit it from my phone and without an internet connection which can come in handy mid-trip.

So, what do I write in my grand plan?
  • Keep an updated summary at the top, so I have a quick reference where we're staying and the main activity for each day.
  • Organize the document with headings for each day, like Day One: Saturday June 22. The activities under each day are just ideas and often get moved from day to day, especially in the beginning... Maybe the Angel's Landing hike works better on Wednesday instead of Monday...
  • Add web links wherever I can so that I can reference the information later to see more details, find contact information, check prices, etc.
  • Add timing notes as I see fit.  Especially for driving times between places or mileage/estimated times for hikes... It's helpful when planning other activities to know that the drive from Las Vegas to Springdale is 2 hours and 40 minutes or that the Navajo Loop Trail is 3.5 miles round-trip and takes 1-3 hours.
  • Record any ideas that seem neat, even if there may not be enough time to accomplish them all. While on the trip, we usually sit down each night to make the final decisions of what we want to do. 
  • Make notes about any tips and hints that I've read about each activity... Don't want to forget to "lace your shoes tightly on the return to prevent your toes from constantly jamming into the end of your shoes" when we're hiking to Observation Point. Such a little thing could make a really big difference in how much we enjoy each activity.
  • Keep a list of local, can't miss restaurants as well as lists of great places to watch the sunrise/sunset. These don't necessarily have to be planned in the itinerary, but will be great to reference when we're driving around town starving because we're not sure where to eat.

Do you travel with a set schedule planned in advance, or are you more spontaneous than me?

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

My fictitious roundtable...

“'If you truly love Me, you will feed My lambs. My people are crumbling and dying and starving, and you're blessing blessed people and dreaming about your next house.'”
-Jen Hatmaker

“Being confident and believing in your own self-worth is necessary to achieving your potential.”
-Sheryl Sandberg

If you could arrange one roundtable conversation between any two people, who would you want to invite?

My answer... Jen Hatmaker and Sheryl Sandberg. In the last couple of months, I have been totally inspired by books written by these two influential women. I would love to hear them respond to each other.
Interrupted: An Adventure in Relearning the Essentials of Faith, by Jen Hatmaker
Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead, by Sheryl Sandberg
Their stories and their goals have stuck with me. Made me think. Kept me thinking. Their philosophies seem at odds with one another. Jen charges women to look out for the least of these, while Sheryl invites women to advocate for themselves. Jen talks about "stepping off the ladder," while Sheryl encourages you to think of it as "a jungle gym, not a ladder" and inspires you to climb on.

The target audiences for these two books feel completely opposite from each other (postmodern Christian women who want less vs. career-driven women who want more), but what happens when you're the person who falls into both categories. The more I consider these inspiring ideas, I think the true value is discerning where they can overlap for me.

As I ponder where the next few years will take me, my family, my job, and my passions, I wonder how willing I am to "reject power, prestige and possessions" as well as how far I am inclined to "lean in" to my career. Should I be organizing a missional lifestyle or dreaming about my five-year plan? Is one more right than the other? Is one more right for me?

I've already experienced my share of career jumps, especially considering I've been officially in the workforce for only seven years. And, while I'm loving where I'm working now, I can't help but wonder where this path will lead me. And of course, whether I have missed out on some opportunities that I can't get back.

I have to remind myself that both Jen and Sheryl stress that it takes time, patience, and a willingness to say "yes" to risks. You'll have to pass on some opportunities that aren't quite right, but when the right opportunity comes, you should jump on it.

By the way... more than once while writing this, I've had to pull out the thesaurus to find synonyms for the word "willing." Maybe that is the key here. My aha! Be willing...

Ready Willing & Able silkscreen print by marksarmel on Etsy.

[And of course, if I could choose the moderator for this fictitious roundtable discussion... my top choice would definitely be Glennon Melton, who always sees the beauty in women coming together to share and learn from each other. (And, I still need to get my hands on her book as well!)]


If you could arrange one roundtable conversation between any two people, who would you want to invite?

Are you with me in this overlap? How do you decide whether/when to "reject power, prestige and possessions" and serve others or to "lean in" to your career?


If you're interested in following these women's blogs, you can find them here:

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