Is it better to plan your trip in advance or jump into this process last minute? Well, everyone is different and there is no universal answer to this question, or is there? We’ve been arranging small group and private tours in Europe for over 10 years now and do have some insider information to share that might be useful for you to implement into your decision-making process. Our travel specialist Kate is helping us today to review the pros and cons of advance booking for your next vacation.
TRAVEL "IN" SEASON: Pros
It is a common truth that the Earth is spherically shaped and each corner of our beautiful planet has its own “settings”, meaning general weather conditions, seasonal changes, as well as the highlights that actually attract people to certain places. All of these factors determine the best time to travel to one or the other destination.
For example, Northern Lights is a natural phenomenon that is specific to certain parts of the world and can only be witnessed from September to March. Moreover, traveling north, you probably don’t want to limit yourself just to Northern Lights hunts but would like to include various winter activities which require snow. This cuts your future vacation's possible time span by half. Same applies to pretty much any destination. For instance, you don’t want to faint while gazing at Sagrada Familia under the burning sun of Barcelona, just as leisure walks around the Red Square in Moscow don’t sound appealing when it’s 0 degrees outside.
This means that travelers from all over the world tend to visit this or that destination at a certain time to ensure themselves the most comfortable travel conditions and the best experience. Needless to say, that the number of nice hotels in the cities, experienced guides, and spots on some best small group tours are limited. Overseas travel is not something you do every day so it is a good idea to plan the trip in advance if you want to get the best out of it.
GET A BETTER EXPERIENCE AT BETTER RATES: Pros
Following on from the previous paragraph, the availability of accommodation, guides, and spots on the tours can be a hot issue, along with potential costs. Travel destinations are seasonal, just like the global travel industry itself and every part of this huge constructor. For example, the guy arranging snowmobile tours in Tromso won’t make any money in the summer from his business “over the counter”. So in order to attract customers and receive bookings all year round he lowers the prices for individuals during the “low” season and makes bulk deals with tour operators who ensure him steady profit throughout the year.
Obviously, by the time winter comes, most spots on his tours are sold out and those that are not, he sells at much higher rates. Therefore when you're buying on the spot your choice goes down to either going for lower quality of the tour or paying much more money for it.
Based on the same seasonal fluctuation, hotels also raise their rates for the dates they know they will have plenty of guests and lower them for those dates when they expect fewer bookings. By the same token, hotels use this information as a tool to increase their occupancy rate by lowering the prices for advance bookings or, again, making bulk deals with tour operators. So, it makes sense to start planning your journey as early as you can.
Tour operators also receive better rates from the suppliers when ordering in advance, thus have the ability to offer better value to their customers. You may have already noticed our “early bird” deals while browsing the tours, that's exactly where these discounts come from.
If you want to save a considerable amount of money on your travel, early booking is definitely the way to go.
BUILD A BETTER ITINERARY: Pros
It is a wonderful and absolutely necessary thing to see all of the major landmarks at a destination you are visiting, but it’s boring to limit yourself to just generic tours! When you travel, you want to immerse yourself in the culture and atmosphere of the place you're going to, see more than the average traveler does, and come back with a lifetime of memories.
As a travel specialist, I have worked with many clients that have received exactly what they wanted because we both had the extra time to plan their vacations. Time allows a client to build trust with a specialist, and thanks to the personal connection you make, it becomes easier for you to open up to the specialist, raise all your concerns and ask any questions that you have. This helps the specialist to find and combine the best options for you bearing your “wants” and “don’t wants” in mind.
Secondly, time is crucial for thorough research. One of my clients was traveling to Portugal in September, which is the high season for this destination. It was late spring when we started planning the trip for him and his wife. They did their research, had very specific places in mind, and wanted to stay in certain hotels, some of which were already fully booked (6 months before the travel dates!!!). On my end, I had a few extra ideas for their trip too and had to find equal or better substitutes for the hotels they had chosen, as well as arrange reasonable connections between the “inconveniently” located places on their list. We were going back and forth for a while before eventually we created a perfectly balanced itinerary for them. They saw Portugal the way it should be experienced, from every perspective: a good chunk of cultural discovery with excellent local guides, hikes, plenty of free time, a few days sunbathing in Algarve and all this in September - the perfect month for traveling to this country. An experience like this was only possible because it was planned in advance.
YOUR PLANS CAN CHANGE: Cons
The most obvious downside to advanced planning is unpredictability. We are never sure what will happen to us tomorrow, so how can we plan a year in advance? Luckily, the travel industry is quite flexible these days and pretty much anything can be canceled, rescheduled or refunded depending on the circumstances.
SO IS IT WORTH PLANNING IN ADVANCE?
The simple answer is “Yes. Yes it is”
Whether you are doing everything yourself, or working with a travel specialist, you will have a better experience if by the time your vacation starts, everything is confirmed, checked and fully taken care of.
Remember these simple rules for the next time you'll be planning a vacation:
- Research/ ask your travel specialist when the high season for the travel destination of your choice is.*
- If your vacation falls in the high season, start planning your trip 8 - 12 months in advance for an easier time. Otherwise, 6 months in advance will work too but trust me, the earlier the better!
- Stay in touch with your travel specialist throughout the planning process (they will do the same!!), raise all concerns or questions you may have, and keep the specialist posted on any changes to your plans.
Enjoy your future trips!
*(For Central and Northern Europe it is usually May-August, for Southern European countries - April through June and September through October. For the Northern Lights tours, the best time to travel is from December till March.)