Planning your summer holiday? Early bird does indeed catch the worm

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Planning your summer holiday, especially to a distant location, is quite a task. Obtain early consensus within your family on the destination - no mean feat, admittedly - and set the ball rolling right away, if you have not done so already. In holiday planning, the early bird does indeed catch the worms.  

Umpteen choices available: Today, the summer traveller has a range of destinations he can choose from, depending on his interests and the activities he wishes to pursue. “South Africa is becoming popular among Indian travellers for its safari experiences; France for its culinary and wine trails; Hungary, Czech Republic, and Austria for history, culture, and architecture; and Korea for spa, wellness, and rejuvenation experience. Switzerland and Croatia are a photographer’s delight,” says Rajeev Kale, president and country head, leisure travel, MICE, Thomas Cook (India).

With growing affluence, Indian travellers nowadays head abroad even for festival tourism. Kale says that his firm has witnessed an increase in demand for festivals like Songkran (Water festival) in Thailand (13-15 April), the Dragon Boat Festival in Hong Kong (June 7), La Tomatina (tomato festival) in Spain (August 28), and the Boryeong Mud Festival in Korea (July 19-July 28), among others. Sport aficionados have the option to head for the upcoming Cricket World Cup in UK (end-May to mid-July).

People who want to try out more offbeat destinations are nowadays heading to places like Japan, South America, Croatia and Iceland. Younger kids in the family may be keen to visit theme parks. “In Asia, you have the Universal Studios in Singapore and the Legoland in Malaysia. The Disneyland is situated in Tokyo, Hong Kong, Paris and Orlando,” says Manmeet Ahluwalia, marketing head, Brand Expedia in India.

Those able to take only a short break from office may opt for no-visa or easy-visa-regime destinations like Singapore, Bali, Thailand and Sri Lanka.     

Decide on a budget: One step that simplifies the planning process is determining the budget. Financial planners say your discretionary expenses should not exceed 15 per cent of overall expenses. “Vacations, which are part of discretionary expenses, should ideally not exceed 10 per cent of your annual expenses. And if you plan to take a holiday both in summer and winter, then it would not be ideal to use up all the money in summer itself,” says Vishal Dhawan, chief financial planner, Plan Ahead Wealth Advisors.

Estimating how much you can afford helps narrow down the list of destinations. “If you have a smaller budget, look at a destination within India or in Southeast Asia. With a slightly higher budget, you could visit Eastern Europe, and with an even higher budget you could head for Western Europe,” says Ahluwalia (see: Interesting destinations).

A timely windfall: The rupee has appreciated about 2.9-8.8 per cent against major currencies over the past six months (see: Enjoy the currency windfall), thereby enhancing the Indian traveller’s purchasing power. “The rupee’s appreciation has made this an attractive time to book before prices surge in April and May, closer to the summer holidays,” says Karan Anand, head-relationships, Cox & Kings.

Allow time for visa: Travellers often underestimate the time this process takes. Industry experts say it takes about 10-15 working days to get a visa for UK and Schengen countries, and about 15-20 working days for Australia.

Book early to get best prices: Air tickets, too, should be booked in advance. “Customers should pre-plan their itineraries to avoid the surge in air ticket prices later,” says Daniel D’Souza, president and country head (leisure), SOTC Travel.  Anand adds that you could save around 20-22 per cent on air tickets by booking two months in advance. Kale suggests comparing prices and offers before zeroing in on an airline.

Decide whether you wish to take a direct or connecting flights. “Direct flights tend to be more expensive, while connecting flights are cheaper but consume more travel time. If you're not in a rush, you can save some money by taking connecting flights,” says Ahluwalia.

Give thought to your arrival and exit times. Ahluwalia says that if you take a flight that gets you into a city in the evening, you will not be able to do any sightseeing that day but will pay for that night's stay at the hotel. Therefore, it is usually better to take a flight that gets you to your destination in the morning, even if it is a little more expensive. Similarly, he says, taking an early morning flight out of the city means you have lost the day.

On hotel bookings, too, it is better to be early. “Most hotels offer early bird schemes to create demand, much in advance of the traditional booking season, to fill up their inventory,” says Kale. Hotel costs vary depending on the destination. In Hong Kong, for instance, hotels are far more expensive than in Malaysia. Costs also depend on the type of property you choose. A luxury four- or five-star branded property will cost you more than a homestay. Hotel costs also depend on location. A property located closer to the city centre will be costlier than one situated away from it. Those on a tighter budget may choose to stay away from the city centre but close to a metro or bus station to enjoy easy access to transportation. Many Indians, who want the option to cook their meals, nowadays opt for studio apartments.   

Nowadays, you can book online for the activities you plan to carry out at the destination. The same holds true for local transportation passes.

Finally, use forex cards, which are prepaid cards loaded with foreign exchange, as they levy lower charges than if you use your credit card abroad.

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