It's always an interesting question that why do we travel and of course the answer is different for different folks. Similarly travel plans vary depending upon the motives and personal preferences. For some people, it's a break from routine life and an opportunity to spend quality time with family and friends; for some, it's a good way to explore something new, which you never knew existed and to try to learn from the experiences; at times, it's about curiosity or the strong urge to experiment and so on...
It's very easy to give a generic answer but when the same question is asked of me, I fail to answer it clearly and many times I don't know the real reason for making a travel plan to a specific place. But there are definitely few things, which are always there in the back of my mind - Photography, Exploring the least explored, making the best of the time available, meeting local people, which always bring a lot of surprises, and trying out local cuisines etc.
Likewise there are different types of travellers and each category has further sub-categories. But there is one thing common to all. Having a best plan as per priorities & choices. Everyone wants to have the best possible experience as per their preferences. Be it places to stay, services they need, modes of transportation, things to be explored etc.
First thing for me is to know the right time to visit a particular place. I would love to visit Scotland, especially Scottish highlands, during Autumn when the weather is not too cold, the heather is purple and salmons are leaping. This is the time when many rivulets are flowing down the rolling hills and the waterfalls are thundering down from the cliffs. And make a point to avoid the main tourist seasons. And I proudly share with everyone that Monsoons (off-season in Goa) is best time for folks to explore Goa for many reasons - Lush green, clean & calm beaches, best flight & hotels deals, cheaper local transportation and what not. And when identified, check out if something special is going on during that month to decide upon the right dates. And many times, we end up finding seasonal fairs or festive celebrations, which make the trip much more fun for my Travelling-Camera, our permanent partner. So essentially when we plan for Scotland, we will be planning for 3 - Me, my wife, and our Travelling-camera.
After knowing about the seasonal things, we usually make a rough itinerary, which gives us an idea about the time we are going to spend around a particular area and helps in better planning of our time. We like travelling during day as well as night, but that too depends upon the terrains on the way. If there is nothing exciting, we prefer to travel during night and get some rest for another exciting day. All such information is gathered from blogs I follow and travellers I know who have been to the place. This is one of the difficult phases when you are bombarded with lots of options and then you have filter out right options as per your choice. Over the time, i know what each of the traveller/blogger I follow likes and now it's an easier process, but is still time-consuming :).
Ghumakkar.com is one of the main sources for me, where a lot of travellers share their personal experiences from different places across the world. It is very easy to reach out to these travellers on Ghumakkar.com to ask specific questions, which is a huge help in clarifying many doubts. And if you have read this far and have any inputs or suggestions for our trip to Scotland, please feel free to leave a comment on this post, and we will be very grateful.
On the basis of these inputs, I use Google Image-search to see the places on behalf of our third traveller (Travelling-Camera) and make appropriate changes in itinerary we made. And it's also a good opportunity to meet local Photographers who better know the place. Many times in past, we have written to local Photographers who joined us for some time and it always helped us in knowing the places & their respective cultures better.
This research is never-ending but now we have reached a stage when we can think of finalizing the dates and start checking out appropriate options to travel & stay -- mainly the flight and hotel options. This is a problem that has been solved by many of the online deal providers with plenty of options at one place. Our recent favorite portal to check out these deals is Skyscanner. And at times we find better deals than we expected on this website. Now some innovative features are being offered, wherein you can choose dates of your travel and let the website decide for you the best deals to different places. These offers are best for folks who don't have a specific destination in mind because the website tells you the place which offers the best value for money spent. I love that ! And I am sure that the website will offer a lot more in future for travellers. For a long vacation, we intentionally don't book hotels for all the days. This isn't such a big risk for us because we do not travel during the main tourist seasons. We intentionally keep a buffer for impromptu explorations, which have always happened during most of our trips. And this time as well, we are planning to book flights by the end of march (approx 6 months in advance) and we have already set a price alert for that, through which we get regular update as and when a better deal comes up.
And when you have booked the flights and hotels, suddenly things change. Now it's more about keeping track of things happening around the places you are going to explore. Google-Alerts work the best for me to remain updated on things happening. I already get daily updates about Scottish Highlands and Landscape photographers around Edinburgh. Then it comes to making a proper list of things we want to do. And please don't confuse this with the typical touristy things :). It is more about right places to find local cuisines and many times we tend to avoid the most popular eating places unless specifically recommended by fellow Travellers/Bloggers.
The smartest thing and perhaps the most important thing to do especially if you are traveling abroad is to take care of all the essentials. We always keep photocopies of our passports, tickets, visas, travel insurances, medical insurances, and other essential documents in each of our luggage. We make sure we go through travel advisories and consular website of the country we are travelling to. It also helps to know about accepted social behavior in a particular country. For example, it helps to know about the words that may be perfectly normal for us but may end up offending someone from another culture. Or some particular gesture that doesn't mean anything to us but may make someone from another culture immensely happy. This prepares us for any eventuality and we are at peace during our travels.
With some thought and planning, a travel experience can be completely transformed. Especially in case of travel to distant places, it always helps to do a bit of research so that you are able to explore the place to the fullest and also discover hidden gems.
Once you have done your research, made your bookings in time, and made all other necessary arrangements, you can rest assured that if all goes as per plan, your trip will be a memorable one. This is a tried and tested formula for us and it helps us get the best of the two types of travels - painstakingly planned ones and Idiosyncratically Impromptu ones. And this is what every traveller dreams of.
Photo Credits - Vibha Malhotra & Ashish Agarwal