When I was a travel agent everyone planning a holiday would tell me they wanted the ‘cheapest’ hotel available.

When I asked a few more questions it turned out this wasn’t entirely true. What they actually wanted was for their holiday to be how they imagined it to be in a price range they were comfortable with.

In reality, absolutely no one actually wanted the cheapest hotel available – the $60 a night dump 15km from the town centre!

So here are some holiday planning tips to help book a fun and enjoyable holiday.

The importance of planning the right holiday for YOU

For most people, our annual holiday is one of the most important and special things we buy each year. It’s a substantial investment to be able to visit a bucket list destination. Often we have dreamed about the holiday for years and on return will reminisce for many more to come.

Booking your own holiday online or through an agent

If you’re booking a resort or accommodation based holiday you need to ask yourself some questions while planning your trip.

Questions like:

What things can’t I live without my resort having? Is it a swim up bar, a view from the room or a beachfront location?

How much time will I really spend in my resort or room? Is the holiday about relaxing by the pool or exploring the destination?

Is a rental car key to the freedom I want to explore an area? Or would I rather catch taxis and drink beer at lunch (let’s face it this a reality on every Aussies holiday).

Then ask yourself are these things more important than the length of the holiday or the other things you need in the budget.

For example, do you really want to spend time in your room cooking to save money (this may be how you fit it in your budget) or would you rather be out trying local cafes? Would you like to relax on your room balcony or save on a cheaper room and spend your time out on adventures?

For each person the most important things will be different. You have no idea how much variance there is in what people value while on holidays.

Close your eyes and imagine what your holiday will look and feel like. Now think about what can live without to make it happen within your budget.

Can you go for 3 days instead of 5 for that ultimate luxury retreat or location?

Is your holiday really going to be how you imagined if your room has no view? Or do you see your room as just a place to sleep and if you stay in a more budget hotel you can stay twice as long.

I can’t tell you how many disappointed people I’ve seen who weren’t willing to spend a tiny bit more cash to make their holiday what they imagined. Ultimately, once they realised they have chosen the wrong hotel, room type or tour standard it’s too late to upgrade or get what they really wanted. I’m not advocating to spend more than you can afford, but rather to think about which options you won’t miss so you can prioritise what is important to you.

Think about your priorities and choose what you need to do to make it happen.

Choosing a tour

Tours can be an incredible way to experience a destination so don’t discount them before you have checked your options. From small group adventures with 4wd buses to luxury touring with special experiences planned just for group members than can be an awesome option.

You need to look carefully at what and how much is included.

Some companies offer tours that include just accommodation and travel, so you don’t have to stress about navigating between cities by yourself but then you’re free to explore the destination on your own.

Other tours include every activity and meal imaginable while most tours fall somewhere in the middle with some activities and meals extra and some part of the package.

Also, be sure to check if there are any ‘extras’ you have to pay for called a kitty or similar.

In Australia, tours can be a really cost-effective way to travel huge distances and experience the incredible landscapes rather than flying from place to place and missing all the views. They’re also a great way to see remote areas if you are not comfortable or experienced in a 4wd or going those places alone.

You always need to look at the type of tour. Do you really want to the most budget camping option if you can’t go a day without a hair straighter and power? If you can, it might be an amazing experience. Is the luxury tour going to get you out amongst nature to have a truly unique experience? They absolutely can with the right company and destination, but in some places, you may need to go more budget to have access to remote areas. This is one area where sometimes stepping outside your comfort zone can be a life-changing experience (but you also can’t put a price on a good nights sleep)!

Camping holidays

While camping trips for many people carry a lower financial stress it’s still important to think about some options while planning.

Hiring a car for you trip? Do some research, is the waterfall you want to visit only accessible by 4WD and will the rental company let your take it there?

How busy will your campsite be? If you are travelling in peak season you may need to arrive very early in the day if it can’t be pre-booked.

Booking your flight

When you book your flight the most important thing is not the price. Trust me. It’s that you have considered where you will be going after you arrive and before you leave so you don’t literally miss the most important part of your holiday.

There is no point in buying a $100 budget fare if it arrives after the last boat or bus to your end destination has left. The end result of realising you have lost a night’s accommodation or missed the start of your tour will be much more costly than spending the extra $100 on a conveniently timed flight.

Also, make sure you have accommodation at your destination. There is no point booking flights to visit a destination with only one resort that’s already booked out! You can hold in most hotel rooms with free cancellation through booking.com to avoid this situation.

How are you getting to your end destination?

Are you visiting an island? How are you getting there – chances are good you need to book and confirm your ferry or transfers before you go.

Islands are the best – just don’t forget to book your ferry transfer! Image: Fitzroy Island

Is there actually uber at your end destination or would pre-booking a transfer or taxi save a huge couples fight, or an overwhelmingly stressful arrival at 11pm at night?

How can I help you plan your trip?

I hope these things help you with planning your trip. This list is based on real things I’ve seen clients do when booking for themselves or through an agent.

I’ve seen people crying because they wanted ocean views, people upset because they were stuck in the airport for hours because they booked the most budget flight, people shattered because they ring to book accommodation when hotels are booked out after already buying their non-refundable flight and people making mistakes like booking flights that arrive after island transfers leave.

While most of these things are first world problems, they still have the potential to turn your special holiday into a less enjoyable experience.

An agent is always a great option to avoid unplanned surprises but chances are like me, you book most of your trips yourself.

If you want some advice on Australian destinations feel free to reach out and I can help you research the answer.

Happy holiday dreaming, and don’t forget you can hold in most hotels with no deposit and free cancellation through booking.com. This gives you the chance to get your other ducks in a line like flight and rental car availability with the certainty you will have a room to stay in when they’re booked.


A few more tips to get the holiday you want

Pay for what you really want straight up

Hotels can’t guarantee anything. Fitting guests in is like a jigsaw puzzle and unless you pay for what you want it may not happen. They try their best but if you are one of 100 people for the night that wrote ‘ocean views or high floor please’ on your request for a room type with only 50% of the rooms having that experience someone is going to miss out and chances are good it will be you.

Want to enjoy ocean views or high views of the city? Make sure you pick a room type that GUARANTEES IT in the room description such as ‘all with ocean views’ or ‘floor 35 and above’. If it says ‘some with’ there is no guarantee you will get the room you imagine.

Use your judgement on listening to reviews

Don’t ignore reviews but don’t take them as gospel either. Always look at the context of the review? Is the person winging about flies in the outback in summer as part of their review (these reviews really happen!!!)? Chances are good it’s not an unbiased or sensible opinion on the rest of the experience either. That being said, those reviews can help you to identify destinations that may not be for you.

Does the reviewer list some pro’s and cons and give a fair rating or explain the reason for their rating? Chances are better it’s a more accurate description.

Pay attention to hotel ratings and be realistic about what you are booking

Is the resort your picking $250 a night 4 stars but with everything you want? Yes, it’s a still a lot of money but have a realistic expectation. It will probably be a super fun holiday but don’t go expecting $1000 a night 5 star service and experiences.

Think about the realities of where you are visiting

Is the resort in a remote location? Their rooms will be more expensive than those of a similar standard in the city.

These places often have to generate their own power, manage their own water and sewage and get supplies in on trains, trucks or boats, sometimes from 1000km away. These costs are substantial and all add to the price of the experience. 4 star stays in the outback probably won’t be the same as 4 star in the city. Yes, there are standards they meet to get that but the hotels will likely still be different.

Get travel insurance

YES even in Australia.

When a deposit or the hotel rate your booking says non-refundable its actually non-refundable, that’s why its a much cheaper rate. Even if you get sick or have another reason you feel is valid.

Domestic travel insurance is relatively affordable and an annual plan is a good option to cover all your big trips and weekends away. It can also be a really cheap way to cover your rental car excess.