11 easy steps for researching your journey abroad

By Philip Wagenaar
This item appears on page 57 of the April 2012 issue.

(Part 3 of 4. Go to part one or part two.)

I have been discussing in detail steps helpful in researching an overseas trip, as listed in the box on the next page. This month I pick up at step No. 8.

Step 8: Getting To Your Destination

I am limiting the discussion in this section to miscellaneous tips about flying.

• For COMPLETE timetables and fares of all carriers (it even lists Southwest Airlines), go to http://airtimetable.com. This site also has a wealth of other links, such as airline phone numbers (clicking on the carrier’s name on the phone-numbers page opens up its website), seat information (from SeatGuru.com, SeatExpert.com and Airlinequality.com — all very helpful), currency converters, world time and many others.

• Many carriers are now offering an upgraded type of economy-class seating, which goes by various names, such as Economy Extra, Economy Plus, Premium Economy, Comfort Economy, etc. Its character and comfort varies by airline. Some, such as Air New Zealand’s, are worth every penny; others offer only a few extra inches here and there (more there than here). Visit SeatGuru.com, SeatExpert.com and Airlinequality.com in addition to the airline’s website or call for details.

11 Easy Steps

11 easy steps for researching your journey abroad

When arranging for a trip overseas, follow these steps in the order in which they are presented.

  1. Check the US State Department travel advisories for the countries of interest.
  2. Investigate the area’s climate, weather and best time to travel.
  3. Peruse public holidays and summer and school vacation periods.
  4. Decide whether you will travel independently or on an escorted tour or do a combination of both.
  5. Obtain medical information related to your own health and to diseases you may encounter.
  6. Buy the appropriate guidebook(s) and overview map(s). On the latter, delineate your tour with the help of the “Itineraries” chapter of each guide.
  7. Contact the appropriate government tourist offices.
  8. Decide how to reach and return from your destination (e.g., by air, ship, train, etc.). Research local transportation (e.g., Japan’s bullet trains).
  9. Integrate any desired accommodation into your plans (ensuring that hotels, etc., will be available on the chosen travel dates).
  10. Investigate trip insurance.
  11. Prepare your finances (debit cards, travelers’ checks) and apply for visas.

• To prevent delays, use nonstop flights.

• If so inclined, check airfares of applicable carriers on Kayak.com and Vayama.com.

• Compare fares of a rebating travel agency (consolidator), which may have restricted tickets, and airline websites.

• Look for cheaper tickets on foreign airlines, which frequently will have discounts for passengers flying from the native country.

• Watch for fare wars; ask for senior discounts (rare).

• Be flexible regarding date and time of travel.

• Travel in the off-season (for Europe, late October to early March).

• Travel to a city that offers the best rate and continue from there by bus or train.

• Purchase a round-trip ticket, which usually is cheaper than a one-way tariff.

• Keep track of fare reductions even after you have bought your ticket.

• Check on expiring frequent-flyer mileage.

• Use courier flights.

• Use a travel agent.

• Search guidebooks for discount offers.

• Get student (statravel.com) or university discounts.

Step 9: Integrate Accommodations Into Your Plans


Since you want to be sure that the accommodation has space for you upon arrival, book your room as soon as you have finalized your transportation (there are, of course, exceptions).

Those of you who don’t make prior lodging arrangements may want to carry a hotel guide which lists all or most hotels inside the country in which you are traveling.

While a number of European countries are covered by the venerable Michelin Red Guides, which cover hotels and restaurants, other countries offer their own lodging guides, which usually can be obtained from various sources, such as the GTO (government tourism office), local tourist offices, gas stations, kiosks and specialized bookstores.

While the descriptions of establishments in the Michelin Red Guides usually are in the country’s native tongue, an English legend in the front of each book makes them easy to use. Nevertheless, a few editions, including that of France, also come in English versions.

When you use Michelin detail maps, you will find that towns underlined in red are listed in the relevant Michelin Red Guide.


• Buy maps and travel books at Wide World Books & Maps (Seattle, WA; 888/534-3453).

• Scout the travel section of your bookstore.

• Contact the GTO.

• Find out before departure where you can buy maps and books in English at your destination.


• Reserve lodgings for the first and last nights of your trip.

• When booking with an international chain, ask for the corporate rate, the preferred or promotional rate or a senior, AARP or AAA discount.

• Request weekend concessions and a rate reduction for prolonged stays.

• Note that hotels in big cities frequently offer discounts on weekends.

• Compare the price on the establishment’s website with the ones listed at major discounters such as Hotels.com and Booking.com. Booking ahead and online is often significantly more economical.

• Use B&Bs, guest houses and pensions instead of hotels.

• Be aware that summer discounts are the rule in Scandinavia.

• If the price seems too good to be true, ask if the quoted rate is per person rather than per room (very common in Austria).

• Do not make phone calls from your room.

• Note that in France, a room with a grand lit (double bed) is superior to and cheaper than a twin room.

• Consider persuading the staff to let you park gratis.

• When breakfast is included in the room rate, strike a bargain if you leave before breakfast.

• Request a discount for full or half room-and-board.

• Watch for special offers posted at the hotel’s entryway.

• Call ahead for a reservation (no later than 3 p.m.). On weekends, call the day before.

• Have the clerk write down the lodging charge to prevent any misunderstandings upon checkout.

• Stay in the suburbs.

• Stay in youth hostels, cottages, villas, apartments or homes.

• Look for advertised discounts for bicyclists or business travelers at the entrances of hotels. Such rebates are common in France.

• Request a student, hiker or cyclist rebate. (Learn the translations of the words “student,” “hiker,” “cyclist,” “senior” and “discount.”)

• Upon checkout, ask if there is a price reduction when paying cash (frequently offered in Italy).

• In the Netherlands, request an arrangement (a-ran-je-ment), a discounted stay, usually with special amenities.


For a complete classification of hostels worldwide (most of which are also open to older people) along with information on membership and bookings, go to the Hostelling International site.

Next month, I will continue my discussion.