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Getting the most out of your next big trip

It’s been a long time between flights. We asked travel professionals Experience Travel Group for their bluffer’s guide to booking a successful holiday.

Relaxing on the beach for the first few days is clever planning.

Flight times

If you’re flying mid- or long-haul, make sure you check arrival times. If your plane lands in the early hours of the morning, make sure you’ve arranged an early check-in, or even booked an additional night. Hanging around jet-lagged is nightmare territory, especially if you’ve got young children. At the very least, pack your swimmers in your carry-on so you can access the pool while you’re waiting. Even better, a few hours of sleep and a shower in your accommodation will see you refreshed and ready to properly relax by the afternoon.

Rewards and benefits

Not many people know that you can sometimes get free domestic flights in Asia if you’re travelling to your destination with the national airline. According to Experience Travel Group, if you’re flying with airlines like Vietnam Airlines, Thai Airways or Malaysian Airways, tour operators can maximise the benefit of using associated domestic flight networks.

If you’re booking without using an agent, always look at the country’s main carrier to see if you can build a ticket with all the flights you need - it’s trickier doing it yourself, but it is possible.

On the other hand, using rewards for upgrades can be a blessing and a curse. You may end up having to compromise too much to take advantage of reward flights, including not being able to connect because the timings are off and having to book extra nights. Ask yourself if it’s worth the extra cost and the faff.

Hotel bookings

When hotel booking sites say ‘one room left’, this is likely to be one room left of their allocation from the hotel. The hotel isn’t full, it’s just a tactic to get you to book. Tour operators can normally find availability if booking sites are coming up as ‘full’. Hotels also pay serious commission to booking sites, so if you’re not booking through a tour operator, why not just go direct? Hotels always appreciate guests getting in touch.

Room allocation

If you’re heading off as a family group, have a think before you book about the realities of sharing rooms and bathrooms. Family rooms have lots of benefits, but according to Experience Travel Group, clients can get a bit caught out after a few nights of group living.

Ask yourself if you’d be happy living like this at home - remember you’re going on holiday, will saving on an extra room end up negatively affecting your trip?

The professional advice if you’re a group is to invest in a multi-bedroom suite or villa. These tend to be significantly more expensive than a single room because you get a living area and a larger overall footprint. A top tip is look at the cost effectiveness of a villa over a hotel - for example, having villa staff buying your food and drink at local prices can offset hotel F&B charges, so it can be worth the additional cost.

Time it right

Every destination has a sweet spot. It’s usually just at the point when prices drop and the destination moves into ‘shoulder season’ but still boasts great weather.

If you’re travelling during school holidays, book as far ahead as you can; there is such concentrated demand for flights and accommodation they will never drop in price. Dynamic pricing and discount sales will usually be blacked out over school holidays. Remember that tour operators can also hold flights for much longer, locking in that initial price.

The advantage of living in Asia means international school holidays often fall slightly outside of major holiday periods in countries like the US and the UK. Late June and early July are good examples - much of Europe and the UK don’t break up until the end of July.

Staff at Experience Travel Group say one of their favourite ‘sweet spots’ is Sri Lanka in September. And then there’s Kerala in April, Vietnam in May, Indonesia in June and Bhutan in December.

Action plan

If you’re moving around during your break, be clever with your itinerary - for example, make sure you’re in cities on weekends when they’re at their most lively.

Start slowly, perhaps with a couple of nights at your arrival destination. Different foods, climates and time zones can take getting used to, especially if you’re travelling with young children. Find out how close the airport is to your destination city - in Sri Lanka, for example, you land at least an hour’s drive from Colombo, longer in traffic - and plan accordingly.

Pace yourselves. Start with the beach or somewhere relaxing, recharge your batteries and then move on to something that demands a little more energy.

And try to finish the holiday on a high. Experience Travel Group (somewhat controversially) advises not to finish up on the beach. “If the beach is your final destination, you’ll be lying on a lounger dwelling on the fact your holiday is coming to an end,” they say. “If you have a couple of days in a lively city before getting back on the plane, you’ll be too busy shopping and clinking glasses at a rooftop bar to worry about the chores waiting for you. You’ll look forward to that last stop and every last minute of the holiday.”

Final tips

Rising early in Asia reaps rewards. There’s so much life on the streets first thing and for photographers, the light is often amazing at this time of day.

In places like Hanoi, you’ll see people doing Tai-Chi or shopping in the markets; in other words, real life. In Cambodia you’ll catch boats coming back from fishing or kids rowing to school on Tonle Sap Lake - absolutely magical stuff.

For more help with your holiday booking, contact Experience Travel Group.

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