Why should travel agents have all the fun?

I haven’t been everywhere, but it’s on my list. —Susan Sontag

People sometimes ask why we do all of our travel planning–from flights, to hotels, to restaurants, to activities–ourselves, rather than book a package or use a travel agent. Why go to all the bother?

Since we started traveling together in 1998–our first year of marriage–we realized we needed to figure out how to take the trips we wanted on a budget. We discovered that with a little know-how and the right search engines, travel doesn’t have to be super expensive, and the biggest place to save is airfare. I’m always amazed when I hear what some people pay for flights, mostly because they go with “their” airline and don’t bother price shopping.

photo(1)More importantly, when you use a good search engine, you can find flights that accommodate your schedule (no getting up at 3AM if you don’t want to!), and without ridiculously long layovers. Of course sometimes, depending on the destination, flight times and layover options may be limited–e.g., we learned that you can’t get to southern Belize in one day without being on a 6AM flight–but you still have control within those parameters to get the best flights for your needs.

Second of all, we’re not big on pre-packaged vacations. Our honeymoon was actually a tour package–a wedding gift from Rob’s mother–and although it was a great first trip together, and while we did get to see a lot of places we might never have otherwise, we quickly realized that we wanted more control over what we saw, where we went, the type of hotel we stayed in, and how long we stayed. The year after that, and almost every year since, we have planned every detail of our own trips.

Now, we know many people who do book resorts or take cruises for the main reason that everything is taken care of for them, they don’t have the time or want the stress of planning out the individual details. That works for them, and we totally understand it. Our trips to Belize and Nicaragua were a bit like that – a package that included lodging/food/excursions, although we had to arrange our own travel, and it was definitely stress-free. We’ve also heard that experienced travel agents sometimes have access to deals the average person doesn’t.

But for us, the real reason we usually plan all the details ourselves is that it’s FUN. Months in advance, we discuss where we’re going to go, and once we’ve settled on the destination, we buy a few travel books and start our vacation planning. But in fact, for us, this is when we’re starting our vacation.

Evenings in the kitchen with a bottle of wine, and the travel books spread out around us, we envision ourselves on vacation long before we get there. We research the neighborhoods to decide the best place for our stay; we prioritize our sightseeing list by reading about museums and marketplaces, cathedrals and parks. We rent movies and find travel shows about our planned destination; we read books, both fiction and nonfiction, to learn more about the culture. We go to restaurants and try new recipes at home to inspire us for our upcoming trip.

And that’s our secret to a happy life: we always feel like we’re on vacation, because we’re always thinking about the next one, even if it’s a year away.

This September will be our 15th anniversary, and for quite some time now we’ve been talking about where we’d go. We wanted it to be special, meaningful. We had considered revisiting one of our favorite vacations from our early days (Venice), or totally immersing ourselves in the life of a city straddling continents and cultures (Istanbul), or possibly going back to a place we’ve been more recently, but doing much more extensive travel while there (Morocco).

In the end, though, a number of factors converged to settle us, most definitely, on a country that has been in our minds for years now, which we often felt we might never get to, or be ready for: India.

As often as we get asked why we don’t just let a travel agent handle the details, just as often they also want to know how we do it. Isn’t it difficult? they ask. I wouldn’t know where to start.

There’s a good amount of planning involved in any trip, and that goes double for India. We hope to visit five cities in a little over two weeks (and I forgot to mention, one of them is in Nepal) so that means lots and lots of details. As we plan our trip, we’ll share bits of our process and progress, in the hopes it will inspire you roll up your sleeves and immerse yourself in your next trip, not just when you get off the plane in your exotic destination, but long before that, too.

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