How To Plan A Trip
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When planning a trip, do you: spending years pouring over guidebooks and reading relevant books and articles? Hire a travel agent or book a tour? Spend countless hours online researching? Or, simply taking off without a plan? There is no right way. It’s a matter of what works for you, the destination, and available time and budget. But no matter how you plan (or don’t), the important thing is to, finally, GO!
As an independent traveler, I like to think I am spontaneous and, for short vacations to a singular destination, I usually am – just book flight, lodging (and, sometimes, rental car or other transportation) and see what and who shows up. But when it comes to prolonged travel with numerous destinations and/or involving others, I do considerable research for best deals on flights, places to stay; gaining familiarity with places I hope to visit, and attempting to make local contacts beforehand. This is a time consuming process that I enjoy, enriching the anticipation as well as appreciation once I am under way.
Whether ponderous or spontaneous, I find a great trip requires planning enough for peace of mind and accomplishing some goals, while leaving lots of time and space for chance encounters and Serendipity to surprise and delight. Having been a traveler since my teens, when I first started hitchhiking across the U.S., I’ve developed a certain confidence and ease in the pleasure of the way I travel, alone or with others. Since many of you are also travel aficionados, and a few have been kind enough to ask,”How do you do it?” I will chronicle my upcoming trip to San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, slated for January 20-March 22, 2011.
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Every trip I’ve taken is precipitated by an impetus – a work opportunity (like being chosen for a press trip by the Madrid Chamber of Commerce or the French Tourism Board), the celebration of a life event (like David’s 50th birthday trip to Amsterdam, Barcelona and Florence), a necessity (like leasing our house for 4 months and spending the time exploring New Zealand and Australia), or an invitation.
When a couple I know from Santa Fe, who recently built in house in San Miguel, graciously invited me to visit, the process began. I looked at roundtrip airfares (around $700) and airline miles, and opted for the miles (35,000). If the fare is less than $300, I usually pay it and save miles for more expensive flights. [Tip: I highly recommend using a credit card that gives you miles, as long as you pay it off every month. Even if there is an annual fee, if you use it for every purchase it adds up to free flights and, for a traveler, that’s a wonderful thing!]
Next, I looked at my address book to see who I know in Mexico, and I posted to my friends on Facebook and LinkedIn, asking for any contacts or suggestions. Among my contacts was woman artist acquaintance, Karen, who has lived in San Miguel for five years. She kindly offered to rent me an en suite at her house for a very reasonable price, which sounded like a great opportunity to get to know her and plug into the artist community there.
Meanwhile, Jina, a dear girlfriend from Dallas wrote an email introducing me to a friend of hers, Patty, who also lives in San Miguel. Not surprisingly, Patty and Karen are friends. Each offered valuable information and the promise of a warm welcome into their circle of friends.
Since I am self-employed (since 1985), I have the luxury of time and, with the desire to be in warmer climes in winter, I decided to book the flight for two months. This should give me sufficient time to truly experience San Miguel, take an immersion Spanish course, offer some workshops and explore the surrounding areas, including the city of Guanajuato where I lived for six months in 1974, when I was 19.
From my new friends’ recommendations, I booked a shuttle online to take me from the Leon Airport to my new digs (90 minutes drive) and received instant confirmation and a personal note assuring me the driver will meet me after I clear customs.
With all the logistics of getting and landing there confirmed, I began to research Spanish language schools and the local community. Positive comments on Trip Advisor led me to a school, Habla Hispana (www.mexicospanish.com). Impressed with their website, program and cost, I enrolled for two weeks and sent my deposit via Paypal, confirming with the director I could extend classes for one or two more weeks should I choose. I did not want to over-commit in case other opportunities arose. AFTER THE FACT NOTE: I was overly ambitious in thinking I’d have time, energy and inclination to attend a language school daily, as SMA is too interesting and too much else going on. ADVICE: Don’t overload your schedule!
My contacts told me of a “yahoo groups” conversation and classified website among local ex-pats (civil_SMA) You can joib for free and learn about events, yoga classes, rentals, recent muggings and other concerns. Yahoo groups do not show up in google searches, so it’s a good source to know about when looking for local’s information.
I usually travel with just one carry-on rolling bag for clothes and toiletries and a large purse that holds laptop, cell phone, camera, wallet and a few sundries. (I’ll share that list in a future posting). Because this is a two-month sojourn, I will do the unthinkable and ship through a large duffel bag. As I plan to offer workshops, I need to bring some materials and extra books for the Spanish course. And, since San Miguel is described “eternal spring,” with cool nights and mornings, I’ll need a sweater and jacket which would not be necessary if I were going to a more tropical climate.
All my travel clothes are just that: travel clothes – no ironing required! The wardrobe is predominantly black, with red or purple tops and a couple of scarves to spice it up. I have collected certain versatile pieces from thrift and consignment shops over the years. I take no jewelry besides what I wear, and I leave the valuable stuff at home. I know that if I need anything, I can always buy it. But I am not a shopper or collector, so the search for one specific item, like a pair of San Miguel Shoes, will be a treat.
Countdown To Departure:
With five days left before I depart on an early morning shuttle from Santa Fe to Albuquerque, to catch a flight to Houston and on to Leon, I ordered currency from my local bank, so I’d arrive with pesos and not have to find an ATM. I am backing up computer files, organizing, and starting to add items to my luggage (flashlight, small umbrella, books, a pashmina). Two days before I leave, I will add the wardrobe to the bags, sort and refold everything. and put liquid toiletries in the requisite one-quart plastic bag, to make sure they fit. The day before I’ll do a final walk through, making sure I’ve gathered everything I think I’ll need. To be sure, lists of things keep accumulating and being checked off. The night before, I know where everything is. Bags are zipped and ready to go out the door. I hate panic.
So, we shall see. Please stay tuned.