Tag Archives: napa

OCD Vacation Planning: Website Guilty Pleasures

18 Jun

One of my favorite things to do in life is plan the most perfect itinerary for trips. I’m not as bad as I used to be – at the age of twelve, I took my grandparents’ awesome National Geographic map set and used a ruler to map out the exact time each leg of our road trip to DisneyWorld would take. I then created a detailed-to-the-minute itinerary for the entire 12 day trip, down to roadside bathroom breaks and what order to go on rides. I’m sure I drove my parents crazy.

Man, if twelve-year-old me had had access the Internet, that DisneyWorld trip would have been crazy.

The OCD has stuck around, so I still love to research the hell out of every trip to maximize enjoyment and minimize the possibility of overlooking some once in a lifetime experience. However, I’ve learned to not over-schedule (mostly) and can appreciate how leaving some windows of open time allows for spontaneity and flexibility. But to go on a trip without doing the research on what the best things to see and do would be such a waste of time – you could miss your one chance to experience something you’d love see by not realizing it’s closed on Tuesdays. Also, I need to know about everything, even if I can’t possibly see it all, so I know what I’m missing. It doesn’t seem as bad if I’ve made the choice to forgo it, rather than by chance.

Currently, I am using three websites to help plan our upcoming adventures, particularly for the October trip to Napa Valley:

TripAdvisor: I feel like TripAdvisor should be the first place you check before you go anywhere, perhaps even in your own town. Users rate attractions, hotels, restaurants, etc., upload their own pictures, and participate in helpful forums. The website also provides mapped search results so you can narrow options down to a particular neighborhood or block. Also, if you log in through Facebook, you can see if any of your friends or friends of friends have reviewed a particular place, which might be more meaningful and reliable than the word of total strangers.

[Chowhound](http://chowhound.chow.com/boards/1): This is particularly useful for our trip to Napa, as that trip is all about food and wine experiences. The Chowhound Bay Area Board is a forum with local foodies and oenophiles doling out advice for the non-native foodies and oenophiles planning their trips. One of my favorite things people do is post their proposed itineraries for critique and suggestions, then follow up after the trip is over to provide their own “trip report”. It’s great to see what works and what doesn’t for those going ahead of you. Hopefully you can avoid their mistakes!

TripIt: Once you’ve figured out some of the places you’d like to go, made hotel reservations, rented a car, or booked a flight, this website organizes all of your information into an itinerary. This is awesome – if you want it to, it can pull confirmation emails directly from your inbox and automatically create a Lodging item on your itinerary. It can also create driving directions between to addresses listed on your itinerary and automatically add them. Basically, when you go on your trip, you won’t need to dig through your email searching for contact info or confirmation numbers. Everything will be neatly organized into an itinerary.

This can be helpful for planning stages as well – as you fill your itinerary with activities, you can visualize how cramped your schedule might get if you add too much. By adding driving directions between each point, you can ensure that you have plenty of travel time built in!

TripIt is a website, with iPhone and iPad apps available as well.

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Avoiding Regret: My Travel Goals For Next 12 Months

12 Jun

Regret. There is nothing like regret to motivate a person to throw themselves at a project, or to avoid making past mistakes by researching and seeking advice. I’ve been blessed to do some pretty amazing travel in the past 20 years. Sometimes I wish I could go back and do it again, but do some more research this time, take more pictures, actually keep up with the travel journals I ALWAYS start and ALWAYS forget about by day two. Another major regret: I wish I had joined a frequent flyer program (or three) before I started traveling back then.

**random thought: I wonder if people sign their kids up for FF programs? Is that allowed? Do you have to be a certain age? If not, that would be such an awesome gift to give your children upon adulthood – 18 years of mileage built up over their childhood.**

So back to my own regrets. I’ve flown Quantas round trip from LAX, as well as round trip between Cairns and Sydney, and Sydney and Auckland. Wouldn’t it be awesome to have credit for those? I mean, sure, that was in 1996, but maybe I could have used it for something? I flew round trip to Paris in 1997, and London in 2002. I don’t even remember what carrier we flew on! (I do remember that on the 2002 trip, we checked in at the airport, and my 6’7″ father requested seats in the bulkhead, and they happily sat my family in that row. Like, no big deal. It seems like a million years ago!) I’ve flown to Mexico several times, and again – I couldn’t tell you what airline. I certainly didn’t accrue miles.

I did sign up for OnePass about 5 years ago, and started to funnel any travel opportunities to Continental, and then post-merger United. Thank goodness! I mean, I wasn’t doing anything with them, but at least I wasn’t “leaving money on the table”, as they say.

So here we are now, mid-2013. Andrew and I have four round trip flights planned for the rest of the year, and we are trying to maximize our mileage, credit card spending, hotel stays and all the rest of it with one goal in mind – a trip to Ireland in spring 2014! And to really wring every drop of value from that trip, I want to fly there (practically) for free, and use that savings to do things we otherwise couldn’t afford.

I’ve already learned so many things from reading the ‘frequent flyer’ blogs that have helped. I learned about “open jaws” and “stopovers” from [Hack My Trip](http://hackmytrip.com/2013/06/award-routing-rules-united-airline/). This has inspired me to consider adding a 2 or 3 night stopover in London to our itinerary. London is my favorite city – where else might I bump into Mr. Darcy, Sherlock, and Dr. Who? We can do this without increasing the miles needed for our round trip tickets, which with the Saver Award fares at United should be 60k round trip each.

That’s why our goal right now is 120,000 miles. It feels like a race against time, because Saver Award availability seems to change all the time, so I’m trying to accrue the miles asap! As of today:

Beginning Balance as of 06/10/2013: 106,365

Airline Activity: 0

Non Airline Activity:

– MileagePlus Dining: 144
– ERewards Welcome Bonus (signing up through United.com): 250

Ending Balance as of 06/11/2013: 106,759

MILES TO GO: 13,241

Whoa. We have some work ahead of us! I am looking forward to my CC spend hitting for June – that should give me a nice boost.