Sunday, August 7, 2011
So my European vacation is over and it's back to reality. I owe, I owe, so off to work I go. And while I'm still having a hangover on how great this vacation was - the food, the shopping, the sight seeing, and most of all the relaxation - I'm dreaming of the next. I guess, I do that to keep the impetus of having to "work hard, play hard" a challenge in my day to day routine work. Truth be told, routine is boring. I always tell my friends that we need a break from the routines of daily life to make each vacation a memorable one.
Vacations are time off from the routines of daily living. Like yeah, I've got a lot of bills to pay, so we work our asses off. And while we can be saving for a rainy day, some of that savings must go to enjoying the fruits of our labor. And that's exactly what a vacation is supposed to be. A time to relax. A time to recharge. A time to throw away the anxieties of daily life. To dream even for a while.
One needs to save enough to enjoy a good vacation.
Which means that I will take a vacation in style - I am not referring to opulence, but rather on not scrimping on necessities during the trip. I don't want to arrive at my destinations looking like part of the baggages that comes out of the conveyer belts of the airlines. (For short trips less than 4 hours, you don't need to fly in business class because it's a waste of money. The very short trip isn't worth the bucks. But for long-hauls, believe me when I say that it's really an uncomfortable ride.)
Which means that I won't be caught dead eating at McDonald's for breakfast or eating at a fast food joint instead of Nabucco in Milan or splurging on the best lobster caught off the coast of Santorini at Katina's just because I wanted to buy a Dolce & Gabanna bag. It also means that I will not take a vacation squeezing myself at the back of economy class for a 17 hours trip just because I have gazillion relatives, friends and co-workers to bring some gifts (read - "pasalubong") for. Immediate relatives will get some token or souvenir but the rest of the crowd do not need to because they did not pay for my vacation and I am not indebted to them in any form. As for my employees, they should just be thankful that they have a job and I am paying them well. They can go ahead and save for their own vacations. I don't need to get them a bit of Paris just to spark envy in their eyes.
I also won't get caught dead sleeping in a hostel or a sleazy bed and breakfast backpacker's place. I have nothing against these places. I know they are cheap and my sister always tells me that since it's only for a few days where we plan to bunk in and that we're usually out exploring the cities, a place to lay our tired bodies is all we need. I always believe that one of the most important things one considers in a trip is lodging. Pampering and the feeling of getting pampered has no comparable experience. Luxury, opulence and relaxation are part of the equation of a memorable vacation experience. You don't want to be writing about your trip where you woke up to bites from bedbugs or had the worst bed that was sagging to the floor that you had backaches all throughout your trip. I'd want to remember the feeling of having slept on a Heavenly Bed with 750 counts of comforter and pillows that are hypoallergenic in nature. I'd want to recall the daily fruit baskets with champagne and Valhorna chocolates on my turned down bed and fluffed pillows for the night. I don't like having to take a bath in a moldy bathroom where even the shower curtains (if there is one) are about to accumulate so much grime or that the shampoos and soaps come in sachets and there's only one towel that's been thinned out from excessive use. After the sightseeing and shopping, I'd like to come home to a hotel where I can sleep in and soak in a bathtub with Aveda or Molton Brown or L'Occitane or Hermes bath products complete with toothbrush, shaving kits, cotton tips and facial scrubs to boot. I'd want to wake up to a fresh cup of coffee made from my Nespresso rather than a three-in-one sachet with hot water which I will need to go down to a dingy makeshift kitchen of the hostel (if there even is one) to get. Getting additional perks of a butler or chamber maid or chauffer with a limo is icing on the cake, but that's only you've got extra cash to ostentatiously splurge.
There's nothing like treating yourself to a taste of heaven while you're on earth. It's what you remember and write about in your "Dear Diary".
Choosing the best flights, best places to go and stay, best spots to see need planning. You need to research thoroughly on these and with the internet at the tips of our finger, it's a great help to see the opinion of fellow travelers who are netizens as well. You need to explore what every place has to offer. Even if one keeps going back to the same vacation spot, it's a good idea to vary some of your itineraries and places of stay so you can compare while enjoying the ups and downs of travel.
Expedia (www.expedia.com) provides a comparative guide on which airline to take to your destination. Once you've picked your airline, go directly to the airline's website and see what fares are offered. It's also good to keep in mind that choosing ONE common carrier should be the standard as flying on different carriers from your origin to your point(s) of destination is far more expensive. Join a frequent flyer program. You'll be surprised that the miles you've accumulated will more than pay for your next vacation or can be redeemed as miles + cash later on or better yet, get upgrades from the crowded economy seats. Read the fine lines when you plan to book your flights. Cebu Pacific and Philippine Airlines (our local carriers) offer rock bottom prices but these are not inclusive of taxes and other charges. More often than not, you may be able to get seats at the advertised promo rate but they fly out at 1AM or so and leave you on the street in your final destination until 2PM the following day (which is the regular check-in time).
About your destination.
Tripadvisor.com is a great site for the general public. Others include Lonely Planet (www.lonelyplanet.com, Frommers Guide (www.frommers.com), and of course Travel+Leisure (www.travelandleisure.com). I prefer small luxury or boutique hotels because they're not too touristy and the amount you spend on touristy hotels will get you a suite at these hotels. Tablet hotels (www.tablethotels.com) provides information on the latter. And while you're at it, check out the places to see where and when you go. The best time to be there and the offers on the sites. Don't forget to compare the reviews and not just look at the pictures. Many hotels put up websites whose pictures look picture perfect of heaven but when you get there, it's as crummy as hell. They won't give you your money back and neither can you get out of the deal. You'll always see a map of the location of the hotel. Check it out and see if it's the best place that has access to a bus or subway or train station. Some may be a great steal because it's a luxury suite at a low rate but it's located in some deserted God-forsaken area where you'll either need to rent a car or walk a mile before you get there. Remember, you're in unfamiliar terrain and while it's okay to act like a tourist, you don't want to waste your time in your final destination figuring out how to get from point A to point B from dawn till dusk.
Finally (and I say this from experience), it's always best to get your airline or show or park tickets or make hotel reservations online. Of course, you'll need to do this with your credit card (and it must have enough credit limit). Travel agents usually charge you PER PERSON. If you check the prices online, you'll get shocked that the amount you're paying your travel agency actually is the total price PER ROOM per night. Most of the hotels offer great deals with buffet breakfast and special packages for your vacation. Many of the airlines and hotels also have fabulous offers when you're flying during the low season rather than the general holidays.
Remember, it's hard earned money that you're spending. And it's your vacation. And no one deserves a great vacation than the weary traveler in search of an adventure or a dream or simply to relax. It's not about the bags or shoes or clothes or Spam or shampoos or candies or what-nots you buy that a vacation is about.
It's the journey.
[Travel+Leisure is the trademark of Travel and Leisure and you can log in to www.travelandleisure.com.]