One of our clients' top questions is, "How far in advance do I need to plan a vacation?" While I'd love to give you a cut-in-stone answer, the reality is that it depends! In this article, I discuss several scenarios that affect the timing of vacations and suggest how you can optimize your pre-trip planning time.
Shorter Trips, Trips to Nearby Locations, Off-Season Trips
These trips can usually be planned 3-6 months in advance, or as quickly as a week or two before departure. These trips are typically straightforward if you're not tied to any particular location. Some of my free-spirited clients love calling me to book vacations based on last-minute availability. (FYI - last-minute trips may incur an additional planning fee for urgent requests.)
Shorter Trips: Who doesn't want the ability to experience more getaways? You can really stretch out your vacation days by deciding to take long weekend jaunts, using weekends and holidays to your advantage. I find I pack more efficiently for shorter trips, so that's a bonus.
Geographically-Close Trips: This category would include locations within a few hours' drive to visit destinations that are probably not in extreme demand at any given time. For example, several of my Oklahoma City-based clients enjoy 3-day weekend getaways to nearby cities or recreational areas like Dallas, Tulsa, and Austin. Although I may not be able to secure a specific property when booking last minute, I can usually find lodging (and activities!) that my clients will enjoy.
Off-Season Trips: Traveling off-season can be a fantastic way to avoid crowds, getting the top attractions mostly to yourself! And when you're booking off-season, you'll enjoy far more options for last-minute travel.
Italy is a great example.
When summertime rolls around, crowds of tourists from around the world inundate Italy's cities, coastal areas, and wine country. While it's true that summer is often an ideal travel time for many families, it's really not the best time to visit Bel Paese. Summer in Italy can be sweltering and humid. Standing in line in 100-degree heat while waiting to enter the Colosseum isn't my idea of a great day in Rome.
Instead of summer, plan your trip for early April or May. Temperatures are better, hotels have vacancies, and you'll battle far fewer crowds.
Longer Trips, Geographically-Distant Trips, High-Season
I love planning quick getaways for my clients, but I really shine as a Travel Advisor in designing custom, complex, once-in-a-lifetime itineraries.
You'll find these kinds of trips on bucket lists–seeing the Great Pyramids of Giza, hiking Machu Picchu, or taking your family on that incredible African safari you've been dreaming about for years.
Because these trips are complex, in high global demand, and more expensive than a standard beach vacation, it's best to plan these at least 6 to 12 months in advance.
Longer Trips: A trip lasting two weeks or longer would fall into this category. This can include longer cruises, a multi-country European vacation, or a working vacation.
Because these trips last longer, they require more pre-travel planning. They will likely require more transfers than a standard vacation, along with more activities.
Geographically-Distant Trips: We live in a hyper-connected world with most destinations within 24 hours of travel time. But there's still quite a difference between a 7-hour flight to Paris vs. 24 hours of travel time to reach Bali.
Planning 6-12 months in advance is crucial when you're jetting off to distant lands. Not only will this allow you to optimize your flight budget, but it will also give you the most choice when it comes to accommodations and excursions.
High-Season: If you have children or grandchildren, you're probably familiar with the stress of booking a Disneyworld trip at the peak of summer. That's why I always recommend people work with a Travel Advisor when planning a theme-park trip. (Here at CCTP, we don't book Disney vacations–but we have plenty of recommendations for fabulous TA's that do!)
When planning a high-season trip to popular destinations like Venice, Paris, or London, you want to plan at least 6 to 12 months in advance. Some clients even plan as far as two years before their travel departure! Other examples of trips necessitating 6 to 12-month planning periods would include itineraries based around holidays and special events like Carnaval in Brazil, Christmas markets in Europe, sporting events, and Mardis Gras in New Orleans.
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