5 things to check before booking your next holiday

I’m a big proponent of DIYing your holiday – but if you’ve never done so before, it can be difficult to know where to start. Even if you have some experience, the items below should help make sure your holiday goes entirely as smoothly as you expect – and if there are any issues, you’ll find out before you’ve spent any money. The full guide on what to check before booking a holiday is below with links, but first is an easy flowchart to follow through:

Now the full guide. All you need to know for running through this is a location and approximate time.

1) Climate

One of the easiest things to check, but which so many people forget about. Go to ClimaTemps.com and search for a city nearby to your destination. Review a graph such as the one below and find your month.

Cardiff, Wales Climate Graph

Compare it against other months in that destination (and in your home city for context) and check:

  • Rainfall (is there a rainy season?)
  • Min./avg./max. temperatures (can you cope with that level of hot/cold?)
  • # Wet days
  • # Sunlight hours
  • Daylength (particularly important for places very far north or south)

Are you okay with that weather? If not, find another location or time.

2) Cost of flights

The biggest cost of any long-haul holiday and a significant cost of any. Follow my tips on using Skyscanner to get at least a ballpark figure of how much you are likely to spend on getting to your destination. At this point you don’t need to know exact dates – just an approximate number for the time & place you want to go.

Can you afford those flights? If not, find another location or time.

3) Cost of accommodation

I’ll go into more detail on finding cheap accommodation another time, but for just getting an idea of how much it will cost open up Booking.com. Search for a city or town you might stay in, enter some approximate dates and see what results you get. Remember to check the map as well to make sure that the cheapest ones aren’t all in the middle of nowhere or way out of town. You can also check AirBnB for rentals.

Calculate the cost for the numbers of nights you’ll be staying, divide it by the number of people paying and add it to your flight cost. Can you afford this? If not, same as before – find another location or time.

4) How to get around

There are two main options here: hire car or public transport. For both, google maps is a great quick tool to see travel times and options. If you’re thinking of hiring a car, find a price on RentalCars.com but also do a quick Google search for “renting a car in <location>” to find some forum posts about driving conditions and local traffic so you know what you’re getting yourself in for. If you’re planning to rely on public transport, make sure it exists! Find out basic information about buses/trains in the area – an easy way is to do a search for “public transport in <location>”.

Are you happy and able to get around in this manner?

5) Crowds

I think everyone can agree that massive crowds (particularly of tourists all with their cameras and phones out) aren’t a particularly pleasant experience – and you don’t want to find yourself surrounded by crowds on that supposedly relaxing holiday. There are two things to check here. If you’re going away to a popular holiday destination for your country, especially one that’s family friendly, make sure you know when local school holidays are. Plus you’ll also want to know when the local kids will be out of school. Wikipedia’s article on school holidays is a great resource to get a general idea.

Also check for national holidays in the destination you are going to – I had to deal with massive crowds in Japan because I had accidentally booked flights that fell over Golden Week, a cluster of national holidays. For this, search for the country in question at www.officeholidays.com, which will also tell you how the holiday is celebrated. Crowds for one day aren’t necessarily a bad thing if you also get to witness a local festival! If you’re unsure here, just do an extra search for “<location> in <month>” on TripAdvisor and read through some forum posts from previous travellers.

So the final question is are you okay with any potential crowds you’ve discovered above? If yes, you are ready to start the real research into flights before booking your holiday!

Example

I’ve been looking into visiting the medieval city of Carcassonne in France later this year. The above order is great to follow if you know very little about a destination. However for locations in Europe I often skip/change around certain steps because I already have an idea of the seasons and holiday periods. I searched for cheapest flights in any month on Skyscanner, then narrowed down to June – warm weather, but before the summer holidays. I found some for £60 from a local airport for a three day short break. Then I went on Booking.com and searched accommodation by cheapest first, checking locations on the map to find one near to the medieval city. There’s an Ibis for £70. I checked walking distances on google maps to make sure it was appropriate, then also did some quick google searches for what to do in Carcassonne and Carcassonne in June.

I’m happy with the weather, cost and crowds. In just over an hour, I have a basic holiday plan for a short break in Europe.

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