By Daniela Harrison
The holidays are a great time to travel! Imagine no dishes, no cooking marathons, and no holiday decorating. Who wouldn’t want to share that with their special someone?
But travel is no easy gift. There are so many things to consider beyond the destination: time off from work, time away from family, passports, visas, weather, travel times, and the final sticking point – how many people are going on this trip? Oh, and do you want it to be a surprise, or will your giftee help pick the place and the activities?
Times: Let’s start with when you’d like to travel. December and January might have you feeling like you don’t ever want to leave the house, but tropical paradises like Hawaii, the Bahamas, and the South Pacific can change your mind in a hurry. Prefer the snowy whites of Canada, Switzerland, or Vermont? All you need to decide is if you’re bringing your own skis or renting them there.
Most times and places have ample vacation options available, from cruises to all-inclusive resorts, hiking and expedition trips, private jet adventures, and more. And while some resorts and cruise ships are sold out, plenty of nice options are still available.
Looking to travel later this spring or summer? No problem. Availability is better, and in some cases you can still get early booking discounts. Many summer cruises still offer extra amenities like shipboard credit, free beverage packages or prepaid gratuities, and hotels currently offer free room upgrades, breakfast, spa treatments, and more. Europe has some great deals right now, especially since the Euro is so low. If you pre-pay, this is an amazing time to secure some wonderful travel experiences – and some great travel values.
Destinations: The next step is picking your destination. Consider travel time; while flying can be fun for some, others prefer to spend more of their vacation time at their destination. If you’re looking for a quick three- or four-day getaway, focus on destinations with non-stop flights to maximize your time in-destination. If you have seven to 10 days, you can consider more exotic options that require layovers and maybe even an extra pre- or post-departure night along your route.
Speaking of flights, always check your connecting airports. Just because it doesn’t snow in L.A. and Jamaica doesn’t mean there won’t be a blizzard at O’Hare. While flying through Miami might cost more, the likelihood of flight cancellations and delays will be much lower.
Also, review cancellation and ticket-change rules before purchasing, and if there’s some gift-related uncertainty in the mix, you might want to hold off on booking flights. Change fees on airline tickets add up fast.
Passports and visas: Did you know that for most foreign travels your passport has to be valid for six months past your return-home date? That means if your trip ends on Jan. 3, your passport must be valid until at least July 3. If you’re planning on gifting international travel, make sure your giftee’s passport is current. If you don’t know or can’t check, consider booking a trip further out – for the coming summer perhaps. Allow your giftee time to renew their passport without paying the rush fee.
Also, check on visa requirements here. While many countries don’t require U.S. citizens to get a visa ahead of time, others will deny you entry. If your gift of travel is a surprise, stay away from visa-requiring destinations. This is especially important on cruises, as some ports of call may have different requirements. Make sure you book out far enough to allow extra time for visas to be processed. The holidays can delay processing times, and inclement weather can delay the mail.
Family travel: Many families travel together over the holidays. Disney-type resorts are popular for families with small kids, but don’t forget about cruises. Kids’ clubs, easy dining, a variety of shows, and many activities in port means there’s something for everyone. With older kids, all-inclusives, adventure tours and expedition-type trips are popular. For something really special, consider an all-inclusive ski trip to the Alps, a Christmas-market cruise on European rivers, an expedition to Antarctica, kayaking in New Zealand, diving in Tahiti, surfing in Maui, or whitewater rafting in Costa Rica.
Penalties and protection: Of course, none of this can happen if your giftee can’t get off work. Many people ask for time off during the holidays; make sure your giftee is one of them. Carefully check terms and conditions of hotels, cruise lines, airlines, and tours, and remember: Only a handful will allow date changes without penalties.
A big item to consider here is travel insurance. Many companies (like Berkshire Hathaway Travel Protection) offer policies with “cancel for work reasons” coverage. If that’s not available in your state, consider buying a “cancel for any reason” policy to protect your investment – and your relationship.
Just not sure? If you’re having fear of commitment, buy a travel gift certificate. Many travel agencies issue them. You pick the amount you want to spend and your giftee can fill in the details. This way you don’t have to arrange anything, but you’re still giving a gift to remember.
Should you need additional guidance, reach out to your trusted travel consultant. If you don’t have one, look for an agent/agency that’s accredited, has a good reputation, and fits you and your travel habits. Travel consultants have insider knowledge and contacts, and while many charge for their services, it’s worth it for the added benefits you can receive while traveling. Just remember: online booking engines only know answers to the questions you ask; a travel consultant knows which questions you should be asking.
No matter what you pick and where you go, the gift of travel is sure to create memories that will last a lifetime. So grab that swimsuit, those snow boots or your favorite city guide, and just go!
Daniela Harrison is a travel consultant for Avenues of the World Travel in Flagstaff, Ariz. For questions, or to make reservations, email Daniela@avenuesoftheworld.com or call 928-556-0853.