Road Trippin' to the Isles-More Preparations
with Steve McCarthy
Road Trippin to the Isles: More Preparation
This is really getting complicated. Finding air fares for six people in this Brave New World of internet everything is a pain in the butt. Remember when, before deregulation, the air fare was the air fare. Because airlines couldn't really compete on price, they competed on SERVICE! Yeah, not so much anymore. And who knew that Dublin was such an out of the way place to get to? I've had a crash course over the past few months on internet air fare and hotel sites. Here's some of what I learned.
As confusing as the myriad options are, they are actually quite similar. Kayak and Orbitz were the easiest to use. Trip Advisor, Hotels.com, and Travelocity were decent. What's important is to check them all. Each seems to promote different options, especially for hotels. Check them all, check the reviews, and make sure to check the airline or hotel websites directly. For the most part, the deals offered are similar, but occasionally, one will have a killer deal. It's worth checking into.
Beware of promises of "cheap flights." Check this video on youtube, it's SO true: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZAg0lUYHHFc Kayak in particular will entice you to cheap fares on the likes of Ethiopian Air, Turkish Air, Norwegian Air, and some planes out of Uzbekistan. A quick perusal of the reviews of these carriers should disabuse you of any idea of "saving" money. For some, it seems the only thing that goes with your ticket is the air inside the plane. I kid you not! We got tickets through Aer Lingus, the only one to fly direct from LAX to Dublin. At least they offer one free checked bag/customer (50 pound limit), and a meal. We flew them before and it was a decent trip.
Now, once you've found your flight, BEFORE you choose your seat (most airlines allow that), go to www.seatguru.com and find the airline and plane you're flying on. This will let you know which are the acceptable seats and which are the crap ones (usually located near the potties-NEVER voluntarily take one of those. Especially on a long flight. Not only is there a passing parade of people, six or so hours into a 12 hour flight, the bogs get a bit ripe. Airlines have also figured out which are the best seats, and by golly, they now charge extra for them! BASTARDS! Well, if you are a large fellow, like me, plunk down the extra $60/person/flight for the leg room. It's worth it. And, if you're on a plane that has four across seating in the middle, DO NOT, UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES PICK ONE OF THESE. They are meant for skinny short people only.
Now, hotels. It's amazing the deals the above websites will give you if you package up your hotel with your flight! The hotel is almost free! Almost. To get the swingin' deal, you have to stay at least a week. This may or may not suit your plans. In a tiny place like Ireland, you can rent a car and drive about from your hotel base and easily see most everything. Hell, the Auld Sod is only 150 miles, coast to coast! Clearly, this was not for us, but we did plan on staying a week with the kids in Dublin and tour with local bus tours.
Then, things got really interesting. Meaghan, daughter #2 and the family expert of travel, suggested AirBnB (www.airbnb.com) . Yeah, the outfit that is causing a ruckus in Frisco, Anaheim, and Santa Monica. What they do is, for a fee, connect you with people who have either a spare room or an entire house/condo that they will rent you. I'm telling you, this is a great way to go, especially for an extended stay. We snagged what looks like a nice place near public transportation and only a short walk from several of the key sites in Dublin for about a grand. FOR SIX OF US! FOR SEVEN DAYS! A hotel would have needed three rooms and cost considerably more. More than double, on average. The process is interesting. You contact the renter through AirBnB and REQUEST the dates you want. To do this, you set up a profile and tell them a bit about yourself and your proposed trip. Then, it's up to them to accept you or not. Each renter sets parameters for guests, such as minimum stay, cancellation policy (some are quite strict, no cancellations, no refunds; some will be more flexible), and tell you what they offer. If you strike a deal, AirBnB takes your money and a handling charge (about $100 in our case) and hey, presto, you have digs.
Now, for other places, we used three different options, and we probably should have stuck with one. For one place, we used Hotels.com, another we used the hotel's website, and a third, we used Travelocity. If we'd stuck with one provider, we could build up points and discounts. We'll probably pick one to reserve rooms a day or two ahead as we travel. We did run into an interesting snag in all of this. Most places won't let you reserve more than 11 months or so in advance. Not quite sure why, but that's they way of it. So, some patience is required. If you are traveling in the High Tourist Season, if there are "must be at...on..." places, book in advance.
Now, my biggest piece of advice is to do as little advance booking as you can. We are only locked into four specific places. Dublin for the week with the kids, Portsmouth for the four nights for the Goodwood Revival, Edinburgh, and Portmerion (the resort where The Prisoner TV series was filmed). Dublin is obvious. We needed a large place for a week for six people. A hotel for Goodwood way in advance is essential. Remember when I said they won't book you more than 11 months in advance? Well, it seems the hotels nearest Goodwood WILL iNDEED do that. It's like trying for a room in Monterey for Pebble Beach. As people leave, they reserve for the next year. Other large festivals might do the same to you. Edinburg and Portmerion were places I figured might just fill up if we waited, so we're locked in to them. The rest? We'll let St. Serendipity guide us.
Now, that's not to say we're going into this without any preparations. In each town we plan on staying in, using both Google and Trip Advisor (don't use Yelp, they seem to extort ad revenues from businesses!) we could identify decent places in our price range. A day or so before we plan to get there, we'll call up and book a room. If there's no room at the inn, we can find an alternate easily enough. Most towns have a local tourist office that can hook you up with a BnB or just look for places that have a "BnB" sign in their window. What this really does is give you a lot of flexibility. You're not racing from one place to another, you don't have to cut a stay short in a place you fell in love with, or stay an extra day in a place you didn't like.
Next month, I'll give you some advice on stuff to take and niggly little details that if you do some planing ahead, will make your Massive Road Trip more pleasant.