This is the second part of our blog post series about planning caching trips. You can read the first part here.
It’s the Easter trip that’s the main focus of this series, but since this trip is missing a few points (like rental car), we’ll borrow a few bits from other trips as well.
Creating the trip on cachetur.no
When we know when and where we’ll go (and sometimes also before), it’s time to create the trip on cachetur.no.
We also create one subtrip per day of the trip, by using the tool for quick creation of subtrips (under Edit trip in the trip menu). We have also made our own ToDo template, so we get a basic ToDo list for each subtrip (lodging, caches, etc).
With help from Edit trip -> Edit trip info/waypoints in the parent trip, we add suitable names to each subtrip. This give us a nice list of all the days of the trip, and where we’ll be on each single day.
There’s a lot of different way to do this. And our methods and requirements will not be the same as everyone else’s. You have to decide for yourself what’s important for you, and how you want to do this. We book as much as we can as early as we can, both to spread the expense out over the year, to avoid facing full hotels along the route (especially near National Parks etc) and to be able to plan the trip early. Doing it this way, allows us to travel virtually during the months before we actually travel. We get double the amount of travel for the money 😉
We use tools as Hotels.com, momondo, Expedia and the hotels own search sites (Scandic, Thon, Choice, IHG, LQ etc). We are also enrolled in the loyalty clubs of all the hotels we use often. This allow us to save and use bonus points for upgrades or free nights. This is also one of the reasons for using Hotels.com, since they give us a free night for every 10 nights with their Welcome Rewards program. That is about 3-4 free nights every year for us. Also remember to use any discount codes you get through work, memberships etc.
Sometimes you have to look beyond ordinary hotels/hostels/motels. It might be simply too expensive, fully booked or not available where you want to go. If this is the case, Airbnb is a very good alternative.
Airbnb can often give you unique experiences, that you won’t get with a traditional hotel – at least not without paying way more than it’s worth (how about renting a tree house?). Airbnb is also a great way to find a cheap place to stay in a big city. We’ve used it twice in Seattle.
Sometimes, a unique place can be a destination in itself.
Like when we tried glamping in Moab.
Our requirements for the perfect place
But how do we decide on which place to stay?
First of all, it’s all about the type of trip we’re going on. But there’s one requirement that’s above all, we want value for our money. If we have to pay a lot, it should either be really good or the only choice available.
Almost every hotel/motel offer free WiFi now. But we find it a lot safer to just use our phone as a hotspot. And it doesn’t cost much anymore either (at least not in Europe, and other places we use a local SIM card when staying long).
For car trips, like our annual summer vacation, we have the following requirements:
- Parking – there’s not much that’s as frustrating as having to find parking in an unfamiliar city, late at night
- 24h reception – we need to be able to check-in late
- Location – close to highway/our route, preferably on the outskirts of the city, unless the city is the destination
- Preferably with free breakfast, so we can start the day without having to look for that (if they don’t offer that, we find the closest alternative breakfast place when planning the route, and add it as a waypoint)
- Not too many bad reviews, we particularly look at comments about cleanliness, sleep quality/noise and check-in problems
- Non-smoking rooms
- If we’re traveling domestically in Norway, we often need a pet friendly hotel/cabin
- Access to self-service laundry – for longer trips, we need this every so often
For trips without a car, like the Easter trip, we have the following requirements:
- Location – nice location in relation to public transportation, attractions and caches
- Check-in and check-out times – we need to be able to check-in early enough and check-out late enough that it matches our flights/transport roughly enough (or at least offer bag storage)
- Not too many bad reviews, we particularly look at comments about cleanliness, sleep quality/noise, the hotel surroundings and check-in problems
- Non-smoking rooms
- Preferably with free breakfast – but not nearly as important as for car trips, since we’re walking around in the city anyway
- Free airport shuttle/transport – not a requirement, but nice if they have it
Sometimes the price is the most important, and then we might end up with something that’s really not more than a bed. So not much of the above is very hard requirements, think of it more as a list of things we check for, and take into the consideration.
Read reviews from previous visitors, and focus mostly on reviews from places like hotels.com and airbnb. They only allow reviews from people that have actually stayed at the property.
TripAdvisor can be a fantastic resource, specially when you want to read about more than just lodging. But be aware that sites like TA doesn’t have any way to verify if the reviewer has actually stayed at the property not. False reviews are a known issue.
You should also focus on the newest reviews, since hotels both do renovations and fire bad employees every now and then. But they also get worn down over the time, and they sometimes loose good employees. So hotel reviews have most value when they’re fresh. Don’t put too much into a bad review (unless bad reviews are the trend for that property), everybody can have a bad day – both the hotel and the reviewer.
Keep your eyes open for useful information, that matters to you (maybe a softer bed is more important to you than it is to others?). And don’t forget that hotel reviews also often mention other things that could be worth knowing, like the fantastic coffee shop across the street. Or like on one of the hotels on this trip, the easiest way to get to the hotel from the airport.
Adding info about flights, airports and lodging
Before we make the reservation, we often add the alternatives as comments on the trip on cachetur.no.
We add links, pictures and our evaluation of/comments about the hotel.
To add screenshots from various websites etc, we use the tool Greenshot. This allows us to simply press Print Screen, mark the part of the screen we want to copy and the paste it directly into the comment field on cachetur.no.
After we’ve booked flights, lodging etc, we add all the information into the correct subtrips on cachetur.no. We also previously used to add information about sunrise and sunset, so that we know how long we have daylight to cache in. Cachetur.no now does this for us.
We also split the route calculation, so we get separate routes for each end of the flights.
When we’re going on a trip like this, without a car, public transport is some of the first we try to find information about. Because this decide how far away from the city center we can find caches (and have lodging). We walk a lot, but we can cover a much larger area if we’re able to master the local public transport system.
If we can order/purchase tourist cards etc, we’ll do it. Or we’ll make a note about where we can buy it on arrival.
On this trip, we started with something as simple as googling “Athens public transport”. This took us to an official site, that explains everything from the route network to ticket types and prices. Luckily also in English. Because the rest, that’s Greek to us!
When we found the information we believe is important to us, we added a summary of it in comments on the correct subtrips on cachetur.no. Info about ticket purchase (what and where) is added as a waypoint.
When we start adding caches to the trip, we’ll also add information about stops, routes, departure/arrival times etc. Whatever’s relevant. Route map and the most important information will be printed and added to the trip binder (more about that in a later part).
Ever for trips where we do have a car, we might have to check information about transport for within a city etc. Often in form of taxi or Uber (like we did in Seattle in August last year).
We’re not going to have any rental cars on this trip, but if we did, we would probably use Hertz. That is mainly due to all the discounts we get (Eurobonus, NAF) and the fact that they often upgrade us without any extra charges. But, the price is the deciding factor here as well, and we have gotten a much better deal from Avis once. So we still check several alternatives before deciding on one.
Selecting a big enough car is probably more important than selecting a fancy car. Especially if you’re going to drive a long way in it (should probably have some comfort as well then) or use if for a long time. You don’t want a car that’s so small that you have to have your bags in the back seat. But you probably don’t want a too big car either.
Rental insurance is often where you sometimes can save, and sometimes shouldn’t save money. We have some insurance built into our credit card, and other covered by our travel insurance. But this will differ from country to country. The country you are from is also an important factor in this. When we as Norwegians rent a car in the US, the full insurance is always included. This is not the case when renting in Norway. So pay attention, but don’t pay for double coverage! You won’t get double the money if something happens 😉
Now it’s time to book the last two hotels, and then we have to start looking at the cache map. Stay tuned for the next part 🙂