I was recently asked to write an article on our recent trip to Europe. I thought that it would be interesting to describe how we planned our trip using all the technology that we had available to us. This is our story:
I was sitting in a bright yellow painted pub in Blarney, Ireland. As I drank my Guinness, some young men in the corner enthusiastically played darts. My plan was to make good use of the free wi-fi connection and upload my daily travel journal onto my website so that my family at home could catch up with the progress of our trip. I am so glad that modern technology makes it very easy to be away from home and keep in touch. Not only that, but it was an essential ingredient in us being able to plan and manage our entire trip.
My wife, Jill, and I have just returned from spending six weeks overseas on a self-organised trip to some of the places that we had not yet visited, or had previously visited only briefly. This trip began with us spending a week in Norway where we found a spectacular tour of highlights through the ‘Norway in a Nutshell Tour’.This tour uses a series of coordinated local trains, busses and ferries. Over five days we saw the fantastic Hardanger Plateau, Stavanger Fjord, the very scenic Flam Railway and of course the world heritage city of Bergen. It was great scenery, but after paying $18 for a beer on our first day, we seriously thought about taking out a new mortgage on our house just to pay for food and drinks.
From there, we travelled on to Dublin to start a fourteen day self-drive trip around the very colourful villages of Ireland, a similar trip through the rugged Scottish Highlands and then nearly a week of spectacularly and unique scenery in Iceland, before returning home through Helsinki. If we thought that Norway was expensive, Iceland was something else! One night, a dinner of pizza and a glass of wine each in Reykjavik, amounted to almost $80. (The restaurant did at least have linen table cloths). Its staggering to think that this is only half the price that it would have been before the GFC.
I now consider myself to be an experienced traveller and I have learned a number of techniques for researching such a trip and efficiently getting our organisation into place. I still book conducted tours where there are significant language, safety or logistics issues such as travelling on the Trans Siberian Railway, going by sea to Antarctica or joining a specialised photography tour to Kenya. On these occasions, I will go to my travel agent with a clear idea of flights, schedules and itinerary. Mostly, we like to travel independently and have the flexibility to stop where we like and see some places that are not always on the regular tour schedules.
Our planning usually begins by thinking about air travel. Here’s where the Internet comes into its own. Not only for checking flights and prices, but also to determine how to get to places. What airlines fly into Reykjavik for example, and how do you link them into your potential itinerary? A quick look at the www.flightstats.com web site tells me the point of origin of all arriving flights into any airport. From there, I can work backwards to find which airline flies there and check its schedule and fares.
It certainly pays to look at alternatives for air travel. We would normally fly on Qantas, but their business class return fare to Oslo via London costs a lot of money. Through the Internet, we found that Finnair (another One World airline with all the One World benefits) offers an equivalent fare for just over half the price. This meant traveling through Hong Kong, just an hour or so longer, but the difference between the two fares covered almost the entire costs of the remainder of our trip.
The ‘Norway in a Nutshell Tour’ was simple to arrange – we just booked it online using a credit card. But how do you plan an itinerary for a place to which you have never been? One way is to look at the tour company brochures and emulate their trip schedule. When it came to Ireland, we found an online tour company that sold a self-drive package including B&B accommodation. That solved the problem of having to hunt around each night for somewhere to stay. It also made it easy to accurately estimate travel distances and not make the mistake of trying to cover too much distance in a day. While planning our time in Scotland, we found another Internet based company named Secret Scotland who publish touring notes and a recommended accommodation list . We combined two of their itineraries together at a cost of only $45 and we then had complete directions for our entire fifteen day trip.
My iPad is now an indispensable tool for all my travel. It allows me to check email, post updates on my web site, have video conversations with the the folks at home and even check our location on a moving map. I can use it for viewing photos and researching further travel. I prefer the www.tripadvisor.com website for ideas about sites to see and recommendations for places to stay. I had electronic Lonely Planet guides, PDF versions of our electronic tickets and all our driving directions and plane reservations loaded into memory. That way, I could throw away a big pile of paperwork and just take my lightweight electronic best friend. When you have to walk the best part of a kilometre from the airport terminal to the rental car pick-up point as in Edinburgh, you realise just how valuable it is to travel lightly.
In comparison to Australia, I was quite surprised to find so much free wi-fi available in Europe. Almost every cafe, B&B, hotel and even the local pubs offered a free Internet connection. To be sure of a complete coverage, we always made our first stop on arrival in a new country at the local telephone store to buy a sim card. For only $30 or so, we then had complete Internet access wherever we were.
Once back home, I needed a few weeks to trawl through my thousands of photos of fantastic scenery, cull out the duds and link the remainder to places on a map. Thank goodness for my web site and my day to day tour notes to remind me of the details.
Now I need to think about where to go next. Back to my iPad as I sit by the fire and research some more alternatives. Kamchatka Peninsular, Jordan, Madagascar, perhaps. Who knows?