47 pages of reservations, tickets and itinerary notes
I haven't done tons of self-planned traveling. When I went to Italy in 2004 with my dad, we asked a Italian friend of his where to go and what to do and somehow, I managed to put together a trip that had us in 7 Italian cities/regions in 16 days. It was incredible and we didn't feel super rushed. Sure we didn't have a week in one place but who knows when you will go back? We saw A LOT and I don't regret the full days for one minute.
7 years have passed and when we decided to see DC and NY, I knew that it would take some good planning to make sure we hit all the hot spots. Although attempt #1 of our vacation was cancelled, I must say it worked out for the best because I was able to tweak some things, add a day in NY and add in rest time, which my husband requested. These tips I'm about to give you are from a very inexperienced travel planner. What worked for me might not work for you.
-Use discount sites for tickets. I purchased half price tickets from Goldstar. I checked Groupon and Living Social daily to see if there happened to be tickets or restaurant discounts that I wanted to use.
-Be a VIP! The Holocaust Museum doesn't require tickets for the main exhibit but for the permanent exhibit, you need tickets. They start handing them out in the morning but for $1.00, you can buy them on their website. This was well worth doing knowing that we won't have to be there at 10:00 fighting the crowds. We also did this for the National Archives and get to use the back entrance to get in. VIP all the way!
-You better shop around! There are SO MANY sites where you can book your hotel. I am a AAA member so I always check that price first. I refused (THANK GOODNESS) to book a non-refundable room even though the rates are cheaper. Obviously, that worked in our advantage since we had to cancel our first trip. I'm not sure what the rescheduling option would have been but we did change hotels in DC. I booked on hotels.com and scored a free Kindle with their promotion.
-Book early. Most experienced travelers know that booking early is a good idea, right? Is that true? The past couple of days, I've looked up our flight to see what the price is. Currently, for two seats it is $700 more than what we paid. Also, check the refund policies for your airplane tickets as well. We lost $200 because I guess I picked non-refundable fares. LAME.
-Cancellation insurance saved our life. When I purchased our two tickets to see The Book of Mormon Musical, I had the option of paying $20 for cancellation insurance. I turned to my husband and asked if I should do it. He said no, that there was no reason to do that. I unchecked the box but hit the back button on my browser to double check something. When I went to purchase the tickets, the cancellation insurance was paid for. Eh, it's just $20. Not a big deal. HOLY MOLY PEOPLE. When I actually had to cancel these incredible tickets, we did lose $100 (no refund for tax/charges and the insurance) but if I would have unchecked that box for reals, we would have been out 3 times that and would not have been able to justify buying new tickets on Stubhub. It was well worth the $20.
-Be organized. When you need tickets to get into certain places, it is important to be organized. That picture above is all of my papers in a presentation folder. I have a cover page for each day of the trip, followed by the full itinerary for that day. The pages that follow are tickets, reservation confirmations, etc. At the end of each day, I plan to remove the pages for that day so the folder won't be as bulky as the trip goes along.
-Phone numbers too. I've entered the numbers of our hotels and airline into my phone. We also have to call to confirm a tour we are taking in DC so that number is in my phone along with the number for the Super Shuttle we are taking to our hotel. I won't have to flip through my papers to find the number which will be nice if we find ourselves in a crisis. I'll also be calling the day before we leave to confirm all of our reservations.
I'm really looking forward to coming back from this trip and not only recapping the whole thing but to share any traveling tips. I'm sure everything I shared is super obvious but for those travel virgins out there, it might be helpful!