I’ve had people ask how I do my birthday trips so here’s the how-to, when-to and what-to of it. Well, I’ll try to do that in the simplest form possible.
All through my 20s I had dinners with some of my close friends for my birthdays. It didn’t matter who was available or not available in a particular year, but when February came, I was always ready. As the years went by, I decided 29 would be the last of this tradition, mainly because it had become so routine – although one that I loved and looked forward to, but also, because I wanted to do something more personal going forward. I decided that every year (God-willing) for my birthday, starting with 30, I will travel to a destination on my bucket list. Who knows maybe the 40s will bring something else.
And so it begun. Thirty was in Mombasa with my Esther. The ideal plan is a solo trip, but having Essie along on this one was definitely better than the ideal plan. It was a gift in itself. We’re quite different and yet the same in so many ways, she starts where I stop and vice versa.
Thirty one was in Seychelles and it was such a dream come true.
Thirty two, this year, was in Bali, Indonesia and a bit of Istanbul, Turkey. Two birds with one stone, what a bonus!
So I am going to break this down into when, with whom, how and other things one should be cautious about.
Planning is everything, guys. It really is. And I think personally, I am at an advantage because I totally dislike last minute things, delayed decision making and confusion. This is also why for this particular activity I prefer solo trips because I don’t have to consult so many people about any decisions and therefore, things move faster.
My birthday is in February, however, by August – September, I already know what I want to do for the next birthday and also, finalize the plans for that, at the very latest, October. Again, planning is key. The trips don’t come cheap, definitely, but if you give yourself a workable payment plan with the agency of choice, it is doable. So it is best to plan months in advance, and preferably off-season months because during that time, prices are a bit low. Definitely lower than if you wait another month or so.
Like I said, for myself, solo-travel is preferred. However, if you have to choose company, choose people that will make the planning process stress-free. If ya’ll cannot peacefully plan a small small get-together or even road trip without having petty back and forth fights in your whatsapp group, you have no business planning a vacation together. Choose like-minded people, and also, less is more. A small organized unit is much better than a squad of chaos.
First of all, for convenience, find out your destination country’s visa requirements. I try to do a visa-free destination because we all know how complicated and life-draining some of these countries’ visa application processes are. However, feel free to choose wherever.
When it comes to cross-border travel, you have to be extremely careful especially regarding the guidelines. Personally, I do not like moving up and down and prefer having an agency to deal with whatever has to be dealt with. If you come to think of it, the extra fee the agency will charge you for the service, is probably what you’ll spend yourself moving about.
When I decide on where I want to go, I contact an agency and tell them this is where I want to go, please give me a quotation that includes everything. To and fro travel, necessary transfers, accommodation and activities. I have also learnt that travel insurance is something that is recommended so you might want to factor that in as well.
For the three vacations I have done so far, I have used three travel agencies. I am not experimenting, but I am picky when it comes to service delivery and when I encountered even the least discomfort with one, I looked for another. Reason I let go of the second one was because they booked me into a hotel and my booking caused a double booking and as a result, they had to move me between hotels during my stay… again, the kind of confusion I don’t want. Petty, yes, but if I am paying for a service, I do not expect this kind of thing.
For my recent trip to Bali, I used TravelNeza. I had seen reviews by acquaintances who had used TravelNeza before, for group trips, destination weddings etc and they were good. I also got directly in touch with the person in charge, Laura, and I made up my mind on using their services. Best decision ever. They do have group trips running all year, however, I wanted to have my own solo trip so I asked them to arrange for that. I was given the quotation and a very flexible payment plan. Again, I will not get tired of saying it, planning is key. To have the pressure off yourself, make sure you do not work with unrealistic timelines and in the words of Bob Carter, Poor planning on your part does not necessitate an emergency on another person. If you want the agency to plan your dream vacation, you owe it to them to be at your best as far organization goes; have your documents in check and updated, and submit them when asked for. Tell them exactly what you want out of your trip, they will incorporate all the activities and all you’ll have to do is wake up each morning and be chauffeured to wherever your itinerary says you’re supposed to be.
I stayed at FuramaXclusive ocean beach hotel, a choice suggested by the travel agent, and it was perfect. If you’re ever in Bali, I’d highly recommend it. They have the friendliest team and my stay there was smooth to say the least. I even felt extra loved! Each time I went out, someone at the reception would ask me where I was going and who my driver was, and then they’d give me tips on how to find my way back in case for some reason i fail to.
Read up everything you can about your destination, the weather, the time zones and currency among others. Also read up all other things that could affect your travel as a tourist, as far as your health and safety goes. Currently the corona virus is one of the world’s biggest problems and the tourism industry’s biggest blow. Every single day, I kept track of the spread, what countries it had been confirmed in and what destinations were at risk. As of today, the time of posting of this blog, Indonesia is still free of the virus. Their tourism industry has been greatly affected by the disease spreading in other parts of the world especially China because this is where most of their tourists come from, but there have been no cases reported or confirmed in Indonesia and Bali itself. I had to read all of this before my travel and even during the stay. This is subject to change with every passing day, so keep yourself updated, always. It is very important.
Ensure that you have all the necessary contacts on you, for your agency and those of their partner agency. They normally work closely with other agencies in the countries they operate in and this is what makes your experience a smooth one. Whenever I had a glitch, I would contact the TravelNeza office in Kampala and they would immediately contact their partner and in no time, I would be sorted. There’s a day I lost my driver. 😀 I had to text Laura in Kampala (with an 8hr difference) who then called her colleague in Bali who then helped me find my driver. The fact that I can never be stranded at any one point is why I use a travel agency, because I sort of become their responsibility. 🙂 And it’s nice to feel safe.
Ps: If you ask me to recommend a travel agency, TravelNeza, any day! I was very impressed with their services and professionalism. I will definitely be going back.
So to wrap this up, if there’s one thing you should pick from this, proper planning is everything. When done adequately, it halves the pre-trip stress and sometimes, takes it away completely.
Once a year, go somewhere you have never been before. –Dalai Lama