An expert guide to planning your next holiday
We all know what the back to work blues feel like. In the miserable environs of the inner-city office, that blissful summer getaway can seem like a distant memory - was it really just last week that we were basking in sunshine at the bach, bubbles in hand, toasting the New Year?
But there's no point in just changing your desktop background to a tropical paradise and dreaming of being in a better place. Now is the perfect time to kick into action and start planning your next adventure. Here are our stress-free ways to achieve this…
1. SET A BUDGET
Sure, you might be feeling tender as you receive December's eye-watering credit card statement. It can be hard to even contemplate booking your next holiday. But we all know that travel requires financial planning, and first of all that means coming up with a budget to suit you and your family. Things you'll want to take into account include transport, accommodation, dining options, sightseeing/activities and insurance. Light on funds? Make 2016 a year to focus on domestic travel - getting out and exploring your own backyard. Or perhaps you've already started saving up for an international adventure, and have airpoints to burn. Either way, trust us - it's possible to enjoy some kind of break on absolutely any budget. It's a cliche, but as the saying goes, travel is the only thing you can buy that will make you richer.
2. DECIDE ON A DESTINATION OR THEME
Every traveller is different, and while one person's idea of the perfect holiday might be sipping cocktails by the pool at an island resort, another person might prefer backpacking around Southeast Asia. With so many options, it can get overwhelming. By all means search for inspiration - but think carefully about your personal travel style, and don't let the so-called "travel trends" dictate your choices. If you loathe crowds, you probably shouldn't go to Tokyo, even if Lonely Planet says Japan is so-hot-right-now. It's also important to consider how much time you can take off - if you can use all your four weeks' annual leave in one go, maybe it's possible to do that Europe tour. If time is tight, a shopping weekend in Melbourne might be more realistic. The other way to think about it is by theme - do you want adventure? Relaxation? Education? Or are you all about the food and wine? Every destination specialises in something different - it's just about finding the right fit for you.
3. LOOK OUT FOR DEALS
This is where it can all seem a bit confusing - everyone you talk to will have their own theories the best times to book travel. But as a general rule, it pays to book flights about two months in advance - an analysis of 12.6 billion airfares worldwide, conducted by UK travel comparison site Momondo, found that consumers could save an average of 26 per cent by booking 53 days before departure. Alternatively, if you can bear to wait, plan about a year ahead. Most airlines release seats and open their bookings 11 months before flight time and the cheapest "earlybird" seats are the first to go. Figure out when the on and off-seasons are for each destination - in other words, know the dates of the school holidays. Become a scavenger for all-inclusive packages - you probably skim past these in the newspaper, or send them straight to your spam folder when they're emailed to you. But travel agencies can offer big savings when you book package deals that include flights, accommodation and other extras. Just be sure read the fine print, and do your own research - that free spa treatment might sound like a good deal now, but you might be less appreciative of it when you find yourself staying in a dingy hotel.
4. DECIDE ON ACCOMMODATION
Booking accommodation can be one of the biggest expenses of planning a holiday. But depending on where you're going, it's not necessarily something you want to skimp on. While it might be acceptable to book a cramped little box in the middle of Hong Kong when you're out exploring for most hours of the day and night, if you're after a relax and unwind holiday in Bali, you should carefully consider the quality of the resort and its surrounds. When looking for hotels, compare prices online using websites like Expedia, Trivago and Travelocity. But be sure to make the actual booking with the hotel direct - more often than not you'll get a better rate this way. If you're feeling bold, 2016 could be the year that you mix it up with your accommodation. Why not try a house swap? Or Airbnb? The website which allows you to stay in people's homes (much like a "bed and breakfast", hence the name), grew massively popular in 2015 and continues to be a game-changer in the travel and hospitality industry. Forget the horror stories - just try it, you might like it.
WHERE THE AIRLINES WILL BE PROMOTING IN 2016
This year airlines will be launching a host of new flight routes from New Zealand to exciting destinations all over the globe. Here are three places you'll likely be hearing a lot more about.
Air New Zealand has announced it will fly between Auckland and Ho Chi Minh City three times a week from June to October, with tickets going on sale in early 2016. From the beauty of Halong Bay and the mountains in the north, to the ancient port city of Hoi An, beach resorts on the southeast coast and markets on the Mekong River, it's a holiday destination with wide appeal.
Furthering its reach into Asia, Air New Zealand has also hinted it is interested in the Philippines market, and there have been whispers it will announce the route in 2016. Philippine Airlines already offers the Auckland to Manila route, operating four days a week with a stopover in Cairns, Australia. With 7107 islands containing tropical beaches and volcanoes, rice terraces and crumbling Spanish relics, the Philippines is one of Southeast Asia's most exotic getaways.
American Airlines, the world's largest airline, has announced it will launch a daily non-stop service between Auckland and Los Angeles from June 2016, in conjunction with Qantas. Los Angeles is known as a city full of famous, fabulous and wealthy people. It's also the perfect family destination, with its fun-filled theme parks. Take the kids to the new Harry Potter exhibition at Universal Studios Hollywood, opening in April.
SHOULD YOU BOOK ONLINE OR USE A TRAVEL AGENT?
With all of the options available for planning and booking travel online, the idea of going to a travel agent may seem unnecessary. But both methods have their benefits.
- If you enjoy research and know exactly what you want out of a holiday, there is nothing more satisfying than planning your entire vacation from A to B. Booking every single detail and making sure your itinerary is just right can be a time-consuming process - but it will ultimately add to the fun and anticipation of your trip.
- It's also a way of staying in control of the process. A common complaint is that travel agents are too pushy, and may try to upsell by foisting extras on you that you don't want, like excursions or sightseeing tours. When booking yourself, you're not having to worry about anyone's commission.
- If you're a first-time traveller, or uncertain about the part of the world you're travelling to, travel agents are a great resource. Their job is to make it easy for you, taking all of the stress out of your holiday. Visa issues? Flight cancelled? If something goes wrong while you're away, your travel agent should be your first port of call.
- While you might be perfectly capable of booking a return flight to Australia, if you're heading off on a round-the-world jaunt, travel agents still offer the best multi-stop deals -and take the pain out of figuring out all those stopovers and transfers.
The verdict? You're probably best to mix it up. If you're travelling internationally, go ahead and use a travel agent to book a flight and accommodation package. But when it comes to planning your itinerary, it's way more fun to put in the hard yards yourself.
FROM THE EXPERTS
We've hit up the experts for their list of tips for Kiwi travellers. Here's what you need to know.
TRAVEL TIPS FROM LONELY PLANET'S CHRIS ZEIHER
PLAN EARLY It's always best to plan far out from your travel date as it puts you in the best position to get competitive deals on airfares. For instance, if you're considering Europe as the primary destination, early-bird flight sales normally hit the market on or around September for high season of the following year. It's the best time to get competitive deals and potentially land some really interesting stopover options. It's especially good if you're travelling as a family, as it will bring your cost down considerably.
CONSIDER COST OR CONVENIENCE Consider the following - do you need to get into a destination quickly or can you afford a stopover? Often a stopover in either Australia, Asia or the Middle East can save you some considerable cost, but it may eat into the time you have available in your primary destination. We highly recommend a 'shop-stop' in Singapore, or exploring Shanghai for two days en route to Europe.
WATCH FOR SPECIALS Travel agents, airlines and other travel providers are constantly putting out deals and specials to a variety of destinations which are often fuelled by the announcement of a new route/destination opening. Make sure you're signed up to travel and travel provider databases to be able to act when the offers are live.
BEWARE THE 'ON TREND' DESTINATION Everyone wants to go where it's "hot right now", but there can be hidden issues with this. For instance, some destinations have limited supply of hotel rooms, etc. Hot spots like Cuba, Bolivia and Myanmar are on many travellers' wish lists right now, but some of these destinations are already overbooked or have limited bed availability well into early 2016. Beware snaring a great flight only to find out there's nowhere to stay.
WATCH THE EXCHANGE RATE Getting value for money can be as simple as watching currency fluctuations. At the moment, travel to Japan is very affordable and easily accessible. Additionally, the exchange rate on the Euro is much more palatable than the Sterling, so could sway your duration in either destination.
DON'T TRAVEL WITHOUT INSURANCE Good travel insurance is vital for any traveller. Make sure you read the fine print of any policy so you're across what you're eligible to claim or get reimbursed for if anything were to go wrong on your journey. You never know when a pesky volcano is going to erupt and compromise air space.
REMAIN LOYAL Many frequent travellers are tied to airline loyalty reward schemes. This can play to your advantage if you work with a fleet alliance or network when it comes to onward connections, upgrades, seating priority and checked-through luggage.
DOMESTIC TRIPS IN DEMAND With international arrivals to New Zealand topping more than three million in 2015, New Zealand's popular holiday spots are being well traversed by International visitors. Don't assume that a quick weekend away can be planned too last minute or you may be finding yourself on a staycation and watching lots of catch-up TV.
TRAVEL TIPS FROM HOUSE OF TRAVEL'S BRENT THOMAS
SAFETY FIRST Book travel insurance as soon as you book your flights, so you're covered in case something happens between booking your flights and getting on the plane. Also make sure you register where you're going on safetravel.govt.nz so MFAT can track you down in the case of a natural disaster or other emergency. If you're booking with a travel agent, make sure you give permission for the agent to discuss your trip with next of kin in case of an emergency.
LEARN THE LANGUAGE When travelling to a foreign speaking country, always learn a couple of phrases in the local language – hello, goodbye, please and thank you are the key ones. Locals appreciate the gesture and it can make a real difference in your experience with them.
THINK ABOUT TRANSFERS Pre-book your transfer from the airport to your hotel. This can make a huge difference if you're jetlagged and adjusting to a new time zone, climate and a busy airport – and prevent you from getting swindled by foreign taxi drivers!
MAXIMISE YOUR TIME Only able to take one holiday a year? Consider two holiday experiences in one trip. Combining a beach stay and a city trip is our pick, such as a few days on Hamilton Island followed a few days exploring Sydney.
BE PREPARED Always pack an extra set of clothing in your hand luggage when travelling long-haul. The only thing worse than flight delays or lost luggage is having to spend another day in clothes you've just spent 12 hours flying in.
CONSIDER A STOPOVER If you're already jetting from one side of the world to the other, extend your adventure with a stopover between flights. Enjoy a mini break en route to your final destination to recharge your batteries and help with the jetlag, and explore somewhere new. It's a win-win!
WHEN TO TRAVEL Where possible, travel mid-week rather than on the weekend, when flights can be cheaper than usual.
FIGURE OUT TIPPING Tipping can be a bit of a foreign concept for Kiwis and it differs from country to country – we recommend downloading one of the fantastic apps that can help you calculate gratuities at the click of a button, to avoid the social gaffe of incorrect tipping!
TRAVEL TIPS FROM EXPEDIA'S GEORG RUEBENSAL
BOOK A PACKAGE - Package deals give you immense savings and nowadays they are quite flexible. Our data shows travellers who booked package deals could save an average of $559 on a trip to Fiji, and $111 on a Queenstown getaway.
GO MOBILE Look on mobile for app-only deals, there's a huge growth on mobile booking, so it's worth checking out for deals that you won't find elsewhere.
BE LOYAL Make your travel dollar work harder, join a loyalty programme.
DON'T BELIEVE THE GOLDEN RULE If you have the flexibility, don't book at the times everyone else does. The more in advance you book, the better the rate. There is no Golden Rule for booking travel, contrary to popular belief Tuesdays are not the best day to book. Do your research and book as far in advance as possible.