How to Deal with Travel Agents When Booking Your Honeymoon

I chatted with a good friend of mine earlier this week about her upcoming honeymoon in Italy and Spain. Since she and her fiancé are still finalizing the details of their wedding, her mom suggested that they contact a travel agent who specializes in Italian travel to help with the honeymoon planning, so they did.

The problem is that my friend wasn’t blown away by the agent’s suggestions thus far, and now she isn’t sure if working with an agent was the right decision. Another related issue that they’re having is that my friend and her fiancé really like the idea of planning their own honeymoon, and it’s hard to put that responsibility into a stranger’s hands. She wanted to know what I thought they should do: continue working with the travel agent, or just plan things on their own.

italy honeymoon

A lot of people think that travel agents are obsolete these days, but I don’t necessarily agree, especially for those who are stressed out with simultaneously planning other major events (SUCH AS WEDDINGS). However, hiring a professional is not the right decision for everyone. I’ve already blogged about why I think that working with a travel agent can be a smart move for certain couples, but here are some additional tips for those of you who do decide you want to hire one:

  • Try to find a travel agent who specifically plans honeymoons for people in your age group. Agents oftentimes get the majority of their business from older folks and retirees (whose interests are much different than young newlyweds), so you’ll be happier if you work with someone who will understand your priorities.
  • Tell the travel agent as much as you can about the honeymoon you’re envisioning, and be as specific as possible. This includes  your preferences for your accommodations, activities you’re interested in, and especially your budgetary restrictions. You can also let them know how much of your trip you actually want planned.*
  • If you’ve been referred by a friend, let the agent know that, but also make sure to explain if you and your friend have different tastes or budgets.**
  • Unhappy with the first itinerary that your agent shows you? Speak up! You’re paying them to plan the best trip possible for you, and they should revise your itinerary accordingly (multiple times, if necessary). Do not feel obligated to accept a cookie-cutter trip that doesn’t seem personalized to your interests.
  • Using your travel agent’s itinerary is not an all-or-nothing proposition. For example, our agent’s original itinerary included our flights to/from Asia, but we found a much better deal on kayak.com, so we told her we’d just book those flights ourselves.
  • Still unhappy after lots of revisions to the itinerary? It’s okay to say “thanks but no thanks,” and just lose your deposit. In the long run, you’ll be happier that you lost a couple hundred bucks but your honeymoon was awesome.

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How To Make Money During Your Honeymoon: List Your Place On Airbnb!

Depending on the type of trip that you go on, your honeymoon will probably fall within the range of “expensive” to “verrrry expensive.”  The bill can be tough to swallow for many couples, especially when it comes directly after months of paying off various other wedding expenses.  Honeymoon registries aside, wouldn’t it be great to somehow make money while you’re away to subsidize, or even cover the entire cost of, your trip?

airbnb

Several of my friends have recently started renting out their apartments on Airbnb with great success.*  And depending on your place and where you live, you can really make some serious cash when you go away on vacation!  Creating a listing on Airbnb is free, you get to state your own price and house rules, and you always have control over who books your place.  You get 24 hours to decide whether you want to approve a reservation, but don’t worry, Airbnb also makes it really easy for you to communicate with potential bookers so you can feel much more comfortable about letting strangers stay in your home.

But renting out your place when you go on your honeymoon isn’t for everyone, and there are several additional things that I think you should consider before listing your place:

1) Will you be okay with adding extra stress to the days leading up to your wedding/honeymoon?  In my opinion, this is definitely the most important factor.  Allowing Airbnb guests to stay in your home requires significant preparation: cleaning, arranging check-in/check-out times and key exchanges, stowing away valuables, etc.  If you’re already scrambling to finish last minute wedding details, it may not be wise to add more to your plate.

2) Will wedding gifts arrive at your place while you’re on your honeymoon?  It’s always smart to set up hold mail service when you go out of town, but it’s also a good idea to make sure that your wedding presents don’t get delivered to your place when you have strangers staying there.

3) Are you willing to make yourself available to your guests (via email or phone) during your honeymoon?  Better yet, think of it from your guests’ point of view.  Would you be willing to rent a place if there’s no way to reach the owners if anything goes wrong?  I wouldn’t!  Responsible hosts should be reachable when guests stay in their home, even if it’s during their honeymoon.

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Is There Such a Thing as Too Many Flights on a Honeymoon?

What’s the greatest amount of flights that you’d be willing to take on your honeymoon?  Some people love the idea of a multi-moon with several destinations, while others would just prefer to take off and land as few times as possible.  The more flights you take, the more often you risk flight delays, lost luggage, and other travel frustrations, but, of course, the plus side is that you also get to see more cool places, too.

So, is it possible to take too many flights on a honeymoon?  My friend Ben certainly doesn’t think so, but as with most things that are honeymoon-related, it all just boils down to personal preferences.  Ben and his fiancée Yoninah have been planning their honeymoon for nearly a year now, and in honor of their upcoming wedding on Sunday I want to share a sneak peak of the incredible (and ambitious!) trip that they are about to go on.

It may be a bit difficult to see on the map below, but if you click on it you’ll be able to view the details of their TWELVE-FLIGHT ITINERARY!  Yep, we’re talking twelve flights, five foreign countries, and one seriously badass honeymoon.

Ben has promised to write a Real Honeymoon post about their trip once they get back (right, Ben?), so hopefully there will be more details to come.  Mazel tov in advance, and happy travels!

Honeymoon Planning Checklist: When To Do What

This week’s real honeymooners planned most of their trip just two weeks before they flew to Italy.   That’s right.  Two weeks before they flew to Italy.  If planning a honeymoon at the last minute makes you feel like you’re about to have a panic attack, you’re certainly not alone.  While I don’t like to think of myself as an obsessive-compulsive planner, I do like to make the most out of my trips, and I certainly wanted to make sure that a trip as important as my honeymoon was well thought out.

tick tock

Every honeymoon requires different types and amounts of planning, but Real Simple published a generic Honeymoon Planning Checklist that’s a good place to start.   Check out that link for their full details, but below is an annotated version of their tips with my (hopefully brilliant insightful) commentary in blue:

Eight Months to One Year Before:

Six Months Before:

  • Do any of the above if you haven’t already [but don’t freak out if you still haven’t made any major decisions!  Six months is still a lot of time to plan a honeymoon, I promise.]
  • Schedule transportation (e.g. purchase any necessary train or ferry tickets, reserve a rental car, arrange for a driver to take you between airports and hotels, etc.) [If you go through a travel agent, ask him/her to make these arrangements for you.  If you decide to book them yourself though, making these plans six months before your honeymoon might be a bit too OCD, but whatever.]
  • Make important dinner reservations.  [I do agree with this suggestion.  If your whole Parisian honeymoon must revolve around meals at Joël Robuchon or Le Jules Verne, so be it!  Book your tables ASAP.]
  • Get or renew your passport.  [YESSSSSSSS]
  • Apply for visas or any other necessary travel documentation.  [YESSSSSSSS]
  • Get travel insurance.  [I haven’t written on this topic yet, but yes, you should get travel insurance.]
  • Get any necessary vaccinations.

Three Months Before:

  • Okay, now’s the time for you to really make sure you have made decisions on the destination(s), booked your airfare and hotels, and made sure that your passport is up to date.
  • Plan your activities.  [Planning activities three months in advance sounds WAY too excessive to me.  Most of the real honeymooners on this blog preferred to relax and play things by ear throughout their trips, so don’t sweat if you don’t have activities planned before you go, let alone three months in advance.]
  • Make basic packing lists and figure out what major items (like luggage) you still need to buy.  [You can add these items to your gift registries, too, in the hopes that they will be purchased for you before the honeymoon.]

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Packing Checklist: What You Need In Your Carry-on Bag

Frequent fliers will often tell you that the first rule of traveling is to never check your luggage; however, that’s not always feasible when going on longer trips like honeymoons.  So when I need to check my bag, I always refer to the following checklist when packing my carry-on.  While some of the items on the list are certainly more crucial than others, you’ll always be glad to have them with you in case (god forbid!) an airline loses your checked luggage.

Carry-on bag packing checklist:

  • Airline boarding passes
  • Passport and visa(s)
  • Wallet: driver’s license, credit card(s), ATM card, some cash, insurance cards.  (I take out all unnecessary cards before I travel to lighten my wallet and ensure that I don’t lose them on a trip when I’m certain I won’t be using them anyway.)
  • Hotel confirmation docs (and directions, if necessary.)
  • Medicine (in the original bottle) – prescriptions, allergy medication, sleeping pills (if taking a red-eye.)
  • Contact lenses & glasses (I’m totally blind without them.)
  • Sunglasses
  • Toothbrush + 3 oz toothpaste in a plastic baggie
  • Hair brush
  • Digital camera
  • Make-up “essentials” (i.e. just a small bag with the basics.)
  • In-flight entertainment: headphones, iPhone, book(s), magazine(s), Kindle, iPad, laptop, etc.
  • Light sweater or wrap
  • Socks (if I plan to wear sandals on the flight.)
  • Change of clothes (when flying from foggy SF to a tropical destination where I’ll want to change out of long pants as soon as I land.)
  • Electronics chargers (iPhone, camera, Kindle, laptop, etc.)
  • Electrical adapters (when flying to a foreign country.)
  • Jewelry (I always try to leave the expensive stuff at home, but when I need to bring it with me I never leave it in a checked bag.)
  • Apartment & car keys.  (You don’t want to lose those either!)

Am I missing any important items?  Let me know if there’s anything else you always take with you in your carry-on.

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The Pros and Cons of Multi-mooning

Earlier this week I wrote about the new honeymoon vocabulary and I thought to myself, since Jetsetter got to to make up some of their own honeymoon labels, why can’t I?  So ladies and gentlemen, I present to you the <<drum roll>> MULTI-MOON!

That’s right, the multi-moon.  I just made up the term, so I better offer a definition.  A multi-moon is a honeymoon that involves destinations in more than one country.  It seems to be a pretty popular option as there there have been many multi-moon combinations on this blog already, including honeymoons in Greece & Turkey, France & Italy, and my own honeymoon in Bali & Vietnam.

Destination #1: Ubud, Bali

Destination #1: Ubud, Bali

Destination #3: Hoi An, Vietnam

Destination #3: Hoi An, Vietnam

While I myself am a big fan of multi-moons*, I completely understand that they are not for everyone.  That’s why I created the following list of multi-moon pros and cons:

Pros:

  • What’s marriage all about?  Compromise!  Let’s say your ideal vacation is doing nothing on the beach while your spouse prefers active sightseeing.  There are some destinations out there that will allow you to do both (I foresee a blog post on this topic in your near future…), but you can also just choose to visit two or more destinations instead.
  • Even if you and your spouse do have the same vacation style, you may have a difficult time finding a destination that satisfies all of your requests.  For example, I really wanted to visit Bali but we hadn’t heard spectacular things about the food there, which was a big deal for us.  Vietnam on the other hand is known for its cuisine, so Bali PLUS Vietnam was our solution.
  • Going to more than one destination during your honeymoon gives you something to look forward to even when you’re midway through your trip.  Each time we arrived at a new resort, we got even more excited to see what was coming next.
  • If you need to do a layover on the way to your final destination, you can consider turning the layover city into a destination in and of itself.  Check out this previous post about how to make the most of a layover.

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What to Know Before Booking a “Low-Season” Honeymoon

When we were researching our last trip to Panama for Memorial Day Weekend, we quickly discovered that we were looking to go there at the beginning of their “low-season.”  Hey, no problem, we thought after double checking our handy Lonely Planet guide that told us that May was still a good time to go.

While we certainly had a fantastic vacation, it is safe to say that Bocas del Toro was not in full swing while we were there.  Hotels seemed more vacant than not, the best restaurants were only about a quarter full, and the streets in general felt pretty empty.  But on the plus side, our hotel was super cheap and we didn’t have to make dinner reservations or wait for good tables.  All in all it was a pretty good deal for us, but the overall ambience was certainly subdued.

One of the very best restaurants in Bocas del Toro, almost empty

One of the very best restaurants in Bocas del Toro, almost empty

Since we had a similar “sleepy” experience traveling around Bali and Vietnam in May last year as well, our Panama trip really got me thinking about low and off-season travel: Is it really worth it?  What are its pros and cons?

High season usually means the following: the best weather, the most people, the highest prices.  So if that’s what you’re looking for, there’s no need for you to read any further.  But if fighting the crowds and paying premiums on everything doesn’t appeal to you, consider the following before booking a honeymoon during low-season:

1) Will the things you want to do and see even be open during low-season?  Many attractions are closed for maintenance during off-months, so make sure you check out any dealbreakers in advance.

The Eiffel Tower was closed during Aaron's first visit to Paris

The Eiffel Tower was closed during Aaron’s first visit to Paris

2) How disappointed will you be if the weather is less than ideal?  If you’re going somewhere that is heavily good-weather-dependent (e.g. a remote tropical island where there’s nothing to do besides lay out on the beach), you may not want to risk going there during off-season.

3) How much daylight will you need?  Depending on the location and the time of year, your daylight hours could be very limited.

4) How much nightlife do you want?  Even if your trip isn’t daylight-dependent, nightlife can be practically nonexistent during the off-season in major party destinations like Ibiza, Punta del Este, and Ios.

My sister, all alone on Ios in November

My sister, all alone on Ios in November

5) Can you even get to your destination during off-season?  Before you get your heart set on a particular destination, make sure that flights, trains, or ferries can still get you there.

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Quick Tip #9: Learn to Drive a Stick Shift

Since wedding planning is totally easy and stress-free, you probably have tons of spare time to pick up some new hobbies and learn some new skills, right?  If you’re looking for something to do, I highly recommend learning how to drive a stick shift, especially if you plan on renting a car in a foreign country during your honeymoon.

Stick Shift

Why is it so important to learn to drive a stick shift?  Because renting an automatic transmission car in a foreign country is waaay more expensive than renting a manual transmission car.

How much more expensive?  Well, my husband and I need to rent a car in Ireland this summer, so I’ve been looking at a couple different websites, and the average economy-sized automatic transmission car is more than two times more expensive than the same size car with a manual transmission!

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Flying First Class: Is it Worth the Splurge?

When my friends Tommy and Seema got back from their honeymoon last year, one of the first things they said to us was, “You guys have got to start flying first class!”  This was not just because my friends and I are all über-snobs, but mostly because my husband is 6 foot 6, and flying in coach can be physically painful for him.  So legroom aside, is it worth it to fly first class?

Legroom

Tommy and Seema en route to Seoul. Look at that legroom! Consulting sure pays off.

If you’re rolling in cash, then YES!  But for the rest of us, the answer (not surprisingly) depends.  When making the decision for yourself, here are a few things to consider:

1) How long are your flights?  The longer the flight, the more you’re going to get out of your first class experience.  I once flew first class from St. Louis to Atlanta due to a glitch with the airline’s registration system, and it was a joke – I’m so glad I didn’t have to pay for that upgrade!

2) Are you flying internationally?  Domestic airlines in the U.S. are not as well-known for having incredible first class service.

3) Are you taking a red-eye?  If so, you might sleep through all the fancy first class experience, but on the other hand, you may actually be able to sleep comfortably!  On an airplane!  Imagine that.

4) How long is your honeymoon?  If your honeymoon is on the shorter side, you may want to spend extra money on your flights so you don’t waste any time feeling jet-lagged.

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Before the Honeymoon: 7 Lessons Learned from Wedding Planning

Despite this being a honeymoon blog, I’ve been meaning to write a post about wedding planning for a long time now. There are tons of wedding websites, blogs, and magazines out there offering wedding advice, but I truly feel like the following seven lessons will actually make a positive difference with both the planning of and “the big day” itself. I was aware of some of the recommendations while I was planning my own wedding, but man do I wish I knew about all of them.

Mountain Winery Wedding

1) Prioritize.  Prioritize.  Prioritize.

I hope I’m not the first person to break this to you, but it’s impossible to “have it all” when it comes to weddings.  It’s no secret that weddings are incredibly expensive, and even the smallest costs add up to massive totals before you know it.  To avoid developing unrealistic expectations and then getting your hopes up, you and your significant other need to ask yourselves what’s *most important* about your wedding as early as you can.  Is it having a huge guest list?  Hiring the best band?  Looking as glamorous as possible?  Having the most extensive open bar?  Going on a ridiculously awesome honeymoon?  Get your priorities in check before you even begin contacting any vendors.

2) Hire a wedding planner/consultant/coordinator/whatever.

If you’re a bride-to-be and you haven’t hired someone to help you already, stop reading this blog and start researching awesome wedding planners in your area immediately.  Some people think it’s alright to just rely on your venue’s in-house wedding person, but you’ll be a lot happier if you bring in your own expert.  Choose someone who a) doesn’t do a ton of weddings (the more they do, the less time they’ll have to focus on you), b) but has a lot of experience and confidence, and c) that you totally trust.

3) Find a photographer that you love, and then ask him/her for a videographer recommendation.

You’re going to spend a LOT of time with your photographer and videographer on your wedding day, and you’ll want them to get along and work well together.  My photographer and videographer hadn’t worked together before, and I felt like they were just “out of sync” and competing for shots throughout the day.  For example, my videographer missed me putting on my shoes, and then five minutes later asked me to take them off and put them on again.  No, this wasn’t a huge deal, but I felt like things would have gone more smoothly if the two vendors were better used to each other.

4) Take as many photos as possible before the wedding.

Ask your photographer for a list of typical couple/bridal party/family portrait shots, adjust the list to your needs, and find out how much time you’ll need to take those photos (then add 20 extra minutes, just to be safe).  Is it a pain for all of your family members to show up 90 minutes before the wedding begins just to take a couple photos?  Yeah, it’s not ideal, but it’s worse to wait to take photos until after the ceremony because they’ll either miss your entire cocktail hour or you may not even get the shots at all.

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