It’s that time of year again. With winter drawing to a close, spring nearly upon us and summer not too far in the future it is time to start thinking about the annual summer vacation. We have all been working long and hard as well as saving up for our two weeks in the sun, on the ski slopes, in the mountains, in the forest or wherever else you choose to take your vacation and we deserve it. It is now time to take some action and get it sorted out to give us something to look forward to.

The first thing to decide is where you want to go on vacation. Anyone who states “I don’t know where to go” is not telling the truth. Everyone has some idea where they want to go. There is always a region, a state a continent or some country that you want to go to, so that is a good starter for ten.

The internet is a fantastic tool that is full of useful and useless information. With so much information available, and much of it incorrect searching the internet on such a broad subject is often overwhelming. There is far too much information to wade through and far too many sites to visit, so where do we start? In order to use the internet effectively when searching for holidays it is advisable to narrow the search somewhat and make it much more specific. Simply tapping in “vacation in Turkey” is not going to get you to what you are looking for quick enough.

Right, once you have decided on the destination the next thing to do is to choose the region and a hotel. Remember the humble travel agent where you used to go for holidays before the internet? Well, now is the time to use him once more. That’s right, I said it’s time to go and visit the travel agent.

A good travel agent holds a lot of knowledge about the destination you want to go, after all the travel agent is selling vacations there, so you need to take advantage of this. Go and see your local travel agent and ask questions and lots of them. Ask about the regions, the activities, the people, the food, the hotels etc. Use this exercise to gain as much information as you can. Don’t be afraid of asking too many questions, if the travel agent thinks he is going to make a sale then he will answer them. Get some brochures, after all they are free, thank the travel agent for his time and go away to ‘think about it’. Do not get forced in to signing up for a vacation there and then as you will pay over the odds for it and you will regret it later on.

Once at home it is time to flick through the brochures, at your own leisure and without the pressure sell. This is the time to pick not only your desired region but also your desired hotel. Devise a shortlist of hotels you would stay in, just in case the one you want is unavailable during your vacation.

Now you have the region and the hotels sorted it is time to do some research to make sure you are making the right choice. Now it is time to use the internet. Log on to a travel review website, such as Trip Advisor, tap in the hotel name and see what other tourists think of it. Trip Advisor is a fantastic site and I have yet to find zero reviews on a hotel I was looking at staying in.

When reading reviews it is worth remembering that you will find some bad ones, regardless of how good the hotel actually is. Nothing in life is perfect all of the time and there will be some tourists that have had a bad experience in every single hotel, regardless of the official star rating. This is a fact of life. When reading the reviews you need to critically assess what is being said and weigh everything up. When looking at reviews on Trip Advisor it is easy to spot the poor hotels and those best avoided as the majority of tourists that have visited will leave honest negative comments. If your chosen hotel receives poor reviews then you are advised to trust it. The Trip Advisor community is exceptionally honest and really do tell it as it is.

If your first choice hotel turns out to be a bit of a dud then tap in the name of the second choice and see what other tourists have had to say about that one. If all of the hotels in your brochure turn out to be duds then a trip to a different travel agent is required and the process repeated until you come up trumps. This may seem like a long and drawn out process and it can be but it is far better to take time and do some proper research before booking a hotel. Believe me, staying in a shoddy hotel during a vacation is going to put a massive downer on the whole vacation, and if it is something that you have been working so hard all year for, as well as looking forward to you are likely to feel cheated.

In addition to researching the hotel you should also research the region to ensure it is suitable for your requirements. If you are looking for a quiet and relaxing beach vacation finding a region that is full of late opening pubs, bars and clubs is not going to be the ideal region for you. Once again, Trip Advisor will come to the rescue here as many tourists will review the surrounding area and region as well as the hotel. If you decide you like the hotel but the region is not really what you thought it was you need to take a step back, reassess the situation, choose another region and start over.

Once you are happy with the region and the hotel it is then time to book your vacation. When booking the vacation don’t bother going back to the travel agent. Not only does this save you time and another trip but booking direct with the tour operator will also save you money. Remember, the travel agent is a middle man who will take his cut and this will be achieved by hiking up the cost of your vacation.

You may decide to book the vacation with the tour operator that produced the brochure, which I have to admit, is my preferred option. Alternatively, you may decide to try and get the vacation package cheaper by searching on the internet. It is highly likely you will find the same vacation package for less money with a different tour operator however you do need to be careful here. Vacations advertised on the internet are often excluding transfers, baggage allowance, in flight meals, fuel supplements, room supplements etc. This makes the headline price look very low but once all these things are added on they often ending up costing more than the vacation package in the brochure. Sometimes they end up cheaper but care still needs to be taken. Always compare the prices and the vacation package to ensure they are exactly the same.

When booking the vacation package it is worth excluding the travel insurance offered by the tour operator. Any travel insurance offered by the tour operator will be at an inflated price and you will be able to source it for much less elsewhere. Remember, in this situation it is the tour operator that becomes the middleman for the insurance company and will take its cut by hiking up the price of the travel insurance.

So, when booking a holiday online the best and most efficient way to do it is to;

1) Think about the desired destinations and regions.

2) Take a trip to the travel agent. Ask questions and get some free brochures

3) Review the brochures and devise a short list of possible destinations and hotels

4) Research the destination and the hotels on the internet. Check out Trip Advisor as this offers honest, reliable and impartial reviews on hotels all over the world.

5) Book the vacation online to get it for the best possible price. Never book it through the travel agent.

So, that’s it. Shop smart, shop safe and shop informed and Bon Voyage!