Travel planning for an India Holiday is always not easy and information available can be sketchy or confusing. Often there is no seamless connectivity and there are so many issues to consider before arriving at the right option. Let me share my insights and tips for planning an India Holiday.
Start Planning Process early
Planning early is always easier said than done. School timetables, leave sanctioning and deciding on leaving everything for a few days is not always easy. A good idea may be to start a discussion on a dinner table or when friends meet, about a holiday few months in advance.
Starting the process early will allow you to spend enough time researching different destinations, considering ideas and evaluating options.
Decide on the Type of Holiday
There are many kinds of India holidays possible
- Family Holiday – Explore destinations for popular sightseeing options and experiences
- Active Holiday – Holidays around pristine non-touristy destinations and soft adventure (Read about Active Holidays here)
- Experiential Holiday – Holidays around authentic experiences (craft, culture, cuisine and heritage)
- Offbeat Holiday – Leisurely holidays around non-touristy / cut-off destinations
- Pilgrim Holiday – Holidays around visits to major pilgrimages (Explore Top Pilgrimages here)
- Wildlife Holiday / Bird watching Holiday – Holidays around destinations renowned for exotic birds and wildlife (Get an insight into Wildlife travel in India here)
- Wellness Holiday – A holiday around Holistic Healing, Naturopathy, Yoga, Ayurveda for Detox, Rejuvenation, Destress, etc.
These are broad categories. Even within these, there are categories and flavours that define the kind of holiday you’d like to take. e.g. some just take it easy on a vacation whereas some others like to explore as much as possible, some like offbeat stays while some others prefer luxury stays.
So, discussing all this is most important. Spouse, kids, friends and season – these are the 4 influencing factors in deciding the kind of holiday you take. While you may be certain about travelling during a particular month, getting to finalise on where to travel, for what length of time and what exactly to do is never that easy.
So, seek a broad clarity from everyone on the kind of holiday to look for before evaluating different options and interacting with a travel planner.
Decide on Destinations / Access Point
A lot of travel decisions are based on a cheap or easy access point and departure point for the trip. Assuming you are planning early, you will be able to secure reasonably priced flight tickets or ensure availability of train tickets.
What is a convenient access point is not an easy given thing. If it is just one destination, its easy as one picks the nearest railway station or airport and checks on how to reach there.
However longer the trip, it is most likely that you are looking at more than one destination. Picking the same start and end points and travelling in a circuit has the following cost advantages:
- Lower return fares for flights
- Best transport utilisation (all transporters anyways charge for a return trip)
There is no point in picking random destinations and trying to connect them in an itinerary. e.g. it is difficult to fit Jaisalmer and Ranthambhore in a Rajasthan circuit even though both are part of the same state (Rajasthan).
Considerations for picking destinations could be
- What are my must-visit destinations
- How travel (time and distance) between destinations is okay. Based on this, how many of these destinations fit into a sequence
- Do I need to consider another stopover between destinations?
- How long do I need to stay at a destination and what to do
If you are not sure, it is a good idea to look at some popular circuits (e.g. Golden Triangle, Shimla-Manali-Chandigarh, etc.) to check on how to combine destinations or check with a travel planner for recommendations.
Based on the destinations and length of stay, you can finally arrive at the possible start and end point and eventually a possible start and end date for travel.
Decide on Travel Mode
Travel mode within a circuit is based on the following considerations
- Taking full-time transport allows you to have a car with you all through and the flexibility of a vehicle available all the time and also allows you to undertake sightseeing enroute and enjoy the countryside. Transporters however charge for a minimum kilometers per day (different value for different sectors and different types of vehicles), so if you are looking for long leisurely stays, then it may make sense to consider just a pickup – drop between destinations or bus / train transfers between them
- Taking an overnight train / bus journey between destinations offers a cost-effective option for budget travellers but has an element of discomfort that may not be acceptable to the comfort seeking travellers.
Based on different considerations, for some itineraries it makes sense to break it into multiple travel mode segments and for others it makes sense to keep a vehicle throughout.
Decide on Hotels, etc.
A lot of travellers book flights / trains in advance and then closer to the date, decide on hotels, transport and overall itinerary flow. This may be okay for off season travel, however for season travel and sectors where there are severe limitations (such as permits for a wildlife holiday or destinations with limited accommodation), it is a must to decide everything well in advance.
A hotel stay is not just about choice based on star category or price (as online websites would want you to believe). Destination experience can be totally different based on where you stay. A badly located 5* is way worse than a well located 4*. The hotel location also needs to align with the main purpose of travel. e.g. Ramada Amritsar is located right next to the Golden Temple and perfect for pilgrim travellers and those looking for street food and old city shopping. However, the locality is crowded (Old city area) and there are no fancy restaurants or liquor shops around which may be a problem for some other category guests.
Planning in advance gives you opportunity to spend enough time researching and weighing different hotel options and ensuring that you eventually choose hotels that are just right for your trip.
Online Vs Offline
A lot of travellers have become self planners and are regulars with online travel booking websites. This works well with a getaway or business travel or transit stays. While online travel booking websites offer convenience of making online reservations with individual elements of travel (flight, hotel, train), it does not offer travel planning assistance. Some elements such as transport and services still need to be booked offline and therefore, can leave you with some gaps to fill.
Offline travel planning alternatively allows you to weigh options and make a well informed decision for a better planned holiday with all elements booked and paid for at one go. Travel planners offer their own recommendations, engage experienced service providers and are often able to get competitive rates (on par with online rates) and therefore, this option works better for more complex travel arrangements.
Packaged Holiday Vs Customised Holiday
Buying a packaged holiday is like fitting into a readymade clothing vs getting your own stitched. If you are a discerning traveller, in most cases you will like a trip customised to your tastes and preferences. If you do not think spending time for planning your holiday is worth the effort, then you may look to buy a standard package holiday from a reputed holiday company.
Group Travel Vs Individual Travel
If you are the kind of traveller who likes to travel “with other people” then you may join groups that are scheduled to depart on fixed dates. Fixed departures are available during high season periods. For certain kind of holidays such as long pilgrim holidays such as Char Dham Yatra or Kailash Mansarovar Yatra, it may be a good idea to join such a group. Group travel packages are built for travellers looking for the best value and maximum exploration. Therefore, these are not for those looking for easy paced trips or sophisticated travellers looking for specific experiences.
Individual travel is about planning a holiday finetuned to your pace, tastes and preferences, which is best planned with an experienced travel planner.
Group travel as part of fixed departure is available for limited sectors and one is never sure about who you are travelling with. For those looking to merge both group and customised travel, it is common for travellers to plan their own groups (with a set of friends, family members) to customise group travel with an experience travel as per own pace, tastes and preferences. This offers the benefits of group travel and enables you to plan the right kind of trip for you.
Role of a Travel Planner
A holiday is something you take once every year and you are not likely to repeat the destination again. A travel planner typically is working independently or with a travel agency and offers an insight based on the experience of having planned similar holidays earlier. If the idea is to maximise possibilities within a holiday and make an informed choice, it may be a good idea to identify an able travel planner for insights, recommendations and overall execution.
Some travellers leave everything to a travel planner without getting involved. This is okay if the travel planner is well versed with your preferences and profile, otherwise you potentially risk undertaking a holiday without fully understanding some of the considerations and compromises.