Travel expert shares seven secrets to help you book a stress-free trip

Fasten your seatbelt and prepare to have a stress-free trip with these insider secrets. l UNSPLASH

Fasten your seatbelt and prepare to have a stress-free trip with these insider secrets. l UNSPLASH

Published Mar 6, 2024


Never underestimate the power of proper planning as it is instrumental in determining the quality of your trip.

According to Flight Centre South Africa team leader and travel expert, Chad Winter, travel insurance and securing 24/7 support to help you tackle any setbacks before and during your trip are the two most overlooked aspects of planning a streamlined trip.

Winter said that whether you’re planning a solo escape, a couple’s retreat, or a group getaway, there’s lots more to consider than just your destination and when to go.

“In a world that moves at breakneck speed, planning your holiday shouldn’t add to the chaos of everyday life. Knowing what to consider and having a travel expert in your corner transforms travel planning into an experience as stress-free and exciting as the journey itself,” said Winter.

If you’re interested in knowing the secrets behind planning and booking a stress-free trip, here are seven things you should know, according to the expert.

Which travel products allow deposits and part-payments, and which require full payment upfront?

Winter said that all flights require full payment upon booking. However, you can settle flights and about 20% of your accommodation upfront, with the balance due around two months before departure for holiday packages.

“Third-party suppliers, like Beachcomber and Club Med, follow a similar model, asking for about 50% of the package cost upfront, including flights, with final payment due eight weeks prior,” said Winter.

He added that cruises were similar, but you should factor in the exchange rate fluctuation between when you book and when you settle the balance of your payment for international cruises.

How far in advance should travellers book for domestic, regional, and international holidays?

Winter said that when it comes booking domestic holiday, try to book at least one to two months before departure, while regional holidays require at least a three-plus month booking before departure.

International travel requires a minimum of six to 10 months before departure.

“Last-minute deals are trendy but risky. They’re rarely beneficial. The only exception might be upgrades offered by certain properties close to the departure date.

“If you are tied down to the traditional peak season periods or school holidays, it is always advisable to book as early as possible as availability can be limited,” said Winter.

How do currency fluctuations impact the cost of a trip and should travellers purchase foreign currency in advance?

The travel expert said that currency fluctuations can significantly affect the cost, especially for bookings made in foreign currencies and said that it’s wise to keep an eye on exchange rates.

As a pro-tip, Winter suggested that you consider banking products offering favourable international transaction terms such as pre-loading travel cards with foreign currency which can help you lock in rates and manage costs better.

How can travellers ensure flexibility in their travel plans to accommodate unforeseen changes or emergencies?

Winter said flexible fares were vital to ensuring flexibility in travel plans. This might include airfares that allow for changes or cancellations with minimal fees.

He said that additionally, investing in comprehensive travel insurance was crucial and this insurance could cover various scenarios, ranging from medical emergencies to trip cancellations and interruptions.

“The best approach is to look for policies that offer broad coverage, including for reasons that might cause you to cancel or cut your trip short unexpectedly.

“Booking with providers/agents known for good customer support is also advisable, as this can make managing changes much easier,” said Winter.

What are some hidden costs associated with travel plans that travel experts can prepare travellers for?

“Travel experts can help prepare travellers for such expenses, which can include tourist taxes payable at destinations, visa application fees, and sometimes, resort fees at hotels that aren’t included in the upfront booking cost,” said Winter.

He said that another common hidden cost was airline baggage fees, especially with budget carriers whose base fare includes minimal extras.

“It’s important to review your booking terms, or consult with a travel expert to identify and budget for these additional costs upfront,” said Winter.

What are the benefits of booking with a travel agent?

According to Winter, booking with a travel agent ensures personalised service and a deep understanding of your needs and preferences, which can be invaluable, especially for complex trips.

The travel expert emphasised that local travel agencies provided a level of support and accountability that was difficult to match online, including assistance during travel disruptions.

“Travel agents build relationships with their clients. They know the destinations on their clients’ bucket lists, what kind of experiences make them tick, and the last time they saw their grandkids.

“These relationships are at the core of what we do and the driving force behind every personalised itinerary we create. We’re here to guide, support, and celebrate with our clients as they explore the world,” he said.

How do visa processing times vary by destination and how will this affect booking timelines?

Lastly, Winter said that visa processing times could vary widely by destination and the traveller’s nationality.

Some countries offered visas on arrival, or electronic visas with quick processing times, while others required appointments and applications months in advance.

“It’s crucial to factor in these times when planning your trip, especially for destinations with known long processing times like Canada or certain African and Asian countries.

“In fact, many travel experts recommend starting the visa process before you even book your flights to avoid any stress or hassles along the way,” said Winter.