Planning your vacation online has never been easier. Whether national or international you can make arrangements in a jiffy over the Internet. According to the recently released comScore report the number of visitors to travel sites has increased 32 percent in the past year to 18.5 million visitors in 2011, as more Indians turned to the web for their travel needs. Along with the ease and convenience, one major contributor to this growth is the fact that websites attract consumers with lower prices. Further fuelling this growth are the deal sites that offer as high as 60 percent discounts on travel packages. 

With the holiday season just around the corner it’s prudent to make your booking as early as possible to avoid last minute scramble. This will not only earn you early birds discount that will save you some money, but will also ensure that you get the accommodation and travel arrangements of your choice. While making bookings online is an easy task, there are few things that you need to take into consideration. Let’s have a look.  

Online vs. offline travel booking 

Even though there has been a rise in online travel booking be it flight tickets to package deals, there is still a belief that online bookings are expensive. This can’t be farther from the truth. In fact on the Internet you may end up getting a better deal than the one you could have managed from an offline travel agent or even if you did the bookings yourself. This is because they get better rates, be it from the airlines or even hotels and resorts.  

Keyur Joshi, COO & CO- Founder, MakeMyTrip.com, says, “Online Travel Agencies (OTAs) have revolutionized the manner in which travel is planned and bought. Travel portals have introduced greater convenience and ease of operations while expanding gamut of choices available. Avid travelers can simply surf the internet to look up a destination of choice, compare and evaluate options available and arrive upon a decision. 

And with increasing number of customers buying holidays/air tickets online we collectively offer them the best deal available. We associate with hotels and vendors and pass on benefits as price, offers, etc to our customers.” 

When booking travel packages from deal sites firstly check the validity period of the coupon and also the things included in the package price

When booking travel packages from deal sites firstly check the validity period of the coupon and also the things included in the package price

Some of these sites also offer you the flexibility to cancel your bookings once you reach the destination and are not happy with the facilities. Keyur says, “In our effort to create customer delight, we even offer no fuss refunds. If a customer reaches the hotel & does not like the hotel facilities/amenities, he can claim refund from MakeMyTrip. We even have a refund automation site in place; where a manual refund process would take about 7 days, now with the automatic refund process the turnaround time is a maximum of 3 days.” 

However, there are some things you need to keep in mind when booking packages online. First of all, read the fine print that are the terms and conditions, be it about cancellation, refund, food, sightseeing or even upgrading the hotel. Secondly, when booking from deal sites firstly check the validity period of the coupon and also the things included in the package price. Thirdly, always call up the hotel, airline etc. to confirm your bookings in advance to avoid last minute surprises. 

Plan your own travel 

If you don’t wish to go for the pre-packaged tours then you can easily create your travel package over the Internet. If you have a destination in mind then start with the official state tourism site. Here you will find all the information you need to about the place you want to visit like the best time to visit, festivals, events, nearby attractions etc. This will help you create your itinerary. Once you have your dates and destination in mind then you can begin by booking your tickets. Right from air to train and even bus, you can make the bookings online. Also, it’s no secret that booking early especially in case of air tickets will get you better rates. 

Instead of checking rates on individual sites, you can rely on sites like ixigo.com that will bring you the best rates from several websites at once

Instead of checking rates on individual sites, you can rely on sites like ixigo.com that will bring you the best rates from several websites at once

There are plenty of sites that allow you to book air tickets makemytrip.com, cleartrip.com, expedia.co.in, yatra.com, ezeego1.co.in etc. to name a few. You can compare the tickets across these sites to get the best rate. Easier still is using sites like ixigo.com that will bring you the best rates from several websites at once. Most of the above mentioned sites also allow you to book bus tickets, but there are also some sites dedicated to bus tickets like reddbus.in, travelyaari.com, ticketvala.com, ticketgoose.com, etc. Whereas for booking train tickets look no further than irctc.co.in. 

If you are concerned about the kind of support you will receive after you have booked your tickets and have to cancel it for some reason then you need not worry. Keyur says, “We have robust customer service center that caters to the needs of the customers and provide assistance with cancellation or even addressing any query from the customer. Also, unique to MakeMyTrip is the facility for online cancellation for international flights. We show the refund amount to the customer before he/she cancels the tickets and the customer can cancel the ticket online, rather than calling customer care or visiting an offline store.”

Even before reaching the destination you can make a lot of arrangements. You can book your tour to wild life sanctuaries much in advance

Even before reaching the destination you can make a lot of arrangements. You can book your tour to wild life sanctuaries much in advance

Once you sort out your tickets you can then go about booking the hotel. Good place to begin are the official tourism sites from where you can book the reasonably priced state run resorts and hotels. These are usually strategically placed and offer decent rooms and services. State tourism sites particularly maharashtratourism.gov.in, ktdc.com (Kerala), goa-tourism.com, rtdc.in (Rajasthan), uttaranchaltourism.in, gujarattourism.com, ttdconline.com (Tamil Nadu), hptdc.nic.in (Himachal Pradesh) are at the forefront, offering travel packages and stay options online.   

Apart from this you can also look for accommodation on sites like yatra.com, travelguru.com, makemytrip.com, holidayiq.com, stayzilla.com, cleartrip.com etc. just to name a few. Here you can view photos of the property, types of rooms available, facilities and other amenities offered. However, do not always rely on the pictures, as you may be mislead by the pictures that may have been taken probably years ago. 

Sites like these provide you with unbiased reviews, which will provide a clear picture of what to expect from the hotel be it in terms of location, cleanliness of the rooms, facilities, staff etc

Sites like these provide you with unbiased reviews, which will provide a clear picture of what to expect from the hotel be it in terms of location, cleanliness of the rooms, facilities, staff etc

What’s useful then are the reviews written by customers who have stayed in that hotel. Only a few of these sites provide you with a review, but more often than not they tend to be mostly positive ones. Nevertheless, you can always refer to sites like tripadvisor.com, oktatabyebye.com, lonelyplanet.com, raahi.com and holidayiq.com, which will provide you with unbiased reviews posted by people who have stayed there. These reviews will provide a clear picture of what to expect from the hotel be it in terms of location, cleanliness of the rooms, facilities, staff etc.  

Before zeroing in on the hotel always find out what additional things are included. It’s always advisable to have a pick-up and drop from/to the airport/train station so that you don’t spend time locating the hotel. Secondly, check the meal plans offered, most of them offer a standard breakfast and an option to choose from lunch/dinner. Thirdly, take into consideration the additional things on offer like say a guided tour of the city, spa treatments etc. 

Official state tourism sites will provide you with all the information about the destination as well as allow you to book accommodation

Official state tourism sites will provide you with all the information about the destination as well as allow you to book accommodation

Internet adds a new definition to exploring a place. Even before reaching the destination you can make a lot of arrangements. For instance, if you plan to visit wild life sanctuaries then you need to keep in mind that there are only limited numbers of jeeps available for guided tours that start at a fixed time. You can book your tour online on rajasthanwildlife.in for Ranthambhore Tiger Reserve, Sariska Tiger Reserve, Keoladeo Ghana National Park and for Jim Corbett go to corbettsafari.in. Similarly, you can use GoogleMaps or MapmyIndia to get walking or driving directions from your hotel to nearby places of attraction, ATMs, restaurants, medical services, etc. that can come in handy.     

Being more than a tourist 

If you are looking for something more then sightseeing and want to experience the different cultures as well as meet new people then opt for Couch Surfing. It’s a community of fellow travelers across the globe that opens up their homes and hearts for travelers. It will not only save you money, as your stay will be taken care of, but it’s also an opportunity to truly experience a new culture. However, you need to be a bit adventurous to be a couch surfer, after all it’s a leap of faith when you agree to stay at someone else’s house after a few email interactions. If you think you are up to it, then you can create an account on sites like couchsurfing.org, which has millions of members in over 230 countries. 

CouchSurfing is a community of fellow travelers across the globe, who open up their homes and hearts for travelers

CouchSurfing is a community of fellow travelers across the globe, who open up their homes and hearts for travelers

To start couch surfing you will first have to get your account verified by using your credit card and you will also receive a letter at your residential address with a code that you have to enter online. Once verified you can then contact couch surfers from the country you plan to visit or you can also open up your house to couch surfers. There is no element of money involved. You can either offer to do some household chores or offer a couch to them in return. When looking for a couch always read what the other travelers have to say about the host and then decide to approach them. Also, remember that the couch surfer is not obligated to accept every request that he receives and as a host neither are you. Couch surfing is based on mutual trust, but things can go wrong so it’s prudent be cautious in your dealings. Nevertheless, it’s a great opportunity to explore the world in the true sense. Other similar sites that you can explore include airbnb.com, triptrotting.com, ExtraBed.in, etc. 

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