Following a recent twitter discussion about opera trips, I figured I would put out there my own experience of booking a trip. I don’t claim to have the last word in this and if anyone has better ideas of how to organize one’s trips, I would be pleased to hear them. I just wanted to take the opportunity to share how I do things in the hope that it will inspire others to become opera travellers.
The first thing I look for is the show. Around March/April each year when theatres start to publish their seasons for the next year, I start thinking about what it is I would like to see. There can be many reasons for a choice – a favourite singer, a stage director I admire, the opportunity to hear a favourite work, see a great concert hall/theatre or visit a new city. As 2013/4 offered a real embarrassment of riches, for the first time I actually drew up a spreadsheet of everything I wanted to see and tried to identify what was feasible within the vacation time and budget that I have and what unfortunately, I have to pass on.
Once I’ve made my mind up I identify the booking dates, set a reminder in my phone calendar for the day before and the day of booking and ensure that I am in front of my computer when bookings open. There have been issues this year with several houses managing to seriously underestimate website traffic for booking days so it can get really frustrating when all one wants to do is book for a single show. I rarely go for the most expensive seats but I always research the theatre seating plan and decide on a price/seating zone before booking opens so that I can go straight in and get the ticket I would like.
Once I have the confirmation in my inbox, I then set about looking for flights and hotels. I have gold status with a major airline alliance which gives me certain advantages but also means that I often have to make detours to get to where I need to be. Airlines are constantly cutting down on the benefits for status passengers and there may well be a point at which I decide that it is no longer worth it. For the time being, the priority check-in, lounge access, extra baggage allowance and occasional operational upgrades make it worth it. If I wasn’t tied to an airline alliance then I would certainly consider travelling more by train. It’s more than possible to do a weekend in Geneva, Marseille, Cologne or Amsterdam by train and arguably much more human to do so. A great site to make train bookings is http://www.voyages-sncf.com
Alternatively, if looking to fly http://www.kayak.com is a great way to compare flight prices, times and routings in order to make the most of your vacation/weekend.
Once I have the show ticket(s) and flight, I’ll then set about looking for a hotel. There are four things I value in hotel accommodations: 1) good feedback from travellers, 2) free wifi, 3) a good location and 4) cleanliness and security. To start a hotel search I’ll check out three different sources. The first is http://www.trivago.com which, like kayak, is a price-comparison site but seems to do better for hotels than kayak does. Once I’ve decided on a few properties, I’ll then cross-check reviews on http://www.tripadvisor.com and http://www.booking.com the latter can be a good site to make reservations on but occasionally other sites are actually cheaper and can offer extras such as breakfast included in this cheaper price. I’ll always check out the http://www.lastminute.com secret hotels as it’s often very easy to find a good deal that way.
A week or so before the trip, I’ll start checking out the route from the airport/station to my accommodations, the public transport and any day passes that are useful. Very often transit companies offer smartphone apps including journey planners and maps. These are really useful and help a lot in planning one’s journeys. Also, if the city is featured on google streetview, I will usually check out the route from the closest transit stop to the hotel so that once I arrive, I know exactly where I’m going. Again, around a week before I’ll start to research restaurants and attractions so that I can make the most of my stay. As my trips are usually weekend ones, I want to make the most of my time. It does tend to take the excitement out of getting lost in a new city but it also avoids getting ripped off in tourist traps.
So there you go. Hopefully this has given you food for thought and perhaps inspired you to head out for your own adventures. Happy travelling!