This blog continues on the horse riding holiday preparation theme and the excitement builder of researching your destination.
The level of research that you need to do is going to depend on the schedule of your horse riding holiday. If you are met at the airport by your host, guided around your destination and returned to the airport at the end of your horse riding holiday then minimal research is required. However, if you intend to extend your stay, either before or after your horse riding holiday, then you need to do a bit more research.
At the least, you need to look at the guidance on customs, currency, VISA requirements, safety and vaccinations. (I will discuss vaccinations in a future post.) A quick web search will bring up a plethora of advice and guidance; however, I always use the UK Government website https://www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice that provides essential travel advice for each country. If you don't live in the UK, then use your country's equivalent to ensure you get the correct advice.
Note: You should research the customs and laws of a country before you book your holiday. If you do not agree with any specific customs or laws then, you shouldn’t visit that country.
What the Government information doesn’t provide is guidance on how to tip. If you have booked a riding holiday via a specialist travel agent like Unicorn Trails, you will receive guidance on what to tip when your ride is confirmed. That said, this guidance can be specific to the horse riding holiday only so if you plan an extension you will need to research the general tip guidance for each destination.
A quick entry into a search engine should bring up a list of articles on what to tip guidance for either the country or specific area/city. Always read the most recent articles as values will go up with inflation over time. If you read conflicting articles, which specify a different amount, read a few more until you find an average. The most important thing to remember about tips is not to reward bad customer service and only give what you can afford.
But what about all the fun stuff like visitor attractions and experiences and where to eat. Well, your best bet here is the location tourist websites that list hotels, eateries, bars, attractions and activities.
Of course, you don’t need to use the country/location tourist website. There are many enthusiasts’ websites and tour operator websites that provide a library of information and guidance. For example: When I planned my trip to Egypt*, I didn’t need to make independent arrangements as everything was inclusive in the horse riding holiday. A website that helped me explore this ancient land before and after my horse riding holiday was the American website: http://www.touregypt.net/. I found this website to be like a guidebook that provides snippets of information about all the major and lesser known tourist sights.
If you plan to extend your stay then this requires more research; though, it is likely you will get at least one recommendation from a family member, friend or other acquaintance who have previously travelled to your chosen destination.
So, what if you have some free time or want to extend your stay independently? My first experience of free time was during my trip to Iceland*. The final morning was free time with no scheduled excursions. As it was just a morning, I only had time to fit in one tourist sight before I had to return to the hotel to catch my shuttle bus to the airport. On my last three trips, I had extended stays in the cities of Havana, Tucson and Las Vegas respectively. In Havana, it was free time packaged in the horse riding holiday. For Tucson and Las Vegas, the travel arrangements were independent, which meant I had to book overnight accommodation for the additional nights. The great thing about cities is they tend to have dedicated websites for what’s on, what to do and where to eat. That said, I still had a limited amount of time as I only stay on for 1 or 2 nights. An easy win for me in my choice of what to do is I love cityscapes. So, the first tourist sight I look for is what is going to get me up high. In Reykjavik, there is the Hallgrímskirkja Church lookout tower. In Las Vegas, there is the High Roller (The London Eye’s big brother). So that’s the easy win for me but gazing at a cityscape doesn’t fill a morning.
City websites present a vast selection of tourist sights, attractions, tours and activities. How do you choose what to do? My advice here is to look through everything even if it takes you a few sessions to go through. Note down what stands out then walk away. Come back again after a few days and look again. This time you will have already ruled out what doesn’t appeal to you so your second browse will have a narrower list. Repeat this exercise until you have a list of everything you want to do.
Now you have to get real. How much time do you have at the location? What is your budget? What tourist sight/activity is close to your base? What tourist sight/activity is going to take a whole day? These questions will produce a short list that can form a rough itinerary. I say rough itinerary because you don’t want it to be too rigid as you may change your plans when you are at your destination. Be flexible, mark a few things as ‘can do’ if nothing else crops up when you’re away. Maybe arrange a tour that you have to book and pay for up front and then leave some free time to do some of the other pay as you go or free activities. I’m a big fan of walking around taking in the look and feel of a city. It’s nice to visit the seafront, a green space or just wander around the city centre.
Always research the local language used at your destination as it may not be the language you expect. For example, India has many regional languages. Some of you may be surprised to know the universal language spoken in India is English. However, don’t take it for granted that people can speak English as this is not the case.
If you are not fluent or can get by in the language of the country you are due to visit then invest in a pocket-sized phrasebook that you can carry with you when you are without a guide or download a translation app onto your mobile phone. Better still, if you have the time attend a language course or teach yourself online as being able to get by in a language is preferable (I know this is easier said than done). Otherwise, learn a few words like, ‘Hello’, ‘Goodbye’ and ‘Thank you’ and reach for your phrasebook/phone. Any attempt at the local language is usually appreciated even if it isn't understood. After a few flawed words, the locals will probably continue the conversation in English. Though you should not get complacent, many parts of the globe do not speak English. Always have your trusty phrasebook (or app) to hand and be patient. Remember you are the foreign traveller who cannot speak the language not the other way around.
In my next blog post, I will take a break from the horse riding holiday preparation theme. Instead, I am going to open my ‘Explore at Home’ category with an article about my recent horse ride on Perran Beach in Cornwall. To be notified of future blog posts and publications, you can follow me on facebook and twitter.