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Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Planning for USA & Canada trip

16 Days USA and Canada map

Washington DC - Niagara Falls - Toronto - Ottawa - Montreal - Quebec City - Boston - New York - Philadelphia - Washington DC

Last year we didn't make it because of the Paris trip. So, we decided to complete it once and for all before his US visa expired. He now hated the fact that he always need to apply visa, while I don't need to do anything hehehe :P

The planning was started as early as May, the first thing I did was to check which airline to fly with. The air ticket was shockingly expensive, because of the increase of fuel surcharge. The cheapest ticket for SIN - NYC is SGD 2200 inclusive of SGD 600 of fuel surcharge by Thai airline. Last year the air ticket was about SGD 1100, so even if the US dollar is weak, the trip is not going to be cheap.

I kept looking for alternatives for about one month until I spotted a promotion by ANA. Instead of flying to NYC, we fly to Washington DC and start our tour from there. The air ticket cost SGD 1500 each, so now we have saved SGD 1400 for both of us. :)

It was already June when I started to look for tour package. Both of us don't drive, so initially I was only looking for which tour package to join. The US chinatown package is so lucrative but after checking the reviews, there were too many horror stories. In order not to take risk and spoil the holiday, I was also considering more expensive tour package like Cosmos or other angmoh tours with better quality. Cosmos tour was our first choice but it was already fully booked for September departure. Actually, joining the local tour is not quite straight forward either because they usually start from NYC. So we still have to make our own arrangement from Washington DC to NYC.

After struggling for a few weeks calculating the cost and weighing the pro and cons with no ideal solution, I had a thought of going on our own relying on public transportations. It sounded crazy as I never knew anyone travelling on their own without driving in US. US and Canada transportation network is not as reliable and convenient as in Europe. The distance from one city to another is also very far, for eg: Washington DC to Niagara Falls is 9 hours by bus.

So I spent one whole week to chart all different mode of intercity transportations to make sure it is indeed feasible. And finally I made the booking with JetBlue from DC to Niagara Falls, Air Canada from Quebec City to Boston, and the rest with Greyhound, Coach Canada, Megabus, Orleans Express and Chinatown buses.

In July, the plan is already 50% done. Next step is to book the hotels for each cities. We need 9 hotels for 14 nights in different cities and to my disappointment, the hotel rates were excruciatingly expensive. I've already budgeted USD 150 per night, but it seems like it is nearly impossible to find a good hotel with this rate in a city center. We don't drive, so definitely have to stay in downtown. USA hotels are generally more expensive than Canada, and NYC tops it with average of USD 300 per night. This is indeed the most challenging part of the entire planning, to find a nice hotel in city center with such a restricted budget. But somehow with sheer determination, I managed to book all the hotels within budget. I'm pretty happy with the choice of hotels, their reviews are good and they look pretty stylish in the picture. I hope it will be as good as it gets. This whole thing took me 40 hours to complete.

The last step is to draft the daily itinerary in each city. Which tourist attractions to visit, what local transportation to take, how to go, what kind of bus/train passes to buy, and map of each destination. It is tedious but believe me, this is the easiest part of all.

So far we could keep our cost to the minimum, even with 5 nights in New York plus two domestic flights, our cost is still cheaper than Cosmos or Singapore tour packages which usually only include 1 night in New York. But of course, the two free nights redeemed from Hyatt rewards also contributes the savings.

You might think it is such a hassle to plan a holiday, but somehow I love the process of doing this. I feel pretty excited if I manage to outdo the travel agents. :) And of course, hubby is the happiest, he is always bragging to his friends that his wife will settle everything. :P

Now I just hope everything will be according to plan, since I've already given my best shot.

So who wants to hire me as a travel agent??