Introduction to how to plan a trip
Some people love to plan a trip. Others hate it. But no matter your style, there are some aspects of planning you have to address (like booking plane tickets if you’re flying) and others that are more optional (like scheduling that pedicure the day before you leave). What follows is a guide of guides on how to plan a trip. Here’s what you’ll find below:
- An overview of the planning process.
- Links to helpful sites that map out how to plan a trip in greater detail.
- A play-by-play review of what I went through to plan a particular trip.
Let’s get started with everything you need to know to plan a trip.
Overview of the process for how to plan a trip
In Hidden Travel: The Secret to Extraordinary Trips, I have an entire chapter devoted to this process. But here are the basic steps needed for planning most types of trips:
- Understand your Traveler Type so that you plan a trip around what matters to you. Take the Traveler Type quiz to get started.
- Figure out where to go.
- Determine what is of greatest interest to you in terms of locations, motivations, inner interests, style of traveling, etc. Get my free workbook on How to Prepare Now for Better Trips Later and also the presentation on How to Practice Travel When You’re Not Traveling for a wealth of ideas related to this.
- Consider all the multiple factors in choosing a destination, including knowing what moves you visually about a place.
- If you want to figure out how to find “off-the-beaten-path” or hidden locations, be sure to check out my extensive post on “Hidden Places and How to Find Them.”
- Determine who to go with. The same workbook, How to Prepare Now for Better Trips Later offers a list of questions and issues to help you evaluate who to travel with. Just remember this Hidden Travel principle: The right traveling companion can make even a bad location seem great. The wrong traveling companion can make a great location into a nightmare.
- Determine how to get there. Figure out transportation options and routes to get from your home to your main destination and back. Flights are often the single biggest expense on a trip, so figuring this piece out early provides the framework for the rest of your trip. Be sure to look at unlikely combinations that save time and money and make the trip more interesting (such as extended stopovers to explore new cities).
- Determine how to get there cheaply. If you’re using miles for your airline tickets, start as early as 330 days out (when many airline computer systems start allowing reservations). Start long before your trip on using credit card and other travel hacking programs to accrue these miles. If you’re paying, sign up on sites such as Scott’s Cheap Flights for alerts or use Google Flights or Kayak Explore to choose destinations based on where the cheapest tickets can be found at any point in time.
- Determine how to get there comfortably. For some, this step won’t matter. But as you get older (or just more spoiled), you realize how nice a bit more legroom can be. So take some time as you plan a trip to explore how to get upgrades or make the most of your experience even if you don’t. This step also includes:
- Signing up for Global Entry and TSA Pre-Check to get through the airport faster.
- Exploring alternative routing to get you to your destination as quickly as possible meaning finding direct flights, alternative departure/arrival cities and connections and then using your time in connecting cities well so you can actually get out of the airport and explore for a few hours or even a day or two (since some airlines allow for extended stopovers).
- Optimize where you stay. Determine the type of places you want to stay in (hotel, apartment, B&B, hostel, home, etc.) and then specific options and locations. Where possible, strive to find places where you can cancel the reservation close to arrival time to allow greater flexibility in your schedule.
- Optimize what you see and do. Once you know your destination, determine some key sights or activities but be sure leave margins in your itinerary for local discoveries. It can help to identify two to three “must see” sights and then have a list of other possibilities that you may or may not see. The main thing here is to find out what experiences, activities, sites or events require reservations in advance. You don’t want to plan a trip around a festival only to find out tickets for the event sold out months earlier.
- Optimize where you eat. Unless you are planning on eating at some very special restaurant that requires advance reservations, it’s usually best to research ahead of time the types of food in your destination but leave the decision on where to eat to when you arrive because local recommendations tend to be the best.
- Determine how to get around once you arrive. This includes how to get from your arrival location and your departure location (which often, to save backtracking, are two different airports). Sites such as Rome2rio can help you determine if driving, train, bus or ferry options are the best for you. But look to sites like Momondo.com or others for cheap flights between countries (which may be much cheaper than taking the train, but have a worse effect on the environment). You’ll also want to research how to get around in a given city (e.g. understand the basics of their metro system, how to get a taxi or alternative, how to pay for the bus (i.e. do you need exact change in the local currency), etc.).
- Look into health issues. This includes researching any needed vaccinations, knowing what to bring for your personal health such as probiotics, antibiotics, intestinal or cold medicine, vitamins, etc.).
- Research safety issues. Check out State Department travel advisories but also look beyond those so they don’t freak you out. Best advice is to find locals or people who have recently been there and ask them as they’ll have a more realistic assessment. You want to know about general crime issues, areas to avoid, typical scams, etc. Many travel forums such as Rick Steves can provide helpful insights about specific destinations.
- Determine if you need travel insurance. In the post-COVID world, you’ll want to check out the fine print to see what is covered. But I always get a small amount of travel insurance even if it doesn’t cover my full expenses so that I have the medical and evacuation coverage. It pays to research the pros and cons of travel insurance well because it can either save you thousands of dollars or cost you hundreds depending on your policy and the coverage.
- Leave home well. Deal with last minute issues like notifying your credit card company/bank that you’ll be gone, stopping your mail, checking your phone plan to see if you’re covered in your destination and if not, how to get local SIM cards or other options, downloading dictionary and other apps, taking care of work issues like out of office notifications, etc.
Additional considerations on how to plan a trip
There’s sort of a bell curve regarding the length of your trip and the amount of planning you need to do. For a weekend getaway, you might be able to completely wing it with no reservations or plans. For a trip of two to three weeks, you’ll probably want to book more lodging and transportation so you don’t have to spend time on those when you’re traveling. With longer trips of a month or more, you actually can plan less because you have more time as you go to glean information from others and make your decisions on the spot.
Finally when it comes to how you plan a trip, the most important thing you can do is prepare yourself to be flexible, agile, adaptive and to know your options like using social media to reach the airline when flights get canceled or having backup info if your phone gets stolen. Thinking through what-if scenarios, even bad ones, won’t mar your trip. If you do this before you arrive, you’ll build your confidence that you can handle just about anything that happens. Remember this line from Hidden Travel: “Your goal isn’t to prepare an itinerary so that everything goes as planned. Your goal is to prepare you for when it doesn’t.”
Detailed explanations from others on how to plan a trip
I could have walked you through ally the myriad details that go with each of the above points. But others have done that already. So rather than reinvent the planning wheel, so to speak, here are some sites I recommend for more detailed explanations on how to plan a trip.
For a similar overview to the one above but from a different perspective, check out Nomadic Matt’s post on how to plan a trip.
For a really thorough review of all the steps needed to plan a trip, spend time on this planning process from Practical Wanderlust. If you’ve never planned a trip before or even for those who have who want to make sure you’ve covered every possibility, this is the article you want to read.
For the steps on how to plan a trip in a countdown format from months to days before you leave, check out these two helpful sites: AirTrek’s Official Planning Timeline and Offbeat Travelling’s Checklist for a Trip Around the World (which is helpful even for shorter trips).
Also, while this site isn’t as thorough, I like A Single Woman Traveling’s overview of six sites to help with travel planning, but my favorite aspect is her tip (if you have a backpack) to use day trip tours to get you from one city/site to the next (meaning you take the tour from point A to point B and just stay in point B which may often be cheaper and more convenient that getting other forms of transportation there). Nice tip.
Finally, I want to add a site that isn’t so much about the logistical side of planning, but the intentional side of how to plan a trip that will, as I write in Hidden Travel: The Secret to Extraordinary Trips, help you to experience more. Cathy Fulton writes about the notion of “thematic travel” and how to have a theme for each trip. It’s a great reminder of how the best trips are a combination of purpose, passion and place.
How I planned a trip
So many people have asked me for the details of how I plan a trip. Thus, a few years ago, I made notes as I was planning a trip to China with my grown son, Sumner. Be aware, this is almost like a journal of my planning process, so it won’t be as useful if you just want a checklist as many of the sites above offer. But it does reveal the give-and-take nature of planning and how much changes as you discover new schedules, options or even destinations. So here’s the play-by-play account of how I planned a trip to China.
Starting the process for how I plan a trip
March 16, 2017: Over the last week I have done the following:
- Went online search for best small villages in China. Got some useful material but not a lot.
- Went to library website and ordered guidebooks including Kindle versions (in case I want to bring these with me on the trip).
- Started reading the Fodor’s Kindle version and started narrowing down the possibilities of where we would go to Yunnan and Guizhou areas plus Beijing.
- Went to Alaska Airlines (where I have mileage) to look at using miles. I don’t really have enough for both myself and my son since I’ll need most of what I have for a trip with my wife to England in August.
- Checked on Kayak and found flights as low as $416 round-trip on Air Canada to/from Beijing. But that means flying out of Vancouver, BC, a 3-4-hour drive from where I live near Seattle, WA.
- Began a lengthy process of checking out other sites to see if any were mileage partners with Alaska.
- Didn’t see Cathay Pacific show up on Kayak at first but knew they were an Alaska partner, so I went to their site and tried numerous combinations such as doing Hong Kong round trip, one way from Hong Kong, and using Air Canada outbound, etc. All options seemed pretty pricey.
- Two nights ago, I went back to Kayak and found good rates on Hainan Airlines. Then checked back on Alaska’s site and even though I’d seen Hainan on the mileage tickets, I stupidly missed the obvious conclusion they were a mileage partner as well.
- Went to Hainan’s site and tried several combinations but one of the thoughts, after talking to Sumner, was that we don’t do Beijing or Hong Kong since we’ve both been there but concentrate on Shanghai (since Sumner has never been there).
- Found a good combination on Hainan that was direct to Beijing, then Kunming, then to Shanghai (via Beijing) and direct home from Shanghai for $1200 each but also, probably earning us about 6000 Alaska miles each, as best as I can calculate. Figuring out the percentages for each airline based on flight class isn’t easy.
- Looked at cheaper approach which was round trip to/from Beijing plus Kunming for about $800.
- Texted Sum and he said if we could, he’d prefer going to Shanghai.
- Two nights into this initial airline search, I read that the two times NOT to visit China due to national holidays are the first weeks of April and October. So we adjusted our travel dates to go the last two weeks of September basing it on best/cheapest days to fly.
- A few days ago I emailed a friend who had been to Lijiang in Yunnan Province last August and his son lives in Kunming. My friend said to definitely go to Lijiang because though it is crowded, all the tourists are Chinese. His son said he doesn’t really know since he’s too busy studying but he’ll connect me with colleagues who have a company in Guizhou that takes people to remote villages.
- Read last night that September is still rainy/monsoon season in Yunnan. Expect only 5 hours a day of sun. Emailed my friend who said they had no rain at all the week they were there in August.
April 25, 2017: To summarize the process so far, we tried various routes but now have our trip set for the middle of October flying into Beijing (economy on Hainan Airlines to get at least 50% of the miles flown to go toward our Alaska Airlines account) and out of Shanghai. Things didn’t work out with my friend’s contacts in Guanxi, but I think now we’re going into Lijiang and maybe just do that and Dali and the little towns between them before flying to Shanghai and Suzhou for a few days.
A theme emerges
But here’s the main thought for today. I just came across this site when looking for something unrelated to this China trip: http://www.pret-a-voyager.com/2016/12/boarding-pass-christine-herrin/. Previously today, I’d found this site and article: http://www.thelostpassport.com/yunnan-travel-guide-village-hopping-dali-lijang/.
The latter gave me the idea of just sticking to the Lijiang/Dali route. The former made me think this:
What if we make the trip all about the theme of design, both ancient and modern? It might mean even studying up (in my case) on what that means, design (since my son is a graphic designer and obviously knows the subject well). But from Beijing through Yunnan through Shanghai, we could try to capture what Chinese design looks like or feels like. Not even sure yet. But it is a different trip than going for hidden places (though we could combine the two: I wonder what “Hidden Design” might mean?!) or just the culture itself. For both of us, it could be collecting examples of design. For Sumner, it could be drawing examples and for me, photographing them. This means more signs or window displays or cafe interiors, etc. I’ve wanted to do more of that anyway but have thought about that in places like Europe. But to realize that all the minority peoples of China have their own designs, that makes this theme/possibility even more intriguing.
Refining the destinations when you plan a trip
May 5, 2017: Let’s see. Since last updating, we moved the date back to mid/late October, booked outbound to Beijing on Hainan Airlines and return from Shanghai. Read that after first week in October, crowds die down. Should be cooler and drier as well. We have 16 days total. Websites have been key to planning, finding ones especially about the small towns in Yunnan. Plan is to fly from Beijing to Lijiang (in Yunnan), spend a few days, go to Shaxi (a small town between Lijiang and Dali) for two nights then on to Dali and fly from there to Shanghai. Maybe we do that in reverse. All will depend on tickets and timing, but we can likely book tickets right before we leave for domestic travel within China. Also found out we need visas and should apply about two months in advance. Main learning is that sites (that I’ve listed in Evernote for future reference) have been most helpful both with logistical info and also with photos. Also contacted an Instagram contact and fellow photographer who was recently in Yunnan and who was helpful with some pointers as well.
The value of seeing the place through videos and images
May 16, 2017: I basically haven’t done anything lately since a few weeks ago when I looked at the web sites for places in Yunnan. Note that we also, earlier, watched “Wild China” and though it was mostly on nature, it did provide some good idea of the areas in Yunnan and what the region looks like.
I just went to Booking.com to look for places to stay in Dali. I need to keep track of when to apply for a China visa. I think about 2 months before the trip. But I also recall reading that you need to show both an exit ticket and also where you’re going to stay. Hence the trip to Booking.com to see what we could find that has free cancellations. I saw one place for over $100/night that was gorgeous, an old central garden house that has been restored. That’s cheap for a fancy place in Europe but there are other boutique inns as low as $20/night that look decent. The biggest issue with the nice one is that it only has king beds available. I will need to check with Sumner if that’s doable for three nights, but I doubt either of us wants to share a bed, even a large one. But the main thing was how much seeing such a place gets me excited for the trip and the possibilities. In a place like that, you just want to stay and absorb it, much like our place in Fez, Morocco. Then, I go and look at some of the other places and get a better sense of Dali as a place. Trey’s advice on coffee places is worth noting: Look at all the photos of hotels to get a better sense of the town itself.
Ongoing logistical issues
September 17, 2017: So much for tracking all the planning here since I haven’t written any notes for several months. But here’s where things stand now: I am finalizing all the hotels (I still need to cancel some duplicates), booking domestic flights (surprisingly expensive and I’m concerned about the quality of them but didn’t have a lot of choice for direct flights), getting travel insurance and then making photocopies of sections of books (I make these mostly of maps or parts of guidebooks that don’t show up well on my Kindle copy), etc. I also need new vaccinations for tetanus and Hep A. It took a while to figure out where we wanted to go around Shanghai, but I found an article on the best water/canal cities then compared that to some guidebooks and ended up with Suzhou for a day and overnighting in two others, Tongli and ? (what turned out to be Nanxun).
It was very expensive to get my China visa, over $300 including fedexing and agency fees, but I went with a company that got the best reviews and has done it the most. Sumner already had his from a trip to China in college a few years ago.
Tying in the personal and creative aspects of the trip
Anyway, today, in an act of pure grace, I just found The Illustrated Journey by Danny Gregory and opened to a page by Kolby Kirk on how he does his travel journals. It has further inspired me to use this trip to do my journals in a new way, sketching some, but also collecting items along the way to include, maybe even noting photo numbers to tie to specific scenes. But I want the trip to be about the journal to some degree, really building that up. I’m also intrigued by the notion of a photo essay, not just destination shots. I still need to think through what that means and I only have a few weeks before we go and still need to study Chinese every day (a practice I started in March when we first decided to visit China. I lived in China for a year in my 20’s and studied the language in grad school, so this was mostly to refresh all that I’ve forgotten). But practicing drawing a bit, thinking through what I want to capture in the journal (and being careful on the trip to capture all the details I normally ignore, maybe using Evernote more with phone photos of places, as well as names, menus, etc. — practice what I preach) and thinking about photo essays will make this a more interesting trip.
Note that there may be a whole chapter on hidden travel that is emerging from my England trip (one I took with my wife for work in August) and this China one: the trip and discoveries hidden in time that only emerge from paying better attention and waiting, watching and absorbing.
One thing I found in Turkey (a trip I took in January of this year) was that it is easier to write quickly on a keyboard than in a journal. I can always print out and add to the journal if I want but I can type so much faster and get more details down if I have a keyboard. I will check out some folding ones I might be able to use with my phone.
Now after considering this more, I wonder if the idea of just using the journal is too simplistic. I do love photos as well. That’s the problem: I love too many things. I do need to simplify not to be SQUIRRILling all the time, but writing is important as is drawing and photography. I recall the words of Bill Piper, our cousin and a sculptor in Walla Walla. He said a professor once told him in grad school that he had to choose: He could do sculpture, print making, painting, or ceramics, but he had to specialize in only one of those. But he said, why? I am not a sculptor or any of those other things alone. I am a visual artist. And as a visual artist, all forms of visual arts are open to me.
So it really comes down to your category. Do you define it narrowly or widely? Does mastery come harder the wider you define something? What about Leonardo or even Michelangelo (who, I believe, always thought of himself as a sculptor). Or that line from Quigly Down Under: “I didn’t say I didn’t know how to use a pistol. I just don’t like them.” The point is, for this trip, how specialized do I need to make my purpose or approach? I think the general theme of “design” is enough to encapsulate all my interests.
Summarizing the process
September 28, 2017: Here’s a summary of what I did to plan a trip to China:
- Figured out where we wanted to go in general for our in and out flights
- Figured out where else to go in general by realizing we didn’t have time to fly all over. So we settled on Yunnan.
- Figured out where in general in Yunnan and sacrificed areas like the rice fields and others due to time available.
- Checked to see if we needed to make flight reservations for domestic flights. Didn’t seem like we did, so we waited.
- About 2 months out, noticed that flight prices seemed higher so decided to lock flights down. Had already determined a general plan and booked several hotels in each city so we had options. Used Booking.com and only selected options that allowed me to cancel reservation close to trip.
- Key insight specific to China: Had to have reservations nailed down enough at 2 months out in order to get my visa that requires listing of all your hotels.
- Still kept option of changing Dali vs. Lijiang as starting point but it turned out flights were slightly cheaper going into Lijiang from Beijing and to Shanghai from Dali.
- Spent a lot of time looking for good flights. Turns out there was only one or two direct flights for each route. Chose the airline that had the least bad reviews!
- Got updated vaccinations last weekend.
- Earlier this week signed up for VPN to hopefully be able to access email (Gmail) from China where Google is blocked.
- Yesterday (two weeks from departure), decided to add maps to Evernote since Google Maps won’t work in China (or so I’ve heard. NOTE: In reality, once in country, Google Maps worked fine with my T-Mobile account where data was free!). Found out that you can only make entire notebooks available offline in Evernote so created a new notebook for all the China notes. Added maps of each location in various scales and began adding transportation advice. It takes up room on my SD card on my phone, but is worth it to have access even when I can’t get online.
- Realized in trying to figure out how to get from one place to the next around Shanghai that our original plan to go from Nanxun to Suzhou to Tongli meant some backtracking. So was able to swap nights and now we go Suzhou, Tongli then Nanxun. Not exactly sure how to get from Tongli to Nanxun (there were some mentions of buses) and then to Shanghai, but I’m sure the host in Tongli and people at hotel in Nanxun can help. I think I’d be a bit more freaked out right now if I didn’t speak Chinese. But then, others seem to have gotten by fine, from what I’ve read, mostly in Trip Advisor forums.
- The biggest wrinkle, if you can call it that, was the decision only a week ago or so to sketch. That’s meant trying to practice sketching, learning about Chinese art, learning more Chinese and reading guidebooks and articles all in the last few weeks. But it is coming along.
- Found out in changing reservations that I couldn’t easily cancel the five days at the hotel in Shanghai and then change to one (at the start of our time in Shanghai) and then two days there (after we returned from the water towns) to allow the side trip to Suzhou, etc. But contacted the hotel directly and it is all worked out. I’m beginning to suspect that Booking.com is a necessary evil for hotels who prefer you book and work directly with them where possible.
- My mental image of the places we’re visiting is shaped in varying degrees originally by guidebooks, then by articles about the places from bloggers and such, now by travel forum comments who have specific info on how they got from one place to the next. I find that each has its role. I don’t necessarily think listening to forum posts about what they liked or not helps because that is usually too biased. But it does help to hear from someone who just did the trip about logistic details. Bloggers, on the other hand, don’t always go into logistical details but are helpful for getting a sense of what is there and comparisons between places. But the main thing is to read a number of them and filter out the biases or at least read those whose biases align more with yours (e.g. the guy whose whole desire to visit Tongli was to visit the sex museum isn’t someone I’m going to pay much attention to).
- This last week, I also went through and canceled all the duplicate reservations I had on Booking.com. I learned a lesson with our England trip where I didn’t note that one place, only had a month window for cancellation, not the usual day or at most, a week before arrival. So I’ve been watching much closer now to make sure I’m not penalized with multiple bookings.
- I also updated TripIt with the final hotel reservations. TripIt is so helpful for keeping everything in one place and being able to share that with others. I also updated the flights when I found out, about a month ago, that Hainan Airlines wouldn’t let me access my reservation on their site as I had previously done. When I called, they said it was because I’d booked through a third party (B of A’s Travel office). But they couldn’t explain (or wouldn’t) why I’d previously been able to go in and arrange things including seats. Well, she could see, when I called, that I’d requested seats but now she said those weren’t available. So we paid $15/seat/flight to book other seats closer to the front of the plane. But at least that is done. For the domestic flights, I see no way to book our seats ahead of time, so I guess we’ll just have to show up at the airport and hope for the best.
- I did go online to Hainan’s site and found that I can bring my carryon bag and a camera or laptop bag in the cabin if my roller bag is 10KG, I believe. So hopefully that will work. I didn’t have to buy a new bag just to make it fit.
- I’m packing really light with even fewer clothes (only 3 shirts total and likely no extra shoes) to keep my bag light. For art, I’ve purchased a 4×6 watercolor journal I really like from Field Artist. I’ll have that, a water brush(es), water color kit, and a back-up small Moleskine notebook. I also bought a folding keyboard so I can type on my phone each night with notes faster than I can write (NOTE from after the trip: Hainan Airlines doesn’t allow the use of phones even in airplane mode, so my plan of writing up notes on the flights didn’t work out). I will email those to my wife as a record of what we’re doing. (NOTE from after the trip: We had wifi in every place we stayed so we were able to make Skype calls to my wife for free multiple times throughout the trip).
- I also made a shot list and an Essay Ideas list that I’ve written in the journal, along with an Ideas index and numbered pages. I’m trying this out to see if it works for my Hidden Travel journal. The combination of finally figuring out how to have offline access to Evernote and putting more things in there with this new journal approach should be interesting.
- I also bought a WD 3 TB back-up drive that has a built in SD card reader so I can back SD cards up on the trip. It’s small but weighs about a pound. I hope it is worth the weight and effort.
- I love the Pleco app (sort of a combo of Chinese dictionary and word study tool) on my phone and being able to add Chinese words to review later. It’s been super helpful. Far more so than learning a bunch of vocab I don’t need on some other apps.
- I got freaked out a week ago when I realized I hadn’t learned CH400 or 401 vocab yet. I thought I was doing well only to find so many words I didn’t recall because they hadn’t come up in my CDs or other books. But I’m working through it and realize that with my Chinese and my drawing skills, I’ll do what I can and trust that it is enough.
- Let credit card companies know I’d be in China but that my wife would be home so they didn’t shut the card off for one of us.
- Left drone at home but all my camera gear fits in my day pack and my carry-on is under 10KG, so I should get it on the flight.
- Arrived at airport and because I’m elite status on Alaska Airlines, my son and I were able to board ahead of everyone else. Seats are fine for economy (more legroom than typical domestic coach flights), so we’re hopeful and happy and ready to take off.
Final thoughts after the trip on where we stayed
Here are the places we stayed. China, particularly out in Yunnan Province, will ruin you in terms of hotels. We stayed at several that were exceptional and cost somewhere between US$20 and US$40/night for two of us, breakfast included. Click on the links to see the photos and you’ll understand why we loved them so much. Well, all except the business hotel in Nanxun.
- Beijing: Kelly’s Courtyard Hotel for two nights. Sumner had stayed here before and it matched our criteria for being in a hutong. I loved the room, the food for breakfast and the great conversation with the owner about younger Chinese and sense of meaning since his English was excellent.
- Lijiang: Xiangheyuan Inn for four nights (I would not stay that long in Lijiang again as it is very touristy). I had a recommendation from my friend, but I didn’t want to have to pay ahead of time and be locked in. Thus, we used Booking.com and got a gorgeous room for around US$20/night.
- Shaxi: Shaxi Cato’s Inn for two nights (and wish we had more). We booked this on Booking.com based on the reviews. You wonder sometimes with extremely high rated places, but this lived up to the positive comments. We loved our room and our gracious hosts who were able to call our hotel in Dali and change our reservation there for us so we could stay an extra night here in Shaxi, probably one of our favorite town’s on the trip.
- Dail: Dali Yunxi Boutique Inn for two nights. We had some difficulty in finding the place but once there, we had a beautiful room, a great view from the rooftop, wonderful breakfasts and a chance to do our laundry onsite.
- Shanghai: SSAW Boutique Hotel Shanghai Bund for one night after flying in from Dali, then an additional two nights after returning from Suzhou, Tongli and Nanxun. This is where we originally booked through Booking.com but then were able to get better rates and more flexible options by emailing the hotel directly. The hotel is first rate. Their website, well… Some of the desk clerks were super helpful (like the one who recommended an exceptional locals-only restaurant) but a few others less so. It is a business hotel, so they have many staff at the front desk. I will say, it is probably the most extensive breakfast buffet of both Chinese and Western options that I’ve had anywhere.
- Tongli: Tongli 1917 Best South Boutique Inn for one night. Honestly, there didn’t seem like a lot of good choices for Tongli when we looked at lodging. This was a bit more than the others (a bit over $50), but it turned out to be wonderful, in large part due to our hostess and the location on one of the old canals.
- Nanxun: Chaoyue Business Hotel for one night. Nanxun was one of our favorite destinations, in part because we were the only foreign travelers there. But that also means not having a lot of choice on hotels. This was a decent business hotel that was very cheap, and we had a clean, quiet room. The breakfast was fairly industrial and unappetizing (and I’m used to typical Chinese breakfasts and even by those standards, this wasn’t great) but we didn’t come to Nanxun for the hotel or the breakfast.