With Small Saviors and Small Saviors Redux, I've written about the little things--certain inexpensive items that can make or break a surf trip. Now it's time to really get into it: to talk about the act of surf travel itself. The following words mark the beginning of a series of blogs that break down the act of a surf expedition in detail--an attempt to share information and impart advice about traveling efficiently in the modern world.
International surf trips are so expensive today that, in order to get the most out of your travel budget, you need to plan and strategize a vacation like you're planning your own presidential campaign.
Recently I was able to put my travel knowledge to the test with a trip to Central America. For the first time, I actually remembered to scribble down notes about the trip itself, and about some key mistakes I made. As you will see, I have a lot to pass along--myriad ruminations and recommendations about treks in the modern era. So as not to overwhelm you, I've broken this information down into bite-size entries. Please feel free to comment on my opinions as these blogs unfurl, and make your own suggestions.
The Flexible Itinerary
This is perhaps the most exciting way surf travel has changed over the years. With advances in long term surf forecasting and deals on last minute flights, you can now limit your skunkings to a minimum. My suggestion is to re-think your entire approach--mainly to avoid temptation and not book a trip too far in advance. Here's what I mean: Instead of booking a trip to a certain destination, simply set the time aside. Then, maybe about ten days before your travel window, go online, check the forecast charts for a variety of possible destinations, and find the best airfare deals. Let surf and value be your dual-pronged criteria.
To maximize the potential of getting a good travel deal, try to use non-peak times for your vacation days. In other words, if possible, try to avoid traveling during Christmas or spring break, or in the Northern Hemisphere summer. Of course this isn't always possible: This past spring my only travel window was during Easter. Luckily, I was still able to get a good deal because of near-constant Internet monitoring. These days, airlines have sophisticated computer-selling strategies by which they change online prices constantly--sometimes as often as four times in a given week. As it turned out, the Caribbean, Hawaii, and even Mainland Mexico were steadily off-the-charts price-wise, but at the last minute a relatively good deal popped up for Costa Rica. Looking at promising long term forecast trends for the area, it didn't take me long to pull the trigger. With the necessity of guaranteeing yourself a spot for certain places (e.g., Tavarua, or the Mentawais), this last-minute strategy isn't always feasible, but should be employed whenever humanly possible.
It should be pointed out that in conjunction with checking airfare, you should also check board bag fees. A quick Google search should bring up some recent articles about what each airline charges. Always keep these fees in mind--what good is it if you find a great price for an air ticket but are going to get dinged $200 each way for your boards?
On a less relative note, it's also important to keep your itinerary flexible once you reach your destination, mainly to not lock yourself in to certain accommodations for too long. This is a mistake I made this past trip. With the help of tripadvisor.com, I booked myself into a great place for seven nights, but when the swell subsided on day five--when I wanted to pack up and explore another part of the country--I was already committed to a week's stay. Vowing to learn from my mistake, I came up with a new four-day rule for myself: In the future, I would only book myself into a place for the first four nights of a trip--enough time to get my bearings, but not so long that you can't change your plans on the fly.
The last thing you want to look into pre-departure is the wind forecast. Specifically, in addition to checking predicted surf heights, make sure you know what exact direction winds are good for your possible destination, and find out what the local wind is suppose to be. The only thing worse than seeing a good spot torn to shreds by an inclement wind is not knowing about the other spots down the coast that are offshore. I prefer to use buoyweather.com for my wind knowledge, a forecast site that's almost scary in its accuracy.
So let's review: You know you want to go on a surf trip, so you set some vacation time aside. You try to avoid peak travel times. When the date approaches you aggressively check airfares on Orbitz, Kayak, or your favorite travel website. Then you transpose this information with board bag fees and long-term surf forecasts. Then, with possible help from Tripadvisor, you make sure reasonable accommodations are available. Then you book your airfare, lock-in a four night stay, and boom--your surf dreams have a better chance of coming true.