My Favorite Trip Planning Tools
Lately, I’ve had quite a few requests from family, friends, and coworkers for help planning upcoming trips or for the information and tools that I use when I’m planning my own. Following is a roundup of my favorite websites and resources to use when it comes to trip planning.
I’m constantly on the lookout for new and interesting places to visit and I have a running list of locations that I hope to see one day. Sometimes my inspiration comes from a book, author, or movie and other times I get ideas from friends or online sources like Pinterest.
Once I have a general idea of where I want to go and when I plan to travel, I begin looking at flights to that specific region. Sometimes I actually look for cheap flights prior to researching a location, it just depends on whether I have a specific destination in mind or not. My two favorite resources for researching and booking flights are Google Flights and Southwest Airlines. The thing that I love about Google Flights is that it simply shows you the cheapest flight options to a destination and then it directs you straight to the airline’s website for direct booking. My experience has been that it’s always easier to deal with an airline directly during travel snafus, than having to go through a third party. I once had to pay an extra fee, because a third-party booking site had botched my name on the reservation; oh, and they also forgot to let the airline know about my special meal request. Needless to say, the airline was pretty unsympathetic since I had not booked directly with them.
Southwest Airlines is a great resource for traveling shorter distances within the United States, especially if they happen to be having a sale. That being said, it is also worth comparing the same routes in Google Flights because depending on your place of departure and destination, you may be able to find a shorter flight, with fewer connections, for a negligible price increase through another carrier.
Once I’ve decided on a location that I want to visit, I start compiling a list of all the things that I could possibly want to see and do in the area. For the most part, I search locations on Pinterest, TripAdvisor, or hit up my local library or Prime Reading account in search of guidebooks. If you’re wondering Lonely Planet books are usually my favorite, but I’ve also found good information in a few other popular guidebooks so it doesn’t hurt to check out a few different ones. During this stage of planning I typically compile a pretty extensive list of activities and places to see. Next, I have to narrow down my list and decide what my “must sees” are in each location. Those places and activities will take priority over others when it comes to forming my itinerary.
Researching different cities and choosing which places I want to see, usually helps me decide which neighborhoods I’ll want to base myself in. When it comes to booking accommodations, I primarily use either Airbnb or book directly with a hotel or bed & breakfast after exhaustively perusing online reviews. I really like staying in private apartments while traveling because of the extra space and the authentic experience it provides. Private apartments or homes are also ideal if you’re traveling with a group of people because of the cost per person savings. Personally, I find Airbnb’s platform to be the most user-friendly, but I’ve had good experiences booking through other sites like Hotels.com or Booking.com, the key is to read the reviews. When it comes to hotels and B&Bs, I will book directly with the establishment whenever possible because there are almost always additional perks, such as a rate discount, free breakfast included or both. When I booked directly with my hotel in Krakow, I received a rate discount, breakfast every morning, and a voucher for dessert at the adjacent restaurant. They were also happy to arrange my transfer both to and from the airport.
One of the most difficult tasks I always face is deciding what type of transportation to utilize while I’m on my trip. Some cities have great public transportation options, like London, while others do not. Another consideration to take into account is whether you wish to see something off the beaten path. For these types of dilemmas, I usually turn to online forums such as TripAdvisor and occasionally Lonely Planet. After a quick search, I can usually decide what my best transport options are and make plans from there. I also ensure that I’ve made a backup plan for transportation just in case something goes wrong, which sooner or later it inevitably will. Tripadvisor in general has some really great location expertise within their online forums, such as the TripAdvisor for London page or their Solo Travel Forum, both of which I used extensively when planning my trips to London and Krakow earlier this year.
A few other resources that I’ve found invaluable during my travels were Google Maps and CityMapper. I like to use the street view of Google Maps to check out various attractions and neighborhoods that I’m considering visiting or booking accommodation in. Does the area look like somewhere I will feel safe walking around during the day and after dark? CityMapper is very similar to Google Maps in that it allows you to find your way around a number of large cities, like London, all while being offline. This app can provide directions for travel by foot, car, or public transport. There are similar apps available for places like Poland, but be aware that some apps will require you to download them for a small fee.
Lastly, another great resource that I was recently introduced to is the Facebook page Girls Love Travel. Sorry boys, but this is a closed group for women only! I’m sure that there are similar pages available for men too, you’ll just have to do a little more research in order to find them.
Hope you enjoyed the post and found some of the resources helpful!
I’m always on the hunt for additional travel resources so feel free to add your tips and tricks in the comment section below.