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People ask me all the time what my go-to trip planning resources are or what my must-haves are during travel. I figured I should just make a comprehensive list to refer anyone to if they’re interested.
My first step in trip planning (after deciding where I’m going, of course) is airfare. I typically compare a number of websites and look at a low fare calendar. Some that I check are:
Skyscanner – I use this if my dates are flexible and I’m trying to find the cheapest dates to fly.
Google flights – Amazing for a fare calendar. I especially like Google Flights for smaller, lesser known airlines within a foreign country for domestic flights. Plus, you can piece together different flights on different airlines by finding the cheapest options. Just be sure to verify you have long enough layovers, otherwise if you’re flying another airline, the first one has no obligation to you if you miss your next flight on a different airline.
I’m often using air miles or incorporating a companion flight from Alaska Airlines or their partners, so in those cases, I’ll use Alaska Air’s website. Which brings me to my next point…
Airline Credit Card
If you’re a traveler (or want to be) and you’re not utilizing an air mile credit card, what the F-word are you waiting for? Pay for EVERYTHING with it then pay it off immediately. Don’t ever let yourself have that high interest rate though. For most people, if you don’t fly with one particular airline, the Chase Sapphire Reserve or Chase Sapphire Preferred come out on top according to most reviews. I continue to stick with Alaska Airlines because I live by such a small airport, almost every flight out of my city is on Alaska Airlines, and they have plenty of international partners. They’ve provided me with excellent customer service over the years. My boyfriend and I each have one and go back and forth between using his miles or mine to get free flights a couple times per year. Plus, each cardholder gets a $99 companion flight each year, which makes a domestic trip more affordable. The annual fee pays for itself quickly.
Depending on the type of destination, I’ll either opt for an apartment to rent, a vacation home, or a boutique hotel. When I want an apartment or house to rent, I almost always use AirBnB (get a discount by using my link) because I like their website layout and I’ve just always had good luck. You can narrow your search to a very specific area on the map. I’ll also use HomeAway because they often have the same rentals on there as well as different ones. I always book something with tons of photos and lots of great reviews and I check it on the map to make sure it is centrally located. As a vacation home owner, I do my rentals to clients through HomeAway because it’s a great platform for easy communication and built in taxes. When I book a hotel, resort, etc., I almost always using booking.com, but I usually compare reviews on hotels.com and TripAdvisor. I LOVE TripAdvisor for all things, but they redirect you to another booking platform, which is often booking.com.
Honestly, I hate booking rental cars. Everything about renting a car in a foreign country makes me nervous. Ask these questions when you book a car: does my car insurance cover me in another country? Does my credit card have car rental insurance? If it does, make sure you BOOK AND PAY WITH THAT CREDIT CARD! Also, in order for your credit card coverage to work, you have to deny the optional coverage at the rental counter. And even then, your tires and windshield may not be covered. And if you rent a luxury model, it probably isn’t covered either. Fun, huh? Anyways, with rental cars I usually look for local companies with good reviews or I try priceline.com to name my price. If in Europe, I use europecar.com.
This is a tough one. I have a running list on my computer that has places in most countries that I’d like to visit (attractions, natural wonders, hotels, restaurants, museums, etc.). So I word search my document by country first. I look at a map and see how far apart those highlights are and research if there are direct train routes or cheap flights between them. I search hashtags and top tourist sites by country and city on Instagram to find great spots. I read travel guides like Lonely Planet or WikiTravel. Then I consult some of my favorite travel blogger’s pages and search by destination. If the flights are affordable, I try to fly in and out of different cities (by searching for one way flights) so I can fit more into my itinerary and spend less time traveling. I create a rough guide on my computer of the itinerary for each leg of the journey. I google “how long to spend in ___” to compare peoples’ recommendation for each particular city or area of a country. I especially google images of each destination (city, beach, whatever) to get an idea of whether I would like it or not. I can usually tell pretty easily by looking at a photo how long I want to spend there, if at all.
If I book a city or museum tour, I’ll usually check Viator for good deals and reviews. But I always note who the actual company is and then do a TripAdvisor search for reviews of that company. Viator has some good deals but is often bigger groups and and a bit more touristy, but great for introductory city tours. For day trips or specialized tours, I prefer to search TripAdvisor for reviews and more local companies. I always opt for smaller group tours, as I don’t want usually want to be on a 30+ person bus. I definitely don’t plan tours every day. Good grief.
The Yelp app (for some countries) and TripAdvisor are the best for reviews. If you know there are particular restaurants you want to visit or a special occasion while you’re in a particular place, make sure to book a reservation!
I always download Google Offline maps of the areas I’ll be when I have wifi ahead of time. This has literally been a game changer for me. Instead of “screens shotting” a bunch of maps when I had wifi and then setting off in hopes of finding my destination, I can now navigate on a scooter or walking through the mazes of an old town without a problem. The maps.me app is another good one.
There are many apps, but I always use Google Translation. You can download most of the popular languages while you have wifi and then have access to data-free translation! Sweet!