Last week, we talked about researching where to go, but we didn’t delve into the nitty gritty of where to research flights, accommodation and things to do. This is an extension of research, but also begins to get into the logistics of travel planning. Logistics is another thing that I love about travel planning. Details, details, details.
Below I provide my favorite resources for finding flights, car rentals, accommodation and more.
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One of the most important aspects of your trip planning process will be determining how you are getting to your destination. Is it a road trip? Is it close enough to drive? Will you fly, take the bus or the train? Be creative in how you get to your destination – the journey is often as exciting as the end result.
For our family, our two most frequently used modes of transportation are flying and driving. Below you will find my favorite search engines for tracking and finding flights, rental cars as well as my new found favorite mini-RV rental company. One of the most important parts of this is figuring out exactly how much an average vacation will cost and how much you have to spend.
My first stop in searching for flights is typically Google Flights. A lot of people don’t even know about this search engine, but as with most things Google does, it’s pretty great. It has one of the most inclusive searches you can find. I use it for domestic and international flights as well as when I’m searching for budget airlines in Europe. The only negative is they do not include Southwest Airlines just like all the other search engines.
You do not actually purchase your flights through Google, rather it’s just a search engine to help you find the lowest flights for your dates. Once you find the rates you like, you can move on from there to another site to purchase your flight.
I love Skyscanner because it allows me to type in LAX to ANYWHERE! I have the app on my phone and will often just type in that search request for a specific weekend or date to see what is available around the world for the cheapest price. It’s not perfect. It tends to give me the same places over and over again, but it does help me find super cheap flights to Asia at the last minute (none of which I have been able to purchase yet!).
Once you have sussed out the flight options, for many people, the next stage is to set up price alerts. I mentioned this in my post on how to add more travel in your life. There are a few services that I would recommend looking into for this.
There are many avenues to set up flight alerts. One of the ones I particularly like is Airfarewatchdog. They do include Southwest in price alerts which is nice. You will get daily email alerts letting you know current prices on your favorite routes. I have yearly alerts for places like Dallas and Ireland where the grandparents live.
This is another service I recommend for tracking flights. Here you can set up specific dates or date ranges to search for your specific flights. I find this useful for booking spring break, long weekends or other breaks we know well in advance.
Now for actually booking flights, you have several options. When you look through the other search engines, you will be given information about where you can find these lowest prices. You can go to those sites or keep on researching. I tend to keep on going.
Expedia has been my go to resource for actually purchasing flights for many years. I find the customer service to be excellent when problems arise and I love the ability to purchase a flight and then cancel it for free within 24 hours. I have used this many times when finding cheap flights, but not sure if I can actually do the trip or not. Most of the time, the cheapest flight options that you find on Google or Skyscanner will be found on Expedia as well.
In addition to checking out Expedia, I also always look at the individual airlines website. 9 out of 10 times, their prices are higher than what I see on Expedia, but I check just to be certain!
For car rentals, I typically also use Expedia, however Priceline is also a good bet. Things to keep in mind, especially when you are traveling with a child is where the car rental offices are located. If you are particular about wanting one within the airport building, make sure to make note of that on the search screen.
Note that for most rental car search engines, you are not required to provide a credit card or pay in advance (in the US), so make your car rental reservation as soon as you have your flight details purchased. Car rentals will always be cheapest further in advance of your departure date.
One of my new found favorite roadtrip companions is the JUCY mini-RV. We took it to the Mojave Desert and fell in love. It’s not much higher than some car rentals and provides a great option for accommodation as well.
This is actually one of my least favorite things to do. Even though I travel a ton, I find I still get overwhelmed with choices when it comes to hotels. Some things to consider are what type of places you want – hotel, apartment, resort, motel, camping, RV, as well as what level of accommodation is acceptable for your family. How many people are in your family also plays a big role in this decision. If you are 3 like us, you can easily get away with a room with 2 queen beds or even 1 king. For families with more than 1 child, don’t understate the value of extra space – having adjoining sitting rooms, suites, or apartments to yourself can provide much needed relief on long trips. Other questions to keep in mind include services or amenities are you looking for. On trips I prefer to have a mini-fridge in our room, coffee services and if possible a microwave. And always wifi, preferably free! In cities with parking restrictions I also look at whether the hotel offers free or reduced rate parking for guests with vehicles.
But how, and where to do you find out about the hotels? Online of course!
Tripadvisor is one of my favorite review sites. Always read the top family reviews to find out what other families have thought of the property. Make it a habit to always read the bad reviews so that you will have an idea what people are complaining about. It’s best to know what the negatives are and whether it is something you can handle or not. The buried low star reviews is where you will find out about bedbug issues, cleanliness, low water pressure (I hate that!), etc.
Note, it is worth it to get the Tripadvisor app. I have found great prices on last minute accommodation with ‘online app’ deals through their app.
When looking to actually book hotels, Booking.com is a favorite for many bloggers, including myself. It provides a great deal of well known hotels as well as smaller more unique local brands. It also has a good selection of bed and breakfast and hostel options for those looking for lower budget rooms.
If you’re looking for luxury accommodation at bargain prices, Priceline is a good place to check out. They have a good selection and you can often find super bargains with their Express Deals. Need help figuring out Priceline? Check out a friend’s post on how to hack Priceline Express Deals.
If you are family looking for a bit more space than a hotel can offer, AirBNB is a great option. We love staying in other homes and apartments when we travel as it allows us to cook our own meals, spread out and find parking more easily!
Other options to check out for home rentals are:
Vacatia is a relatively new search engine on the scene that searches and allows you to book serviced apartments sometimes called resort residences. You know all those friends who’s parents own vacation homes? Well, this is how you can also stay in those. These rentals are really great for larger groups or families needing more services than an apartment offers, but more space than a typical hotel provides.
Things to Do
Make a list of all of the top attractions at your destination during your research phase. Keep a running tab on what you know what you must do and what you would like to do. Be careful to not over plan your days however. If you are a super planner like me, make a rough outline of what you would like to do on each day so you will have a handle on how much time you need at your destination. To help find out more about what there is to do at your destination, check out these sites below.
For most destinations out there, Tripadvisor has a list of “Things to Do in XX”. The lists usually tend to be the most common tourist attractions, but that also is what most people want to do! Read the reviews to get more inforamtion about how the attraction really rates.
Determine if any tour booklets will be beneficial to your visit. CityPASS has some great options in cities across the world. If you are doing more than a few items on the list, it’s usually worth it to have a discount pass.
Viator works hard to find the best things to do throughout the world. From Las Vegas to Paris to Mumbai, Viator aims to provide low cost, high value tours that will appeal to all types of travelers. Viator tours also make great wedding and anniversary gifts if you know travel is involved!
Where to Eat
This is my least favorite part of travel planning and one I fail at for most trips. It pays to research a few places to eat in advance so that you won’t be cut out at the last minute in a new destination starving with no idea where to go for a meal. Find out if your hotel offers breakfast or if the restaurant requires reservations for dinner. Additionally, do a quick map search of the neighborhood where you will be staying to suss out some restaurants or fast food options to have ready in a pinch. Starbucks tends to be a go to for us when we are starving – their protein boxes and ready made sandwiches have saved us more than once!
Setting Plans in Motion
Now that you have done the research and figured out your itinerary, it’s time to set the plans in motion by actually booking things. If you see great flight deals, jump at them, they won’t last. Remember, accommodation will always be cheaper and more plentiful the further in advance you book. The same goes with rental cars. Advance planning pays off for your pocketbook in the end.
Come back next week for the last post in this series – a checklist of things to do before you leave & more! If you missed the previous posts, read about How to Travel More and Travel Planning: Researching a Trip and finally Checklists for Travel.
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