The Internet is a magical tool sent from God, or whatever, to make planning travels a million times easier. Unless you are the type that is going to book your plane ticket and then figure out everything else once you get there, you will be making use of the dozens of wonderful websites out there to organize your plans before you go. But, unfortunately, some of them suck. So here is a list of websites that I use the most often during my research and preparations, and unless you would prefer to hire me to plan your trip for you, I encourage you all to make use of them!
First and Foremost: www.google.com
Obviously. But in addition to just general help and research, Google is my go-to for searching for flights. They have always shown me cheaper fares than places like Expedia, and the algorithm they use to search for flights and connections is top-notch. All you do is type in the route you want to Google search, such as “Flights from MCI to CUZ” and then click the link “Search flight prices on Google”. When you see a flight you want, you will select it, and Google will take you to the airline’s website to book. Quick and easy.
If you aren’t sure where you want to go yet, they have a map that will show you the fares to each airport for your selected date.
If you are sure where you want to go, but you’re not set on a specific date, you can also use their calendar to see what days are cheaper.
All in all, Google Flights rocks.
I also always use google for its currency converter, and, if absolutely necessary, its translate functionality.
Another Helpful Flight Tool: skiplagged.com
Skiplagged doesn’t typically find savings on international flights, but there have been several instances of cheaper fares for shorter domestic flights. For example, there are times that I could get a cheaper fare from Kansas City to Denver by booking a flight from Kansas City to Dallas with a stop in Denver, and then just not getting on my flight to Dallas. It’s pretty genius.
For Questions and Research
http://www.tripadvisor.com/ – I primarily use this for the Forum. If you search for your destination, a drop-down will show up in the top left corner and there will be an option for Such-and-Such Travel Forum under it. You can search the forum to see if your questions have already been answered. If not, ask away, and the regulars are generally very helpful. I check the forum frequently leading up to trips for any recent information that might be helpful.
Additionally, tripadvisor is great for reading reviews. If there is a tour, or lodging, or landmark you are considering, you can usually find several reviews for it on tripadvisor to make sure it’s something you’re interested in.
http://www.lonelyplanet.com/ – Very similar to tripadvisor, though in my personal experience, it is used more by the backpacker crowd. I use both to get different viewpoints. They have a forum and tips and suggestions on pretty much every aspect of travel from itineraries to accommodations.
http://www.frommers.com/ – Same category as tripadvisor and lonelyplanet, though the forums are usually pretty quiet, depending on where you are going.
http://wikitravel.org/ – Wikitravel is an excellent source for general information about your destination, especially in terms of transportation (to, from, within).
http://www.vrbo.com – I am obsessed with VRBO. It stands for Vacation Rentals by Owner and is full of rental houses, condos, apartments, houseboats, etc. They have a filter option so you can specify price range, number of bedrooms, type of accommodation, whether you want it to be beach-front, whether you want it to have a fireplace, etc. etc. etc. I so much prefer to rent a house with a bit more seclusion than stay in a hotel when traveling, so I will spend days on end narrowing down my options and then obsessing over all the details- “Babe, would we prefer this place which is just a little bit more expensive but has a hot tub and no neighbors, or this one that’s a little cheaper and closer to the center of town and more things to do?” Seriously, this is my hobby. I will not even be planning a vacation but will be searching VRBO for different rentals in all the countries I want to visit.
https://www.airbnb.com/ – This one is more well-known than VRBO and has some cheaper options. There are more home-shares and bed and breakfasts, so it depends on what you are looking for in your lodging. Airbnb is the one that handles the financial transactions, so there is an additional fee, but it’s also more secure.
http://www.tripadvisor.com/ – Tripadvisor has a ranking of the more popular hotels and hostels. There are a lot of reviews to look at, and generally, if you’re going to a more remote location and can’t find listings on VRBO or airbnb, tripadvisor will usually have something.
http://www.groupon.com/ – Groupon is great for finding deals on anything from restaurants to sky diving to yoga classes. Check out their daily deals and jump on the ones you want.
There are a lot of other websites similar to Groupon, depending on where you are traveling to. Check out Forbes Daily Deal Website List for where to find region-specific deals.
Reading travel blogs is a great way to get firsthand accounts on what to do and how to prepare for certain places. Blogs have always helped me to get excited about an upcoming trip or to calm my nerves if I am going somewhere considered “dangerous”.
Which leads to my next suggestion- check out the State Department’s Travel information for your destination, but take it with a grain of salt. It tends to over-exaggerate the danger of traveling somewhere and breeds a culture of fear, but it does have relevant information on how to stay safe. Be prepared, but not over-cautious and afraid. Keep in mind that everywhere is dangerous according to the State Department.
Obviously, check the weather for when and where you are going so you know how to pack.