People don't take Big Trips that often. They might happen once a year or every five years. But when it's a Big (and special) One, we want it to be perfect. Like perfect enough to blow you away while it's happening - and give you stand out cocktail-party-worthy stories.
Planning THAT is a massive undertaking because you want it to include all-the-things.
How do you start? Pose a question on Facebook for all your friends and family to chime in? Find a group on Facebook and ask there? Or do a basic Google search on your destination? Maybe get a guidebook from the library? Check Pinterest and Instagram?
I'm spinning. And dizzy. But YES to all of that.
There are so many places to get information about travel planning; it's overwhelming. And for me, it's hard to stop the process once it starts. "Just one more site to check out, one more list of 'best of' articles, and a couple more hours of reading personal reviews…"
I love it, and it makes me want to throw up at the same time. After a few days spent doing travel research, I feel like I have zero ideas of what to do, where to go, and how to get there. It takes time for it to soak in, sorting out what's possible from what sounds cool - but only at first.
Guess what dear reader? I've done an in-depth search of different ways to go about planning an (epic) trip these days. Grouped into the different parts of a typical trip - here are the best sites and apps to use to plan the transportation and lodging portion of your trip. I start with a list of multi-purpose sites that combine all of this with some excursions + experiences too.
While some of the sites in the multi-purpose list also allow you to search for the best flight, I don't typically use them to snag the best fare. In another article, I'll review the best sites for scouting great airfares.
For now, I'll leave you with the two sites I use the most:
- Scotts Cheap Flights - pay for the premium at $49/year and you'll get texts/emails with mistake fares, rare deals, and special fares that free members don't see. This is how you learn about great opportunities - not how you book a flight to get to a family wedding.
- Hopper - I use this to track fares when I know I'm going to go on a trip to a specific location at least six months out. It watches the fares and tells you "don't buy yet" or "buy now - fares have dropped by $X amount!"
Multi-purpose travel sites
Sites you can use to search for accommodations, tours, and transportation. Anyone of these might be all you need, along with some input and stories from folks you know and kind Social Media strangers. But you do not need them all! Check out a couple and dive into the one that hooks you. You'll see some repeated functions and information.
- Rome2rio - this site/app is a great place to plan out all of your transportation for your trip in one place. You can even book tickets in many countries right from the App now! Information from May 2019 on their blog says "We currently sell tickets for trains, buses, ferries, and flights in countries around the world, including the UK, France, Italy, Spain, Germany, the US, and Canada." But wait! There's more! They've partnered with Booking.com to source accommodations, and they have some great reads on their site for things to do and see. Definitely worth your time to investigate and rely on Rome2rio in your travel planning. The bonus is that while you're on your trip if you need to figure out how to get from point A to B - use the App!
- Kayak Trips/Momondo Trips/Expedia - Maybe you've used one of these three to search for flights in the past? Well, you can use them for a whole lot more, both online and on their apps. You can use them for keeping your itinerary organized and accessible - like I pointed out here - and you can find everything for your trip via their sites/apps. The first two sites are mirror images of each other - pick one. You can do everything little thing for your trip here - flight, accommodations, ground transportation, and tours. Check out their deals page and consider using their apps as a way to access all critical trip data when you're on the road. You can also curate a trip and share it with a group from one of these sites via their Trip Huddle feature. So oddly enough - I experimented with the feature on Kayak and received an email from Momondo about continuing my planning via Trip Huddle. Yep - they're all the same place!
- Guides by Lonely Planet - I know - surprising, right? Well, Lonely Planet lets you book it all on their website. Flights, hotels, car, tours, and even travel insurance. (YES - GET IT.) They also have some great reads about what to find inside of most destinations, both online and in print. You know - the old fashioned, we-still-love-paper way, AKA books. They have ebooks too! And speaking of books, check out the ones in their Shop. Whether it's a book to take with you, a coffee table book, or something that speaks to your traveler's heart - it's in there.
- Wanderu - this site lets you find and book transportation - flight, bus, and train. You can also set up your hotel and then hop into the Explore tab to look for things to do and day trips from your original destination. Initial set up is free and easy. There's not an overwhelming amount of information on the site, and definitely compare the flights on other websites. But for ease of use, it's worth a look.
- Tripadvisor - Like Kayak, Momondo, and Expedia - this site can do it all for you. The one added dimension are the forums where you can read others' reviews, feedback, and recommendations. You can also post a question after you've searched the existing posts. This is the star attraction to this site. It's like you're having a conversation with others who've been there done that and can offer on-the-ground insights to consider when you're planning. And there's a travel planning/organizing feature, Trips, where you can create a trip, add places, tours, and accommodations, etc., then share it with your travel companion. Just know you can put your entire trip together here (flights and all) but you'll have to make sure you're getting the best deal on prices by checking with other sites.
- Inpsirock - Here, you'll find a site that's easy to log-in and plan a trip. It recommends a suggested day by day itinerary that you can adjust by tweaking where you go and how long you stay at each stop. Flights are searched via Skyscanner, and accommodations via Trip Advisor (hotels) and Airbnb from within the suggested itinerary. And everything is shareable with a travel companion (or two.) No app available, so you'll need to access your trip info
on the road with Wifi.
- Trip Seer - I'm into this site! It's not mind-blowingly different, but when you create a trip and set up your dates, it will do a search on flights, and open up an itinerary page. On the left is your flight options, and on the right/majority of the page is a map and below that - tabs to research activities, lodging, food+drink, and day trips. As you click each tab, the results are listed below so you can check out tours and excursions you want to add. Also (BONUS!!) they're laid out on the map in the upper part of the screen. You can see if you're out of your ever-lovin' mind trying to do something HERE and then get all the way over THERE for that. When you're traveling to a new place, whether it's in the US or outside, how the heck would you know without plotting it out on a map?
Find Your Accommodations
- Booking.com - On this site, you can do it all - book a flight, car rental, lodging - even schedule an airport taxi! So why isn't it up there in that multi-purpose section? Well, flights are sourced through Kayak - so it's redundant in that. Using it for a car rental or booking a taxi is an option, and if you want a lodging+flight package, it uses Priceline. For accommodations alone - it's a great source. Start your search there and then check out the other options, but compare pricing elsewhere.
- Go with oh - If you're traveling to Europe and don't want to stay in hotels, this site specializes in what they call "tourist apartments in the main European capitals." You can find an apartment suitable for a family or something more romantic - or something for a larger eclectic group!
- Go Seek - This site is dedicated to hotels and will return options at each hotel for different prices from different websites, along with the lowest price, which always appears to be for members of GoSeek. Membership is $29 annually, but you can use it for free for seven days. The site is also set up to push the price comparison and will send you to an array of sites comparing rates at different hotels. That makes me dizzy and a little frustrated. I'd rather do the searching on my own than have the pop-ups or auto-opened browser tabs forcing price comparisons. Maybe that's just me - so compare away if you are good with that. Prices look good though, so I'll use this site on some upcoming trips.
- Airbnb - I've had some amazing experiences with apartments I've booked via Airbnb, from Rome to New York to Krakow. And now I'm going to be trying Airbnb Experiences to find new and unique things to do on an upcoming trip to Manhattan.
- HomeAway - this site is similar to Airbnb for non-hotel lodging. All options pop up on the left side of the page and are scrollable. On the main portion of the page is a large map where all the lodging options are plotted. Love these features because when you haven't been to that city before - how would you know? You might pick the most fabulous place - then find out once you arrive that it's too far away from everything you plan on seeing. Although they don't have an Experience option, they do have a function for planning a trip and looking at different places and saving them to a board, similar to Pinterest. You can share the board with your travel companions and make comments to each other right there ("love love love! Book this one!") Very cool feature and a huge step up from emailing a page of links to your travel companions.
Transportation on the ground
- Citymapper - this is the one App you can't leave home without - and that means domestic or international travel. Put in your starting point and your ending point, wherever you are, and the App will return options for walking, taxi, and public transportation - including time and routes like Google Maps, and estimated cost for any non-walking options. Similar to Rome2Rio. The options it provides in your location are mind-boggling. I searched for San Francisco, and there were options for twelve different modes of transportation, including bike, scooter, and moped. When I plugged in a start and end point - I got back options that included cost or free and even calories burned if walking or biking. Wowzer! Very cool App.
- The Man in Seat 61 - Oh I think this might be the coolest of all cool travel planning sites! It's all about the train (and ferry) travel around the world. When I think of train travel - I assume Europe. But this site pretty much covers the globe. Pretty handy for me because my dear hubby just mentioned a bucket list item of his to ride the rails along the US and Canadian border, stopping to stay in historic hotels along the way. Who knew? As for the benefit of train travel - you'll see sooo much of the country - any country. And you're doing a lot to limit your carbon footprint, too. As for me - I've always dreamed of a trip on the Orient Express.
- Omio - This site covers booking trains, buses, and flights within Europe. If you're traveling through Europe from North America, get the best flight deal you can to one of your destinations. Then - hop onto this website and look for your options for traveling within Europe. Omio will allow you to compare train, bus or flights so you can create the type of trip you want - sticking to your budget or experimenting with adventure travel!
- RailEurope - If you're planning on traveling by train within Europe, you'll need to check out this website. You can book train tickets, buy rail passes, and use their trip planning feature. I tried it out and as I put in a starting city (Paris) and then added stops (first stop Brussels) the site added excursions I could try in that city. So this is more than just a place to buy train tickets! Check it out.
- Rome2Rio - this is in here again because you can use it strictly for transportation from place to place while you're traveling. I input leaving London for Paris, and the site gave me eleven transportation options with time and costs. It also then lead me to lodging and excursion options too.
Once you've conquered these major logistics for your trip, you can start to curate all the things you'll do when you arrive. Over the past decade, the number of people traveling has increased dramatically around the world - and a lot of those people talk and write about it. Between creative walking tour companies, specialized experiences, and private tours of historical sites, you'll find there is much to choose from as you curate your trip.
I'll guide you to some great options in Part 3 of the travel planning series (check out Part 1 here if you missed it), but don't forget three great sources in the meantime:
- Tripadvisor Forums