I get a lot of questions from people looking to travel, and I also know that I always scour the internet for other people’s travel tips so that I can get real, honest advice about the places that I want to visit. That’s why I wanted to create this blog post series where I can offer up my experiences in detail, in the hope that it can help someone else as well!!
Planning your Trip: Where to Look
First of all, you should know that I love planning vacations. I will daydream about travelling someplace months before I even buy a plane ticket. This is great for people who, like my boyfriend, don’t want to comb through hotel prices & Google search “Coolest Yurts in Northern California.” Here are the websites/phone apps that I am obsessed with for planning the perfect vacation:
- Skyscanner. I usually bounce around between a few apps to watch flight prices when I’m trying to purchase my initial flights, and Skyscanner tends to have the lowest pricing. The downside of this app is that it only allows you to buy one-way or round-trip flights, which kind of sucks if you’re planning a multi-leg vacation. I read somewhere that the best time of week to buy a flight is on a Tuesday evening, but I’ve purchased super cheap flights on a Saturday night so I don’t know how valid that claim is. I definitely recommend watching your flight for a minimum of two weeks because you’d be amazed how much those prices fluctuate. Case-in-point: my round-trip ticket to Bali went from $1,200 to $850 in just a few days.
- Hopper. Hopper is my jam when I’m watching flight prices over the span of a few months. I don’t know if I’d say they offer the cheapest pricing compared to the other sites, but they DO make flight price predictions that show a daily fluctuation report, and those look forward almost a year in advance, which kicks ass. This app also watches the prices for you, and alerts you when they’re at their cheapest, which also rocks.
- Kayak. This is my go-to site for multi-leg trips. I tend to look at the app on my phone, and then go to the website when I’m ready to buy the tickets since it redirects you to the booking site with the cheapest price.
- AirBNB. I’m obsessed with this website. This is a site where people can rent their houses or apartments to people, and the prices are usually MUCH cheaper than local hotel prices. I will warn you, though, that there are areas that I don’t recommend using AirBNB for. Anywhere is the U.S. is a safe bet, and I had awesome experiences using it in Bali. But we had a few really bad experiences in Peru and it sort of woke me up from my AirBNB daydream. The key thing to remember here is that people can use angles and filters to make any house look really amazing, so read through the reviews and make sure you take any negative comments seriously. Having said that- some of these places are seriously amazing and unlike any hotel experience you could possibly have. We stayed in a refurbished RV just outside of San Francisco once that was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had, and there are even lists of Yurts, Treehouses, and boats that you can rent. I usually check the box that filters in only SuperHosts, because sometimes it’s the person hosting the AirBNB that makes it really special. Many SuperHosts will really go above and beyond to make your meals, suggest local spots, and even welcome you with a bottle of wine.
- TripAdvisor, Expedia & LonelyPlanet. These are pretty commonly-known sites but in case you don’t know, now you know. These are also where I look for hotels if I’m not going with AirBNB.
- Thrillist. This is my hands-down favorite website to find underground restaurants and non-touristy things to do. This site is primarily for major U.S. cities, but you can find quite a few suggestions for major international cities like London, Rome, etc.
- Rick Steves website/books/podcast.
Rick has awesome advice if you’re traveling most anywhere in Europe, and there
are videos, lists, and books that can help guide you to a number of remote
places that you’d otherwise miss.
- The Amateur Traveler. I like to check out this website/podcast to see what interesting places there are to visit. He has a ton of interviews with people who have lived or visited some really neat places around the globe, so it’s a good place to build up some excitement for your trip, or to expand your vacation ideas to places you might not have considered yet.
- Honorable Mention: Pro HDR Photo app. This takes ridiculously good photos. I suggest only using it for scenery, since it takes 2 photos and combines them with the best colors from each. This means that you have to hold the camera VERY still for about 30 seconds. If you try to take a picture of something that’s moving, it’ll end up totally blurry.
- I'm sure you already have it on your phone, but Instagram is also a really great place to check out potential travel locations. I like to look up hashtags of the cities, monuments, national parks, or even hotels that I want to go to. This is not only a great way to see if they look as fun as you expect, but as you get closer to your travel date it’s a nice way to check out the weather so you know what to pack.
Other Travel Planning Tips
Always, always, ALWAYS look up travel alerts and warnings
for the places you’re going. You should also search online to find out if you
need a Visa for the place you’re visiting (this is separate from just your
passport), and also check to see if you need any immunizations.
Another important thing to note is to do a Google search to see if you need to apply for any type of permits for your trip. For example: if you want to attend Easter or Christmas Mass at the Vatican, you need to fax a request to the Papal Office at least 2 months in advance. You also need to file for a permit if you want to hike Machu Picchu, and a separate permit to hike Wayna Picchu and/or the Inca Trail. It’s also a good idea to make sure the place you’re trying to go is open the day you plan to go there (many popular museums, such as the Louvre in Paris, have various weekdays that they are closed to the public).
I hope this has been helpful for anyone planning a trip someplace fun. If you know of any other great planning websites, please leave a comment below so I can add it to my list/life!!