Organising your own travel can sometimes be a daunting and frustrating thing. Trying to determine what to do, where to stay and how to get to a place you’ve never been can be quite a challenge. I thought I would share some of the websites and apps that I use across the various phases of a trip and identify their strengths and weaknesses. Have a look at the following tips for trip planning and let me know in the comments what you use to plan a trip and your experiences with these sites and apps. Note: All of the following recommendations are my honest personal preference and not sponsored at all.
Deciding on when to visit a destination can often be tricky. Go at the wrong time of year and you could face obscene temperatures, massive crowds or a ghost town as all the locals are on their own holidays. Getting a recommendation on when to visit can be a really helpful starting point for planning a holiday.
Most people know of the Lonely Planet books for every destination imaginable, but Lonely Planet also have websites for various destinations featuring freely accessible information. A particularly useful resource is their “When to Go and Weather” pages, which give you a rundown on the weather and tourist seasons, giving you an idea of when best to visit.
For an example, here is Lonely Planet’s Colombia page: https://www.lonelyplanet.com/colombia/weather.
On a longer trip, knowing how to get between your various stops can be helpful to know in advance. Sometimes, what may look like a simple bus ride may to actually require 3 buses, a train and take all day. To work out the feasibility of getting from point A to B, I like to use the site Rome2Rio. Simply enter your location and destination and it will supply you with the available bus, train, ferry, flight and carshare options that all get you there. It can also provide the frequency and cost of the options, which can be very handy in working out complicated connections or if travelling on a budget. Once you’ve decided on a means of transport, the site can connect you to the transport’s website, eg. send you to the train network’s site to book tickets online.
I think no other aspect of booking a holiday has more time spent agonising over options and cost than booking flights. This is only natural, as flights can be a large proportion of your overall spend and so any money you can save on them feels like a win. My two favourite websites for finding deals on flights are Kayak and Skyscanner.
Kayak is an airfare aggregator site, which means it looks at a collection of other airfare sites and presents the best prices across them. Quite the timesaver. They also handle multi-city itineraries, which not all sites allow and can be very helpful when dealing with a trip with complex or numerous flights. My favourite feature of theirs is their “Hacker Fares”, which are when they cobble together multiple one-way fares to offer a cheaper alternative. One flaw Kayak does have is that they seem to not integrate with all of the low-cost airlines, which may mean they miss some cheap airfares.
Where Kayak falls over, Skyscanner appears to fill the void. Skyscanner is also an aggregator site and is particularly good at looking for fares on low-cost carriers in Europe, eg. Ryanair, Eastjet etc. This means you’ve got a high chance of finding the cheapest flights available. What I really like about Skyscanner is the range of search terms available to you. Rather than searching for specific destinations, you can widen the search to a country, eg. England instead of London. Even more useful is you can leave the destination field blank and Skyscanner will show you the cheapest flights to any location. This is fantastic if you’ve got some flexibility or are just brainstorming options. A really great feature.
When it comes to looking for accommodation, there’s an overwhelming array of websites to help you look for a place to stay. I find a good starting point is Tripadvisor, as it links in with some of the bigger booking sites for price comparison and enough reviews that they are pretty trustworthy. A concern with the Tripadvisor prices though is that they can fail to take into account loyalty programs such as Booking.com’s genius discount. A similar site I find has valuable is Trivago.
Booking.com has to be my default when to comes to finding accommodation. They generally have the most competitive pricing with no additional service charges and their genius discount and value deals. Maybe their biggest shortcoming is when it comes to hostels, as sometimes their prices aren’t as competitive as Hostelworld or Hostelbookers.
Of course these days, there’s the option of AirBnB but as I have limited experience with it so far, I’ll hold judgement for now.
Figuring out what to do when you arrive to a place can often be pretty easy if it’s somewhere well known and well travelled, like Paris and London. But if you’re looking for things to do, somewhere a little less popular or do some more obscure things, you’ll need help. Firstly, I’d like to say that I find Tripadvisor a bit hit and miss in this role. While Tripadvisor has its strengths, their list of things to do sometimes contain the most random and irrelevant activities, even at #1.
My preference for finding things to do in a destination is Wikitravel. Wikitravel, like Wikipedia, is based on community contributions and has a broad range of information. While some sections are susceptible to vested interest (ie. Restaurants and Accommodation), the things to see and do provide a good variety of suggestions and actually provide explanations for why things are worth seeing.
So there we are, some of my favourite online resources for organising and managing my travel. What are your favourite websites and apps for planning a trip? Please share in the comments.